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  • Gary Scarrabelotti

France coming apart

Globalisation and its social price.

Here is an absolute must read before the second round of the French presidential elections on 7 May.

It’s an article in City Journal by Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. The subject of Caldwell’s essay is Christophe Guilluy and the “Coming Apart” of France.

Christophe Guilluy is a French property consultant, self-styled geographer and a widely respected analyst of France’s centrifugal social discords. According to Caldwell, Guilluy.

“ … has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems — immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.”

“Guilluy is none of these.”

He’s also hard to pin down politically.

Unusually in a country so polarised as France, Guilluy avoids, for the most part, taking political positions and sticks close to his purpose: which is describe the French reality he has come to know it through his day job in the property market.

Still, Guilluy probably belongs, according to Caldwell, within a cluster of left-wing intellectuals – like novelist Michel Houellebecq, philosopher Michel Onfray, and political philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa — “on whom certain civilizational truths once considered ‘conservative’ have dawned.”

Guilluy has authored three books since 2010, all of them so far untranslated. The latest is Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut which translates, more or less, as “Twilight of the French ruling class”. So, if you don’t have French, you’ll have to lean — with pleasure, I predict — on Caldwell’s splendid exposition here.

Going global, going down

Meantime, here’s my takeaway. To begin, this:

“At the heart of Guilluy’s inquiry is globalization. Internationalizing the division of labor has brought significant economic efficiencies. But it has also brought [my emphasis] inequalities unseen for a century, demographic upheaval, and cultural disruption.”

We realise it, don’t we?

I very much doubt.

The higher up the social and political ladder we go, the less insight we find into the unfolding crisis of our times. For those who have risen on its incoming tide, globalisation is good. Casualties exist, but they lie outside the beneficiaries’ frame of reference. When observed, they rarely stimulate the moral sense. In any case, they’re the price of ‘progress’ and one easily paid by those who do not have to bear the charge. Indifference reigns as the old (deeply despised and happily exploited) working class finally succumbs.

“Guilluy doubts that any place exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified … It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.”

(It sounds a bit like parts of Sydney and Melbourne. Visit, for example, Sydney’s Strathfield Station at peak hour and count the white faces.)

Oh, but there’d be a place for these disappearing “median” Frenchpersons (and Ozpersons) if only they’d accept re-training (or was that re-education?). Then they’d fit nicely into the new economy.

How many times have we have heard that?

No home

Guilluy demurs.

“For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system.”

In France globalisation has created a new underclass, not of immigrants, but of native Frenchmen with whom the rich middle class no longer has to rub shoulders. Out of sight, out of mind.

Here we come to the cornerstone of Guilluy’s analysis and where his professional grasp of the housing market becomes decisive. Even if the old French working class could be induced to take up, at lower rates of pay, the kind of (menial) work on offer in France’s globalised cities, they could not do so because there is nowhere for them to live.

“As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public — which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters.”

This is devastating. One clear implication is that the winners from globalisation support immigration because it provides them with a cheaper and more compliant serving class.

The problem for France is how long will the new servant class remain compliant and at what point will the natives, marginalised by the immigrants, react violently to their displacement? Will France, then, come apart and when?

Imitating America

Something else caught my attention and it was this:

Guilluy describes twenty-first-century France as “an ‘American’ society like any other, unequal and multicultural.” It’s a controversial premise — that inequality and racial diversity are linked as part of the same (American-type) system and that they progress or decline together. Though this premise has been confirmed in much of the West for half a century, the assertion will shock many Americans, conditioned to place “inequality” (bad) and “diversity” (good) at opposite poles of a Manichean moral order.

That’s a fascinating observation coming from an American like Caldwell. He touches on one of the threads in the multiculturalist argument evident here in Australia. “Diversity” has been linked to power and to the American imperium: to tap into the source of greatness, we need to associate with and imitate America. That includes emulating US-style immigration and cultural policies. But at what price? And were we ever asked whether we wanted to Americanise Australia in this way?

While Australia’s alliance with the United States has been a perennial matter of public debate and serial endorsement at federal elections, immigration (as distinct from border control) policy and related cultural questions have been, by a tacit agreement among the major political parties, off the agenda since the dismantling of the White Australia policy.

As European and American societies fray, however, under the stress of their misconceived experiments with immigration and cultural multiformity, debate on these questions is opening up in Australia despite the fears of a break out and opposition from our own high powers of political management and thought control.


Speaking of which there is a great deal in the Caldwell essay on the subject of political control and the manipulation of ideas in France. I conclude with this remark on the otherwise politically reticent Guillay:

[He] is moving toward a more politically engaged view that the rhetoric of an “open society” is “a smokescreen meant to hide the emergence of a closed society, walled off for the benefit of the upper classes.”

That’s saying something.

Do read the whole of Caldwell’s City Journal article. There is so much more to it than I can report here.

Gary Scarrabelotti

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