N.S. Lyons writes about political upheaval in France and reflects on its possible implications for the U.S. In France, two despairing letters — one by retired military officers, the other by active-duty personnel — have triggered controversy. In essence, the letters complain that France is disintegrating and in danger of civil war.
The retired officers argue that Islamists in the immigrant-heavy suburbs are “detaching large parts of the nation and turning them into territory subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution.” French civil authorities no longer actively police these areas.
But Islamism may not be the worst of it. The letter decries “a certain anti-racism” that in reality has “only one goal: to create on our soil a malaise, even a hatred between communities.” The retired officers accuse the “hateful and fanatical supporters” of this ideology” of “despis[ing] our country, its traditions, its culture, and want[ing] to see it dissolve by tearing away its past and its history.” Their goal, according to the authors, is “racial war.”
Given these development, the letter warns of a coming civil war.
Old people tend to equate change with deterioration. That’s particularly true of those who spent their professional careers upholding the status quo.
However, the second letter, which endorses the views of the first, comes from more than 2,000 soldiers who are currently serving. They describe themselves as part of the generation deployed abroad in France’s fight against Islamist forces in Mali, and Afghanistan, where they lost comrades who “offered their lives to destroy the Islamism to which you [the government] have made concessions on our soil.”
These service members have also protected that “soil” directly — French subways, schools, and synagogues. In doing so, they “have seen. . .the abandoned banlieues… where France means nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt or even hatred.”
Their letter argues that France is becoming a failed state. It too warns of civil war, prompted by “not from military rebellion but from a civil insurrection.”
I believe the claims in these letters have a firm basis in reality. But are they exaggerated?
I don’t know. I visit Paris fairly often and even in the center city, it’s easy to notice how much it has changed in a relatively short amount of time.
I’ve also been in “mixed” neighborhoods and have heard some chilling first-hand stories from residents. But my only visit to a true Parisian suburb occurred more than 30 years ago, and the area in question was mostly Vietnamese at the time.
However, it’s worth noting, as Lyons emphasizes, that although the two letters were widely condemned by the French establishment, few challenged their basic premise that France is in a state of growing fracture and even dissolution. Instead, says Lyons, the focus of controversy was on the military taking a political position.
I want to conclude by considering America. To what extent might America “disintegrate” along the lines alleged in the two French letters?
Of the two toxins described in the letters — an implacably hostile immigrant population and hostile lefty dogmatists — America need worry about only one, in my view. Illegal immigration is a major problem here, but it raises no “clash of civilizations” concerns. By and large, our low-income immigrants share our values and one of our major religions. They are not future jihadists.
However, the complaints about “a certain anti-racism” that in reality has “only one goal: to create on our soil a malaise, even a hatred between communities” applies in full force to the U.S. So does the related grievance about those who “despise our country, its traditions, its culture, and want to see it dissolve by tearing away its past and its history.”
Indeed, I think this movement is further along in the U.S. than in France. (As we will see below, Lyons argues that it was born in France but “matured” here.) One of our two major political parties — the one currently in power — is flirting (at a minimum) with these “anti-racists” and despisers.
To my knowledge that’s not true in France. President Macron, for example, is a powerful defender of France’s traditions and culture.
Of the two toxins in question, the hostility of left-wing dogmatists is the more dangerous. In fact, it spills over into the immigration question. Our new immigrants won’t despise the U.S. on religious grounds. But if instructed as our left would like to see, they won’t think highly of this country, either. Instead, they will be taught to believe that America is “systemically” racist and unjust, and to blame America for their struggles.
Finally, there’s the question of policing. The French letters note that some neighborhoods are no longer subject to the civil authorities. Our civil authorities haven’t abandoned American neighborhoods, to my knowledge.
But that may be where we’re headed. City councils in major cities have flirted with the idea of disbanding the police. That’s still a fringe idea, but replacing some portion of the police force with social workers and the like isn’t. A scaled-back police force “aided” by social workers won’t be able effectively to police crime-ridden neighborhoods.
And “able” is only one dimension of the problem. There’s also “willing.” In the current environment, the incentives increasingly are against patrolling high-crime neighborhoods. The course of least resistance — the one that makes most sense — is to pull back.
And because nature abhors a vacuum, civil authority likely will be replaced by some sort of uncivil authority. Like in France, though minus the religious trimmings (one hopes).
I’ll leave the final word on the French-American comparison to Lyons. He writes:
[N]o revolution has ever remained contained by national borders. The New Faith (alternately referred to as Anti-Racism, the Social Justice movement, Critical Theory, identity politics, neo-Marxism, or Wokeness) is a trans-national ideological movement, which can no more remain confined to the United States than it remained confined within the American academy where it matured (it was arguably born in, well… France). And it is more than capable of rapidly adapting itself to and flourishing within whatever national context it penetrates.
But, wherever it goes, it’s just as disruptive to the foundations of social and political order.