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Marion Maréchal: Politics Is Downstream From Culture

Marion Maréchal, future president of France (Source)

Good morning from Sacramento, where I’m here to do a couple of days of workshops. A friend sent me this English translation of an interview with the impressive French right-of-center politician Marion Maréchal. Excerpt:

Tyszka-Drozdowski: In an interview with IM—1776 Thierry Baudet said that Trump (and Boris Johnson) made him “very skeptical of our capacity to achieve anything via democratic means.” The late Angelo Codevilla also claimed, for example, that Trump “barked a lot and bit only a little.” What lessons can populists learn from Trump’s presidency and his failures?

Marion Maréchal: Well, the American system is very different from the French system. Nevertheless, there are two things to keep in mind.

First, the power of the deep state, which is particularly strong in the United States, but which is a problem everywhere. When you win an election, you need to have a machine behind you to implement the policies that the voters voted for. Under Sarkozy’s presidency in France, it was a real drama for the Right to achieve this. But when the left wins, they nominate who they want. That’s what Macron did, he changed a lot of the heads of different services and agencies.

The Right is afraid of doing this. When it comes to power, it’s afraid that it will be called ‘fascist’ and so it does what the left wants. So when the Right was in power in France, the administration remained in the hands of the left. This resulted in a political blockade. The government didn’t get the necessary information, it didn’t have the resources to carry out its policies well.

The secondary element is the intellectual centers, media and universities, where the left reigns supreme. The Right will need to make a great effort to create alternatives here through grassroots, social initiatives. Now in France some right-wing voices are appearing in the mainstream media, but they are still insignificant, timid. Above all, I believe that we must not allow our initiatives to depend on the state, to rely on its resources. We must not allow the end of our government to mean the end of us all. This is a big problem, and the reason why I founded the ISSEP [Note: her school for political training — RD].

Change has to be made from the top down, but it will never succeed if we don’t create islands of resistance from below that persist even when the government changes. It is necessary to build islands of resistance in society; it is through them that we will win. I often quote Gramsci, but it was not only Gramsci who said this: political victory comes only after a cultural victory. There are no political victories without cultural victories.

Read it all. 

Maréchal speaks here of two of the most important things we US conservatives can learn from Viktor Orban.

First, Orban took control of what you might call the “deep state.” He knew that his government would be sabotaged if he did not.

Second, Orban does not care what his political enemies say about him. Maréchal says that right-wing French politicians are afraid of being called “fascist,” and so hesitate. Here in the US, our conservative politicians are afraid of being called “racist,” or “homophobic,” or some form of “bigot,” and so hesitate. This has to stop.

What she did not mention, perhaps out of tact, is that Trump was a poor practical politician and administrator — something Viktor Orban definitely is not. That is to say, Trump didn’t really know what to do with power when he won it. This is a mistake the populist Right in the US must not make again.

Nevertheless, Trump’s election did change a lot of things for the better on the Right. Yesterday I re-read The Benedict Option to prepare for a talk I’m giving out here. That book was published in March 2017, almost two months after Trump’s inauguration. In it, I was mostly negative about what Trump could accomplish, because (in reading the text) I see that I didn’t trust him to do right by social conservatives, especially on the courts. I was wrong about that, I’m happy to say. But mostly I was right in that book about Trump’s inability to reverse course on the great cultural shifts in the US (though to be fair to Trump, I said that it would be hard for any political figure to do that).

What struck me in re-reading TBO, nearly five years after its publication, is how all the things that sparked me to write the book have accelerated since its publication. If anything, Trump only sped up the process by alarming and consolidating wokeness in power. What this tells us politically is that we on the Right, should we come to power again, have to be aggressive in dismantling wokeness wherever we can. And I think the remarkable surge in the state of Virginia for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who is now leading the polls, shows that fighting wokeness is a popular cause. Ordinary people of all races are sick and tired of what the Left is doing to our schools and our institutions with their insane race and gender ideologies. Leaders of the Right needs the courage to stop giving a damn what is said about them in elite counsels, and go after these cretins hammer and tongs. For example, the next GOP administration should ramp up a Department of Justice task force to use existing civil rights laws to investigate and file suit against exemplary universities for creating hostile, racist climates on campus for whites, Asians, and others.

