There is no direct connection between the emergence of the new Catholic “far right” in France and the yellow vest uprising that is in its twelfth week at this writing, but there is nothing political in France right now that isn’t colored in some way by the slow-motion revolt, which is supported by seventy percent of the country’s population according to polls (compared to President Emmanuel Macron’s eighteen percent approval rating). Besides, the Catholic far right and the yellow vests are opposed to many of the same things. The Catholics, with the Church’s traditional social doctrine as well as religious teaching to guide their thinking, simply have a clearer idea of what those things are and why it is past time society jettisoned them.
If the way we approach the subject of the yellow vest uprising is oblique — with reference to a book about America, not France — it is because a little discussion of the book will explain what the yellow vests are revolting against, as are the Catholic far right in France, and as should be Catholics everywhere. It is not simply Emmanuel Macron in France, no more than it is simply, say, Nancy Pelosi in the U.S.
The book is Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, by Jonah Goldberg, National Review senior editor and a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.
Apart from his National Review and AEI affiliations, you know from Goldberg’s first sentence that he is truly representative of U.S. conservatism, which is to say the right wing of our national liberalism: “There is no God in this book.”
What there is, first of all, is an account of evolution up to the advent of homo sapiens. Then, after hundreds of thousands of years, mankind was sufficiently advanced, we are told, to arrive at John Locke et al, the Enlightenment and “the Miracle” (Goldberg’s term, complete with the upper-case M), thanks to which “nearly all human progress has taken place in the last three hundred years.”
The fruit of the Miracle and this “progress” is liberal democracy and liberal economics — the modern world, which “has helped to produce enormous prosperity, cure diseases, reduce violence, and liberate humanity from millennia of superstitions that held individual humans from realizing their potential.”
Yet, and increasingly, many persons remain oblivious to, and unsatisfied by, modernity. Why? Goldberg concedes that modernity “does not give us much by way of meaning…. We miss the unity of the pre-Enlightenment mind.” As a consequence, our day is witnessing (as Goldberg’s subtitle puts it) the “rebirth of tribalism, populism, nationalism and identity politics,” all of which represent a “totalitarian temptation, and a corruption of the civilization we are blessed to live in. And it is utterly natural.”
Goldberg is correct about that. The civilization of modernity with its “blessings” of moral relativism, normalization of sexual deviance and secular liberal globalism is not natural. Reaction against it is. In France the reaction has taken the form of the emergence of the new Catholic far right and the yellow vest uprising. In the U.S. it was manifest in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, whom Goldberg loathes. He calls him a tribalist, populist, nationalist and fraud, among other things. Well, I don’t suppose many Catholic parents who take the Faith seriously would want to see a son grow up to be like Donald Trump, the man, but the man has little to do with the social and political dynamics that produced his election, especially given the alternative in 2016.
Though the roots of those dynamics extend back to the dawn of “the Miracle,” we need trace them no farther than the Tory regime of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and the conservative Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the U.S. It was then that multinational corporations, manufacturers of global reach looking to lower labor costs and thereby increase profits, began moving their operations to Third World countries — China, Mexico, etc. This was done with government assistance, NAFTA being an example in the U.S. Britain and the U.S. stopped making things and millions of blue-collar jobs were lost as a consequence. Instead of manufacturing there was a shift to financial services and other white-collar professions with workers whose earnings were often astronomical (think hedge-fund managers). The theory was that their new wealth would “trickle down” and thereby “all boats will be lifted.”
That didn’t happen. Instead the richer got richer and the wages of ordinary people stayed stagnant. We’ve wound up with college graduates working as waiters and Starbucks baristas faced with mountains of debt accumulated in order to obtain their degrees that exceed even what all Americans combined owe credit-card companies.
All this came later to France, but come it did. Factories outside the country’s cities closed down while capital and finance became concentrated in Paris. It became one of the world’s most expensive cities with ordinary Frenchmen no more able to afford its four-star restaurants and manicured boulevards than average Americans can afford Manhattan or San Francisco. The old rural France of small towns and villages died like the dead and dying small towns of the vast expanse of America that our coastal elites contemptuously refer to as “flyover country.”
Enter Emmanuel Macron into the picture. He personifies in his one person both the left and right wings of globalism — the civilization of modernity that measures all things in economic terms. He began his career, and learned how the modern world works, as an executive of the French branch of the Rothschild banking empire, then moved seamlessly into the cabinet of Socialist Francois Hollande as Minister of the Economy. He then made his biggest move when the candidacy for President of the Republic of the leading “conservative” collapsed amid financial scandal. He announced formation of a brand new party with his initials, En Marche, and himself as its candidate. He won.
How does this relate to the yellow vests named for the florescent yellow sleeveless jackets that French law requires motorists to have in their vehicles to signal emergencies?
With the factories where they used to work shut down, where were the rural French to find jobs? In the same place where countless U.S. Midwesterners find them: bigger towns than the ones where they live. Of course the jobs will generally be lower-paying ones than they used to have. It will also require commuting to get to them. That means having to pay for gas or diesel. Thus when the government last year announced an increase in fuel taxes, it busted the budgets of a great many individuals and families. At the end of November a whole lot of them — more than 100,000 — put on their yellow vests and staged a protest march in Paris. When some of them became unruly, riot police were sent in. Fights broke out between them and protesters. Out came the water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Macron guaranteed further trouble when he branded the protesters “thugs.”
There is irony in the fuel tax increase sparking the yellow vest revolt. The increase was meant to discourage the use of gas and diesel-powered vehicles. That is, it was an environmental measure. The irony lies in the fact that more than any other European people, the French believe that human activity is the principal cause of climate change. Polls show seventy percent of the French believe it — the same number as now support the yellow vest uprising!
The inherent contradiction tells us that the yellow vest uprising may have begun as a protest against the fuel-tax increase, but is now about much more. Otherwise the protests would not have continued for three months, especially since Macron agreed to delaying the increase after the first few weeks of them.
We saw earlier in this article what the revolt is really about even if many yellow vest protesters aren’t conscious of it. It is a revolt against the civilization of modernity and all that is unnatural about it, including secular liberal globalism. It is nationalism against globalism, populism against elitism, traditionalism and religion against scientific rationalism.
God willing, in weeks and months to come I shall continue to concentrate in my writing for this website on efforts here and abroad to overcome and turn back modernity, such as the emergence of the new Catholic far right in France.