Reflections on the Revolution in France

 
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Elderly Le Pen père supporters wait for the elderly Le Pen.

Thank you to everyone who came out with me yesterday. I take it most of you didn’t have the app that would let you send me questions. I saw that a loyal six or seven of you stayed with me all day long, but there were almost no comments. Don’t be shy! If I don’t answer, it’s only because I’ve learned the hard way not to look at the screen when I cross the street. The comments disappear quickly, so often I don’t see the question. Just ask again.

Despite our efforts, we missed the news. There were several events that had the potential to be newsworthy, but there was no way to know in advance which they’d be. It turned out the action was at Marine’s Great Patriotic Banquet, which was again crashed by Femen (link NSFW):

At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.

Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN.”

Their protest was short lived as riot police controlling the gathering moved quickly to arrest them with the enthusiastic help of FN security guards.

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Didn’t look as if the black-clad riot police were about to do anything newsworthy. So I left.

As those of you who joined me at the rally for Le Pen père at the Joan of Arc statue learned, a lot of journalism involves waiting around, doing nothing, in a place where news might happen. Len Pen père‘s rally could, theoretically, have been newsworthy. But only in the hands of an excellent prose stylist. (For those of you who saw it, take the Claire Berlinski Journalism Challenge: I think I translated everything important, although if my voice wasn’t audible, ask me and I’ll tell you what people said. You’re on a deadline. You have to turn what we saw into a 1,200-word article. What would you write?)

Anyway, we missed the chance to sell a story that could legitimately be packaged with photos of topless women. Would have been worth about two hundred bucks, I reckon.

It happens.

IMG_0253

Looked like a peaceful May Day in Paris to me.

My second journalism fail was in the afternoon. Remember how about two-thirds of the way from Bastille to Nation, I decided there was nothing to see or report? “May Day was celebrated peacefully in Paris,” I concluded. Not even worth trying to sell that. Remember how I turned around to walk the other direction? I did that because as you saw, May Day was being celebrated peacefully in Paris. So I figured it would at least be more interesting for you if I walked facing the crowds, rather than with them, so that you could see people’s faces and their signs. Big mistake.

I wake up, look at the news, and see this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.36.06

If we’d just kept walking another five blocks, we would have been eyewitnesses to news we could have sold, because what looked like a news-nothingburger of a peaceful May Day in Paris to me was apparently not, according to AFP:

Paris (AFP) – French and Turkish police fired tear gas at protesters as tensions erupted in both countries during May Day rallies Sunday, while thousands marched across the globe for the annual celebration of worker’s rights.

From Moscow to Madrid, workers chanted demands for higher wages, better conditions and more job security as many countries battle economic uncertainty and high unemployment.

Thick clouds of tear gas hung above the Place de la Nation square in Paris where youths in balaclavas and ski masks lobbed cobblestones and bottles at black-clad riot troops shouting: “Everyone hates the police.”

Thing is, I did think I smelled a faint, peppery hint of tear gas. I assumed I was imagining it. In my experience, if the cops are using tear gas, people around you are coughing, running, and looking mighty unhappy. I’m fairly insensitive to OC spray, which is what I thought I smelled, so usually I see how people are reacting to it before I smell it myself. (A small percentage of the population isn’t that sensitive to OC. I’m part of the lucky minority. It takes quite a lot of it to deter me. If you want to deter me in a non-lethal way, dibenzoxazepine does to me exactly what it says on the tin.)

I turned around about two-thirds of the way down the route, if I rightly recall.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 11.26.14

I neither saw nor smelled “thick clouds of tear gas,” and we sure didn’t see “youths in balaclavas and ski masks,” did we? I saw the “black-clad riot troops.” We hung out with them for a minute or two on the corner opposite the Hôpital Saint Antoine, and I said something about how obvious it was that they were thinking, “When do we get a day off in honor of our labor?”

I only recall seeing one anti-police sign. Did you see any others? I can’t remember what the one I saw said, but I know I thought, “What an idiot. I’m sure even he doesn’t mean it.” Everyone in Paris understands why the cops were there and everyone’s grateful to have them there. I stand by that, actually. As the AFP journalist who actually got the story reported:

The May Day rally was the second protest against the reforms in a week to descend into violence led by troublemakers known as “casseurs” (breakers) who actively seek confrontation with security forces.

