FIGAROVOX / TRIBUNE - Following the controversy over the debunked statue of General Lee in Charlottesville, requests for rewriting History are multiplying. For the philosopher, these requirements betray a disproportion to rewrite 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 The theory of gender or the dream world of angels, published by Grasset in November 2014, has just been released in a "Pocket" version at Hachette with an original preface by Michel Onfray.
Last Tuesday, the 28th, seizing the unanimous condemnation by the French media of the events of Charlottesville triggered by the decision of the municipality to remove the statue of segregationist General Lee, and the denunciation no less unanimous of the persistent racism of the Americans, of the the attitude of the "white supremacists", the very predictable President of the Council Representation of the Black Associations of France (Cran), Louis-Georges Tin, published in Release a platform called "Your heroes are sometimes our executionersLet us specify that the nuance is not of Tin himself; for him, there is no "sometimes": "Your heroes are our executioners," he writes.
In this tribune, he summons the French people to proceed with his examination of conscience, to take note of his own complacency towards "the slavers", and calls for a broad urban policy of urban purification: to name the names of streets, to debunk the statues and, among the targets targeted by the militant, a name stands out, not chosen at random as the symbolic load 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 question 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 Colbert room, a Colbert wing at the Ministry of Economy, Colbert high schools, dozens of streets or avenue Colbert without there being any conflict, the slightest embarrassment, the least embarrassment?
Tackling statues is a highly significant gesture. Let us remember the Abbé Grégoire and his great crusade against vandalism (a word he coined) revolutionary, which he interpreted as a desire to "bring the people back to ignorance by destroying the monuments of the arts". A city is historically sedimented and the statues are the incarnations of these successive layers that compose it. A city is told through its statues. These are rich of a double temporal thickness: they refer back to the century of the statued person - witnesses of a past time, they are the markers of the historical continuity of a nation - but also at the time when they have erected. (I refer on this question to the valuable works of Maurice Agulhon).
These great demolishers ignore the affective roots of these monuments. "These last few 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 did not know anyone in the big city, nobody except the statues (...) Having no one to talk to, it is with they I talk to each other. And each of us at least experiences these urban routes marked out by the presence of these great men, writers, monarchs, revolutionaries, who made France.
These rewriting requirements of history have multiplied in recent years. In December 2015, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam embarked on a major operation entitled "Adjustments for colonialist terminologies". Twenty-three terms appearing on the cartels of works hanging on the museum walls, which could be considered "offensive" by the visitors, had been retained in order to find them politically correct substitutes: Moor, Negro, slave, savage, hottentot, dwarf, Mohammedan. That same year, an American of thirty-three attacked the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for racism. He accused the museum institution of only exhibiting "Arian-like" Christs, light-skinned and fair-haired Christs, and at the same time "a feeling of rejection". Four canvases particularly offended him, including one of Tintoretto and another of Perugino. He imperiously demanded the stall.
This year, in Martinique, on the occasion of August 23, decreed by the UNESCO international day of the memory of the slavery and its abolition, a demonstration on the initiative of the MIR (International Movement for the Repairs) was organized to obtain the removal of the statue of Josephine de Beauharnais, on the Place de la Savane. The militants burned the statue with the serpents flag on the statue, a highly controversial emblem of Martinique, since this flag was on slave ships at the time. Other events and demands of this order have recently been recalled by Mathieu Bock-Côté (Le Figaro, August 30, 2017). We should also look to the feminists no less determined to reconfigure the public space.
Imported recognition policy
How did we get there? Several factors have contributed to and combine.
We are the prey of a multi-headed hydra. Deleterious effects everywhere in 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 the Anglo-Saxon countries, the exaltation of the right to difference with the creation of SOS Racism by the Mitterrandian left in 1984 were right in the French conception of the Republic and its passion for the common world.
The withdrawal of the nation, of the national history as a principle of identification left the field free to the affirmation of identity, to the demands of each of the communities and to the crumbling of the national body. An individual is not satisfied for a long time to remain without identity, he then turns to the most attractive, the only offerers. An identity of victim, authorizing the hatred of France and the West, seems a happy case.
