November 12, 2005
Gallic Disruptions

By William F. Buckley

The French turmoil is explained, by many who have trained their eyes on it, as a reaction to continued French discrimination. To give evidence of this, the critics cite preferences shown by employers to applicants whose names are indisputably French, with no Algerian or Muslim overtones. One story cited resumes with straightforward French names receiving 50 times the presumptive hospitality shown to applicants with Muslim surnames. And every third or fourth story cites what continues to be thought the matrix of French political life, which is the revolution.

There are those who hoped, hopelessly, that Charles de Gaulle would take advantage of his historical eminence to jettison the revolution. Not a chance. His farewell toast to the nation that finally rejected him was, "Vive la France, Vive la Revolution." A few years earlier he had contributed to the pacification of Canada, by saying, while visiting Montreal, "Vive le Quebec libre. Vive le Canada francais."

One is perhaps grateful that, in the modern mode, the execution block dispatches automobiles, rather than dukes and counts and failed politicians. But if it is true that the protesters in the year 2005 are inflamed by the tradition of a revolutionary past, then we have at least one reason for resistance to upward mobility among second-generation French with parents born in Algeria. Such young men inherit not only the tradition of French revolution as the answer to life's shortcomings, but also Algerian revolution. First, against French colonialism; second, against victors over French colonialism; third, over victors over the victors over French colonialism.

Round and round it went in Algeria, more than a million bloody victims of dissatisfaction and irresolution. If the Algerian tradition is invoked in order to understand the French-Algerian community, there is some clarity at both ends -- the French who are suspicious of the second-class French-Algerian citizens, and the French-Algerian citizens who resent the long, hard road of integration.

President Chirac announced on Thursday that he would not discuss the unrest until after it had been quieted. That condition had the familiar sound of the warden who will not discuss the prisoners' demands until their havoc is done. It is the sensible course to take, but it does not automatically quiet the fervor. If the planted axiom of the protesters is that only revolution can bring progress, then the staunching of revolutionary activity is a step in the wrong direction, capitulationist, defeatist.

What, on the other hand, the revolutionists lack is a program concrete enough to give them any sense of satisfactions achievable. In 1959, the objective was pretty plain: the secession of Algeria as a department of France. A hundred and seventy years before, the objective was the overthrow of the monarchy and of a ruling aristocratic class. What would satisfy the existing revolutionaries as a corporate ideal? The elimination of the automobile? If so, it being obvious that that is never going to happen, then the contrapositive needs to be considered: the revolution will be endless. That is formal logic.

The French are disposed to violent protesting, as we saw in 1968. It required the majestic authority of Charles de Gaulle to stabilize the nation, but that year, France had the bad company of revolutionary protests in many parts of the world, notably Mexico City, Rome and Tokyo. It would be just to say about the French that there is a disposition to revolutionary activity in the Gallic gene that does not afflict Great Britain and Germany, let alone the United States, where multiculturalism is now a way of life.

No modern country has had a greater calcification of discrimination than our own, where an entire race was first enslaved and then ghettoized for a hundred years. But those who thought of protests framed in revolutionary activity found there was not much patience for violence, and gave it up after riots in a few ghettoes and college campuses.

In France there is the modern piquancy of tender loving state care for the revolutionary class, which receives free medicine, free education, and free welfare checks and unemployment checks. Whether that paradox will awaken counterrevolutionary cunning in the government of Jacques Chirac remains to be seen.

Copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

William F. Buckley

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