Archive for November, 2011

Walter Russell Mead has a fine essay on his Via Meadia blog, comparing current events in Egypt to the French Revolution. As Mead is not a specialist of Egypt or the Arab world, he relies on his knowledge of European history to make sense of what’s happening in Cairo

Those of us old enough to have attended college back when even liberal arts and humanities professors routinely taught subjects that actually matter can dredge up our studies of the French Revolution and the subsequent 200 years of European and global reflection on the meaning and politics of that revolution to help us get to grips with what is happening in Egypt.

No study of history can tell you what will happen (despite technocratic “political scientists” wielding regression analyses and expounding the “laws” of political life), but the study of what happened in the past generally yields valuable insights and often helps you sort out the real issues and identify key turning points.

That is particularly true in Egypt today where the struggle between the protesters in Tahrir Square and the armed forces echoes political patterns that turned up over and over in the rich history of French revolutions and revolts from 1789 right up through 1968.

A knowledge of history—and particularly European history—is not only a good thing in itself but is also practical and useful. Mead thus concludes his essay

We shall see where this goes, but in the meantime the Via Meadia advice to investment banks, hedge funds, government officials and others trying to read the tea leaves of world unrest is simple: make sure that among your prognosticators and analysts you include a few strong liberal arts generalists with a strong background in European history from the Renaissance forward.  The modernization process got its start in Europe and the nascent Anglosphere, and the history of those societies provides valuable clues to the forces now unleashed on a wider world.

I don’t necessarily agree with Mead across the board—late 18th century France is not 21st century Egypt (duh)—but he has many valid insights. He could have mentioned Tocqueville’s book on the French Revolution—one of the greatest interpretive works of history ever written—, which reinforces his argument. Read the whole essay. It’s worth it.

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Saw this yesterday. It’s directed by Über-auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey’s answer to Abbas Kiarostami (Ceylan is far more interesting), and won the Grand Prix award at Cannes this year. It’s Ceylan’s sixth film. I’ve seen the previous four, Clouds of May, Distant, Climates, and Three Monkeys. Didn’t care for the first but the others were quite good (and I particularly liked ‘Distant’). These are not films for the masses, and definitely not this one. It is, to quote one critic,

a long, slow, hypnotic film that explores the human condition through side glances and offhand remarks, caring very little about time, especially the viewer’s time, in eventless sequences without conventional action.

Though it’s over 2½ hours long—and with the first hour-and-a-half taking place at night—, it held my attention throughout. Quoting another critic, the film proceeds

at a slow, measured pace, telling a story that in anyone else’s hands would have barely been enough for a short, this is however a visually mesmerising piece of work whose quiet, apparently placid, uneventful surface, covers a myriad of themes which the attentive spectator should be only too happy to explore… For, in Anton Chekhov’s spirit, which is hovering all over this picture, it is not to the plot itself one should pay attention, but to the countless, presumably irrelevant details strewn along the way… It takes time – and indeed time is of essence all through this film… Patience is amply repaid by the end, when all those details come together, and one realises there is much they have learned in the course of the film about all these predictable, unspectacular individuals who end up by being both touching and affecting. The outcome is fascinating, not only on a personal level, but also as a profoundly perceptive portrait of the Turkish multi-leveled culture and society… This is not just consummate cinematography, though of course it is, but the kind of creative, painterly talent echoed in all of Ceylan work as a still photographer.

I agree. For more reviews, see here, here, and here. Et pour les critiques françaises, voir ici. Trailer is here.

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Modernizing conservatism

I posted below on David Frum’s article taking to task his fellow Republicans. Here’s another such commentary, by conservative-libertarian think tank intellectual Steven F. Hayward, who argues that “US conservatives must reform their internal ideology in order to create a coherent effort to revitalise the party.” Money quote

…Which brings us to the third major political fact of our age: the welfare state, or entitlement state, is here to stay. It is a central feature of modernity itself. We are simply not going back to a system of “rugged individualism” in a minimalist “night watchman” state; there is not even a plurality in favor of this position. A spectrum of conservative and libertarian thinkers acknowledge this, though this perception has not penetrated the activist ranks. Back in 1993, Irving Kristol called for a “conservative welfare state” on the pragmatic grounds that “the welfare state is with us, for better or worse, and that conservatives should try to make it better rather than worse.” National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru noted in 2006, “there is no imaginable political coalition in America capable of sustaining a majority that takes a reduction of the scope of the federal government as one of its central tasks.” William Voegeli, author of the most trenchant critique of the welfare state (Never Enough) since at least Charles Murray, concludes, “No conservative, either in the trenches or the commentariat, has yet devised a strategy for politicians to kick deep dents in the side of the middle-class entitlement programmes without forfeiting a presidency or a congressional majority.” And libertarian economist Tyler Cowen faces the reality squarely: “The welfare state is here to stay, whether we like it or not.”