For example, this insane, racist video has been making the rounds this week:

What kind of situation do white students who take her class have to deal with? Why should they have to be afraid that their racist Rutgers professor is biased against them because they are white? Neither Rutgers — a state university, mind you, supported by taxpayer funds — nor anybody else would put up with this lunatic for one second if she were white and said these things about non-white people. But it’s so common today that we just accept it and move on. We need a governments at both the state and the federal levels willing to open civil rights investigations against the most egregious cases. Hold these people and the institutions that coddle them responsible. Make them accountable for what they say and do. Viktor Orban used his authority to defund and remove accreditation from gender studies courses in Hungary, because, I imagine, he recognized how the malignant ideology that the produce is tearing the US and the UK apart. For example, just this week, philosophy professor Kathleen Stock resigned at the University of Sussex after being the victim of sustained and vicious attacks by transgender critics and their mindless allies. Amazingly enough, Viktor Orban wants to do what he can within the limits of his powers to prevent this from coming to Hungary:

Anyway, the next conservative administration should come in prepared to attack wokeness comprehensively and effectively. In the past, I would have been extremely reticent for the federal government to involve itself in the life of the university. No more. This has to be stopped.

That said, the struggle against the soft totalitarianism of wokeness is going to be a long one. Yesterday the NYT ran a piece on how Millennial bosses are afraid of their Gen Z employees. Excerpt:

Ms. Rodriguez is one of many managers who recalled her Gen Z employees being the first and most vocal in urging companies to demonstrate their support for the protests after George Floyd’s killing. Tero Isokauppila, 37, president of a food business, heard from junior staff asking if his company would post a black square in solidarity with the movement on Instagram. Elaine Purcell, 34, co-founder of the maternity care start-up Oula, got a Slack message from one of her youngest workers after the shootings at Atlanta-area spas in March asking what the team could do in solidarity with Asian Americans.

To many corporate leaders, this invites a welcome correction after decades when businesses were largely silent on racial inequities both within and outside their offices. But some managers are also struggling to balance the demands of their employees for political engagement with their own sense of what’s appropriate for their brands.

“You talk to older people and they’re like, ‘Dude we sell tomato sauce, we don’t sell politics,’” said Mr. Kennedy, co-founder of Plant People, a certified B corporation. “Then you have younger people being like, ‘These are political tomatoes. This is political tomato sauce.’”

This is political tomato sauce. Yeah, and this is a manifestation of totalitarianism, which is a system in which all aspects of life are politicized. When elites of this generation get into the driver’s seat, these Jacobins are going to drive us off a cliff. This is where the wisdom of Maréchal (quoting Gramsci) comes to the fore: we cannot normally hope for meaningful political victory without cultural dominance first. In the podcast I recorded earlier this week with Sohrab Ahmari, he stood on a position common with the integralists, which is that the law teaches the people. Therefore, according to the theory, pass a law and the people will conform their understanding to it.

I am highly skeptical of that. I told him that his team seems to advocate for the Julian The Apostate Option. Julian was the mid fourth century Caesar who tried to reverse the Christianization of the Empire by suppressing Christianity via edict, and promoting old Roman paganism. The effort did not survive Julian’s death; the cultural forces of change in the Christian direction were too strong. I believe the same thing is happening here. Mind you, history is not fated. God is sovereign, and can do what He wants. We Christians must never stop evangelizing and hoping for a turnaround. Nevertheless, we must also accept that this is rather unlikely, and make plans accordingly. A Polish reader e-mailed yesterday, and sent this tweet:

The Polish reader added:

Ahmari claims that he was “informed” that Poland’s recent abortion laws have shifted public opinion in a pro-life direction. “The people went along with it,” he says, or something similar. I’m sure he believes it but unless every opinion poll since the laws were established has been wrong, the *opposite* is true. I don’t have anything against these guys and didn’t want to make a big thing of this on Twitter or it would descend into a fight, but either they are kidding themselves about the scale of the authoritarianism an actual integralist state would demand — or they are ingeniously trying to shift the Overton Window.

I believe this is true. In fact, one of the most striking things about the Poles I’ve met and talked to in my visits there is how, despite their political and religious (Catholic) conservatism, they are very pessimistic about the long term future of the country. In particular, they — and I’m talking about men and women in their twenties here — have been grieved by how the government’s actions on abortion have radicalized so many of their generation. My closest Polish friend, in his twenties, was denounced harshly by many of his friends simply because he is a pro-life Catholic, and they knew it.

In any case, we on the Right have a civilizational battle ahead of us, one that is going to last at least the rest of this century, I think. Politics is part of it, because law sets the framework in which these battles take place. But if we depend only, or even mostly, on law, we will get nowhere. We have to work symphonically with politics to renew culture, and at ground that means renewing religion. This, of course, is where The Benedict Option comes in, and why St. Benedict is such an important model for us. One of the key political goals we have to fight for is passing laws protecting institutions that do the work of cultural and religious formation, especially in the face of woke fanaticism. But then we also have to do that actual work.

