Charlie Hebdo and the Euro
The book “Qui est Charlie?” by Emmanuel Todd has just been translated into English. Todd was librarian and is now research associate at the French National Institute for Demographic Research.
His new book caused a great scandal when it came out in France in May 2015, after the huge demonstration of 11 January of the same year, because it dared call that demonstration hysterical and hypocritical. “Millions of French people rushed into the streets to define the right to spit on the religion of the weak as the priority need of their society,” Todd wrote. Newspapers devoted pages to denouncing Todd, including the Prime Minister Emmanuel Valls himself in Le Monde.
Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/writer-takes-dim-view-of-charlie-hebdo-protest-1.2217516) describes a launch of the book: “The hostility of the press was palpable at a lunch with the European Press Club on Monday, where Todd described Charlie Hebdo as “an Islamophobic sect which spends its time sh***ing on Mohamed”. There were audible gasps among journalists. “The real threat isn’t Islam, which is relatively little practised,” Todd said. “It’s this new religion of radical secularism.”
François Hollande and Valls quote the 11 January demonstration when they want to increase their popularity, as the high point of national inspiration, instigated by them, giving us all hope and moral courage to fight the good fight; the media refer to “the spirit of 11 January”, when all Frenchmen came together and stood firm, united around their Republican values, to fight barbarism.
Emmanuel Todd calls it a moment of collective hysteria; he wants to ‘understand how part of society was able to impose a false image of reality on the whole population”. He asks ‘What kind of society made 3 or 4 million people in the streets in solidarity with a journal identified with a caricature, stigmatising a minority religion and making it France’s number one problem?’
Todd is aware of the role of French foreign policy in French jihadism; in the meeting mentioned above he denounced “the idea that Islam declared war on the West, when it’s the western military machine that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Muslim world”.
But in the book ‘Qui est Charlie ?’ the main reason for the Jihadism of young French people is not so much France’s foreign policy, but more the absence of hope for the future, caused by the mad and criminal combination of a strong European currency with free trade. This causes increasing income inequality, as well as seemingly permanent unemployment. Free trade causes regions that produce the best and cheapest to condemn the others to hopelessness, especially among the younger generations.
This is a choice, which was originally accepted by the population: ‘Voters accepted the triumph of the individual, competition, inequality, ‘aspiration’, making the most of your opportunities.’ Voters left behind communal values. Now ‘powerful forces keep France in political and economic choices that destroy part of the population.’
These powerful forces are the old, the middle classes and ex-Catholics and they support this choice of the Euro in combination with free trade. The old because they are protected from economic hardship by generous pensions, fruit of the distributive and collective system of the previous non-liberal era. The middle classes because they still have jobs. Both the old and the middle class enjoy the cheap goods imported thanks to free trade. The case against ex-Catholics is more complicated.
Todd made the case in his 2013 book “Le Mystère Français”; he explained in it that the regions of France where the practice of Catholicism continued the longest are today the regions most successful in terms of education and employment. He calls that ‘zombie-Catholicism’, meaning Catholic attitudes that persist when active Catholic worship has ended. Historically, these regions turned away from the French Revolution, when it became anti-clerical; together with the Catholic Church they supported the restoration of the King in 1815, and the Second Empire in 1851; they took their time accepting the Republic after it was finally established in 1875.
This political history of the Catholics makes Todd unable to find anything good about traditionally Catholic regions having stronger family and social links and being capable of offering support to their population and in particular the young. He accuses them of not being Republican.
In ‘Qui est Charlie?’ Todd continues this theme. According to him, Zombie-Catholics form the population in about a third of France, in the old inegalitarian regions, meaning where the eldest son inherited, rather than all children equally; their Catholic tradition leads to better school results, fewer family problems, lower unemployment, easier economic restructuring.
The causes of this success, he says, are, firstly a survival of social discipline from Church teaching: this teaching favours family stability, local cooperation, mutual aid, support networks, anti-individualist morality; Church teaching rejects the isolation of the individual, egoism, mass narcissism, and the ideological devaluation of any work not leading directly to gain; this Zombie Catholicism provides the necessary protective layers against the market.
Secondly these regions have hope, because they have recently become liberated from the influence of priests, says Todd.
Thirdly these regions accept inequality, therefore employees and workers are more docile, and the regions consequently attract employment; the formerly Catholic trade union CFDT favours intelligent dialogue between employers and workers.