Thank you, Mr. Hayward, for telling it like it is. Not that your alternate reality-based fellow conservatives will be paying attention…

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GOP: off the deep end

We know this—it’s old news—but some erstwhile Republican propagandists now think so too. David Frum, Bush era scribe and publicist, has a lengthy piece in New York magazine on how the GOP—still his party—has “[lost] touch with reality.” Here it is, via Paul Krugman’s blog, which is where I saw it. Krugman quotes his favorite passage from the piece. Here’s mine

The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers.Yet it’s telling that that movement has failed time and again to produce even a remotely credible candidate for president. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich: The list of tea-party candidates reads like the early history of the U.S. space program, a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff. A political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.

Yes, a crisis of followership. On how modern-day Republicans view dissent and dissenters, Frum offers this anecdote

Back in 2009, I wrote a piece for Newsweek arguing that Republicans would regret conceding so much power to Rush Limbaugh. Until that point, I’d been a frequent guest on Fox News, but thenceforward some kind of fatwa was laid down upon me. Over the next few months, I’d occasionally receive morning calls from young TV bookers asking if I was available to appear that day. For sport, I’d always answer, “I’m available—but does your senior producer know you’ve called me?” An hour later, I’d receive an embarrassed second call: “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” Earlier this year, I did some volunteer speechwriting for a Republican contemplating a presidential run. My involvement was treated as a dangerous secret, involving discreet visits to hotel suites at odd hours. Thus are political movements held together. But thus is not how movements grow and govern.

And that’s how they treat their own. I wouldn’t even want to contemplate what would happen if these people gained control of all three branches of government.

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The Artist

A black-and-white silent movie. The first I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. Silent movies don’t interest me. This one is wonderful. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Jean Dujardin is excellent, as is the rest of the cast. It opens in the US this week. See it. French critics loved it. American reviews are here, here, and here.

UPDATE: US critics continue to gush over the pic, e.g. here and here.

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It’s the management, stupid

The Economist magazine—which is not known for francophilic gauchisme—has a salutary column on “the French way of work,” that rebuts the widespread stereotype—in the “Anglo-Saxon” world but also in France itself—that French workers are lazy, slackers, or would just rather be on holiday. The real problem with the French workplace, so The Economist says, is with management. Money quote

In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.

Two-fifths of employees, according to a 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm, actively dislike their firm’s top managers. France ranks last out of ten countries for workers’ opinion of company management, according to a report from 2007. Whereas two-thirds of American, British and German employees say they have friendly relations with their line manager, fewer than a third of French workers say the same. (…)

If French work attitudes are out of the ordinary, French management methods are also unusual. The vast majority of chief executives of big firms hail from one of a handful of grandes écoles, such as École Polytechnique, an elite science school. Through what is known as parachutage, they can arrive suddenly from the top ranks of the civil service. (…)

Although the grandes écoles are superbly meritocratic—candidates compete against each other in a series of gruelling exams—their dominance of corporate hierarchies makes workplaces much less so. At a big French bank recently, a manager promoted an executive, only to be reproached by a furious rival who said he should have been given the job because he had done better in the final exams at the same grande école.

As Thomas Philippon, a French economist, pointed out in “Le Capitalisme d’Héritiers”, a 2007 book, too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. (…)

For those farther down the ladder, French companies are hierarchical, holding no truck with Anglo-Saxon notions of “empowerment”. And bosses are more distant than ever. A big change in French management, says Jean-Pierre Basilien of Entreprise & Personnel, a Paris research centre, is that industrial managers now seldom rise through the ranks. Fifteen years ago a leading graduate would have worked in factories before moving to headquarters. Now many come up via finance or strategy.

Hierarchy, stratification, lack of trust, absence of a culture of negotiation, a meritocratic educational system that reproduces the social order… Old French scourges. And which are posing an increasing problem for French capitalism in a globalized economy. But it’s not a fatality. Some French companies are indeed modernizing their managerial cultures, as the article points out. As it so happens, I received just today an e-mail from a former student—of recent immigrant origin and not a graduate of a grande école—, informing me of her great new management-level job in a large French multinational. As training before moving up the corporate ladder—and a possible future transfer to the company’s operations in the US or the Middle East—, she is presently spending two weeks working on the assembly line in one of its factories, with the rest of the proletarians. C’est bien.

