Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Macron’s Pessimistic Moment

Macron’s Pessimistic Moment

Friday, 2 September, 2022 - 04:30
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

“Prepare for the end of abundance!” This is the message that French President Emmanuel Macron offered in his first post-holiday pronouncement last week. Though supposedly addressed at the French people, Macron’s lamentation seemed to have the entire “Western world” in mind.

According to him the era of easily available capital and seemingly endless natural resources, notably oil and natural gas, is already over. The “Western world” must learn to live in a different way.

Though Macron did not use the old cliché about “consumerism” depleting the planet’s resources and causing climate change, it was clear that he had half an eye on the ecologist hymn-sheet.

Why would the leader of a democracy encourage pessimism not to say anguish exactly at a time that, according to his fanciful analysis, we are heading for dire straits?

One answer may be found in the setback that Macron’s party, a hodgepodge of groups from across the political spectrum, suffered in the recent general election, winning only a plurality.

Six years ago, Macron built his surprise success by trying to de-ideologize French politics and bridging the classical 200-years old left-right divide.

What happened in the first five years of Macron’s presidency seemed to confirm his assumption that France was prepared to free itself of ideology. In that period reds, Communists and socialists of various shades, became pink while blues, traditional rightist and Gaullist parties, became turquoise, and blacks, hard right and neo-fascist groups became grey.

However, the change caused by Macron’s “revolution” opened the way for a new ideology in a society that seems unable to do without an ideological panoptic. That ideology had been lurking on the sidelines for decades under different labels, notably environmentalism, ecologysm, declinism and political correctness or its American version, wokeism.

According to German political theorist Carl Schmidt every society needs what he calls a “nomos” the ancient Greek word for the organizing principle of a society’s material and cultural life. That “nomos” could have a dynamic, even an aggressive; attitude. But it could also reflect lethargy and even fear of losing freedoms or material means of subsistence.

In its current version, the nomos trying to seize control in almost all Western societies could be described as “victimism”.

According to it the planet is the victim of mankind’s insatiable appetite for consumption. Mankind itself is the victim of greed which is bred by capitalism, itself a victim of capricious markets. Women are victims of men while the youths, forming the majority of the “underprivileged”, are victims of the rich old.

Descendants of former slaves are victims of descendants of former slave-owners. Those with “alternative life-styles” are victims of those who stay straitlaced and favor the parson’s position.

The search for new religious, social, economic, ethnic and other victims is endless. Society must be divided into countless slices, each equal to but at the same time different from all others.

Schmidt’s “nomos” was abused by the German Nazis and “Third Way” advocates as a means of dissolving civil society while the state devoured the nation before spitting it out in a war.

The new “nomos”, on the other hand, seems designed to emasculate the state into a court jester for a society defined as a coalition of victims.

Gone are the days when Frederic Bastiat told the French parliament in the 19th century that a “desacralized state” could become a danger to freedom. Today, Francois Guizot, who advised the French to “go and get rich” both materially and culturally. would feel out of place in Paris.

We hear echoes of Adolphe Thier, the man who crushed the Paris Commune, who told the Parliament that “Easy life isn’t good for everyone!”

The other night on French state TV we had two journalists boasting about how they refused to wear neckties and formal suits to interview President Macron and how they refrained from addressing him as “Mr. President” supposedly to avenge an older generation of TV reporters who, now cast as post-factum victims, had to kowtow to presidents De Gaulle, Mitterrand or Chirac.

Spreading a paradoxical salad-bar, victimist ideology challenges the concept of individual and equal citizenship in the name of “the people”, an abstraction capable of being misunderstood and misused. Remember the Nazis’ slogan: “You are nothing! Your People is all!” (Du bist nicht, dein Volk is alles!)

Saying the same thing, albeit in a pseudo philosophical formula, August Comte asserted that “The citizen has only the right to consent, no other rights!”

In victimism the state is seen as a cash machine distributing money among the victims, while apologizing to them. In the past few years. Western states, both in Europe and North America, have distributed countless trillions to bolster their shaken legitimacy.

Some philosophers, among them the German Jürgen Habermas, have tried to give victimism a Christian varnish. In their reading, the Western world, long after having adopted “secularism”, remembers Christianity as a school of frugality, empathy for the downtrodden and atonement of sins symbolized by Christ as the ultimate victim.

The trouble with that reading is that it is closer to the Greek concept of the scapegoat, than to the Christian concept of redeemer.

In the Greek concept, the scapegoat is truly sinful and its sacrifice cleanses the society. In the Christian concept the redeemer is innocent, symbolizing his sacrifice as a sign of divine grace.

Victimism is a witches’ brew of misunderstood Christianity, a zombie version of Marxism, eco-fanaticism and bleeding-heart liberalism espoused by mostly well-intentioned, well-to-do but pessimistic people. With the mantra “less is better than more”, they warn that economic growth leads to Thanatos or collective suicide.

From now on, perhaps until the end of time, we ought to opt for “no more growth”. The advice is “desire what you have” and “recycle what you don’t want.”

Amazingly, civilizations that feared growth, shunned innovation, favored recycling, and curbed desires, as we see in that great book “Gilgamesh”, were doomed to decline and die.

The good news is that victimism, though stronger than ever in Western societies, has not succeeded in killing the Western civilization’s fundamental optimism, craving for individual freedom, innovation and growth.

Macron’s real or feigned pessimism could turn out to be a passing cloud.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks