The Berry Gordy Test: ‘With your last dollar, would you buy this newsletter or a sandwich?’ … Don’t answer that.
Here is Eric Zemmour's 10-min video (announcing his candidacy for President of France):
It's the most effective piece of propaganda I've seen in a long time.
Why? Usually a speech like this -- asserting there is a French national culture worth saving that's being “replaced," in part by immigration -- sets my vestigial liberal hackles on edge. This one doesn't. Maybe because it's been cleansed of Zemmour’s previous outrageous assertions. Maybe because it’s about another country — a smaller country that’s long felt threatened by outside cultures (especially ours) with an immigrant-assimilation problem much larger than ours. Maybe because, unlike ours, France’s national identity doesn’t include an openness to migration and outside cultures. Japan wants to stay Japan, and everyone says ‘OK.’ If France wants to stay France . . . .
But the main reason, I think, is that Zemmour’s speech edits out an especially grating part of "replacement theory" -- namely the part that blames "replacement" on some sort of elite conspiracy. Yes, he condemns the
powerful, the elites, the right mindset, the journalists, the politicians, the professors, the sociologists, the union bosses, and the religious authorities
but not for cooking up the"replacement” — rather for denying its reality. ("They told you it's all a ploy, it's all fake.")
People can be victims of impersonal forces (demographic change, increasing returns to skills etc.). They can be victims of well-intended but misguided policies. They can be victims of failed colonial wars or differential birth rates — and they might still see themselves as victims, or at least as having a large, legitimate beef. I’ve never understood why there always have to be, in addition, actual human “elite” villains conspiring behind closed doors. This isn’t a TV show.
I suppose conjuring some evil Oz wizards is part of the Saul Alinsky playbook — "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it …” —but why does everyone have to follow Alinsky’s rules? In this case they force voters to make an extra step — a stretch, really — affirming an implausible and gratuitous level of malice by … someone. Of course, this is the level where anti-Semitism often comes in.
But you don't need villains to be pissed off. The elites — maybe well-intentioned believers in the "free movement of goods and people" or in “anti-racism” (a Zemmour bugaboo), maybe just careerists — blundered into this situation and then they told you your concerns don't matter. That's all Zemmour needs. They "had it wrong," he says. “We will not allow ourselves to be replaced.” Not ‘You will not replace us’ — with the ‘you’ being left undefined, except when it is replaced by “Jews.”
There's a virtue in being brazen about cultural identiarianism -- in speaking forthrightly and unapologetically, not obliquely (in "dog whistles"). It may have forced Zemmour, over the years, to examine all the aspects of his "replacement" complaint and sand off the ones that most obviously can't survive in the light of day. The result is a version of national identitarianism that goes down easy, the way Reagan's version of conservatism went down easy.
I expect Mr. Zemmour will do very well.
P.S.: Rod Dreher tries to translate Zemmour's "brilliant speech" for U.S. use. I don't think he (Dreher) is successful, even though he tones down the rhetoric because "America does not have remotely the immigration and assimilation problems that France has — not even close."
Why doesn’t Dreher’s version work? For one, America hasn’t changed as much as even a diluted Zemmourism would have it (do we really “look at [our] screens and they speak … in a language that is strange and in the end foreign”?). Nor does America yet need bucking up of the sort Zemmourism seems to think the French need (e.g. “The country of the Apollo program and Silicon Valley“). Many of our problems seem to induce a nostalgic fear, rather than a fear of the new or the foreign or unknown. We know what high crime levels are like! We remember those years. We don’t want to “restore” that America.**
Dreher simply plugs American references into Zemmour's template as if he were Joe Biden stealing from Neil Kinnock. Here’s Dreher’s litany of national cultural heroes:
The country of John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis, Dylan and Aretha, of Waylon and Willie; the films of Billy Wilder and Steven Spielberg. The country of “Amazing Grace,” “White Christmas,” and “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”
The list is cliched — way too iconic. These people are not in danger of being forgotten and we don't need a warning they'll be replaced. (If anything they are the global uniculture that French identitarians feel threatened by—e.g. Spielberg.) They're certainly names that the “right mindset, the journalists, the politicians, the professors” would approve of, though even they might gag. Where are the crazy, ostracized punks, the cancelled geniuses?
P.P.S.: Dreher is surely correct that Tucker Carlson’s the obvious man to write the American version of Zemmour's pitch. It’d be a layup for him. He wouldn’t make the “Jimmy Stewart” mistake. But could he resist the impulse to see a villainous elite conspiracy? Unclear. ***
Update: It’s weird that to see the video Twitter makes you go to You Tube, which has slapped an ‘age-restriction’ on it. (“This video may be inappropriate for some users.”) The policy here seems to be ‘We’d really like to flat out ban this thing, but for now the age restriction is the best we can do to stop it from going more viral.’ Where’s Jack when you need him? Oh, right. ….
**—Dreher does add one very forceful paragraph:
Everywhere it’s the same thing: that America is an evil country. That our history is nothing but a catalog of racism, sexism, and homophobia. That people who have a certain skin color are evil because of that. That boys can become girls, and girls can become men. That nothing ever changes for the better in this country. That the things that were normal just a few years ago are now hateful, and that anybody who says or believes these things deserves to lose their job and be driven out of polite society.
***— I’m not saying villainous elite conspiracies don’t exist! Ask Jeffrey Epstein. … oh wait, you can't.
Is Bari Weiss the New Marty Peretz (that’s a compliment): I went on and on in my podcast with Robert Wright how unexpectedly good Bari Weiss’ Common Sense newsletter is. It’s not only about This Week in Cancellations, which is what I was worried about. It’s about Covid and inflation and everything in the news. It has one of the best reporters in the business (Nellie Bowles, the New York Times’ loss). It has an animating point of view — roughly ‘Everythings Going All to Hell’— and a readable non-pompous voice (see Bowles’ Friday “TGIF” news summaries). All that’s missing are voices of woke-resistant Democrats who also think everything’s going to hell. (Give Matt Yglesias a couple more months . . . .) It’s not burdened, like National Review, with the legacy of Reaganism or, like American Greatness, the legacy of Trumpism. I think Weiss is three or four hires** away from putting out the best magazine in America.
**— Suggestion: T.A. Frank!
Wow, great piece! Andrew Sullivan should compliment you more often…
Mickey, I’d love to see you write something on how both parties are filled with foreboding about where the country and world are going. I think automation is a bit overblown but agree that the increasing returns to intelligence are only accelerating. Putting everyone else on the dole will destroy their lives and how many good jobs can we realistically reshore? This issue is playing out in France, with Brexit and the rest of developed world. Does it get solved by imploding demographics? Does it increase immigration pressures? Time for you to become the prophet of doom!