What on earth to make of Eric Zemmour, a Bill O’Reilly-type figure in France whose new book is a sensation? He is a neo-Gaullist who sympathizes with the old French Left, and despises the Socialists and the Chirac-style Gaullists. And boy, does he hate the academic and media elites, who return the favor. Christopher Caldwell unpacks Zemmour’s new book, Le suicide français. Excerpts:
The reaction to Zemmour’s book confirms certain of its theses. Luc Bronner, an editorialist at Le Monde, acknowledges that Zemmour has identified real problems, but thinks they are all matters of stagnation éducative that can be solved by throwing enough government money at schools. Zemmour has been accused by Figaro editor Franz-Olivier Giesbert of “being in total harmony of thought with [National Front leader] Marine Le Pen.” Remarks such as Giesbert’s used to be a warning of pariah status, but they are losing their bite. In certain recent polls, and now the European elections, the National Front has proved to be France’s most popular party—for much the same reason that Le suicide français spent several weeks as France’s most popular book. The French, having decided they need their sovereignty back, are increasingly willing to ignore their misgivings about the only party that can credibly promise to fight for it. Long-term, France is as good a bet to pull out of the European Union as Britain. That does not mean it is moving to the “right” or embracing “hatred.” If the Socialists or the UMP ever made a credible promise to allow their members to vote their conscience on the matter of staying in Europe, they would be able to stop Le Pen in her tracks. But they won’t. For some reason they can’t.
France’s predicament was inherent in its postwar position. De Gaulle himself could not have staved it off forever. Hollande, the hapless president, is just the guy who was left holding the bag. As long as Germany was divided and discredited, unable to use its power unilaterally, it required France as a chaperone. France assumed the diplomatic weight of two midsized countries. That is why it never seemed too small, for instance, for its seat on the U.N. Security Council. But France could behave as a world power only until Germany recovered its unity, got its diplomatic act together, and restored its good name. French power could not survive the dissipation of German war guilt.
Did you know that the National Front had made so many recent gains? I did not. I should be following French politics more closely. Did you know that a Russian bank is funding the party? We live in interesting times.