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Once upon a time in Mogadishu

The Foreign Policy web site has a photo essay on Mogadishu, Somalia, from the early 20th century to the 1960s, a “peek into the ‘pleasant’ colonial past of the world’s most dangerous city.” I lived in Mogadishu as a boy in the 1960s, on two separate occasions for a total of a year-and-a-half (the first time my father was doing academic research there—he was a political science specialist of the horn of Africa—, the second time he was director of the US Peace Corps in Somalia). Mogadishu was a pleasant city indeed—I have many memories of it—and more interesting architecturally than any African capital nowadays, at least of the ten or so I have visited in recent years. And the beach was great. My family enjoyed living there and we were quite affected by the destruction of the city and country over the past two decades. My mother, now 81, has written a book of her memories of Mogadishu and with photos, which will be published soon. I’ll put up a link for it when it’s out.

The above photo is a post card my father sent to my sister and me in 1963, and which I’ve had up in my study for years. We were with my mother in India while my father had gone ahead to Mogadishu to find a place to live. Here’s what he wrote

This is a picture of downtown Mogadishu. It is a very small city. Only 90,000 people. Yesterday I went out of the city and saw wild baboons and camels. You can also see wild giraffe and elephants if you go 100 miles to the south. Today I saw a United Arab Airlines Comet jet fly over the city. Everybody here speaks Somali and Italian. Very few speak English, and you will have to learn to speak Somali or Italian. There is a very nice beach here on the Indian Ocean and we will go swimming. There are no sharks near the beach but far away. The school over here is closed in December and will open in January, when you two can go. It is right now 90°F and the sun is shining very brightly. Come soon and bring your swimming trunks!

I did learn a few words of Somali (mostly swear words) and phrases in Italian. Nice American/international community school and with some Somalis (my best friend in the 5th grade’s father later became prime minister). Apart from United Arab Airlines (the future Egypt Air), the only flights to and from the city in the mid-1960s were by Alitalia (DC-8s, three times a week to Rome), Aden Airways (Viscounts, to Aden and Nairobi), and Somali Airlines domestically (DC-3s and Cessnas). In the early 1970s the Soviets built a slaughterhouse on the ocean, so we learned in later years, and from which animal carcasses were dumped in, causing sharks to find a way around the coral reef that protected the beach. Soviet foreign aid. No more swimming in Mogadishu. For Somalia, it was all downhill from there…

UPDATE: My mother’s book is out. It may be purchased via Amazon here.

Iris Kapil_Tales of Mogadiscio

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[updates below]

Poor Marine Le Pen. She went to the US last week to up her geopolitical cred with French voters but hardly anyone of significance would see her. She managed quickie meetings on Capitol Hill with libertarian Ron Paul and Illinois Tea Partier Joe Walsh, but that was it for politicians (see here and here). A visit to the DC Holocaust Memorial Museum fell though when the museum said that Mme Le Pen would not be given VIP treatment (here and here). And the coup she scored with the Israeli ambassador to the UN was explained away by the latter—not too convincingly—as one big mistake (here and here).

Jews were an important objective in Marine LP’s US visit. In her effort to “de-demonize” the Front National she has been trying to shed its Judeophobic image—and reality, in view of her father’s well-known attitudes toward Jews and calculated verbal outrages on the Holocaust, but also those of a significant percentage of core FN supporters. Anti-Semitism has declined precipitously in France over the past sixty years; according to a wealth of polling data, the percentage of Frenchmen today who have antipathetic sentiments toward Jews is in the low teens—about the same as in the US—, but a sizable portion of those who still do are supporters of the FN. For French Judeophobes, the FN is their natural home. Though Marine LP hardly differs from her father politically she is not herself an anti-Semite. This is known; e.g. in her youth she was an habitué of night clubs frequented by her generational peers from the Sentier and among whom she apparently had numerous friends. She has moreover proclaimed her support of the State of Israel, a position not taken by her father or other FN elders. A new trend in the European populist right, which seeks to enlist Jews in its campaign against Islam and Muslims (e.g. Geert Wilders). But French Jews, who have voted in their large majority for the left over the years but are now moving right—Jews were enthusiastic supporters of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007—, are deaf to Marine LP’s siren song. The far right, on account of its history and sociological composition, is radioactive among Jews, but also the Israelis, who have shown no interest in Mme Le Pen’s overtures. Acceptance by Jews is the key to making the FN respectable and in breaking down the wall between it and the mainstream right. So if Marine LP can’t get to French Jews via Israel, she’ll try to do so via their American counterparts.