I believe it. It had to have been triggered by a very small number of professional pains in the tuchas. There was no serious anti-police vibe at the march. The police and the marchers were interacting respectfully, and you’d have to be an idiot beyond imagination to believe the cops were there for any reason but to keep people safe.

Here’s what we missed:

Had I been the only journalist in Paris, you’d have heard that “May Day was celebrated peacefully in Paris,” which would have been, technically, inaccurate.

That said, the five or six hours you spent with me — during which Paris was sparkling, joyful, and peaceful — seem to me a more accurate representation of what the day was like. We checked out the far-right rallies, the far-left ones, and everything in between, and we saw about 17,000 well-mannered people peacefully assembling and politely expressing their weird and extreme political views. I don’t agree with the views expressed, but I liked the good manners with which everyone expressed them. The violence was provoked by about a dozen casseurs, apparently. They were absolutely unrepresentative of the day or the mood.

Now, some reflections on the Revolution in France. Zafar asked me what I meant when I said, “The French Revolution failed.” I’d suggested that in many ways, this explained the difference between the French and the American way of looking at the world. I was specifically thinking of this passage in Patrick Lawrence’s book:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.56.37 Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.57.31 Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.57.58

And this is what prompted me to say that all of the people we saw out there obviously feel dissatisfied, and want something to change, but they have no what they want to change into. There’s no ideology left for them anymore, nor any example to follow. The Russian Revolution failed. No one will ever put that kind of innocent faith in Marxism again. Even the American Revolution appears, to the world, to be failing — and perhaps it is. So what are the people we saw for? They don’t know.

Everyone here knows, deep down, that the El-Khomri law will pass and must pass. They know it because they’ve spent years experimenting with the alternative. It didn’t work. The 35-hour work week didn’t reduce unemployment. It made it worse.

So people are dissatisfied, but not in any way they can make coherent. They had a revolution. It failed. They had another one in 1968. It was so successful that the people who took to the streets then are now the establishment. If Myriam El-Khomri, the labor minister of the Socialist Party, has realized it’s time for the French to “[align] ourselves with laws applicable in other countries,” so has everyone.

There’s no credible ideology left to admire, nor any model of a successful country to emulate. So they were on the streets out of tradition. It’s the first of May, and that’s what everyone’s always done in Europe on the first of May.

And it was a beautiful day, even if it wasn’t particularly newsworthy.

Did you see anything I didn’t?

(Thank you for almost pushing the counter to the 25 percent mark!)

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  1. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Now you are getting it.

    The circle of trust is collapsing.  Nothing works.  With the evisceration of the religious tradition, the world isn’t even a hobbesian jungle its a nihilist hellscape.  So people are getting together in the largest credible trustworthy group.

    Perhaps soon we still stop mistaking efficiency for happiness or social utility.  The machines that poop theory of humanity on both the right and left is failing everywhere, with increasingly spectacular results.

    • #1
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Guruforhire: a nihilist hellscape.

    Were you one of the people watching yesterday? It didn’t look like a nihilist hellscape to me! What did you see that made you think that?

    • #2
  3. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Now, some reflections on the Revolution in France. Zafar asked me what I meant when I said, “The French Revolution failed.” I’d suggested that in many ways, this explained the difference between the French and the American way of looking at the world. I was specifically thinking of this passag

    I think I was reacting to the article you quoted which I found quite good.  It was a long weekend and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.  I need a vacation from the vacation apparently, my wife is a merciless slave driver some times.

    my bad.

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The violence was provoked by about a dozen casseurs, apparently.

    And yet to say so is to deny the legitimate use of violence in this revolutionary moment, or something.

    Is there, in fact, anything left in the loi El Khomri at this point?

    Does the shallow, but spectacular, bit of anti-semitic house-cleaning by the Labour Party in Britain (see Guido generally over the last few days) combine with the polemic over the use of the term islamo-gauchisme in France explain the collapse of the revolutionary attitude?

    • #4
  5. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: If Myriam El-Khomri, the labor minister of the Socialist Party, has realized it’s time for the French to “[align] ourselves with laws applicable in other countries,” so has everyone.

