The terrorist attack on the offices and staff of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine in Paris, killing a dozen persons, has elicited widespread horror throughout the West, with the inevitable questions of why? One conservative commentator in France has offered an answer: self-loathing.
One of the best-selling books in France, as yet untranslated into English, is The French Suicide by journalist Eric Zemmour. Zemmour argues that in the post-WWII era, particularly since the death of DeGaulle in 1970, France and Europe, in general, have abandoned their cultural roots in favor of a liberal-libertarian political agenda where the elites and bureaucrats reject the organic values of the French past, embracing an ideology of social justice imported from elsewhere, including political correctness and unquestioned multi-culturalism.
From Zemmour’s perspective, “our political, economical, administrative, media, intellectual and artistic elites spit on [France]’s grave and trample on its smoking corpse.” In other words, what made France French, or good for the French, is being rejected and ideas and practices from outside France are being foisted upon the French nation.
For sake of argument, let’s assume that there is some truth in this perspective. This is the constant question for democracies since the days of Athens: to what extent should the influence of the present and outside world be allowed to change the nation and its foundational principles? We can also think of it as a question of creed versus culture: Is a nation of free and self-governing people merely a product of ever changing culture or of a principled creed?
In the American context, our creed is found in the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ….” Abraham Lincoln conceived of it in the Gettysburg Address as, “government of the people, by the people, for the people….”
For the French, their creed may be found in their national motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, or Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Our tendency in the modern world is to focus on words like liberty and equality, but what about Fraternity? The word hints at a reality – that we must live together in political communities, and that these communities are necessary for more than mere human existence but for excellence and happiness. This requires a broad agreement on what it means to be human and how citizens will be governed within a particular nation. It also implies that if political communities are NOT good for those in them, the people will attempt to change them.
The French example shows the challenge of creating and maintaining a nation. France now has millions of immigrants and children of immigrants, with millions from African and Arab nations, most undemocratic, and many of them being Muslim. This poses particular problems for France, as it must find ways to maintain itself as a liberal democracy – where but in a democracy can one find a satirical newspaper – while creating a community among many that may not understand or want a community where many opinions and ways of life are expressed.
To do this, requires a certain confidence in the goodness of being free men and self governing, rather than a “self-loathing” that questions, and ultimately rejects the democratic past for not having been just enough and possessing the inevitable errors of the people, will championing a culture that will not distinguish between the good and the bad politically.
You brought up a good point. We take living in a democracy for granted, free speech being a part of that. Still how far should satire go? There is no excuse for what happened, terrorist attacks are truly evil. If we want freedom to poke fun at others, then we need to make sure that the population at large can actually take it and see the humor, or if offended, see that as part of the process.
With an ever growing population of peoples that come from parts of the world where one does not denigrate their faith, and where to leave ones faith leads to death, it seems naive to think that satire can go to any lengths without some sort of bloodshed.
Not comfortable with any of this, and I fear the place that all of this terrorist activity is leading to.
Self-loathing. Loathing is a great word, it takes a bit longer to say than “hate” and it reflects the simmering negativity of which you speak. To loathe something is far beyond dislike and I’m afraid that our own country is headed toward the same dificulties if we do not recover our collective sense of humor. Satire, and bitter satire at that ,is a part of the political landscape in U.S. history, as are polarizing and bitter campaigns. Just consider the Jefferson and Adams campaign for the Presidency. We can counter some of this hazard presented in our country if the media and educators remember to point this out – it’s as American as Baseball and Apple Pie. The problems get out of hand when we forget to respect the feelings of others when it comes to the particular faiths that they hold. The problem expands as we try to satirze various anything Muslim; because these are theocracies without separation of Church and State.