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Notre Dame de la France

Is it conceivable that the first country to loose ideological revolution on the world could be the same that launches the most intelligent and thoroughgoing intellectual counter-revolution in 230 years?

People in Paris attend a Good Friday Stations of the Cross procession April 19, 2019, near the gutted Notre Dame Cathedral. (CNS photo/Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters)

On April 16, the day after the devastating fire that destroyed the 850-year-old frame constructed of French oak (and known as “the forest,” owing to the 52 acres from which it was harvested), the roofing, and the spire of Notre Dame de Paris, Fabrice Luchini wrote in Le Figaro, “Même si on n’est pas chrétien, même si nous ne sommes plus chrétiens, la France est chrétienne.” (“Even if one is not Christian, even if we are no longer Christians, France is Christian.”) This Holocaust of the Wood (suggesting Christ’s death on the Wood of the Cross), which occurred at the beginning of Holy Week and was quite naturally interpreted by Catholics in France and around the world as a divine sign, appalled France’s secular majority as well. Chantal Delsol, the Catholic philosopher, explained this response as a shocked rediscovery of “la patrimoine” and its inestimable value.

Early in May, Philippe d’Iribarne, the author of several books including La Logique de l’honneur: Gestion des enterprises et traditions nationales (“The Logic of Honor: The management of enterprises and national traditions”), proposed in the same paper that Notre Dame is a symbol of the Middle Ages “full of noise and fury but also of life and feeling” that appeals to modern people who feel orphaned “in a time where the stones of the cathedral remain but where the rest of life tends to dissolve in a vague humanism without relief or savor.”

In the modern universalist age, d’Iribarne argued, people hunger for the particular, and for historical particularities such as Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (published in 1831 as a public protest against long neglect of the building), Napoleon’s imperial coronation in the cathedral, and the “Te Deum” celebrated there after the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918. “When, in sorrow over the fire, the attachment to a world that no longer exists can express itself without being accused of nostalgic populism, the unspeakable shows through.” D’Iribarne concluded: “[The disaster involving Notre Dame] was a matter of the soul, of an opening upon infinity.”

Since 1789, “the patrimony” has been successively despoiled and weakened by the French Revolution and its universalist philosophy (“the rights of man,”), by laicism, by modern republicanism, by emigration from Algeria and the Muslim invasion from Africa and the Middle and Near East, and by the West’s having delivered itself up to that huge and squatting hearth god, the god of multiculturalism. Resistance is forming across the Western nations today against the post-modern, post-liberal project called globalization; a more or less anodyne term (surely the process dates from the creation of the ancient Eastern empires, and after them Europe’s discovery and colonization of the Americas) that is also wholly insufficient to describe what has really been going on in recent decades: post-modern liberalism’s project to redefine reality and recreate it to agree with the updated liberal dream of a perfected world. This reaction is occurring across Western, Southern, and Eastern Europe—in Great Britain, in the Netherlands, in the Scandinavian countries, in Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, in Italy, and now, with the recent victory of Vox at the polls, in Spain; hitherto the Continent’s last liberal holdout against “populism.”

Brexit apart, the conservative renewal may actually be strongest in France, where “populism,” expressed in cruder form by the Front National and violently by the gilets jaunes, exists in parallel with the development of a relatively new, sophisticated, elegant, and powerful intellectual Right whose equivalent is scarcely to be found elsewhere in Continental Europe, and even in the United Kingdom and the United States. It is true that ideas that are publicly proscribed in the British Isles remain expressible (for now) in the United States. But ideas and arguments that the vast majority of American publishers would hesitate or refuse to print are published every day by French houses like Albin Michel, Stock, Grasset, and Flammarion. (It is hard to imagine a major American house accepting Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission, about the election of a Muslim as the president of France and the subsequent Islamization of the country, for publication had it been written originally in English by an American author, and in an American setting.)

Le vieux monde est de retour: Enquête sur les nouveaux conservateurs (“The Old World has Returned: An Inquiry into the New Conservatives”), by Pascale Tournier (Éditions Stock, 2018), is an excellent and very useful survey of the new, often youthful, and highly diversified French Right. Le Figaro, an organ of the old French right founded in 1826, is far and away the most frank, interesting, and intelligent conservative daily to be found anywhere between San Francisco Bay and the Rhine: every issue is heavy with superb essays, reviews, and interviews, many of them in the paper’s Sélection Premium as it appears online. Alan de Benoist, a frequent contributor, is probably the writer, European or otherwise, with the best grasp of, and insight into, the phenomenon inaccurately called “populism”; he is also among those most sympathetic to the phenomenon. Alas, Benoist is as well a sworn enemy of Christianity.