After her stopovers in Washington and New York, she flew to south Florida, with Jews and Republicans the twin objective. On Saturday November 5th a reception was held for her at the plush Palm Beach home of Bill Diamond, a wealthy realtor and member of the Palm Beach town council, and to which some 200 mostly Jewish Republicans were invited (here and here). Diamond, a prominent member of the local Jewish community, is pals with Rudolph Giuliani—he was a top Giuliani appointee in New York and a financier of his 2008 presidential campaign—, was Florida co-chair of the recent Draft Trump boomlet, and is a local fundraiser for AIPAC (here, here, and here). Mme Le Pen’s intermediary in all this—her US fixer—was one Guido George Lombardi, an Italian-American operator, friends with Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi so it seems, a leader of something called “Tea Party Italy”—”which has brought the values of small government and more personal freedom to Italy”—, and the executive director of an outfit called the North Atlantic League, “which promotes positive foreign relations between Italy, Israel, and the United States”… (here and here).

So that’s Marine Le Pen’s American network. A far cry from her father’s, who had more extensive contacts in the US during the 1980s, and at a time when he was running his mouth about the Holocaust. But despite being a Judeophobic facho, the GOP seemed to have no problem with Le Pen père and the FN. The difference between then and now? Le Pen was pro-American in those days—he became anti- from 1990 onward, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (it turned out that he liked Saddam Hussein more than he did any American)—and saw the “Reagan revolution” as a model, and the Likud world-view had not yet become hegemonic in the GOP. So when the FN won 35 seats in the 1986 legislative election—the only one in the Fifth Republic held under proportional representation—Jean-Marie Le Pen received a letter of congratulations signed by six Republican senators: Jesse Helms (NC), John East (NC), Paul Trible (VA), Steven Symms (ID), James McClure (ID), and Paul Laxalt (NV), the last one a personal friend of Ronald Reagan’s. The letter was prominently trumpeted in the FN rag National Hebdo (the names of the senators I have committed to memory, and my memory here is ironclad). Le Pen made more than one trip to the US during that period and met with politicians; one photo I remember saw him chatting amiably with several, including Senator Paula Hawkins (R-FL) (Le Pen’s English being fluent, communication was not a problem). And then there was Le Pen’s (in)famous handshake with President Reagan at a GOP event in 1987, and which was splashed across the whole cover of National Hebdo. Boy, were they proud. Reagan no doubt had no idea who Le Pen was, but the fact that the latter was there attested to some solid connections in the GOP. It should be said that Le Pen was the head of a parliamentary group at the time and thus enjoyed institutional legitimacy. But still. Le Pen was Le Pen and the FN was the FN.

It’s not clear what became of Le Pen’s GOP network in the 1990s. There was, however, one sector of the American right with which the FN developed a relationship, and that I learned about first-hand while attending—strictly as an observer—the FN’s Fête des Bleu-Blanc-Rouge in 1998. The Fête des BBR was the FN’s annual weekend bash held in mid-September—from 1981 until it was discontinued for financial reasons in 2007—in one of the parks around Paris (the Bois de Vincennes in the late ’90s), for the party’s hardcore supporters and to showcase it to the public. It was the FN’s (pale) imitation of the Communist party’s older, much larger, and far better attended Fête de l’Humanité, held the previous weekend in September, and with the same organization: of stands for the party’s departmental federations, satellite organizations, ideologically kindred publishing outlets, and the like, and with food, drink, amusement for the kids, and debates and forums with party leaders held throughout. And like the Fête de l’Huma there was the cité internationale, with stands of fraternal parties and groups from abroad. Foreign delegations at the Fête des BBR included the Vlaams Blok, Die Republikaner from Germany, the Italian Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore, Spanish Falangists, neo-fascistic parties from eastern Europe, and other sulphurous groupings of the European far right. In the middle of all this was a tent with a Confederate flag flying on top. I was more than intrigued and went over to check it out. The group: the Council of Conservative Citizens. I’d never heard of it. There were ten or so Americans, who were friendly enough. I talked for a while with the head of the delegation, an elderly Georgia businessman named Tom Dover. Said he was impressed with the FN’s spectacle. We had an amicable but contradictory exchange on the subject of immigration (he didn’t like all those Mexicans coming into the United States). Here’s a report of the CofCC‘s participation in the event, published on its web site on November 14, 1998


By Rupert Chiarella

On the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September, 1998, Council of Conservative Citizens leaders President Tom Dover, Chairman Gordon Lee Baum, along with members Jared Taylor, Sam Dickson, and Rupert Chiarella, attended the French Front National festival in Paris, France.

