Political correctness and the French Class System

A fascinating article in City Journal about the writings of Christophe Guilluy, the French geographer whose observations of French society are equivalent to those of Charles Murray. The article is by the American journalist and author Christopher Caldwell.

“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.”

I am struck often by how the French get themselves absolutely stuck, where only violence gets attention, and revolution seems the most effective way of changing governments. I see this particularly in the different outcomes in Great Britain and France: how Boris Johnson was able to break through the Brexit impasse, while week after week the French yellow-vests riot and disrupt, to no particular effect.

The link between the riots of the gilets-jaunes and the tight grip the French upper classes hold over dissenting expression was clearly seen in an article in the Guardian by Jon Henley on the work of Christophe Guilluy. Henley writes:

“Guilluy argued that peripheral France should be seen as a bigger concern than the country’s troubled, immigration-heavy banlieues, traditionally seen as its major social problem, because of the sheer numbers of people struggling to make ends meet and their relative isolation from dynamic economic centres. If nothing changed, he warned, the French Socialist party, the historical defender of the underprivileged, would collapse, Le Pen’s far-right Front National – now renamed Rassemblement National (National Rally) – would soar, and France risked a popular uprising the likes of which it had not witnessed in decades, if not centuries….

“It is not so much “big capital” that is to blame for the divide, Guilluy writes, as when “previous generations of the bourgeoisie lusted nakedly after power or money”, but the “laid-back, unostentatious dominance … without hatred or violence” of the “bobo-ised upper classes” in what he calls the “new citadels”. They have “supported the economic policies of the upper class for 30 years now” (policies which only really work for them) and developed “a single way of talking and thinking … that allows the dominant classes to substitute for the reality of a nation subject to severe stress and strain the fable of a kind and welcoming society”. Because hipsters are also hypocrites, Guilluy argues: they denounce globalisation, but never challenge it because it serves them so well; they preach diversity, but send their children to private schools; they love the “authenticity” of living in working-class areas, but contribute to their destruction through rising property prices.

“The revolution is coming, he warns: “The existing order will finally break down not as the result of some decisive event, but as the result of a slow process of social and cultural disaffiliation of the working class.” It has already brought us Brexit in Britain and Trump in the US; “a new form of class conflict” is upon us, and a “modern slave rebellion” is on its way.

A modern slave rebellion?!

Bookmark and Share

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