Éric Zemmour is running for president in France. Americans should pay attention.
French essayist and political journalist Eric Zemmour delivers a speech in a debate prior to the promotion launch event for his new book “France hasn’t said its last word” (La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot) on October 16, 2021 in Beziers, France. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Éric Zemmour announced his candidacy for the presidency of France in a video Tuesday. His announcement speech is grand in its scope, grave in its assessments, and martial in its resolve. Yet it is full of hope.
Americans, too, can find some hope in candidate Zemmour. Like Donald Trump descending that golden escalator half a decade ago, he represents a frank (non, je ne regrette rien) recognition of the facts: that the few no longer take responsibility for the good of the many, that things are bad, have been bad, and will continue to get worse if what must be done is not done—and that this means it cannot be left to the professionals.
Readers of The American Conservative will not find this development a total surprise. My colleague Rod Dreher has highlighted Zemmour in a number of posts, and the Polish writer and analyst Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski wrote a long profile of the writer-turned-politico’s thought for TAC, arguing that he resembles no one in the American political legendarium quite so much as Pat Buchanan. I think there’s something to that, though I remain partial to the Donald comparison: France is still the land of philosophes, of punditry and historical revision as reality television. We had The Apprentice; they have Le grand débat and incitement lawsuits.
Rod tends to compare Zemmour to Tucker Carlson, considering their similar careers. This is an analogy also employed by the theorist Nathan Pinkoski in his First Things essay on the Frenchman, but in order to bring forth a contrast. As Pinkoski points out, Carlson—populist class traitor—catalogues coastal elite decadence and incompetence for the better sharpening of midwestern pitchforks; meanwhile, Zemmour—very Frenchly, even if Hegel is German—focuses on historical forces, on the people, the nation, and great men. One smells whiffs of cannon smoke and sees blurry outlines of barricades and a Corsican on horseback. Here in the corner of the painting a crown lies on the ground.
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With its striking visuals, Zemmour’s announcement speech is worth watching even if you don’t speak French, and it is certainly worth reading in its entirety. But allow me to highlight a couple passages that I find to be particularly evocative in light of the nationalist moment globalist media figures keep breathlessly saying was kicked off by Brexit and the election of Trump. There is nothing new under the sun, and perhaps we should add Richard Nixon to the list of American comparisons to Zemmour, who seeks to speak for a till-now silent majority. The core of the speech:
You feel like foreigners in your own country. You are internal exiles. For a long time, you believed you were the only one to see, to hear, to think, to doubt. You were afraid to say it. You were ashamed of your feelings. For a long time, you dared not say what you are seeing, and above all you dared not see what you were seeing.
And then you said it to your wife. To your husband. To your children. To your father. To your mother. To your friends. To your coworkers. To your neighbors. And then to strangers. And you understood that your feeling of dispossession was shared by everyone.
France is no longer France, and everyone sees it.
You are not alone. Others see it, too. Make America great again. Make France, France. Mass immigration may look slightly different here than there, but less and less. Now that I’ve crossed that line, brought up the border, before all the usual tired responses, more Zemmour: “In front of us, a cold and determined monster rises up, who seeks to dishonor us. They will say that you are racist. They will say that you are motivated by contemptible passions, when in fact it is the most lovely passion that animates you—passion for France.”
And of course it’s not just about migrants or demography.
The disappearance of our civilization is not the only question that harasses us, although it towers over everything. Immigration is not the cause of all our problems, although it aggravates everything. The third-worlding of our country and our people impoverishes as much as it disintegrates, ruins as much as it torments.
It’s why you often have a hard time making ends meet. It’s why we must re-industrialize France. It’s why we must equalize the balance of trade. It’s why we must reduce our growing debt, bring back to France our companies that left, give jobs to our unemployed.
It’s why we must protect our technological marvels and stop selling them to foreigners. It’s why we must allow our small businesses to live, and to grow, and to pass from generation to generation. It’s why we must preserve our architectural, cultural, and natural heritage.
The Zemmour announcement thrills because it combines an unapologetic pugilism with the sophistication of a public intellectual. It may not be a combination that works in American mass democracy, at least anymore; Allan Bloom was bemoaning the loss of a lingua franca (I can’t be stopped) inculcated by the Bible, Shakespeare, and the Founding documents in The Closing of the American Mind back in 1987. Nevertheless, the first thought for most in reading the Frenchman’s speech is something along the lines of “What does this sound like in American?”
Rod has taken his own stab at that, and preempted this column being my attempt. His is a basically direct transliteration, and a good one. I can almost imagine an American candidate saying these words, and maybe even saying them well, with conviction, and that gives me hope.