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Degeneration & The Gilets Jaunes

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O9FQ4ZSuBo]

This old song, “Dégénération,” from Mes Aïeux, a French Canadian neotraditionalist folk band has been recontextualized in the video above, for the Gilets Jaunes era. A reader just sent it to me. Here’s a passage from a 2009 First Things essay about the song:

Yet, in order to embolden the listener to the joy of the ancestral dancing at the song’s end, Mes Aïeux sings about a plot of land, of farming and of turning a small profit for a large family. The image is one of continuity: The soil gets passed on from one generation to the next. This stands in contrast to the contemporary descendant, who is cooped up with cabin fever (encabanée) in a cold city apartment. The song ends with an invitation. The disaffected, loveless, childless products of the Quiet Revolution are then invited to get out and dance the way their grandparents danced.

In the Québec of old, dance always had a whiff of defiance. To dance was to express cultural survival in the face of the long odds known as l’hiver, winter. Every March, it is customary to visit a cabane sucre, or sugar shack, after four snowy, wintery months for some pea soup, ham, pancakes and maple syrup, and to celebrate the first fruits of spring in the trees’ flowing sap. Typically, after the meal is finished, much dancing takes place.

Traditional life in Québec was rooted in the land, its rhythms, the adversities and joys it brings. It was a culture of gratitude. Contrast this cultural landscape with the arid, secular joylessness to which Quebeckers find themselves accustomed, a culture of anxious retirement planning without descendants to care for their parents. (The song refers to the REER, the Canadian equivalent of the American 401k,) It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Take Gilles Vigneault, the Quebec nationalists’ singer-songwriter idol who wrote the now famous unofficial Quebec “national” anthem called Gens du pays , People of the country. The refrain runs: “Gens du pays, c’est votre tour / De vous laisser parler d’amour.” (“People of the country, this is your turn / To let yourselves speak of love.”) Is Vigneault’s call to love the same as the call to joyful dance in “Dégeneration”?

Well, no. Love was killed by the 1960s, precisely as “Dégeneration” narrates. Love is reduced to libertinism—flight from an oppressive past straight into the oppression of a childless society. As for abortion, the members of the group reportedly felt obliged (under pressure, one wonders?) to foreswear any pro-life message in their lyrical lament. So, given the intolerance for any public, pro-life dissent, we are left to lament the inability of those singers to let their own lament be the dissent it really is. Confused? Apparently Mes Aïeux is too. Degeneration has that effect.

By the way, if you haven’t yet read it, check out TAC editor Scott McConnell’s report on Marion Maréchal’s right-wing conference in Paris last week.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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