French teachers in immigrant-heavy areas are frustrated by students who refuse to read a cultural fixture such as Madame Bovary because it is too soft on women, or who boycott MoliÃ¨re because their religion frowns upon his mores. And the schools generally capitulate. Immigrants are encouraged to take pride in their ethnicity; young Franco-French are for all practical purposes being told they don”t even have an ethnicity.
The bien-pensants think all of this is justice for the colonial ills of centuries past; Finkielkraut is a racist old prick for even questioning it. But the stealth reason, I think, for why the book is so disconcerting to the French left will sound eerily familiar to Americans: Finkielkraut also dares to notice that most French intellectuals are protected by a wall of money from the results of the diversity they romanticize.
While the bobos can afford to live in mostly-white neighborhoods, the Franco-French who live in working-class arrondissements and suburbs have watched their surroundings slowly become dominated by a foreign culture”and it makes them “uncomfortable,” especially when they”re, oh, say, being threatened with rape and/or murder for wearing a skirt.
This discomfort, says Finkielkraut, is ignored by the left, who have turned aside from labor concerns to advocate for “consumerist diversity””the joys of ethnic cuisine safaris and their love for their own love of the “other.” Meanwhile, the Front National”the party of right-wing untouchables”has become the electoral choice of working France, to the shock and horror of the left. The left has not only abandoned the working class, they now condemn them for turning “fascist.”
Ironically, the French have allowed this unmanageable quantity of immigrants from their former colonies onto their soil out of a guilt that’s more Catholic than secular: if they bend over far enough, perhaps they can expunge the ancestral stain of the colonial past. But the refusal to assimilate on the part of the newcomers raises the question: Why does a group of people move into a country in whose indigenous culture they don”t intend to participate? Isn”t this a kind of colonialism as well?
Finkielkraut, who remains more a philosopher than a political scientist, doesn”t delve into this question, as Radix Journal did for its print edition“but he does describe the process. Neighborhood by neighborhood, riot by riot, the natives are being pushed toward the margins. But Finkielkraut’s concluding concern is not the depressing, eternal mathematics of territorial back-and-forth and historical revenge: it’s the even more depressing question of whether children of any background can be educated anymore through the noisy shells of their own hyper-democratic, Instagram-age egotism.
For all the book’s glum aspects, however, Finkielkraut’s skill at applying the history of philosophy to modern problems renders it inviting, nuanced, and even entertaining; his method of thinking sheds wisdom on subjects far afield of French politics and assimilation. It’s vexing that it remains unavailable in English”the luminous prose would translate well. Maybe if Finkielkraut added a bit of celebrity gossip someone would fund an edition; as it stands, I”ve begun a small repository of some of its finest lines, in translation, with commentary, here.
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