Reading this makes me think that this Church teaching must be a good thing, but apparently it isn’t. It can’t be good, for Todd, because it is based on a non-egalitarian tradition. Todd writes as if these Catholics formed an exclusive sect, as if their being Catholic was a privilege; he writes as if for example the CFDT was an exclusive mutual aid club from which the bulk of the population was shut out. But Todd ignores the obstacles placed in the way of the expansion of social-democratic unions like the CFDT, by for example the Communist Party, who called them corporatist lackeys of capitalism etc. The main thing is that the Church is hierarchical, which is bad, and that people who remained Catholic the longest came from non-egalitarian family systems.
Todd’s family systems are of two kinds, depending on equality of inheritance; in parts of France the children inherited equally, and in other parts, the eldest only inherited. If the eldest only inherits, that makes people believe that children are not equal, therefore men are not equal, therefore peoples are not equal. Todd has studied the ‘anthropology’ of France following this criterion, and found that regions where the second tradition was prevalent tended not to support the Revolution (once it had become anti-clerical) and tended to remain attached to the Church longer; they are now the so-called Zombie-Catholics.
Todd writes as if equality was a straightforward idea. It is not. ‘Equality’ presumes a situation where there is something to share, tangible or intangible, and equality describes the manner of sharing.
‘Equality or inequality of inheritance’ assumes that all families had something to transmit to children. This fundamental distinction between two types of inheritance assumes the existence of property owning by the masses, which didn’t happen in France until the Revolution. When land is not owned by families, and especially once people leave the land and become proletarian, there is nothing to pass on, and inheritance doesn’t exist. Todd should give us maps of property owning France.
Todd talks as if equality had been set in stone by the Revolution. But what the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen set in stone is inequality, as useful to social order. Equality was only equality of rights: ‘men are equal in rights, and inequality is there only to maintain the good order of society’; at the time this was written, 1789, this meant that aristocrats do not have extra rights by virtue of their aristocratic birth. The ‘equality’ of 1789, supposed to be the pillar of French society, is in fact meaningless today, when there are no aristocrats placed above the populace by right.
You could also argue that since, as Todd has explained, Zombie-Catholic regions give their inhabitants better access to work, therefore to food and housing, more mutual support, better education, a more stable family life. their members enjoy a more equal access to good things. And therefore there is more equality in these so-called inegalitarian regions.
This is to no avail. Todd’s sympathies are with the historically ‘egalitarian’ regions, where the Communist Party and anti-clericalism were strongly influential. What confirms him in his preference is what happened on 11 January. When he came across a map showing the biggest demonstrations of 11 January 2015, it jumped out at him that the biggest demonstrations were in Zombie Catholic areas! Hence the book, Qui est Charlie? The title asks: Who marched under the slogan ‘I am Charlie’? And the answer is that those who marched claiming ‘I am Charlie’ were these old privileged Zombie Catholics, who want to preserve the status-quo. (Todd excludes the Paris demonstration from his reasoning, since it was the biggest but not in a Zombie-Catholic area; Paris is an exception being the capital and the scene of an international demonstration.)
Those who were absent from these marches, and did not participate in this collective hysteria, were the working class and the population grown from immigration. They are the victims of the Charlie people’s choices, viz the Euro and free trade, resulting in unemployment and segregation for the weakest in society.
The failure of the European Union after its abandonment of social democratic values (limits to free trade) is not the only cause of France’s problems however; the other is the loss of religious faith. (The full title of his book is Who is Charlie? Sociology of a Religious Crisis.) He said in his interview with Lara Marlowe that the problems are not just economic but also moral:
“Then, the intelligent, dignified response [to the killings] would have been for French society to reflect upon itself, to admit that Kouachis and Coulibaly [the gunmen] were French and that this horror was committed by French people. They should reflect on the social system that leaves part of the population rotting, economically and morally. If we go on like this, I think [the violence] will continue.”