    And the economy minister has been floating trail balloons about scrapping the wealth tax and the exit tax:

    http://www.france24.com/en/20160420-french-economy-minister-macron-suggests-ending-wealth-tax

    • #5
  6. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    genferei:And yet to say so is to deny the legitimate use of violence in this revolutionary moment, or something.

    How so? Nothing in the article says that.

    Is there, in fact, anything left in the loi El Khomri at this point?

    Yes, a lot. It should help.

    Does the shallow, but spectacular, bit of anti-semitic house-cleaning by the Labour Party in Britain (see Guido generally over the last few days) combine with the polemic over the use of the term islamo-gauchisme in France explain the collapse of the revolutionary attitude?

    Did you watch yesterday? I saw literally not one sign indicating that anyone was concerned with any issue related to the Islamo– part of the gauchisme. The MEK was out to protest the Iranian regime. The guy at the Front rally mumbled something about Joan of Arc defending the country from invaders, but when I asked what he meant, he told me I couldn’t understand because America’s a colony, not a nation. And that he would have joined the IRA if he were Irish.

    • #6
  7. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    If you commute in the Washington DC metropolitan area, you will note that traffic is lighter Monday and Friday mornings compared to midweek or after a holiday (harder to detect in Virginia where congestion is always worse).

    In other words, the number of people who bail and create effective 4-day workdays with great frequency is large enough to be visible in traffic patterns. It is a vast white collar town with several hundred thousand government employees many of whom are clearly not working 35/week.

    One of the challenges of automation is that there may be a lot less for many of us to do (like federal employment) but we don’t want a large impoverished bottom layer.  If not out of compassion and political prudence we should act to sustain a large consumer base to grow the economy.

    The problem with the 35-hour week is not the number of hours but that it is a mandated number instead of letting workers and employers work out what works best for each within a broad range of options.  The French (and EU) problem is the urge to prescribe not the actual form of the prescriptions.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tenacious D: And the economy minister has been floating trail balloons about scrapping the wealth tax and the exit tax:

    Well, he’s also forming a rival party, so he might not be the best bellwether.

    I’m impressed by the way Russia Today managed to make it look as if all of Paris was in flames yesterday. They must have a big team here.

    (Update: My mistake, that’s RT’s photoshoot from April 28 — which didn’t look like that, either.)

    • #8
  9. Steven Jones Inactive
    Steven Jones
    @StevenJones

    May Day 2016 was newsworthy primarily because the Resist Capitalism movement has been in the news. There are many young adults across the world who are certain capitalism must be overthrown – yet they lack any workable system to replace it. They seem to assume that the innovations which make their lives comfortable will keep appearing, magically, when there are no longer any wealthy investors to fund them.

    • #9
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.

    [….]

    Their protest was short lived as riot police controlling the gathering moved quickly to arrest them with the enthusiastic help of FN security guards.

    [….] What would you write?

    Another Femen protest goes tits up.

    • #10
  11. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Do French people feel that their revolution was a failure?  It seems to have had a profound political impact on France – for example, their hard core laicite and a prickly relationship with the Church as institution.

    • #11
  12. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.

    Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN.”

    Champagne, nekkid women, fascists, oh my.

    Give me Liberty or give me popcorn!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
  13. Gaby Charing Inactive
    Gaby Charing
    @GabyCharing

    I’m sorry I was able to spend only a short time with you yesterday. I sent a number of comments, but you couldn’t see them because of the bright sunlight. It’s impossible to read an iPhone or iPad screen in anything resembling bright light, so that is a real problem, I think. BTW I get a better picture on my iPhone than my iPad.

    • #13
  14. Gaby Charing Inactive
    Gaby Charing
    @GabyCharing

    The Glorious Revolution of 1688. Pretty successful, I think.http://tinyurl.com/gldj7kt

    • #14
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar:Do French people feel that their revolution was a failure? It seems to have had a profound political impact on France – for example, their hard core laicite and a prickly relationship with the Church as institution.

    I think they feel it had a profound impact. No one can think about the Reign of Terror and all that followed — including the restoration of the monarchy — and conclude, “That all went splendidly.”

    • #15
  16. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: No one will ever put that kind of innocent faith in Marxism again.

