Macron the Philosopher King?

When considering political figures, it is almost a “new orthodoxy” to think and say the opposite, and even see a plot. Something President Macron said a couple of days ago struck me in contrast to his usual fashion of expressing things in the national or common interest. In particular, a read the news article in Le Point of 22nd December 2020. His keynote was “We have become a victim and emotional society”.

I was taken back to many of my reflections on Romanticism in the decades following the French Revolution and the Terror. The basis of that new way of thinking was the Age of Reason with the imagination restored to man’s wholeness. It is a major tenet of St Thomas Aquinas that reason has to take primacy over the passions. The Romantic is not an anti-rationalist but wants the wholeness of human experience. I doubt that Macron would directly subscribe to such ideas. He is pragmatic – and he is a banker. He does his job in such a way as it works. However, these reflections show something that stands out in the political world from pure considerations of money and particular interest.

Society is deeply disturbed by the crisis caused by the pandemic, identity politics and polarisation. Above all, conspiracy theory is gaining ground, often with the most grotesque and irrational ideas. The French are a “people of paradoxes”. I sympathised with the early yellow jacket (Gilets Jaunes) movement, because Macron’s politics seemed to be serving only the wealthy, using ecological concerns to tax ordinary people that much more. Then the movement became violent and bestial. Its agenda was no longer ordinary hard-working people with ever-shrinking budgets but violent anarchists and nihilists like in late nineteenth-century Russia.

This article suggests that Macron has acquired experience from these crises in a country that resisted Nazism during the Occupation and has ever since been suspicious of any kind of authority, legitimate or not. There is the old canard about everything being allowed in England unless it was forbidden, everything being forbidden in Germany unless it was allowed – and everything being forbidden in France, but you would do it all the same. It is an undisciplined country, but one that will not incline to excessive or irrational authority.

Taken to excess, this a priori refusal of authority becomes a “permanent poison”, a vicious circle, a crisis of identity and conspiracy theory – the very driving force behind Nazism and Stalinism.

Macron notes a “Manichaean” view of history, a “society of permanent emotion”. The victim is vindicated above all things and crushes reason. Such a mentality cannot accept complexity and will not listen to the other person’s word. According to some psychologists I am reading, the world has become narcissistic in the meaning of the disordered personality. Wearing a mask has become a sign of respect for others, but many people have just not got it. Life is about their convenience.

He is a convinced republican, in the French, not American, meaning of the word. France was once a kingdom, and the Aristocracy and the Church themselves attracted the anger of the Jacobins and people reduced to extreme poverty. Then came five republics. No political system is perfect, but it seems to be suited for modern times in the task of upholding freedom and democracy. De Gaulle’s answer to the defeat of Nazism seemed to  inspire people in those days. Some dream of bringing back the King, someone with a more or less legitimate bloodline – but it won’t happen, even in spite of the writings of the Marquis de la Franquerie.

What the French Republic has offered is a secular state in which, in theory, different religions, cultures and philosophies can thrive, something like in the USA. The one condition is that of integration and respect for others. I am a foreigner in this country, and I was asked for several things when France granted me citizenship. First of all, there was an adequate use of the French language to live and work here. Another was to be financially independent, at least at the time of application. Another was to know at least the basics of French history and how the state institutions work. I have to admit I am a little vague, but constant exposure to the news media brings me notions of the Government, the President and the Prime Minister, the Assemblée Nationale and the Senate. The system is essentially divided, like most modern countries, into the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial – the famous separation of the three powers. This makes France an état de droit, a state of law, with no one being above the law. There are abuses and corruptions, but they seem not to go as far as some other countries, even united and disunited kingdoms!

It could be better, but it could also be much worse. In spite of the horrors of the Terror, Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Revolution began by heralding a system of liberté, égalité et fraternité – to which Wordsworth responded: Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven”. France has been very nasty with the Church through anti-clericalism, as has Italy. Many of the clergy in the late nineteenth century brought it upon themselves. That is something I can understand through my erstwhile contact with intégriste Catholicism! Modern France is tolerant. Distinctions are made between fanatical Islamists and terrorists on one side, and ordinary Muslims living in the country as we all do, on the other. The law is equal for all, at least it should be. Macron has attracted a lot of anger for his position on the kind of Islam that would conquer and take over France if it got half the chance. From what I have heard him say, I find his position perfectly reasonable and responsible. He is also right in asking us to love this country. I think I do, in spite of my frustrations with many things. Otherwise it would be more proper to go and live somewhere else.

