Did French “Intellectuals” Become Extremists or Were They Always Extremists?

Frédérique Matonti is a French political scientist who released a book in November 2021 called: “Comment sommes-nous devenus réacs ?” which translates into English as “How did we become reactionaries?

Within this book, Matonti basically argues that the French intellectual scene moved towards the Right from the ’80s onward—in French “réactionnaires” basically means “extremists.”

She was recently interviewed by the left-wing Jacobin Mag, which titled the interview as “How France’s Intellectuals Became Reactionaries.”

The introductory paragraph reads:

France’s rightward drift continues apace. While incumbent Emmanuel Macron is widely expected to secure reelection in April, polls credit the far right with almost 30 percent support — whether behind veteran candidate Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour, a TV personality repeatedly convicted for racist and anti-Muslim hate speech. The Left remains weak and divided, with polls showing its top candidates all far from qualifying for the second-round runoff.

The interview then follows shortly thereafter.

As a whole, the interview is not really of much value to us since neither French intellectual history nor its politics are very interesting from a Muslim perspective. However, there are a few lines which we’ll be taking a closer look at.

The interviewer comments:

Islam is also at the heart of these various skirmishes.

And as part of her response, Frédérique Matonti says:

On the other hand, there’s a Left that’s intransigent and that believes that if the school system gives in on this point, then it’s an unprecedented step backward and that it opens the door to religious — ultimately Muslim — control of what can be said in classrooms. There are left-wing critics who make this argument, like Jean-Pierre Chevènement and Gisèle Halimi among others.

This is what our focus will be on:

The left-wing historian is admitting that in contemporary France even leftist “intellectuals” can be Islamophobic.

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In fact, we’ll see how the entire essence (beyond the Left and Right dichotomies) of the French Republic is antagonistic towards religion, particularly Islam.

The Satanic Nature of the French Revolution

Joseph de Maistre was a a traditionalist Christian diplomat and writer who is still read today.

He had personally witnessed the horrors of the 1789 French revolution, which—in the name of Enlightenment ideals—persecuted Christians similar to how others had done throughout history (closing churches and killing priests; all by the thousands).

In his 1796-work, Considerations on France, he wrote about what he perceived to be the Satanism of the French revolution:

There is a satanic element in the French Revolution which distinguishes it from any other revolution known or perhaps that will be known. Remember the great occasions – Robespierre’s speech against the priesthood, the solemn apostasy of the priests, the desecration of objects of worship, the inauguration of the goddess of Reason, and the many outrageous acts by which the provinces tried to surpass Paris: these all leave the ordinary sphere of crimes and seem to belong to a different world.

France is officially called the French “Republic” precisely because it proudly carries and continues the legacy of the 1789 French revolution.

The anti-religious crusading spirit is thus in the very blood of the French Republic, so it’s never really been a question of Left or Right.

For example, both of these camps espouse “laïcité”—the typical French approach to secularism—which is infamous for being particularly aggressive against religion, especially Islam.

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In fact, Vincent Peillon (who served as the French minister for education from 2012-2014) has writings wherein he literally refers to laïcité as a religion.

Republican Colonialism

We’ve seen how, in France, both the Left and the Right ultimately have to be against religion. This is because both embrace the republican nature of France, i.e., the aggressive liberalism that was incarnated within the 1789 French revolution (which in essence was itself merely a practical application of the Enlightenment theory).

So Macron and Zemmour may be political rivals as presidential candidates, but they both accept this republican nature of France. Neither of them calls for a return to the way France was prior to 1789—a traditional Catholic monarchy.

While Napoleon tried to export these ideals to Europe, his later successors tried to export them to the rest of the world through colonialism.

French colonialism, which was based on liberal supremacism, materialism, racism, etc., was not the product of Zemmour, nor the French Right, nor even those post-’80s “dissident” Leftists.

No, it was a product of the French republic itself.

Take for example the leftist-socialist politician Jules Ferry, who died in 1893. He is still admired to this day as a father-figure of French republicanism for the role he played against the Second French Empire (1852-1870), when for few years, France had somehow managed to escape the curse of the 1789 revolution.

Jules Ferry is actually also considered the spiritual father of the modern French education system since he’s responsible for making it compulsory, universal and secular.

Would you like to hear what Jules Ferry had to say about colonialism?

He wasn’t “right-wing” so he was probably against it, right?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

In an 1884 speech before the French chamber of deputies, he proclaimed:

Gentlemen, we must speak more loudly and more honestly! We must say openly that indeed the higher races have a right over the lower races…

I repeat, that the superior races have a right because they have a duty. They have the duty to civilize the inferior races… In the history of earlier centuries these duties, gentlemen, have often been misunderstood; and certainly when the Spanish soldiers and explorers introduced slavery into Central America, they did not fulfill their duty as men of a higher race… But, in our time, I maintain that European nations acquit themselves with generosity, with grandeur, and with sincerity of this superior civilizing duty.

Jules Ferry wasn’t from the Right, and he wasn’t one of those “treacherous” post-’80s Leftists.

No. He’s a symbol of the Republic. The French Republic. And his poetic tirade in favor of colonialism aligns perfectly with the liberal supremacism that many continue to espouse today.

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We could also add mention of dozens of other liberal intellectuals from France who thought just like Jules Ferry did when it comes to liberal imperialism; individuals such as novelist Victor Hugo, political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville, etc.

And they’re all still admired even today.

So why won’t left-liberals just admit the truth?

Rather than trying to scapegoat a few “dissident Leftists” or “Right-wingers,” why don’t they admit that their entire liberal civilization is “extremist” in relation to many aspects of human life and Islam in particular?

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Maaz Ahmad Khan

Alhamdulillah for Islam

Usman

Interesting post.

I don’t think we should use endorse the use of the term ‘extremism’ in these domains – a vague and loaded term that has been used to much detrimental effect against Muslims.

Even the google definition of it is unhelpful as it is self-referential: “the holding of extreme political or religious views”

Although we have the concept of ghulū, that is used in a different context.

I think we should try and use terms that are more precise and accurate.

Mohammad Talha Ansari

Colonialism never ended. Neither did the colonial attitudes.