When I reviewed Alain Finkielkraut’s L’Identité malheureuse for Takimag last year, I used my blog to supplement the article with a collection of translated passages from the book, as I despaired of ever seeing the full work published in English.
So this year I’m similarly supporting my Right On! article about La Seule Certitude—Finkielkraut’s latest shot over the bow of uncontrolled and unassimilated immigration and its shabby theoretical underpinnings (deep breath)—with another collection of (hastily) translated passages. (Note: don’t be confused if you’re reading this very early in the week. Likely the Right On! article hasn’t been published yet; I’ll replace this sentence with a link when it goes live.) This is because L’Identité indeed has yet to appear in English, and I doubt Certitude will fare much better.
Short excerpts with commentary fall under fair use, after all, and for God’s sake, Finky, if you don’t like it, talk your publisher into hiring me to translate the entire thing. The peanut gallery over here could use a breath of fresh air.
Finkielkraut debates a good-looking telecaster. Again. It’s easy to pull off dismissive sarcasm when your features are perfectly symmetrical.
On the ever-phony Quentin Tarantino and the inhuman awfulness of white American Southerners as he portrays them in Django:
“You’re supposed to see this film as a cartoon,” they tell me. But the consumption of high doses of “cartoons” turns your brain into cardboard [“carton” in French, which makes for nice alliterative assonance]. They also tell me how clever Tarantino is, that he plays with genres… that you mustn’t take Django Unchained at face value. Isn’t that a perfect example of the infantilism of the 21st century? People are simultaneously morons and snobs… they simplify everything, but with a wink to make sure you know that they’re smarter than that. At the end of the day, nothing survives, neither past nor present. What’s we call reality is no longer anything but smug destruction.
When Le Monde ran a poll that found two-thirds of France thinks there are too many foreigners about, the paper decided the country was suffering from a disease they called fear of the Other. Finkielkraut asks whether this is fair.
Eric Dupin, a former journalist at Liberation, went to Tourcoing [to investigate]… He didn’t get any hostile stares, but he had “a rather oppressive impression that I was entering a territory that was almost exclusively Arab… The bakery was called ‘Bread of Farah.’ The Internet cafe was called bled.com [“the homeland”]. Everyone there spoke Arabic.”
On “marriage for everyone”: it’s not so much the legal union that bothers Finkielkraut, it’s the fact that children will grow up with two parents of the same gender rather than a more balanced set:
Even if nothing is natural, and everything we are, think, or do testifies to our culture… and even if the literature of our [culture] have long taught us that a lot of traditional families are “nests of vipers,” something in me is revulsed by this purge of otherness from childrearing. A purge made possible by the emergence of this monster of the will: the right to bear children.
On Pope Benoit XVI’s retreat from the papacy:
This great intellectual was a bad actor and dismal at communication.
On the same pope’s gaffe vis-à-vis the contributions of Islam to world culture (Benedict quoted an emperor who said Mahomet had brought to the world nothing new but the point of a sword; Islamists retorted by sacking and shooting up churches in the Middle East):
When thought is no longer animated by anything but a concern for catering to the sensibilities of some—and above all, of Others—isn’t it through gaffes that the truth sneaks into discourse?
On Stéfane Hessel, the Peter Pan of French pseudointellectuals:
This is the metaphysical significance of the contemporary cult of youth: the extinction of the light [ of wisdom, in an old man’s eyes] and the worship of the fire [in the eyes of the young].
On the Montauban and Toulouse shootings of military personnel and Jewish civilians, which the press and police initially jumped to blame on indigenous neo-Nazis (surprise, surprise, the actual shooter turned out to be a young Muslim Islamist):
Enzo Traverso remarks sadly that the Jews, who in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, embodied the critical conscience of the West… have become the defenders of the status quo. Antisemitism made them pariahs, but the memory of the Holocaust, this secular religion of liberal democracies, has lifted them up as darlings. And this pampered community never stops pointing out a residual antisemitism—whereas, according to Traverso, the real plague of our times is Islamophobia, and immigrants are the new Jews.
But this last contention is ridiculous. As Finkielkraut says of those who compare “Islamophobia” to anti-Jew sentiment in the 1930s:
[In the Jewish community of the 1930s:] Where was the equivalent of Al-quaida? Who was singing “Fuck France”? Were novelists, caricaturists, and philosophers being sent death threats? Were schoolchildren in the Republic contesting their coursework for religious reasons? [Note: Muslim students in France, as F. and others report, have made a habit in recent years of refusing to read classics such as Madame Bovary because they are against their religion.] Those who see the fear of the Other currently at work are themselves insensately terrified of reality, and they only make such desperate comparisons in order to flee it.
On art vs. Communism:
When you generalize suffering, you get Communism. When you particularize it, you get literature.
On the ban on veiled women in France:
[France] is attached to its tradition of allowing men and women to mingle, a “happy visibility of the feminine,” as Claude Habib writes, which even precedes the Declaration of the Rights of Man. This arrangement of the coexistence of the sexes cannot be universalized; thus the [veil] law.