These phenomena testify to the extremely thorny relationship we have with the past. We do not know how to apprehend it anymore. 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. Hubris, the immoderation of a present which would be entirely founder, dominates us. Man does not want to conceive of himself as an heir, with all that entails responsibility. The singular story in which we enter is entrusted to us and it is up to us to answer it. "To be born," said Marcel Hénaff, "is to be in debt."
Judicial passion lives in us and the past appears to us only as guilty from one end to the other and unworthy to be continued. We have become inaccessible to the grandeur of the past, to its nobility, to its power of inspiration, to its treasures. In the novlangue of the years 1960-1970, to manufacture heirs means ipso facto to be guilty of collaboration in allowing a civilization to extend. The passion of repentance, the penitential intoxication, on which everything has been written, inhabit us.
Incarcerated in the prison of the present
One point seems to me, however, to be added, more rarely emphasized. Incarcerated in the prison of the present, we have become incapable of extricating 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 modalities of thought and life from other temporal shores, brought back to the familiar.
A terrible evil affects us: we have become incapable of suspending our evidences, of putting in brackets our prejudices of democratic, egalitarian men. Incapable, in other words, to "disorient ourselves in another direction" (Paul Ricoeur) and to reach the complexity of realities essentially distinct from ours - and the most serious is that the school itself is no longer the place learning this faculty, this art. The history and literature programs are infested by contemporary ideology and the student apprehends the past with the glasses of the present, encouraged to distribute good and bad points.
Thus Colbert, this huge figure in the history of France, which has allowed our country to reach a height hitherto unequaled, Louis-Georges Tin knows and wants to know one thing: he was the "author of the black code" - approximate formula because if Colbert was the initiative of the black code, he was not the editor, but will not ask Tin to embarrass himself of what is certainly not his eyes only a detail - and the founder of the West India Company.
Let no one accuse us of denying the reality of slavery and the rigor of this jurisdiction. We are not unaware that the Black Code "in force until 1848, was one of the tools of the inhumanity of the slave system. It remains one of the symbols "(Olivier Grenouilleau) but the history of France is not reduced to it. What are obstinately denied the Tin and others for whom colonization is the essence of France. And in this most rudimentary plot, the roles are easy to distribute: we are the executioners and they, the victims.
It is obvious that fact-finding and historical knowledge do not interest these activists. The aim of these carabineers is not knowledge, education, but appearance: they want a France on the ground, a France that beats its guilt. The hatred, the resentment - the vile passion of democratic men, said Nietzsche - devour them.
Infantile reading of history
This white and black reading of history could be denounced as infantilism, which it is certainly - 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 diffused, relayed by minds which largely exceeded the infantile age.
Our intellectual, cultural and political elites are the main instigators. Thus, on Tuesday 28, from 7:30, even before having gone to his newsstand, the listener of the Matinale de France-inter knew, thanks to his animator Nicolas Demorand (editorial accessible on line on the site of the radio ), that it was that day a sermon not to be missed and seriously meditated, published in the daily Libération, the tribune of Louis-Georges Tin. "Examination of conscience necessary, therefore, on this side of the Atlantic", concluded the journalist in a tone solemn but not less cheerful, the tone of the one who knows himself to belong to the camp of the good.
This is the reason why it would be wrong to treat with contempt, with a shrug and a smile on the corner of the lips, these manifestations and claims. How could these great purifiers of our history, of our past, not find audience with our policies haunted by the idea of being suspected of complicity with "sins", when they are not "crimes", of France (colonialism, sexism etc.)? Imagine for a moment, Anne Hidalgo, reading the tribune of Tin: How the exhortation to track down any trace of the "slavers" whose city would perpetuate the memory, and therefore, to rename the streets, schools, debunking the sinful statues Would it not find a sympathetic ear with the mayor of Paris engaged in this vast operation of urban and societal engineering, eloquently entitled "Reinventing Paris" (hear about regenerating the Parisian people)? A city cleansed of these oldies in the name of the fight against racism and slavery ... What dream of better!
We must be extremely vigilant, because the communitarian demands are a barrage of the Danaides and our elites are showing real submission.
This focus on the past offers the advantage of turning away from the urgency of the present, to dispense with judging here and now. So France deserves all their hatred, when the Islamist terrorists on the contrary, they serinent they after each new attack, will not have it.