Michel Houellebecq and other French intellectuals may herald the end of the Left's age
Without wishing to become the Comical Ali of the Right, I have a theory that the post-war period may one day be seen as the Left’s golden age and it is coming to an end.
One major reason is that much of the liberal-Left’s cultural dominance is based on the standard social science model of human nature (that we are shaped nearly entirely by culture rather than genes). Reality has been undermining the SSSM for some time, but the structure appears solid from outside, partly because of the overwhelming dominance of progressives in academia and strong social taboos against contradicting it.
People who defend the SSSM look moral – indeed it is influenced by Christianity – but at some point they will start to appear naïve or stupid.
Another reason for my crackpot theory is what’s happening across the water. Not that water. We’ve become so used to Anglophone triumphalism over the years that we fail to see that, more than ever, Europe’s culture is intertwined and that increasingly British politics has more in common with that of France, Germany or the Netherlands than the US. And France, which appears so culturally knackered after the 20th century, may have one last outpouring to influence the world.
Last week’s Spectator carried a piece about Les nouveaux réactionnaires, French intellectuals who reject the culture of 1968 and the politics of multiculturalism. As Patrick Marnham writes:
The new reactionaries are convinced that one of the cornerstones of French culture, ‘freedom of expression’, is dying. They reject ‘post-colonial guilt’ and are appalled by ‘cultural relativism’. To get down to the nitty-gritty, they take the view that France’s sovereignty is under threat from Arab immigration. Europe’s migration crisis has highlighted their fears, and the lip service that President Hollande pays to Angela Merkel’s refugee-quota system — widely unpopular in France — has further aided the reactionaries’ arguments.
The neo-reactionaries don’t appear to be reactionaries as such, just people who have fallen out with the Left over multiculturalism just as neo-conservatives fell out with the Left over Communism. No true reactionary could argue that a “golden age” began in 1789, as the article states – a year that brought about the “regicide state”, in the words of the late Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux.
(Fr Charles-Roux, whom I knew as I child when we attended Mass at St Etheldreda’s in Holborn, was so reactionary that he was devoted to the Cause of Marie Antoinette – a charmingly lost cause if ever there was one.)
Neo-reaction is a reaction to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and will have been given a huge lift by Angela Merkel’s cack-handed migrants’ policy; radical changes are most effectively brought about incrementally, so that the frog can barely remember that the water was once cold.
But neo-reaction could more widely be linked to the general failures of progressive ideas. Perhaps the best-known neoreactionary is the novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose latest title Soumission (Submission) was published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The novel, which is about a future Islamic takeover of France, is by all accounts ambiguous about whether it is actually dystopian or not.
In fact the book’s characters appear to be so weary of the 68er society that they willingly accept a traditional faith that, by restoring men and women to their tradition roles, makes most people happier. I don’t know if he’s simply being provocative, but one of the great paradoxes of the sexual revolution is how unhappy it makes women.
What progressive ideas have in common is that when put into practice they seem to cause people to be miserable. Multiculturalism removes people’s sense of comfort and community, replacing it with alienation and atomisation. Secularisation may lower social capital. Egalitarianism makes people feel like failures because it offers them largely false hopes of rising socially. Sexual liberation is based on the contradiction of sexual equality and sexual freedom, which clash just as surely as economic freedom and equality; and intense sexual competition makes people unhappy, for as Houellebecq observed in a previous book, Whatever, a world in which sexual pleasure is made a pre-eminent good is one where the gaps between the haves and have-nots is magnified to a new dimension.
Some in France doubt whether the “new reactionaries” are even a recognisable movement, and it’s questionable whether Britain or Germany especially would produce an equivalent. Probably only French intellectuals could make radical Right-wing ideas appear cool, in the same way only French people still make smoking look sexy, but it’s certainly true that, due to the overwhelming significance of Islamic immigration, European political culture is coming much closer together. Perhaps when France sneezes, Britain will catch un rhume.
Anyway, to quote the great Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf: “Today the tide has turned. We are destroying them.”