Given his case against Zombie-Catholicism, which is a case against Catholicism, it is surprising that Todd identifies loss of religious faith as a problem. Nevertheless he does; he sees that atheism has changed: at first, it was a liberation, leaving a prison, finding freedom from the Church. Now atheism has to define itself on its own merits, not as ‘freedom from’ something, since the Church has all but disappeared. The end of Catholicism poses a problem for atheists, who feel the gap, the emptiness. Atheism had never before had to define itself in a world without religion; it is now shown as giving no meaning to the world and no direction or sense to human life. This non-belief and consequent freedom to behave as one likes causes political and psychological problems. The biggest problem in the immigrant ghettoes round cities (the banlieues), according to Todd, is not Islamism, but the breakdown in behaviour, what he calls, following the sociologist Durkheim, anomie (lawlessness, normlessness). Todd is beginning to sound like the philosophers of the Enlightenment: religion is not good for me, but it’s good for the masses. Todd concludes by saying that the banlieues must be protected from fundamentalist secularism, because Islam can be a source of psychological equilibrium.
I agree with Todd that today’s radical or fundamentalist secularism, the so-called laïcité, is a modern invention, which does not have its roots in the thinking of the founding fathers of the Republic, and that Muslims in France today are asked to sacrifice much more than were the Catholics of the 1880s. Jules Ferry, minister of Education, wrote to all school teachers at the launch of the new free, compulsory, non-religious school which was going to wrench education from the Church. He wrote:
“It goes without saying that the teacher will avoid as a bad deed anything, in his language or his attitude, which might hurt the children’s religious beliefs, anything that could trouble their spirit.”
That 1883 letter presents the child as being part of a family he or she must love, respect and help. The teacher must teach the child to love nature and God. The Ferry directive begins:
“Secular moral teaching is different from religious teaching but does not contradict it. The teacher does not take the place of the priest or the father; he joins his efforts to theirs in order to make of each child a good and honest man.”
The present day Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, and her predecessor Vincent Peillon, on the contrary, want to ‘tear the child away from the determinism of family and background’. Pupils are explicitly taught that they are free not to believe. Girls are not allowed to wear a headscarf, even though it is a justifiable interpretation of the religious based desire for modesty.
Laïcité is included today with ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’, as the fourth fundamental value of the Republic. Todd is right to point out that the current understanding of secularism is much more extreme than the original understanding of it, and that this new interpretation is harmful to society.
The new interpretation is the fruit however of a consistent and relentless suppression of the Catholic Church, from the time of the proper foundation of the Republic in 1875, called the IIIrd Republic but in reality the first; the Church was all but eradicated, physically in its property but mainly in people’s minds. Almost everyone in France believes that religion is something that is fine as long as it is not seen or heard in public, and does not influence people’s behaviour. So religion is fine as long as it is not also a guide to how to live, in other words, religion is fine as long as it is not religion. This is the modern understanding of the so-called Republican principle of laïcité, a sort of fundamentalist secularism, principle which as said above was quite absent from the thinking of the founders of the IIIrd Republic.
The phoney scientific ‘anthropological’ approach, as if you could analyse a complex society as if it was a tribe, unchanging and unconnected to any other part of the world, leads Todd to absurdity. Todd is not exclusively wedded to logic and evidence as rules for writing history. He
sets down principles, and is happy to illustrate them with glaringly absurd examples; for example, the following principle: ‘loss of faith leads people to look for objects of hate, as replacement for the loss of belief’. Readers of this magazine will be surprised to learn that the Irish turned against England in the 1970s to fill the metaphysical void they felt when they abandoned Catholicism. The Ukrainians likewise turned against Russia when they became non–religious. Todd says himself in Qui est Charlie that the saving grace of the French is that seriousness is not one of their virtues. And I am afraid he continues in this vein and his conclusion is also a mixture of reasonable and nonsensical.
His solutions are to either leave the Euro or give up free trade, give back respect to religious faith, and find an accommodation with Islam (Islam is egalitarian, according to him, so nearer to republican values than Catholicism); but he still sticks to his detestation of Christian social-democracy, even though it originally protected Europe from liberalism and free trade, and even though it can be counted on to respect religious faith. As for the accommodation with Islam, Todd wants it subject to conditions: the first one is the right to blaspheme, and this makes nonsense of his earlier stand, and another condition is absolute sex equality, of which the ban on girls wearing headscarves at school is one necessary demonstration. It looks as if Todd is using feminism as a lighting conductor to save himself from the storms some of his other comments might bring down on his head, in any case for him feminism, or his understanding of it, trumps the respect for religion. Until ‘Qui est Charlie’, Todd was innocuous, and even useful in supporting the official anti-Catholicism, with his notion, albeit an ambiguous one, of the Zombie Catholics. Now he has gone too far for the establishment, although not that much too far.