FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - After the hunt for statues, the cultural war that seems to have taken hold of the United States since Charlottesville has recently attacked the cinema, with the ban in the Tenessee of a projection of Gone with the 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 left Zombie, chronicles a political curse, was published on March 21, 2017 by Lemieux editions. He is one of the main figures of the Republican Spring.
FIGAROVOX.- A Tennessee cinema canceled the presentation of the mythical film Gone with the wind, published in 1939, because of potentially racist content towards Black people. What does it inspire you?
Laurent BOUVET.- While this is not new, especially in the United States, such attitudes and reactions have tended to increase in recent months. And above all they are much more relayed by the media than before. They became "events". This visibility is due in large part to the organization on the social networks of associations and pressure groups that militate in the direction of a review of History to make prevail the vision that they have. In the example of Memphis, a specific vision of identity: 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 subject. Institutions, such as this cinema summoned to withdraw this film from its programming, as local authorities ordered to rename a street or debunk a statue, as universities or libraries summoned to abandon the teaching of such author or the loan of such a book ... are more and more subject to these kinds of demands that come from mobilizations of groups constituted around the putting forward of criteria of individual identity ("ethno-racial", gender, religion, orientation sexual ...) of their members. Mobilizations that are now mainly online.
The problem directly raised by such an example refers to the uses of history, to the way in which we question and re-read it in the light of contemporary perceptions and conceptions. It is a very general problem, a permanent source of questioning. Where we enter considerations that can become a political problem, it is when this questioning goes beyond the framework of purely historiographical discussions to become an issue of society, and especially when this or that group wants to impose its vision of History to others by demanding that the consequences of this manifest concretely in the public space or collective life: no longer allow the viewing of such film or want to prohibit to see the statue of such a historical figure.
This comes after the removal of some Confederate statues and events in Charlottesville. Is the United States in the grip of a real cultural war? How far can it go?
The United States has become, since the 1970s at least, a kind of laboratory identity drifts of all kinds, because of a change of identity taken by both political and social struggles from the left (black movement, feminism , gay movement ...) in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of the radicalization of part of the white population around the "values", including religious.
A form of cultural war (ie around these issues of identity) has since lasted in different forms according to the times. After the rise of identity movements resulting from the mobilizations of cultural "minorities" in the 1970s, the Reaganian "backlash" in the 1980s led to the hardening of positions on both sides. Already in the late 1980s, Allan Bloom warned of this drift in his book The disarmed Soul (The Closing of the American Mind) by showing how much university campuses had become the place of a new "politically correct" aiming to strip American culture of its western, Christian, white, male, heterosexual tinsel ... in order to install the multicultural diversity present in society .
This passage of the fact, made for a long time in the United States, by authors like Horace Kallen or Walt Whitman, for example, of a fundamental and foundational cultural pluralism of the American society, with a form of normative requirement intending to make of this cultural pluralism the very organization of political, legal and social life, this shift from de facto multiculturalism to normative multiculturalism is essential to understanding what is happening today.
The campaign for the 2016 presidential election and the coming to power of Donald Trump have opened a new chapter of this history, the identity antagonism being incandescent by the president himself now. Trump has indeed decided to fully assume the American cultural war by being elected by one side against the other, and thus allowing a broad mobilization of his opponents, well beyond the small groups activists classics. Which leads to what we have seen in Charlottesville but also leads to a much greater tension than under the Obama presidency in many cities between the police and minorities, including the black minority. As if the election of Trump had uninhibited the racism of some.
This is part of a much larger drift of multiculturalism. What are the ideological roots of this type of claim? How did we get here?
The "identity change" that I mentioned above is due to a combination of factors, some purely American (specificity of the black question, context of the 60s ...), others broader (transition to the post-industrial society and a social reading, from the class, to a more cultural reading, based on the peculiarities of the individual, transformation of the anti-colonial political struggle of the 50s and 60s into a struggle for the recognition of identity ...). It is in any case from this particular moment, about 50 years ago, that one can begin to observe the drifts whose consequences we see today.
Ideologically, it is at the same time the fading or abandonment of the major ideological narratives of the twentieth century, especially around Marxism, which reduced the aspect of cultural identity in relation to class membership, the determinants social; and the mutations of modern individualism which, after a phase of construction around the idea of universalism of rights, of the deep democratization of societies and of the emancipation of the person from all the dominions ... leads to the exacerbation of a criterion of our individual identity, composed of multiple elements, the characteristic of which is to have been denied, badly recognized, diminished, 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 part of the left in particular. Where marxism and its ramifications reigned supreme, a true multicultural ideology stands today. What is striking is that if the substance of the analysis of society and the purpose 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 a great deal of laborious sophistry, to put its cultural identity struggle for a social struggle. The permanent, and therefore very abusive, use of terms such as "dominated" or "intersectionality" attempts to mask this architectural evolution for 50 years. As if it were necessary to continue at all costs, to be able to say oneself still of "left" without doubt, to make believe that one fights against capitalism and for the proletariat.
What is striking is that despite these attempts to remain in the classical left-wing alignment, the identity drift recovers the accents of racist theories of the nineteenth century, the worst communitarian visions described by German sociology, by Ferdinand Tönnies or Max Weber or even comes to justify fundamental inequalities, natural, between men and women! The return to fundamentalist, creationist and obscurantist readings of religious texts is one of the most astonishing examples.
And we go from astonishment to astonishment when we hear intellectuals or researchers claiming aloud the most authentic left justify these regressions in the name of individual freedom, equality or emancipation.
The Representative Council of Black Associations (Cran) calls for the replacement of "statues of shame", like 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, about Charlottesville, the French commentators have denounced American racism (very important, it is true), without ever seeing the beam in the eye of France ... Your heroes are our tormentors. [...] Is there not a link between the pedestal where the slavers are placed and the social contempt suffered by the descendants of slaves? "Writes, in the text, the president of Cran, Louis- Georges Tin. What does it inspire you?
First of all, before copying their ideas on the United States, some people should not only look twice at it (and understand that one can not choose one element or another as it sees fit in American society, that the whole thing is coherent, has its own story, etc.) but think about the differences between American and French societies! Especially with regard to the history of slavery in both countries.
After this kind of talk, 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? Autodafés of books that would not give a vision of history conform to this or that identity claim? This obviously does not recall good memories. Not to have such elements in mind when you decide to embark on such a campaign seems to me very dangerous. I see in fact both unconsciousness, irresponsibility and, obviously, a form of cynicism.
Finally, history must be an educational and non-therapeutic object. Rather than unbolt a statue or prohibit a book, it is necessary instead to lead the children, the students in front of this statue, to give them to read this book, by explaining to them what happened, by giving them all the elements that their allow from the knowledge to form an opinion. Thus on slavery, it is essential to update its springs, its circuits, its experiences, the sufferings that it engendered ... Fortunately many historical works but also works, I think especially with the cinema, made it possible to make to know this historical reality better for years. The official commemoration also plays this role and that's fine. The risk of L.-G. Tin, in the end, is less the debunking 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 a thorough historical work, the scale 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 subject of an outrageous campaign, both by fellow historians, identity activists and even politicians (we remember the disparaging remarks about him by Christiane Taubira for example), because for all these people, the historical truth, the reality of the facts, did not "stick" with their representation, ideological, of slavery as a phenomenon of domination of the Western "whites" over the African "blacks".
Is France abandoning its republican model in favor of a multicultural and politically correct American model?
Let's say we are in a fighting moment between these two visions. There is a tremendous pressure of normative multiculturalism, supported by many foreign examples on which its defenders rely, in contradiction with their cultural relativism and their scrupulous desire to respect local cultures. by the way. But it should also be noted that abroad, things are not obvious. The last book by Mark Lilla (The Once and Future Liberal) testifies well. We continue, in the United States as elsewhere, especially left, to think of an egalitarian universalism (between men and women in particular) and a freedom of thought that applies to all areas, including religion.
In France, the fight is difficult for the proponents of a republican vision (we call it like that in France but it is in fact philosophically a mixture of attachment to the freedom to think, to the idea of universal humanism, pluralism and intellectual openness, the use of reason against dogma ...). On the one hand because the inherited methods, on the left especially, of the previous ideological period, are widely used to try to silence these republicans, since the attempts of political and academic disqualification until the defamatory accusations. One is quickly treated of racist or "islamophobe" since one discusses the multiculturalist dogmas for example. On the other hand, it is related, because both in the media and in the academic environment for example, reflexes of submission to this font of thought are still very present. Not so much by membership, this ideology of identity remains very small if we look closely at some activist associations and media personalities, but for fear of getting hurt or "denounced" publicly, on social networks in particular, by conformism too, so as not to be bored.
Thus, among many left-wing activists, in parties and trade unions, there is a form of reluctance on such issues, in order to remain in the comfort of the social struggle (even if it is far from their concerns real ...) which leads to take for granted what the multiculturalist identities tell, because they are "leftist", of the same "camp". For years now, such a "campism" has led to the political impasse, and since then electoral, in which the entire left is today: the distance of the popular categories and the misunderstanding of what is being played out. depth in French society.
So much so that the fight of the Republicans as you say, it is at the same time an intellectual and ideological fight, to prevent the drift of normative multiculturalism to reach even more our society, and a political fight, to give back to the left ( but it is not limiting!) analysis tools of the company in adequacy with its evolution. Leaving the field to identity thinking is not a problem of right or left, it is a problem in itself. Everyone has to take the measure to avoid the tragic consequences.
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