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Pour l'intellectuel Laurent Bouvet, «oefjz)»
For the intellectual Laurent Bouvet, “oefjz)” – Photo credits: Gone with the wind

FIGAROVOX/INTERVIEW – After the hunt for statues, the culture war that seems to have taken hold of the United States since Charlottesville has recently attacked the cinema, with the ban in Tenessee on a screening of Gone With Them wind. Laurent Bouvet reacts to these events.


Laurent Bouvet is professor of political science at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. He published Cultural Insecurity at Fayard in 2015. His latest book, The Zombie Left, Chronicles of a Political Curse, was published on March 21, 2017 by Lemieux editions. He is one of the main figures of the Printemps Républicain.



FIGAROVOX.- A cinema in Tennessee has canceled the presentation of the legendary film Gone with the wind, published in 1939, because of potentially racist content towards black people. What inspires you?

Laurent BOUVET.- Even if it is not new, in the United States in particular, this type of attitude and reaction has tended to multiply in recent months. And above all, they are much more relayed by the media than before. They have become “events”. This visibility is largely due to the organization on the social networks of associations and pressure groups which militate in the direction of a revision of History to make prevail the vision that they have of it. In the example of Memphis, a specific identity vision: that which is relative to the color of the skin, “racial” in the very terms of the American debate.

This is the heart of the matter. Institutions, like this cinema ordered to withdraw this film from its programming, like local authorities ordered to rename a street or to unbolt a statue, like universities or libraries ordered to renounce the teaching of such an author or the loan of such a work... are increasingly subject to this type of request which comes from mobilizations of groups formed around the highlighting of criteria of individual identity ("ethno-racial", gender, religion, orientation sexual…) of their members. Mobilizations that now occur mainly online.

The problem directly raised by such an example refers to the uses of History, to the way in which one questions and reads it in the light of contemporary perceptions and conceptions. It is a very general problem, a permanent source of questioning. Where we enter into considerations that can become a political problem is when this questioning goes beyond the framework of purely historiographical discussions to become a social issue, and especially when such and such a group wants to impose its vision of History on others by demanding that the consequences of this manifest themselves concretely in the public space or collective life: no longer allowing the viewing of such a film or wanting to prohibit seeing the statue of such a historical figure.

This comes after the removal of some Confederate statues and the events in Charlottesville. Is the United States in the throes of a real culture war? How far can this go?

The United States have become, since the 1970s at least, a kind of laboratory for identity abuses of all kinds, due to a turning point in terms of identity taken by political and social struggles stemming from the left (black movement, feminism , gay movement…) in the late 1960s and early 1970s only because of the radicalization of part of the white population around “values”, notably religious.

A form of cultural war (ie around these identity issues) has been going on in different forms depending on the era. After the rise of identity movements stemming from the mobilizations of cultural “minorities” in the 1970s, the Reagan “backlash” in the 1980s led to the hardening of the positions of both camps. Already at the end of the 1980s, Allan Bloom warned of this drift in his book The Disarmed Soul (The Closing of the American Mind) by showing how university campuses had become the place of a new "political correctness" aimed at stripping American culture of its Western, Christian, white, male, heterosexual trappings... in order to install the multicultural diversity present in society .

This transition from the observation, made long ago in the United States, by authors such as Horace Kallen or Walt Whitman for example, of a fundamental and founding cultural pluralism of American society, to a form of normative requirement intended to make this cultural pluralism the very organization of political, legal and social life, this transition from de facto multiculturalism to normative multiculturalism, is essential for understanding what is at stake today.

Trump has decided to fully assume the American culture war by being elected by one camp against the other.

The 2016 presidential campaign and the coming to power of Donald Trump opened a new chapter in this story, with identity antagonism being brought to incandescence by the president himself now. Trump has indeed decided to fully assume the American culture war by being elected by one camp against the other, and thus allowing a very broad mobilization of his opponents, well beyond the traditional activist groups. Which leads to what we have seen in Charlottesville, but which also leads to much greater tension than under the Obama presidency in many cities between the police and the minorities, especially the black minority. As if the election of Trump had uninhibited the racism of some.

This is part of a much broader drift towards multiculturalism. What are the ideological roots of this type of claim? How did we get here?

The "identity turn" that I mentioned above is due to a combination of factors, some purely American (specificity of the black question, context of the 60s, etc.), others broader (transition to post-industrial society and 'a social reading, starting from class, to a more cultural reading, based on the particularities of the individual, transformation of the anti-colonial political struggle of the 50s and 60s into a struggle for identity recognition…). It is in any case from this particular moment, about 50 years ago, that we can begin to observe the excesses whose consequences we see today.

Ideologically, it is both the weakening or the abandonment of the great structuring ideological narratives of the XNUMXth century, particularly around Marxism, which underplayed the aspect of cultural identity in relation to class belonging, the determinants social; and mutations of modern individualism which, after a phase of construction around the idea of ​​universalism of rights, in-depth democratization of societies and emancipation of the person from all forms of domination... results in the exacerbation of a criterion of our individual identity, composed of multiple elements, whose characteristic is to have been denied, misrecognized, understated, etc. The meeting of this new individualism and the idea of ​​“minority” being at the heart of the contemporary multiculturalist approach (normative multiculturalism).

We observe this mutation within a whole section of the left in particular. Where Marxism and its offshoots reigned supreme, today stands a true multiculturalist ideology. What is striking is that if the substance of the analysis of society and the goal of its revolutionary transformation have been totally neglected and forgotten, the same ideological processes are at work. A whole section of the left is even trying, with the help of painstaking sophistry, to pass off its struggle for cultural identity as a social struggle. The permanent, and therefore very abusive, use of terms like “dominated” or “intersectionality” has tried to mask this architectonic evolution for 50 years. As if it was necessary at all costs to continue, in order to still be able to call oneself “on the left” no doubt, to make people believe that we are fighting against capitalism and for the proletariat.

