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Bérénice Levet: «La passion judiciaire nous habite et le passé ne nous apparaît plus que comme coupable».
Bérénice Levet: "The passion for justice lives in us and the past only appears to us as guilty". – Photo credits: JULIEN FALSIMAGNE

FIGAROVOX / TRIBUNE – Following the controversy over the unbolted statue of General Lee in Charlottesville, requests to rewrite history are increasing. For the philosopher, these requirements betray an excessiveness consisting in rewriting the past with our grids of the present.

Bérénice Levet is a doctor of philosophy and professor of philosophy at the Center Sèvres. His last book Gender theory or the dream world of angels, published by Grasset in November 2014, has just been released in a “Pocket” version by Hachette with an unpublished preface by Michel Onfray.

Last Tuesday, the 28th, seizing the unanimous condemnation by the French media of the events in Charlottesville triggered by the decision of the municipality to dismiss the statue of the segregationist General Lee, and the no less unanimous denunciation of the persistent racism of the Americans, the attitude of the "white supremacists", the very predictable president of the Council Representation of Black Associations of France (Cran), Louis-Georges Tin, published in Libération a column entitled "Your heroes are sometimes our executioners– note that the nuance is not by Tin himself; for him, there is no "sometimes": "Your heroes are our executioners", he writes.

In this forum, he summons the French people to examine their conscience, to take note of their own complacency towards "the slave traders", and demands from the city councilors a vast policy of urban purification: to rename street names, to unbolt statues and, among the targets targeted by the militant, a name stands out, not chosen at random as the symbolic charge is strong, that of one of the great figures in the history of France: the name of Colbert. "Which of the two countries is the most problematic, pretends to wonder Tin, the one where there is a conflict around the statue of a slave general, or the one where there is the National Assembly a statue of Colbert, a Salle Colbert, a Colbert wing at the Ministry of the Economy, Colbert high schools, dozens of streets or avenue Colbert without there being the slightest conflict, the slightest embarrassment, the slightest embarrassment?

Attacking the statues is a highly significant gesture. A city is sedimented historically and the statues are the incarnations of these successive layers which compose it

Attacking the statues is a highly significant gesture. Let us remember Abbé Grégoire and his great crusade against revolutionary vandalism (a word he coined), which he interpreted as a desire to “reduce the people to ignorance by destroying the monuments of the arts”. A city is sedimented historically and the statues are the incarnations of these successive layers which compose it. A city is told through its statues. These are rich in a double temporal thickness: they refer to the century of the statuefied person – witnesses of a past time, they are the markers of the historical continuity of a nation – but also to the time when they been erected. (I refer on this question to the valuable work of Maurice Agulhon).

These great demolishers are unaware of the emotional roots of these monuments. “In recent months, said the philosopher Ortega y Gasset in his preface to the revolt of the masses intended for French readers, while dragging my loneliness through the streets of Paris, I discovered that in truth I knew no one in the big city, no one except the statues (…) Having no one to talk to, it's with them that I talked to myself». And each of us at least experiences these urban itineraries punctuated by the presence of these great men, writers, monarchs, revolutionaries, who made France.

These demands for rewriting history have multiplied in recent years. In December 2015, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam embarked on a vast operation entitled “Adjustments regarding colonialist terminologies”. Twenty-three terms appearing on the labels of the works hung on the museum's picture rails, which could be considered "offensive" by visitors, had been selected in order to find politically correct substitutes for them: Moor, negro, slave, savage, Hottentot, dwarf, Mohammedan. The same year, a thirty-three American sued the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for racism. He accused the museum of only exhibiting works depicting “Arian” type Christs, Christs with fair skin and blond hair, thereby causing him “a feeling of rejection”. Four canvases particularly offended him, including one by Tintoretto and another by Perugino. He imperiously demanded the unhooking.

This year, in Martinique, on the occasion of August 23, decreed by Unesco as the international day for the memory of slavery and its abolition, an event at the initiative of the MIR (International Movement for Reparations) was organized to obtain the dismissal of the statue of Joséphine de Beauharnais, on the Place de la Savane. Activists burned the snake flag on the statue, a very controversial emblem of Martinique since this flag appeared on slave ships at the time. Other demonstrations and demands of this order were recently recalled by Mathieu Bock-Côté (Le Figaro, August 30, 2017). We should also look at feminists who are no less determined to reconfigure public space.

Imported Recognition Policy

How did we get there? Several factors have contributed to this and come together.

We are the prey of a many-headed hydra. Deleterious effects all over the world, but even more so in France as this spirit is contrary to our history. The advent of a penitential memory and the importation of an ideology and a policy of recognition of identities from Anglo-Saxon countries, the exaltation of the right to difference with the creation of SOS Racisme by the Mitterrandian left in 1984 got the better of the French conception of the Republic and its passion for the common world.

The withdrawal of the nation, of national history as a principle of identification has left the field open to the affirmation of identity, to the claims of each of the communities and to the fragmentation of the national body. An individual is not satisfied for long with remaining without an identity, he then turns to the most agreeable, the only bidders. A victim's identity, authorizing the hatred of France and the West, seems a happy setting.

The withdrawal of the nation, of national history as a principle of identification has left the field open to the crumbling of the national body.