Last night here in Sacramento I went to dinner with some folks, and heard a few shocking stories about actual people they know who lost their livelihoods because they got on the wrong side of the woke in the smallest of ways. I won’t give details, out of respect for my hosts’ privacy, but these cases they discussed even shocked me, and I’m hard to shock. In two of the cases, the victims did things that were perfectly normal yesterday, but when they committed the acts that got them cancelled, inadvertently crossed new lines that had appeared overnight. You think it won’t happen to you, and the next thing you know you are jobless, and none of your colleagues will touch you because they are afraid that the mob will come for them.

In his latest column, David Brooks writes:

Modern progressivism is in danger of becoming dominated by a relatively small group of people who went to the same colleges, live in the same neighborhoods and have trouble seeing beyond their subculture’s point of view.

If you want a simple way to see the gap between this subculture and the rest of the country, look at Rotten Tomatoes. People who write critically about movies and shows often have different tastes than the audiences around them, especially when politics is involved.

“Hillbilly Elegy” was a movie in which the hero was widely known, in real life, to be a Republican. Audiences liked the movie fine. It has an 83 percent positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Culture writers frequently loathed it. It has a 25 percent positive critics’ score. That’s a 58-point gap.

Dave Chappelle recently released a comedy special that took comic potshots at almost everyone. Audiences adored it. It has a 96 percent positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (though admittedly it’s unclear how many of the raters actually watched it). A small group of people found it a moral atrocity and the current critic score is 44 percent positive. That’s a 52-point gap.

A more significant example of the subculture gap recently occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventy-three percent of American adults believe race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions decisions, including 62 percent of Black adults, according to a 2019 Pew survey. And yet Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist, was recently disinvited from giving a lecture at M.I.T. about climate science because he’s publicly defended this majority point of view. In other words, the views of the large majority of Americans are not even utterable within certain academic parts of the progressive subculture.

It’s important to understand that this is not just “modern progressivism” he’s talking about, but the culture of institutional elites in the US. They’re 100 percent down with wokeness — and are destroying their institutions, and poisoning the minds of the young with racial hatred and destructive ideas about gender. The kind of populism that can win elections, I think, is one that in part takes on this destructive insanity with vigor — and doesn’t just rant about it, but promises specific policy goals to dismantle wokeness and its pomps and works, all in the name of old-fashioned American ideals like fairness and equality before the law. Why are so many Republican elites so afraid?

This will not come from the Left; it has to come from the Right. I will support politicians who show the willingness and, like Orban, the capacity to do this. Meanwhile, my focus will remain on building what Marion Maréchal calls building the “islands of resistance from below.” It’s not an either-or, but a both-and. By all means keep voting and keep being active in the public square — but don’t forget that you can rack up wins there, but lose the war if you lose your children to woke culture.

Marion Maréchal is not quite right: there can be political victories without cultural victories — this is what happened to Trump — but without cultural victories, the political victories will be shallow and ephemeral. Political victories can clear away space for cultural activism and renewal, as I think Eric Zemmour will do if he should run for president of France and win. (If Maréchal, who is still young, ever becomes French president, it will be in part because of what Zemmour will have done.) But again, as Viktor Orban has said in the past, politics cannot provide ultimate meaning. Those who believe it can end up banging on about political tomatoes, and making everybody miserable and afraid.

UPDATE:This is the kind of thing conservatives ought to take on using law and policy:

On October 18, 2021, January Littlejohn and her husband filed a lawsuit against the Leon County School Board (LCS) in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Florida with the help of the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit public interest law firm.

The Littlejohns informed Deerlake Middle School in August 2020 of their 13-year-old daughter’s gender confusion, for which she was undergoing counselling. They gave permission for a nickname to be used but for no other kind of social transition.

Over the next month, unbeknown to the Littlejohns, the school proceeded to call their daughter by they/them pronouns, solicit her bathroom preferences, and ask if she preferred to sleep with the boys on an overnight trip.

When the Littlejohns asked for more information from school officials, they were told that “by law” only her daughter could authorize them finding out more or providing their input. The school could give no actual legal verification for their stance, but did provide the documents they developed in secret with their daughter, a “Transgender/Non-Conforming Student Support Plan,” with no notice or input from the Littlejohns. Among many directives was included a note that the Littlejohns were not to be notified at all.

After further inquiries for the legal basis of such actions, school officials gave the Littlejohns a copy of the LCS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming and Questioning Support Guide, which states the following: “1) parents are not to be informed when their children announce that they identify as transgender; 2) children who express gender confusion are permitted to choose which restroom they will use and that parents will not be notified of such decisions by their own children; and 3) children have a legally protected right to keep from their parents information regarding their gender identity and steps taken by the district to affirm that identity.”

The Littlejohns, and every parent, needs to know that the state is on their side, and not on the side of the woke institutions that want to seize their children and destroy the kids’ minds and bodies. This should not be hard, Republican Party.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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