In attendance were over 100,000 people [AWAV: this is an exaggeration], including hundreds of European patriots from Britain, Hungary, Germany, Finland, Spain, South Africa, etc. A great cross section of all French society was in evidence during the weekend at the huge annual rally in which the young and old, the working and middle classes were well represented. Each district’s party federation, along with pro-nationalist newspapers and other nationalist associations had their own particular tent stands, selling t-shirts, music CDs, posters, magazines and their own regional foods and beverages. In various tents throughout the festival, numerous debates and discussions were conducted by leading Front National leaders on issues such as the European Union, taxation, immigration, etc.

The Bleu, Blanc, Rouge (Blue, White and Red) festival is in fact a great example of family values, as thousands of parents brought their children along to learn and appreciate their cultural identity, which like that of European-Americans is under threat from the rising tide of third world immigration-invasion. It was a truly politically incorrect awareness-raising event.

Superbly organized from start to finish, the two-day festival concluded on Sunday afternoon, with a rousing speech by National Front leader Jean Marie Le Pen. Le Pen had met privately with the CofCC contingent earlier that same day and appealed for patriots to unite and to fight as a single entity, as opposed to dividing themselves into many different factions. At the conclusion of the private meeting, CoFCC President Tom Dover presented a Confederate flag as a gift to President Le Pen, with Jared Taylor interpreting. Taylor, in a humorous reference to Front National’s concerns about American domination, said to Le Pen that, “This flag represent an early blow against the hegemony of the United Slates. This Confederate flag flew over the state capitol in South Carolina.” Le Pen responded, “Oh, I certainly recognize that flag. We are sympathetic to the Confederate cause.” To many French nationalists, the Confederate flag signifies the great struggle against one world government, a symbol of rebellion against the encroaching federal government power and the ability of the French people to keep their right of self-government.

The following Monday morning, the CoFCC delegates visited the ultra-modern and spacious headquarters of the Front National located in the western corner of Paris in the suburb of Saint-Cloud, and were given a complete tour of their facilities by Commandant Jacques Dore and Vice-President Dominique Chaboche, both of whom are in charge of relations with foreign European patriotic groups. Possible future co-operation between the Front National and the CoFCC was also discussed.

The Front National is a highly organized and well-led movement that has the backing of over five million of French people along with thousands of publicly elected officials. The real lesson to be learned here, however, is the viability that such a patriotic party can have, as a third party and perhaps soon as the alternative to the current socialist-communist coalition government. Moreover, the themes most important to the Front National, such as keeping national identity and sovereignty, diminishing the crippling tax burdens on working people, and assisting families to be more stable and to have more children, are in fact of critical importance to Americans, as well.

Here’s another report from the time—and with interesting interviews with FN personalities—by Jared Taylor, the CofCC’s in-house cosmopolitan intellectual. When I got home from the BBR fête I looked at the CofCC’s publications I had culled from their stand and did an Internet search, which revealed it to be the successor to the White Citizens’ Council of the 1950s and ’60s, which fought desegregation and the civil rights movement in the South. Paleoconservative white supremacists. Creepy stuff, oozing with racialism. Definitely not the mainstream GOP. But not outside the GOP either. In the CofCC newspaper was a regular column by Patrick Buchanan, guest columns by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)—who happened to be Senate Majority Leader at the time—, and photos of CofCC leaders with Lott (this one with Tom Dover), Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA)—one of President Clinton’s persecutors during the House impeachment hearings that fall—, Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice, and other mainly Southern GOP politicians. As it happened, the Washington Post revealed the links of Lott, Barr, and other Southern GOPers with the white supremacist CofCC—a group many in Washington had never heard of—in a series of investigative reports in December ’98 (here, here, and here). Lott and the others claimed they didn’t know about the CofCC’s racialism—yeah, sure—and had only had minimal dealings with it, but the reality was the opposite (and particularly for Lott, whose relationship with the group was longstanding). I signaled the CofCC’s attendance at the FN’s fête to WaPo reporter Thomas Edsall and Le Monde’s Washington correspondent, who, in his article on the affair, cited me as the source.

It should be said that on the race issue the FN was and is more progressive and tolerant than the CofCC. Though racialism has permeated certain pro-FN far right publications (e.g. Rivarol, which is also anti-Semitic) and many FN supporters have racist attitudes—as do many non-FN Frenchmen—, outright racism has not been a theme in FN discourse, which is focused on the immigration issue (as with the rest of the European populist right, not to mention the US Republicans today). There are indeed black and Arab/Maghrebi members and supporters of the FN, and, though not numerous, were in evidence at the Fête des BBR. In the 1998 regional elections, the sole Arab/Maghrebi elected to the conseil régional of the Île-de-France (the Paris region), Farid Smahi, was from the FN. And one of the leading FN personalities in Marseille at the time was Stéphane Durbec, of Antillean origin. (There have even been a few Jews in the FN). It is unlikely a single person of color ever attended a CofCC event, let alone sought to join it.

