How a nation destroys itself?

The ongoing gilets jaunes protests in France have rocked that country’s establishment to the core, and look set fair to continue indefinitely, unless the underlying factors that have produced them are changed.  I suspect that’s unlikely to happen.

Christopher Caldwell published an article last year that outlines what’s going on in France.  It’s long, but very well worth reading, because many of the same pressures are to be seen in these United States.  They may involved different groups here, but the tensions produced by interaction between those groups is pretty similar, IMHO.  Here’s a series of excerpts from the article.

Christophe Guilluy calls himself a geographer. But he has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.

. . .

At a practical level, considerations of economics and ethnicity are getting harder to disentangle. Guilluy has spent years in and out of buildings in northern Paris (his sisters live in public housing), and he is sensitive to the way this works in France. A public-housing development is a community, yes, and one can wish that it be more diverse. But it is also an economic resource that, more and more, is getting fought over tribally.

. . .

The nation’s cultural institutions—from its universities to its television studios to its comedy clubs to (this being France) its government—remain where they were. But the sociology of the community that surrounds them has been transformed. The culture industry now sits in territory that is 100 percent occupied by the beneficiaries of globalization. No equivalent exists any more of Madame Vauquer’s boardinghouse in Balzac’s Père Goriot, where the upwardly mobile Rastignac had to rub shoulders with those who had few prospects of advancement. In most parts of Paris, working-class Frenchmen are just gone, priced out of even the soccer stadiums that were a bastion of French proledom until the country’s World Cup victory in 1998. The national culture has changed.

. . .

For those cut off from France’s new-economy citadels, the misfortunes are serious. They’re stuck economically. Three years after finishing their studies, three-quarters of French university graduates are living on their own; by contrast, three-quarters of their contemporaries without university degrees still live with their parents. And they’re dying early. In January 2016, the national statistical institute Insée announced that life expectancy had fallen for both sexes in France for the first time since World War II, and it’s the native French working class that is likely driving the decline.

. . .

In France, political correctness is more than a ridiculous set of opinions; it’s also—and primarily—a tool of government coercion. Not only does it tilt any political discussion in favor of one set of arguments; it also gives the ruling class a doubt-expelling myth that provides a constant boost to morale and esprit de corps, much as class systems did in the days before democracy. People tend to snicker when the question of political correctness is raised: its practitioners because no one wants to be thought politically correct; and its targets because no one wants to admit to being coerced. But it determines the current polarity in French politics. Where you stand depends largely on whether you believe that antiracism is a sincere response to a genuine upsurge of public hatred or an opportunistic posture for elites seeking to justify their rule.

Guilluy is ambivalent on the question. He sees deep historical and economic processes at work behind the evolution of France’s residential spaces. “There has been no plan to ‘expel the poor,’ no conspiracy,” he writes. “Just a strict application of market principles.” But he is moving toward a more politically engaged view that the rhetoric of an “open society” is “a smokescreen meant to hide the emergence of a closed society, walled off for the benefit of the upper classes.”

There’s much more at the link.  It’s not light or easy reading, but I think it’s prescient about what’s happening in France, and also in these United States.  Even though the origins of the pressures on our society aren’t the same, their effects are too similar for comfort.  In particular, where Guilluy speaks of African and Muslim pressures on French society, US readers should consider the effects of Latin American illegal immigration and cultural issues on our society.

Recommended reading.



  1. The nobility has a long and inglorious history of inviting in foreign invaders to help conquer their short-term rivals, leading to long lasting upheaval. The English conquered Ireland – at the request of various Irish lords, one county at a time.

  2. Hey Peter;

    McChuck is on to something, the Elitist bring in people from out of the country because they are "malleable" to being ruled whereas the local people especially the middle class will now kowtow to the elitist class and this sticks in the craw of the ruling class because they are "Born to rule" and us middle class peons with our rules of law and guns will keep this from happening.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *