France has found itself in a terrible state. As the Gilets Jaunes protests continue apace, it seems appropriate to think about some of the contributing factors to France’s malaise, as starting-points for prayer and foils to our own political concerns in the Anglosphere. France could be a strong nation, given the right conditions. She is not short of intellectuals, good soil, engineering works, and sea-access.
The current protests are made up of disparate groups of people. There are centrists, conservatives, libertarians, socialists, fascists, and various shades in-between. Such a group is welded together by its intuitive grasp of the point that France is fundamentally sick as a nation – which I say as someone with French blood.
Macron presents himself as a supporter of capitalist reform. Compared with many on the hard-left, he may appear right-wing; from a conservative perspective, however, he is very much a centrist. Centrism cannot help France out of its current problems. Centrism is fundamentally a system of compromise: it promises civic harmony by giving something to each of the groups and ideologies that make demands of it. This is not conducive to long-term prosperity and cohesion, despite the claims made by so-called “moderates”.
The centre responds to the loudest voice: it shifts as it acknowledges the call of a worldly master. Our culture wars are evidence of this. The political correctness groups have drawn the centrists into their fold, leaving conservatives without support, without reasonable acknowledgement. The centrism of Tony Blair, David Cameron, Barack Obama and others has left our societies more divided than ever.
Right and wrong are not matters for compromise, but for zeal: if you love the Good, you should do everything in your power to promote it and everything in your power to overcome evil. Half-hearted support for righteousness is not honourable, but despicable. In practical terms, the same rule applies to a number of situations. Would you rather have a doctor who did everything he could to fight the disease that was killing you, or would you rather a doctor who said, “We need to listen to what the disease is saying and find a solution that meets the needs of all parties concerned”?
This spirit of compromise is killing western civilisation, both European and American. If France is to be regenerated, she must choose the good and give herself wholeheartedly to it. One of the first things that she must end, through repentance and preaching of the Gospel, is the corrosive secularism that stains her national soul. The Wars of Religion were a major contributing factor to the secularist spirit that arose during the French Revolution. The Massacre of the Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day, in which Frenchman killed Frenchman, allowed many to argue that the state should not be involved in religion, so that no one party would have too much power.
Others argued that the Church had become an instrument of deceit and oppression in the hands of the king (much as Bolshevik propagandists did in imperial and post-imperial Russia). They wanted a state that would leave religion alone, to be what it could be. There was also that anger of the atheists and the non-religious theists, who condemned organised religion as so much superstition. The extremists in this group wanted to destroy the Church. It was in this fervour during the French Revolution, that the term “rationalist” began to lose its original meaning, and became a term of superiority, used to deride the religious.
(Knowledge rationalism holds that some synthetic propositions can be known a priori. Concept rationalism holds that certain concepts are innate.)
In the abandonment of traditional Catholicism (and Calvinist Protestantism), along with the concomitant efforts to keep Christianity from the public sphere, France fell into the socialist philosophy that sprang from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels following the end of imperial government under Napoleon III, smashed by the Prussian victory at Sedan. Following the horrors of WWI, nihilism and existentialism began to take root in French culture. Slowly but surely, the spirit summed up in the Greek phrase, “Man is the measure of all things”, took hold of France.
The collapse of the French Empire, and the influx of foreign nationals from former colonies, added to this spirit. In a multicultural world, many accepted relativism as a means of promoting harmony and alleviating guilt for the crimes of “colonial aggression and oppression”. The complexity of judging the merits and demerits of colonial rule made trite aphorisms preferable to the harder task of standing back from an emotionally-charged subject and assessing where things went well and where things went wrong.
This last point has subsequently been strengthened by the failure of the Neocon agenda under George W Bush and others. France opposed the second invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s, and continues to feel vindicated seeing the mess that has ensued in that country. Such a politically-conscious nation as France is sensitive to events and remembers them. The toxic culture of fear and anger has not lessened, as migrants from Africa and the Middle East have unlawfully sought entry into Europe following the destabilisation of those regions.
How, then, can France confront these demons from her past and present, and find unity and prosperity. The simple answer is that, of herself, she cannot. It is very naïve to think that unity in the fullest sense of the word can be achieved. There will always be those who oppose the Gospel. We pray that as many as possible will become Christians, and this must be a work of God – but the first step towards that goal is confronting our own error our own mistakes and misjudgements. Repentance, as for all nations, is the road of righteousness the Eldest Daughter of the Church must walk, if she is to find the peace she desires.