Another of its most politically incorrect, thrusting, and uncompromising contributors is the polemical columnist and author Éric Zemmour, an Algerian Jew whose candid discussion of the dangers of aggressive Islam to a Western country would bar him from the American mainstream media. In Britain his writing would surely result in his prosecution and imprisonment on charges of “hate speech.” It is similarly difficult to imagine the Manif pour tous demonstrations against homosexual marriage, the adoption of children by homosexuals, and “gender theory” that brought more than a million protestors into the streets of Paris in 2013 and tens of thousands more in 2016, occurring anywhere in the Anglo-sphere. La Manif pour tous finds no echo in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, or the United States, where homosexual marriage and adoption have been negligently accepted, and even ignored, by all but a tiny minority of moral and cultural dissidents.

This spring, conservative French letters, politics, social movements, and Catholicism happily converge in the person of a single man. François-Xavier Bellamy, 33 years old, a professor of philosophy, a published author, and a devout Catholic has served as a town councilor for Versailles since 2014. Today, appointed by Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of Les Républicains, he heads the party’s list for election as a member of the European Parliament in the Européenes on May twenty-third. His most recent book—Demeure: Pour échapper à l’ère du movement perpétual (“Remain: To escape the era of perpetual movement”)—concludes that “ceaseless movement is the surest way not to advance: if we do not know where we are going, we are strongly at risk of ceaselessly returning to the same place, the same state.” Fortunate France! The day is not yet in sight when a candidate of such intellectual distinction could be nominated by the GOP—or any American party–for election to an office of such relative prominence and importance.

Is it conceivable that the first country to loose ideological revolution on the world could be the same that launches the most intelligent and thoroughgoing intellectual counter-revolution in 230 years? That is beginning to look very possible indeed.


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About Chilton Williamson, Jr. 5 Articles
Chilton Williamson, Jr. is the author of several works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and “pure” nonfiction, including After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy and Jerusalem, Jerusalem! A Novel. He has also written hundreds of essays, critical reviews, and short stories for publications including Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Harper’s, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, The New Leader, The American Spectator, among others. You can visit him online at www.chiltonwilliamson.com.

4 Comments

  1. A very insightful piece. It fills me with hope to think there is place where counter revolution is possible. It seems so hopeless here in the States.

  2. One of the best, most substantive and promising pieces that you have yet offered..and you have offered many such!!

  3. I have no problem with a call to revitalizing “the patrimony” with its “universalist philosophy” but I do have a problem with drawing an association between “the secularist demise of this universalism” and the “influx of multiculturalism” in the form of refugees from other places. For the whole concept of Caritas as embedded and inalienable from Catholic Social Teaching is about welcoming the stranger and the outcast and then understanding that it is only through doing that that you bridge the gap (the artifice, the wall constructed by modern secularism) between the “haves” and the “have nots” and then it becomes possible this thing of universal brotherhood where the notion of “other people” from “other places” being “strangers” is dissolved into a unity of trust and openness.

    I don’t think equating “the dissociative complexity of problems symptomatic of our times” with the influx of people from outside of Europe is a morally sound position to take. I think this rationale ties tragically in with a kind of mobid Euro-supremacist bent and therefor is in complete contradiction not only to the Gospel but also to the “universality” of the Catholic tradition. I know Pope Francis would also think it an abhorrent position to take as it flies in the face of being humble in light of our differences as human beings. I was plainly shocked to read, in what I was thinking was an amazing written piece on Notre Dame, this:

    “Since 1789, “the patrimony” has been successively despoiled and weakened by the French Revolution and its universalist philosophy (“the rights of man”) by emigration from Algeria and the Muslim invasion from Africa and the Middle and Near East, and by the West’s having delivered itself up to that huge and squatting hearth god, the god of multiculturalism”.

    How on earth can we ever hope to win souls for God’s Kingdom with such a selfishly insular and unecumenical attitude! This goes completely against everything our Faith stands for! And another thing is, our Christian heritage comes originally from the Middle or Near East, a part of the world that is castigated within Williamson’s statement here as a banal threat to his idealized & imagined “civility” of a West without a heart of openness, without a heart of love for those who come from afar.

    Everything else is fine in his article except for that position which posits itself as unwilling to befriend those who are “different from us”.

  4. According to the Catholic social teaching on immigration, governments have a responsibility to help those who are truly in distress/danger. However, and of critical importance, the teaching also states:
    – The governments of nations have a responsibility to secure their borders and protect the common good of their individual nations.
    – Immigrants have a responsibility to serve the common good of the country that welcomes them, including respecting the culture and properly becoming part of the community they’ve entered.

    Therefore, governments have the right to reject certain immigrants or to expel those who subvert the host nation’s culture, religion being a part of the culture.

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