Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anti-Racism as Class Warfare

French rabble-rouser Eric Zemmour is sometimes compared to America talk show host Bill O'Reilly, but he has the ambition to be seen as an intellectual. (He is French, after all.) Zemmour is not any sort of typical conservative; as Christopher Caldwell explains, he combines a Gaullist faith in French greatness with a communist dislike of capitalism and love of the working class.
To Zemmour, virtually everything the French government has done since 1983—when the Socialist Mitterrand reversed course and opened up France to more free enterprise and international competition—has wound up selling off some part of the working-class patrimony to benefit the rich. Zemmour sees this as not just an injustice but a mistake. He admires central planning, which he almost always calls colbertisme, after the financial adviser of Louis XIV, to mark its deep roots in French culture. Nonetheless, he argues that planning in the 1950s and 1960s worked particularly well—in space, high-speed trains, nuclear power, telecommunications (including Minitel, a proto-Internet), and aeronautics (including the high-speed Concorde, an engineering marvel that was, he says, “assassinated” by U.S. protectionism). He also argues, plausibly, that in our own age of global finance, France’s corporations are simply not well enough capitalized to wheel and deal on an equal footing with the private and public pension funds of the United States or the sovereign wealth funds of the resource-exporting nations.
His new book is the talk of France; most pundits hate it, but they are all writing or speaking about it. I was struck by this argument:
Zemmour is interested in France’s antiracism because he considers it an instrument of class warfare, a sign that the progressive “creative classes” who once idealized the poor now hold them to be contemptible thugs. Zemmour cites Yves Boisset’s 1975 film Dupont Lajoie, in which a murderer frames a group of saintly Algerians for his own misdeed. One of Zemmour’s best sketches is of the French celebrities, led by the lovely actress Emmanuelle Béart, who joined a protest on behalf of the Malian and Mauritanian sans-papiers (undocumented immigrants) in the summer of 1996. The migrants were using the church of St-Bernard, in the 18th arrondissement, as a place to orate, eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. “Not since the days of the Jansenist Convulsionaries,” Zemmour writes, “had so many young beauties and high-born men been in a church.” He notes, too, that the protesters at the Église St-Bernard, although they did not realize it, were defending their own class’s interests against those of the French-born poor. They, the movie stars, use low-wage labor to trim their gardens and fix their gourmet meals—unlike the working classes, who compete against it.
Indeed one of the big things to happen on the left over the past 70 years has been that the rise of feminism, environmentalism, and anti-racism has divided the left-wing elite from the working class. Politically that opened the way for Reagan-Thatcher conservatism, as politicians who represent the economic interests of the rich have won working class votes by emphasizing cultural conservatism and emotive nationalism. I cannot see any simple way out of this -- sensible environmental policies really are bad for coal miners, and the decline of racism has put the white poor side by side with blacks at the bottom of the social ladder. In some ways liberal policies really have been bad for working class whites, especially working class white men. That liberals have not been able to protect the working class from the harsh winds of global competition has driven millions of them to vote conservative. Since liberals are not going to give up support for feminism, gay rights, anti-racism, and so on, the only way to win working class votes is to develop policies that help working people economically, and that is proving to be very hard.

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