With France going to the polls in the first round of its presidential elections on Sunday, this long, reflective piece by Chris Caldwell in City Journal is well worth your time. Indeed it would be worth your time even if there was no vote tomorrow.
Some extracts ought to make clear why (my emphasis added):
[E]conomic opportunities for those unable to prosper in Paris are lacking elsewhere in France. Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system.
Le Pen, Mélenchon, Trump, Sanders: Their aim may differ, but, to many of their voters, the target is the same.
Back to France:
At a practical level, considerations of economics and ethnicity are getting harder to disentangle. Guilluy has spent years in and out of buildings in northern Paris (his sisters live in public housing), and he is sensitive to the way this works in France. A public-housing development is a community, yes, and one can wish that it be more diverse. But it is also an economic resource that, more and more, is getting fought over tribally. An ethnic Frenchman moving into a heavily North African housing project finds himself threatening a piece of property that members of “the community” think of as theirs. Guilluy speaks of a “battle of the eyes” fought in the lobbies of apartment buildings across France every day, in which one person or the other—the ethnic Frenchman or the immigrant’s son—will drop his gaze to the floor first….
Guilluy has written much about how little contact the abstract doctrines of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” make with this morally complex world. In the neighborhoods, well-meaning people of all backgrounds “need to manage, day in, day out, a thousand and one ethno-cultural questions while trying not to get caught up in hatred and violence.” Last winter, he told the magazine Causeur:
“Unlike our parents in the 1960s, we live in a multicultural society, a society in which “the other” doesn’t become “somebody like yourself.” And when “the other” doesn’t become “somebody like yourself,” you constantly need to ask yourself how many of the other there are—whether in your neighborhood or your apartment building. Because nobody wants to be a minority.”
Thus, when 70 percent of Frenchmen tell pollsters, as they have for years now, that “too many foreigners” live in France, they’re not necessarily being racist; but they’re not necessarily not being racist, either. It’s a complicated sentiment, and identifying “good” and “bad” strands of it—the better to draw them apart—is getting harder to do.
France’s most dangerous political battles play out against this backdrop. The central fact is the 70 percent that we just spoke of: they oppose immigration and are worried, we can safely assume, about the prospects for a multiethnic society. Their wishes are consistent, their passions high; and a democracy is supposed to translate the wishes and passions of the people into government action. Yet that hasn’t happened in France.
Emmanuel Macron, the neo-Blair who will, I suspect end up as France’s next president (full disclosure: my predictions over the past year have been…fallible) has said:
“We can no longer defend a political system whose practices weaken democracy…”
Macron is a eurofundamentalist, an evangelist, therefore, of post-democracy.
My hope is that Macron is a liar, a cynic or both. My fear is that Macron, a product of the elite, is so lost in the Groupthink of his class is that he is simply unaware of the contradictions contained in what passes for his platform.
Guilluy breaks down public opinion on immigration by class. Top executives (at 54 percent) are content with the current number of migrants in France. But only 38 percent of mid-level professionals, 27 percent of laborers, and 23 percent of clerical workers feel similarly.
Never have conditions been more favorable for deluding a class of fortunate people into thinking that they owe their privilege to being nicer, or smarter, or more honest, than everyone else. Why would they think otherwise? They never meet anyone who disagrees with them. The immigrants with whom the creatives share the city are dazzlingly different, exotic, even frightening, but on the central question of our time—whether the global economic system is working or failing—they see eye to eye…
Those outside the city gates in la France périphérique are invisible, their wishes incomprehensible. It’s as if they don’t exist. But they do…
Read the whole thing. Really.