These phenomena testify to the extremely thorny relationship that we have with the past. We no longer know how to apprehend it. The past calls for heirs, because it aspires to be continued, kept alive and enriched, yet it seems that it must be content with tourists or judges, who are often the same. The hubris, the excess of a present that would be entirely founding, dominates us. Man no longer wants to conceive of himself as an heir, with all the responsibility that entails. The singular history in which we are entering is entrusted to us and it is up to us to answer for it. “To be born, said Marcel Hénaff, is to be in debt”.

The judicial passion inhabits us and the past only appears to us as culpable through and through and unworthy of being continued. We have become inaccessible to the grandeur of the past, to its nobility, to its power of inspiration, to its treasures. In the Newspeak of the 1960s and 1970s, making heirs meant ipso facto to be guilty of collaboration by allowing a civilization to continue. The passion for repentance, penitential intoxication, on which everything has been written, dwells in us.

Incarcerated in the prison of the present

A point seems to me however to have to be added, more rarely underlined. Incarcerated in the prison of the present, we have become unable to extract ourselves from our categories of thought and judgment – ​​sexism, racism, colonialism, machismo, dominant/dominated and we will revisit history with the only touchstone of this indigent grid of reading. The unknown is brought back to the known, the strangeness which marks with its seal modes of thought and life coming from other temporal shores, brought back to the familiar.

History and literature curricula are infested with contemporary ideology and the student views the past through the lens of the present.

A formidable evil affects us: we have become incapable of suspending our evidence, of putting aside our prejudices as democratic, egalitarian men. Incapable, in other words, of "getting a change of scenery in another sense" (Paul Ricoeur) and of reaching the complexity of realities essentially distinct from ours - and the most serious thing is that the school itself no longer makes itself the place learning this faculty, this art. History and literature curricula are infested with contemporary ideology and the student views the past through the lenses of the present, encouraged to distribute good and bad points.

Thus of Colbert, this immense figure in the history of France, who allowed our country to reach a greatness hitherto unequaled, Louis-Georges Tin only knows and wants to know one thing: that he was the "author of the black code" - approximate formula because if Colbert was at the initiative of the black code, he was not the editor, but we will not ask Tin to bother with what is certainly not to his eyes only a detail – and the founder of the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales.

Let no one accuse us of denying the reality of slavery and the rigor of this jurisdiction. We are fully aware that the Black Code “in force until 1848, was one of the tools of the inhumanity of the slave system. It remains one of its symbols” (Olivier Grenouilleau) but the history of France cannot be reduced to this. What the Tin and others persist in denying, for whom colonization is the very essence of France. And in this most rudimentary plot, the roles are easy to distribute: we are the executioners and they are the victims.

It is obvious that the establishment of facts, historical knowledge do not interest these militants. The objective of these carabinieri is not knowledge, instruction, but appearance: they want a France on the ground, a France that beats its culp. Hate, resentment - base passion of democratic men, said Nietzsche - devour them.

The objective of these carabinieri is not knowledge, instruction, but appearance: they want a France on the ground, a France that beats its culp.

childish reading of history

This reading of history in black and white could be denounced as childishness, which it certainly is – the adult, the man who has reached the age of majority, the enlightened man is supposed to know that history is a tissue of complexities – but that would be insufficient because it is of a formidable efficiency, it seduces and is disseminated, relayed by minds who are well beyond infantile age.

Our intellectual, cultural and political elites are the great instigators. Thus, Tuesday 28, from 7:30 a.m., even before going to his newsstand, the listener to the Matinale de France-inter knew, thanks to its host Nicolas Demorand (editorial available online on the radio's website ), that there was a sermon that day not to be missed and seriously pondered, published in the daily Liberation, the tribune of Louis-Georges Tin. "A necessary examination of conscience, therefore, on this side of the Atlantic", concluded the journalist in a solemn but no less playful tone, the tone of someone who knows he belongs to the camp of good.

It would be wrong to treat with contempt, with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile on the corner of the lips, these demonstrations and claims.

This is the reason why it would be wrong to treat with contempt, with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile on the corner of the lips, these demonstrations and demands. How could these great purifiers of our history, of our past, not find an audience with our politicians haunted by the idea of ​​being suspected of complicity with "sins", when these are not "crimes", of France (colonialism, sexism etc.)? Let's imagine for a moment, Anne Hidalgo, reading the tribune of Tin: How the exhortation to track down the slightest trace of the "slave traders" whose memory the city would perpetuate, and consequently, to rename the streets, the schools, unbolt the sinful statues , would she not find a most benevolent ear with the mayor of Paris engaged in this vast operation of urban and societal engineering, eloquently entitled “Reinventing Paris” (hearing to regenerate the Parisian people)? A city cleaned of these junk in the name of the fight against racism and slavery… What more could you dream of!

We have to be extremely vigilant, because the communitarian demands are a barrel of the Danaides and our elites show true submission.

This focus on the past offers the advantage of turning away from the urgency of the present, dispensing with judging here and now. Thus France deserves all their hatred, when the Islamist terrorists on the contrary, they serine after each new attack, will not have it.






Source: Le Figaro Premium – Bérénice Levet: “Who will stop the great purifiers of History? »


  • JEAN
    Posted September 4, 2017 14h19 0Likes

    For the History, Paragraph 6, Line 10: a slip has had “Arian Christ” printed, given the context, the author meant Aryan Christ, (very white, even a little pale…) and not a disciple of Arius at the time. Origin of Arianism.

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