It may be added parenthetically that the racialist current in the FN at the time was incarnated by Bruno Mégret and Jean-Yves Le Gallou—whose intellectual origins were in the Club de l’Horloge and the GRECE—, who split from the FN in the party’s crack up in December 1998, going on to form the rival MNR, which was to the right of the FN. As it happened, the racialism of the Mégret-Le Gallou faction was shocking to a number of pro-Le Pen personalities in the FN leadership, as was their Muslimophobia. Contrary to popular belief, Islam was not an issue for the FN—until Marine LP, in a change of line, opportunistically decided to make it one in the past two years—and party discourse did not stigmatize Muslims qua Muslims. For more on the FN in its heyday, one may profitably consult these two books, which are the best journalistic inquiries on the party to date.

Back to the CofCC, there was no indication that Marine Le Pen had any contact with it during her US visit last week, though she did have a tête-à-tête luncheon at the National Republican Club on Capitol Hill with lobbyist Richard Hines, who is well-known in GOP circles for his defense of the “lost cause” of the Confederacy (here, here, and here). On the margins of the GOP but not outside it. The question of how to deal with Marine LP, who has sought to embrace the Tea Party, has been “a percolating issue” in the GOP, according to this piece from last April on the web site of the conservative weekly Human Events (the comments thread of the article is highly entertaining, BTW).

This poses the question of the ideological affinity of the FN and Tea Party GOP. I asserted in a post in June that, mutatis mutandis, there were no significant differences between the two. This provoked reactions of varying vehemence from Republican readers, who objected that were important differences indeed, the principal ones being that the FN is a “fascist” party that believes in a strong state, is racist and with an ethnic conception of the nation, and has a top down organization (as opposed to the bottom up grassroots Tea Party). On the first, I will state categorically that the FN is not a fascist party and has never been one. There are indeed fascistic elements to the FN, such as the leader principle—at least when J-M Le Pen was at the helm—and the cult of the nation, though these are hardly unique to fascist movements. But a central feature of fascism—and of the pre-World War II French extreme right (Action Française et al)—is anti-parliamentarism and a doctrinal rejection of democracy, which are absent in FN discourse. The FN has scrupulously respected the rules of the democratic game—as has the French Communist party, which was doctrinally contemptuous of “bourgeois democracy” for a good part of its history—and Jean-Marie Le Pen has never acted outside the law or advocated doing so (e.g. though a strong supporter of Algérie française he did not implicate himself with the OAS in the final, calamitous year of the Algerian war).

As for the belief in a strong state (“big government”), two things. First, the FN, though advocating protectionist tariff barriers, has historically been economically libéral, i.e. pro-free market, and with low taxes a central part of its program (the inspiration here being Jean-Claude Martinez, a well-known professor of tax law, longtime member of the FN leadership until recently, and Jean-Marie Le Pen ally, who has advocated abolishing the income tax, among other things). Marine Le Pen’s current rhetoric on the economy—favoring state intervention and social spending—is something new for the FN and driven by opportunistic, electoralist considerations. Second, the strong state side to the FN has mainly been on the issue of security, of beefing up the repressive powers of the state to crack down on lawbreakers and other transgressors. On this, there is hardly a difference with the GOP right wing, which has never seen a crime bill or Patriot Act it didn’t like, not to mention an increased military budget (the small government rhetoric of the American right has always been eyewash—a lot of hokum—, aimed only at transfer payments, public goods, and regulations on business, not at government tout court, but that’s another matter). And the FN and Tea Party both share a populist allergy to elites—or at least groups they designate as elites, and which are the same for both—and a detestation of the left (liberals in America), moderate right (RINOs for Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads), and the mainstream media.

On the FN’s supposed racism and essentialist, ethnic conception of the nation, this is both exaggerated and misunderstood. I addressed the question of racism above. It of course exists among FN supporters and in the larger nébuleuse of the extreme right, but is not part and parcel of FN party discourse. There has been a certain amount of nonsense on this score from the left over the past three decades. And while immigration has been the alpha and omega of FN discourse since the 1970s, the FN is not a xenophobic party. When the FN goes on about immigration, it has in mind that from certain parts of the world, not the whole world (in the same way as the anti-immigration wing of the GOP wants to curtail it from certain places but not others; e.g. if the dominant flow of immigrants into the US suddenly reverted back to the British isles and Germany—or exclusively toward educated Chinese and Indians—, it is unlikely that immigration would continue to be an important issue for the American right). And it should be said that numerous FN members, voters, adherents, and even leaders are of second and third generation immigrant origin, particularly from Spain and Italy (and there are notable mixed marriages in the historic leadership). Those of post-colonial immigrant origin are much less in evidence, of course, but this is also the case with the Tea Party GOP base, where one does not find too many supporters with roots in the post-1965 wave of immigration from Latin America and Asia.