There has been less of the Woke phenomenon here in France than the USA, but it has taken hold as an ideology. To give in to that ideology would be no different than submitting to Hitler or Stalin in other times. We cannot “cancel” the history of a nation any more than our own personal lives.

In every human society, there has to be authority and law. I have often expressed a certain form of anarchism in my own thought, but the human soul can only escape the constraint of law through the life of the spirit. This is an idea of St Paul in regard to the Mosaic law, but this will also apply in a modern secular state as in the canon law of the Church. Freedom is spiritual, and the lower man sinks into sin and selfishness, the more he has to be constrained with bit and bridle.

He said (my translation): “All contemporary societies live according to this kind of horizontalization, contesting any form of authority, including academic and scientific authority“. He added “The psychological and social consequences are terrifying because we end up not believing in anything any more“, and he describes a “vicious circle: a levelling out, which creates skepticism, generates obscurantism and which, contrary to the Cartesian doubt that is the foundation of rational construction and truth, leads to conspiracy theories“.

Here he was speaking about the pandemic crisis. The conspiracy theorists seem to have no positive message to convey: no vaccination, no lockdowns, no masks or barrier gestures. Either they would have the virus infect millions of people and kill as many as the Spanish Flu, or force state authorities to discredit themselves and say that it was all a “plandemic” to turn the world into an Orwell-style dystopia. I wonder if such people think so far beyond their own bestial comfort. Their message is none other than the nihilism of Dostoevsky’s Demons or the mentality denounced by Nietzsche.

For a State leader to understand such subtleties, as did great men like De Gaulle, is a great gift to us. We have all to work for a revival of reason and objectivity enriched by our use of creative imagination and the fulness of the human person. Macron’s message is one of positive humanism. I think he believes in God, but France does not allow a public figure to take sides publicly with religious beliefs. French secularism is more restrictive than its American counterpart, and perhaps a dose of the French brand would do some good in regard to fundamentalist Christianity and the kind of ideology that destroys faith and love of God. Macron is President of France and knows the game and how it works. He might not survive the election of 2022 and we might get a wild-eyed demagogue, but we will remember Macron as a man of thought, values and principle.

His thoughts leave me with hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel and a new paradigm to come.

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2 Responses to Macron the Philosopher King?

  1. Stephen K says:

    I find myself agreeing with just about everything you appear to feel about the issues you touch on, with one possible exception. I’m not sure I understood completely what you meant when you said : The conspiracy theorists seem to have no positive message to convey: no vaccination, no lockdowns, no masks or barrier gestures. Either they would have the virus infect millions of people and kill as many as the Spanish Flu, or force state authorities to discredit themselves and say that it was all a “plandemic” to turn the world into an Orwell-style dystopia. I wonder if such people think so far beyond their own bestial comfort. Their message is none other than the nihilism of Dostoevsky’s Demons or the mentality denounced by Nietzsche

    Did you mean to lump all people who think they should not take hastily developed vaccinations at this stage, or who think the case is not made out to compel people to do so, or who think that it is unrealistic of politicians to tell their people that lockdowns and Orwellian surveillance will eliminate a virus, or that instilling a community prejudice against a sniffle or runny nose is indeed a totalitarian and anti-libertarian softener, or that on the basis of the overall percentages, there would appear no reason not to adopt such measures for any kind of transmittable disease occurring at any time in the future, including the common cold?

    It seems to me that there really is a valid reduction ad absurdum applicable here and that, especially in light of the US political dramas in 2020, no reason for confidence that leaders and their supporters will not be absurd – with truly devastating results – in the future. We might well look forwards to more of the same on a recurring cyclical basis every year until we reach a point of reverting to nakedly cut-throat dystopianism.

    Would you agree with me that the concept of Orwellian dystopianism should not be thought of as the domain of conspiracy theorists with whom we might on various grounds disagree, but as a legitimate consequence of accepting the relentless and insidious encroachments on the kind of liberty Robert Bolt put in the mouth of St Thomas More in his insightful play A Man For All Seasons.?

    As I understand it, a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is a person who thinks certain people get together to plan various outcomes without necessarily telling everyone what they are intend. A local tennis association would probably not be thought of as a ‘conspiracy’. But essentially they get together to execute a common action in interests they see as valuable, so there is something of a slippery slope. I suggest we are or all can be conspiracy theorists.

    Further I might well have legitimate scepticism that a vaccine developed in a few months when typically these things require extensive testing, will be beneficial to me or to the community, or that the compulsion and community prejudice to sickness that may accompany it will be good for humanity as we understand it.

    Equally, it might be quite legitimate to be sceptical that everyone who would espouse sickness-response lockdowns or universal vaccination would be doing so for altruistic benevolent motives.
    In the end, none of us want to be arrested, manhandled, pushed to the ground with a knee to the back and then have an expensive fine penalty imposed on us, so we will obey outwardly in the hope that the official gorillas will leave us alone and that there will be no knock on the door in the middle of the night. But what a sad place to be in, and…where have we seen that before?

    • Thank you as always for your thoughtful comment. I really don’t know what to respond. Perhaps the countries we live in should have “let rip”, or locked down for years. I am not bunching together conspiracy theorists and people who are concerned about the vaccination being effective and safe, given that it has caused reactions in people with allergies. However, there has to be something to be done: just hope it will “go away” on its own or take a calculated risk with the vaccine.

      It is likely that people will live restricted lives until they are vaccinated. This is the case for people going to Africa and South America. They have to have vaccinations against certain diseases as a condition for being allowed in. What seems likely is that people will be allowed to go unvaccinated, but they will continue to wear masks, observe social distancing and not be allowed onto public transport, etc. until “herd” immunity is reached and there are no more cases of infection. Perhaps that might be an option for those who live out in the country and are more patient. For the time being, Macron has announced that no one will be compelled to be vaccinated, but PM Castex has suggested that their lives would continue as now. I can say no more than the scraps I have gleaned from the media. Perhaps, as I have read here and there, there would be the option of negative test certificate less than a few days old as an alternative to the vaccine. Perhaps…

      One thing that guides my thinking is “follow the money”: it is costing France and other countries billions to keep closed-down businesses from going bankrupt through financial support. They can’t keep that up forever.

      There are many people who protest and say “I want this.” and “I don’t want that.” What would they suggest. Would it be better to let the virus cream off the elderly (ourselves among them) than let the economy slump. When I mention the conspiracy theorists, I have in mind people like David Icke and Alex Jones with stories about Bill Gates and electronic chips he wants to inject into people to achieve a world of total control.

      I had a lot of sympathy for Dr Sunetra Gupta and the idea that it would suffice for older and sicker people to be isolated and everyone else to live normally. There would be “herd” immunity at a relatively low percentage. I am unsure of the statistics of younger people getting the serious form of the disease, “long covid” and dying. In the end there is no solution, unless we balance the risk of the vaccine against the consequences of lifting all restrictions as if the disease didn’t exist. Was it worth it in the first place? Millions of sick (sorted out by the overloaded hospital into those who can be treated and others to be left to die or euthanized) would also crash the economy. The example of Brazil hardly distinguishes itself and Sweden now has big problems and will be forced to lock down. There simply is no other way. I don’t see one from the small amount of information I have.

      Perhaps totalitarianism is inevitable, whether from the classical national-populist “fascists” or from the “great reset” plutocracy. Perhaps this is the moment to decide whether it would suffice to live in the countryside of France, Australia or wherever or seek a relative utopia elsewhere. With Covid, whether or not it was planned, it is damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In any case, there are several groups of priority people in France (similar systems elsewhere) before I at 61 years of age would be vaccinated. If the vaccine fails, then there is only revolution against state authorities imposing lockdowns. As individuals we understand things, but “mass humanity” shows the need for repression, fascist policemen and emergency derogations from law and constitutional rights.

      It doesn’t matter whether or not you “wake up and smell the coffee”. The prepper’s little collection of guns won’t do him any good. Perhaps it is time for a world revolution, but it’s going to be messy!

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