What is striking is that despite these attempts to remain in the classic alignment on the left, the identity drift rediscovers the accents of the racist theories of the XNUMXth century, of the worst communitarian visions described by German sociology, by Ferdinand Tönnies or Max Weber or even comes to justify fundamental, natural inequalities between men and women! The return to fundamentalist, creationist and, to be honest, obscurantist readings of religious texts is one of the most astonishing examples.

And we pass from astonishment to amazement when we hear intellectuals or researchers who claim to be the most authentic left, justifying these regressions in the very name of individual freedom, equality or emancipation.

The Representative Council of Black Associations (Cran) calls for the replacement of "statues of shame", such as that of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, author of the Black Code, in the National Assembly, by figures of personalities who fought against slavery and racism. “So far, on Charlottesville, French commentators have denounced American racism (very important, it is true), without ever seeing the beam in France's eye… Your heroes are our executioners. […] Is there not a link between the pedestal on which slaveholders are placed and the social contempt suffered by the descendants of slaves?” writes, in the text, the president of Cran, Louis-Georges Tin. What inspires you?

First of all, before copying their ideas from the United States, some should not only think twice (and understand that one cannot choose such and such an element as one pleases in American society, that the whole is coherent, has its own history, etc.) but reflect on the differences in situation between American and French societies! Especially given the history of slavery in both countries.

Then that this kind of statement, of claim, leads us to put our finger in a very dangerous gear. Where do we stop once we have decided to rewrite history? And who decides? Today the statues, tomorrow what? Books? Book burnings that do not give a vision of history consistent with such or such identity claim? This obviously does not bring back good memories. Not having such elements in mind when deciding to embark on such a campaign seems very dangerous to me. In fact, I see in it both recklessness, irresponsibility and, obviously, a form of cynicism.

Finally, History should be an educational object and not a therapeutic one. Rather than unbolting a statue or banning a book, on the contrary, we must lead the children, the pupils in front of this statue, give them this book to read, explaining to them what happened, giving them all the elements that allow from knowledge to form an opinion. Thus on slavery, it is essential to update its springs, its circuits, its experiments, the sufferings which it generated… Fortunately multiple historical works but also works, I think in particular of the cinema, made it possible to make better understand this historical reality for years. The official commemoration also plays this role and that is very good. The risk of L.-G. Tin, basically, it's less the unbolting of Colbert than what happened a few years ago when Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau's book on the slave trade in the world came out. It showed, through in-depth historical work, the extent of the phenomenon and its generality: not only in Western countries and their colonies but also in the Arab-Muslim world and between African kingdoms and tribes. He had been the object of an unworthy campaign, both on the part of fellow historians, identity activists and even political figures (we remember the derogatory remarks made about him by Christiane Taubira, for example), because for all these people, the historical truth, the reality of the facts, did not “fit” with their ideological representation of slavery as a phenomenon of domination by Western “whites” over African “blacks”.

Is France in the process of abandoning its republican model in favor of a multiculturalist and politically correct American model?

Let's say that we are in a moment of combat between these two visions. There is tremendous pressure from normative multiculturalism, supported by a number of foreign examples on which its defenders do not hesitate to rely, in contradiction, moreover, with their cultural relativism and their scrupulous desire to respect local cultures, it is said by the way. But it should also be noted that abroad, things are not self-evident. The latest book by Mark Lilla (The Once and Future Liberal) testifies to this. We continue, in the United States as elsewhere, particularly on the left, to think of an egalitarian universalism (between men and women in particular) and of a freedom of thought that applies to all areas, including religion.

In France, the fight is difficult for supporters of a republican vision (we call it that in France but it is in fact philosophically a mixture of attachment to freedom of thought, to the idea of a universal humanism, pluralism and intellectual openness, the use of reason against dogma…). On the one hand because the methods inherited, especially on the left, from the previous ideological period, are widely used to try to silence these Republicans, from attempts at political and academic disqualification to defamatory accusations. We are quickly called racist or "Islamophobic" when we discuss multiculturalist dogmas, for example. On the other hand, it is linked, because both in the media and in the academic world, for example, the reflexes of submission to this thought police are still very present. Not so much by membership, this identity ideology remains very limited if we look closely at a few activist associations and media personalities, but by fear of being badly seen or "denounced" publicly, on social networks in particular, also out of conformity, so as not to "get bored".

We thus see, among many left-wing activists, in parties and unions, a form of reluctance on such issues, out of a desire to remain within the comfort of the social struggle (even if this is far from their concerns). real…) which leads to taking at face value what multiculturalist identitarians say, because they are “on the left”, from the same “camp”. However, such "campism" has led, for years now, to the political and more recently electoral impasse in which the entire left finds itself today: the distancing of the working classes and the misunderstanding of what is at stake depth in French society.

So much so that the fight of the Republicans, as you say, is both an intellectual and ideological fight, to prevent the identity drift of normative multiculturalism from affecting our society even more, and a political fight, to give back to the left ( but this is not limiting!) tools for analyzing society in line with its evolution. Leaving the field to identity thinking is not a problem of right or left, it is a problem in itself. It is up to everyone to take the measure to avoid the tragic consequences.

Source: ©  Le Figaro Premium – Prohibition of Gone with the Wind: how far will the culture war go in the United States?

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