There is, is should be said, one difference between between the FN and the Tea Party GOP on all this, which is on the conception of nationality. Voices on the American right have started to call for an end to absolute jus soli, where anyone born on American soil—including the children of undocumented migrants—is automatically American, but no sector of the American political spectrum that contests elections questions the jus soli principle (the CofCC may perhaps be an exception, but it is hardly a major player). Nationality law based mainly or exclusively on jus sanguinis has never had currency in the US or even made sense. Such has not been the case in France, where an organic, or integral, conception of the nation was predominant on the hard right through the Second World War and with which the FN has largely identified. But Jean-Marie Le Pen’s oft repeated assertion that “one is French by blood or blood spilled” (on est français par le sang ou le sang versé) leaves the door ajar to nationality acquisition via naturalization (and not only through serving in the Foreign Legion). And the sector of the FN that most strongly espoused integral nationalism—the Mégret-Le Gallou group—left with the 1998 split.

On the image of a top down, hierarchically ordered FN vs. a bottom up, grassroots Tea Party, the main thing one can say is that the FN is an established political party, whereas the Tea Party, which is less than three years old, is not an organization at all. The US also does not have political parties such as exists in France or most other democracies. The Democratic and Republican parties are loose, decentralized, non-hierarchically organized electoral machines in which card carrying, dues paying militants are non-existent. American political culture is very different from the French. That said, the Republicans have been more respectful of hierarchy and of the legitimism accorded to party elders than the Democrats. And the FN, despite the cult of personality around Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been as faction ridden and riven with internal contestation as other parties across the political spectrum (the Communists excepted until relatively recently).

Regardless of the similarities and differences between the FN and Tea Party GOP—and I argue that there are more of the former than the latter—, I am quite sure that hardcore FN supporters, were they to move to the US, would find their natural home in the Tea Party GOP. And vice-versa. American Democrats living in France invariably end up supporting the Socialists and other currents on the moderate left (EELV, PRG), leftist Americans look to the left of the Socialists (PG, MRC, NPA), and mainstream, moderate Republicans the UMP or MoDem. I will wager that Tea Partiers who live in France and acculturate into French society will, in their majority, find an affinity with the FN. The best way to establish this would be to take a test in the form of a questionnaire. Such a test exists and which I will post in the coming week.

UPDATE: It turns out that the test/questionnaire I was going to post—which dates from 2006 and the questions of which I have translated into English—has been inactivated until next summer (see here). Oh well. Sorry about that…

2nd UPDATE: On GOP fondness for a muscular state despite its (fraudulent) rhetoric on small government, the New York Times (December 29) has an article on how “many of the Republican presidential candidates hold expansive views about the scope of the executive powers they would wield if elected…”

3rd UPDATE; The test/questionnaire (and w/my English translation) is back up. Go here. (June 8, 2012)

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Love is stronger than hatred

Charlie Hebdo’s latest cover. They’re working out of Libération’s offices for the time being, and trying to be ever more provocative. Last week’s “Sharia Hebdo” was reprinted and at 200,000 copies (CH’s normal circulation is 75,000). LCP had a debate yesterday on the question “Is Charlie Hebdo playing with fire?” The arguments of CH’s critics were weak, IMO. Watch it here.

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i.e. Are you crazy? On the matter, Uri Avnery, the grand old man of the Israeli left, has an on target column on the latest Israeli bluster about bombing Iran. Avnery correctly dismisses the notion out of hand. Says it won’t happen. I agree and have been saying so for years, most recently in this blog post from last April. Pure, total folly.

But if the Israelis were to go postal and try such an attack, what should the US do? There are only two options: order the Israelis to turn the bombers around before they reach their targets or, in the event of Israeli disobedience, shoot them out of the air. That’s it. Not that it matters one way or the other but if Obama were to do neither—or worse, get the US in on the act—, I don’t think I’d be able to vote for him next November, regardless of the opponent.

UPDATE: Aaron David Miller has a piece on the Foreign Policy web site on the “five reasons that Israel and the United States might want to think long and hard about preemptively striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.” He’s right, of course, though understates his case IMO.

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Political class clowns

On target commentary by Timothy Egan in the NYT. It’s definitive: in the GOP, the clowns have taken over the circus.

