November 12, 2005
Gallic Disruptions By William
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.