On an incident on a French highway, where a Muslim was stomped to death by other Muslims for acting too French during a dispute over a minor collision: Finkielkraut remarked that there was no historical precedent in France to which he could compare such brutality.
On the return of classes in secular ethics to pre-baccalaureate French education:
What do you know: as incivility worsens, we discover, despite ourselves, the virtues of politeness: self-effacement, self-restraint, no longer sprawling everywhere with your being without consideration for others. …Secular ethics teach us autonomy. Autonomy doesn’t mean doing whatever you fancy—it means answering for what you’ve done.
On the ideology of antiracism and the reality of actual racism:
The all-encompassing antiracism under which we live is not an attack against the specific abuses of racism, but against reality. … Which does not mean racism has ceased to exist. We’re dedicated to fighting constantly on two fronts, against the antiracists’ refusal of the real world and against the racist unleashing of our lowest instincts.
On Europe and modernity:
European unity once was founded on a common religion; then, during the Modern period, religion gave way to common culture. Now that the Modern period has passed… this culture must be dissolved in the world markets without borders.
On the destruction of secularism… by atheism?!
Laicity is the solution that modern Europe found in order to escape its religious civil wars. But contemporary Europe doesn’t take religion seriously enough to know how to stick to this solution. She has exiled faith to the fantastic world of human irreality that the Marxists called “superstructure”… thus, precisely through their failure to believe in religion, the representatives of secularism empty laicity of its substance, and swallow, for humanitarian reasons, the demands of its enemies.
On the French Left’s disappointment in the new National Front… they aren’t evil anymore?!
Our age invokes incessantly the value of change, and denies, at the same time, the change taking place before its eyes. No, it says, the National Front hasn’t changed. It is what it is and always will be. The sworn enemies of essentialism have essentialized their main enemy. As though the “troubled” neighborhoods and the “troubled” schools hadn’t been joined by “troubled” hospitals, they assert that today’s immigration is absolutely no different from previous waves of immigration. They claim that Islam doesn’t pose any particular problem for France and that the same populism that struck in the 1930s and at the end of the 19th century is here now. So they oppose the National Front with the values that its ancestors mocked and the memory of the crimes they committed or allowed to be committed. But the problem is that this party no longer swears by anything BUT secularism, and wraps itselg emphatically in the republican ideal… Is it the compliment vice pays to virtue? No doubt. But you can’t eternally fight the National Front in the name of the principles that it’s shouting from the rooftops. The thought police are nostalgic for the mischief that Jean-Marie Le Pen used to provide them with an inexhaustible fecundity. But now they have almost nothing to chew on… they’re like hungry deer, wandering with their tongues hanging out on the savannah of the “politically correct.”
(That’s pretty damn funny.)
On Scylla and Charybdis:
Here we are hemmed in between two unacceptable alternatives: either xenophobia or, in the guise of togetherness and hospitality, the disdainful rejection of our heritage.
Strangely, the champions of the Other yell “scandal!” when you dare to say that the Other isn’t the same and that this heterogeneity may have consequences.
On high school kids’ dumb opinions:
“Youth knows no frontiers”—that’s a given. Youth, in fact, learns a lot of things, but doesn’t really know anything.
On assuming the crazy gunman must be a native European:
For these white-hot antiracists, the identity of the gunman who entered the newspaper Liberation and who gravely injured a photographer is already known. It doubtless must be one of these little French papas or one of their grown children. But the reality was such a disappointment. Abdelhakim Dekhar wasn’t one of the bad guys! So they stripped his act of all political significance. This nut job was immediately reduced to his insanity.
On calling Muslims the “new Jews”:
You would be hard pressed to find in the 1930s the equivalent of our modern “sensitive neighborhoods.” Slapping a model of the past over the present is a pious and wicked lie.
On questioning French as the national language (!) (!!!)
To deal with the question of “living together” in a France that’s become a land of immigrants, the experts tell us it asn’t the discipline of assimilation that must dominate, not even integration: instead we must focus on inclusion, which is to say embracing the Other as such. Anxious to turn the page on stigmatisation, they’ve demoted the French language to “majority language” in a multilingual country; they’ve decided that the entire country must study, as a matter of course, Arabic and the “languages of origin”… there is no French genius, there’s nothing but genius that others have brought to France.
Nonetheless, this revision of history in the light of diversity has elicited strong emotion. Public opinion didn’t respond with the expected docility…
(Granted, modern French usurped a good number of rural dialects; however, most of them were a pretty consistent mix of Gallic, Germanic, and Latin elements…)
The Left vs. the People:
Admirable as a social class, “the people” become detestable once they appear as a nation.
On the loose network of terrorism:
But this auto-entrepreneur of terrorism isn’t really a lone wolf. He is—paradox most postmodern—a wolf with connections. He grew up in Roubaix, which is not so much to say in France as in the hatred of France… he belonged to the “screen” generation. He became radicalized on the Internet, and where he must have seen the “selfie” of a Syrian preacher, who called, Kalishnakov in hand, upon the faithful to come and support their “brothers” in the jihad. “Jihad,” “selfie”: the cohabitation of these two words is the final proof that our time resembles no other.