“The European Union will collapse like the Soviet Union,” says the French politician Marine Le Pen. It is a dramatic prediction and she’s a dramatic person to be making it. Forty-five years old, she took over the Front National, the political party built up by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. A rough-house character, he nonetheless spoke for French nationalists and ran against Jacques Chirac for the presidency. Marine is far more presentable, more intelligent, and the French seem prepared to agree when she tells them that they have no control over their economy or their borders and must restore the sovereign state. The Front National has just won a local by-election. Opinion polls indicate that the Front is more popular than the Socialist Party of François Hollande, currently president, who does not help himself by muttering about Europe’s “regression and paralysis” as though he and the Socialists had nothing to do with bringing all that about.
It’s usual practice for an intellectual to frame the terms of a debate in France — think Raymond Aron, Jean-François Revel, Alain Besançon. Now Alain Finkielkraut steps forward. A philosopher and die-hard leftist since student days in 1968, he cannot possibly be accused of nationalist extremism like Marine Le Pen, but his new book puts wind into her sails. Its title, “Identité malheureuse,” has to be translated along the lines of “France’s lost identity.” In measured tones, Finkielkraut asks if such a thing as French identity still exists. Muslim immigrants and their defenders on multicultural grounds have values that have nothing to do with being French. He defines the generation now growing up as “post-literary,” meaning that they are ignorant about the heritage that nominally is theirs and don’t have any idea of what they should be defending. Careful to ensure he can’t be accused of the dreaded Islamophobia that speedily destroys the reputation even of a left-wing intellectual, he is clearly unhappy about the consequences of mass-immigration from Muslim countries.
Le Point is a serious magazine, and its latest issue splashes Finkielkraut’s new book. In a supporting interview, he quotes with horror the Muslim secretary of a committee against Islamophobia who said, “Nobody has the right in this country to define for us what is French identity.” He concludes the interview with the statement, “I remain obstinately faithful to the France that is undoing itself before our eyes.” Le Point took the precaution of inviting Ghaleb Bencheikh to respond on behalf of Muslims, and he argues forcefully that social change is in the order of things, and that Muslims bring their culture, too.
European elections next year appear likely to result in the creation of an anti-EU bloc with the Front National setting the pace. In which case Finkielkraut will have to get used to being on the receiving end of unbridled polemics.