UPDATE: The Economist, which is no leftist rag, agrees that Cain is a clown and that the GOP presidential nomination race has become a circus. The blame does not lie with Cain, so says The Economist, but with his supporters. Cain is the symptom, GOP voters are the malady.

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Mitchell Cohen of CUNY has a pretty good piece in TNR on François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French presidential campaign. A new IPSOS poll has Hollande annihilating Sarko. No reason the numbers should change. Président Hollande. That’s what it’s going to be.

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Charlie Hebdo

Shocking news in Paris this morning. During the night the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were destroyed in an arson attack (see here and here). And its web site was hacked. Totally outrageous. No doubt about the politico-religious identity of the perpetrators. In this week’s issue, which came out today, Charlie Hebdo renamed itself “Sharia Hebdo” and with the Prophet Muhammad the editor-in-chief, to mark the victory of the Islamist Ennahda in last week’s Tunisian elections. On the cover (above), the Prophet is saying “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing”…

Typical Charlie Hebdo sophomoric humor and of questionable taste. That Charlie Hebdo was seeking to provoke and offend a few is manifest, though in a free society one has the right to provoke and offend. Provoking and offending has been Charlie Hebdo’s stock in trade since its inception. Pour mémoire, during the 2006 Danish cartoons brouhaha Charlie Hebdo published its famous issue with the offending cartoons inside and the Prophet Muhammad on the cover (below), with the headline “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists” and him lamenting “It’s tough to be loved by cons” (“con”—one of my favorite words in the French language—does not translate precisely into English; a con is somewhere between a nitwit, cretin, and a fool). Many Muslims found this offensive—which is their right—and a high profile lawsuit—which naturally failed—was filed against Charlie Hebdo (see here and here; on the documentary that was made on it, see here). I personally loved the cover, which I thought was not only funny but also portrayed the Prophet and mainstream Muslims sympathetically. It wasn’t Muslimophobic in the least (if it were I wouldn’t put the cover here, as Muslimophobia is proscribed on my blog). As for the Islamic interdiction against depicting the Prophet Muhammad, this is of no concern in a secular, free society (and does not apply to non-Muslims in any case). When it comes to religion, Charlie Hebdo—which wears atheism on its sleeve—is an equal opportunity offender (see the second and third covers below), with Catholics having long been its privileged target. If one doesn’t like this, pay no attention. Don’t buy the rag (I almost never do, though not for this reason). Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).

Numerous Muslims are already turning the other cheek and—at least as reflected on my Facebook page today—expressing outrage at the attack on Charlie Hebdo. And mainstream Muslim organizations in France have condemned it. I likely won’t ever see the issue, as it was sold out by mid-morning at every newsstand in my area. And given the destruction of Charlie Hebdo’s offices and material, it probably won’t be reprinted.

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Octobre à Paris

On this November 1st, the 57th anniversary of the outbreak of the Algerian war of independence, I want to note two remarkable documentaries I’ve seen in the past two weeks on the events of October 17, 1961 in Paris—the final year of the Algerian war—and on which I had a brief post on its 50th anniversary last month. The first documentary, ‘Octobre à Paris’, was made in the weeks and months following that dark day but was subjected to official censorship for the subsequent eleven years—yes, the French state back then could refuse a visa d’exploitation to films for political motives—and was never shown publicly after that and until two weeks ago. It’s an amazing documentary. I was floored by it. The engagé director, Jacques Panijel, interviewed Algerians in the Paris area, who described the repression and violence to which they were subjected by the police. In the twenty minute historical preface that preceded the 1 hour 10 minute documentary—which may be seen here (in two parts)—, historian Gilles Manceron asserted that the French state repression of the Algerian population in the Paris area in late ’61-early ’62 was the most ruthless and violent in Europe since the Second World War. Indeed in the entire Western world. It was more severe than even Tienanmen Square in Peking in ’89. The precise number of Algerians killed by the Paris police will never be known—as the police archives of the period have been “cleansed”—, though the high number of 200 has been largely accepted over the years. Manceron puts it at “several hundred,” though, and he is most surely right. France was indeed a democracy at the time, though one can hardly believe it while watching the documentary. Among other things, it bares rather starkly some serious problems with the organization and functioning of the French police—past and present—, which is quite certainly one of the worst police forces in an advanced democracy (a subject I’ll come back to at a later date).

The second documentary, ‘Ici on noie les Algériens’, is based on contemporary interviews with Algerians and Frenchmen who experienced the events of the time, plus heretofore unexploited archival footage. The research that went into it is impressive. Here is one interview in English with the director, Yasmina Adi. For reviews of the two films (en français), see here and here. Both documentaries should be required viewing for the entire French population.

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