    You haven’t been around a bunch of Bernie! supporters, have you?

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Kozak: Bernie! supporters

    Bernie’s campaign is just a weird protest movement. It’s over for that ideology.

    • #17
  18. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Kozak: Bernie! supporters

    Bernie’s campaign is just a weird protest movement. It’s over for that ideology.

    Sigh. I wish it were so.  Our young seem to have the virus.

    Poll: Millennials Pick Socialism Over Capitalism

    • #18
  19. JamesAtkins Member
    JamesAtkins
    @JamesAtkins

    James Gawron:Claire,

    At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.

    Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN.”

    Champagne, nekkid women, fascists, oh my.

    Give me Liberty or give me popcorn!

    Regards,

    Jim

    Nekkid feminist’s….No thanks

    • #19
  20. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Claire, are the French proud of their Revolution?  It seems so atavistic, what with heads on pikes, Reigns of Terror, guillotines . . . leading to a war-mongering military dictatorship.  Seems the word “failure” is much too kind.  And that slogan:  Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.  What childishness!  So liberty does not include the freedom to go light on the fraternity?

    Honestly, I am sorry to say that I am not worldly enough to know whether this storming of the Bastille and the ten or so years are viewed with pride by the French.  What are the reflections on the revolution in France of the modern French people?

    • #20
  21. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Retail Lawyer: Honestly, I am sorry to say that I am not worldly enough to know whether this storming of the Bastille and the ten or so years are viewed with pride by the French. What are the reflections on the revolution in France of the modern French people?

    You know what? That’s an excellent question, and it deserves better than my saying, “Oh, I think they feel … ”

    I’m going to try asking people over the coming few days, at random. I’ll try to pick a broad cross-sample. If they’re not shy, I’ll film their answers. And I’ll let you know what they say. Because honestly, I can’t remember even once asking any of the millions of people around me in this city, “Hey, what do you think about the French revolution?”

    Thank you for giving me an excellent idea for a mini-project over the coming few days. This should be interesting.

    • #21
  22. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Retail Lawyer: What are the reflections on the revolution in France of the modern French people?

    You know what? That’s an excellent question

    Like any great event, it’s going to depend on the symbology adopted by the person answering the question. Go to the Institut Catholique and the answer might be pointing to the well where the Carmelite nuns were murdered. Go to the Concorde metro station and someone might point to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man (which is on the walls). Go to the history faculty of one of the universities and you’ll get some professors of the right saying it was self-evidently a bad idea, and some on the left saying it was self-evidently a good idea.

    I do wonder what the standard (?) French history textbooks of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and today say about it.

    • #22
  23. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    JamesAtkins:

    Nekkid feminist’s….No thanks

    Uh, the Femen ones are generally able to pull it off. At least the ones in Russia, Ukraine and Czech are…..

    • #23
  24. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Kozak: Bernie! supporters

    Bernie’s campaign is just a weird protest movement. It’s over for that ideology.

    Not sure about that – I think that ideology has gotten popular with the current generation – I’m in a somewhat conservative part of FL (as opposed to south FL) and I’ve seen more Bernie bumper stickers than anything else. It makes me think that it’s a microcosm of the groups represented on May Day in France – current systems don’t seem to be working so let’s try something else -but what? It seems societies have to go through this sometimes, only to go full circle back to what really worked –

    • #24
  25. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Kozak:

    JamesAtkins:

    Nekkid feminist’s….No thanks

    Uh, the Femen ones are generally able to pull it off. At least the ones in Russia, Ukraine and Czech are…..

    They look ugly and scary – it seems if they wanted to get their message out, they might go the Lady Godiva route…….the police might even cooperate!

    • #25
  26. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Retail Lawyer: Honestly, I am sorry to say that I am not worldly enough to know whether this storming of the Bastille and the ten or so years are viewed with pride by the French. What are the reflections on the revolution in France of the modern French people?

    You know what? That’s an excellent question, and it deserves better than my saying, “Oh, I think they feel … ”

    I’m going to try asking people over the coming few days, at random. I’ll try to pick a broad cross-sample. If they’re not shy, I’ll film their answers. And I’ll let you know what they say. Because honestly, I can’t remember even once asking any of the millions of people around me in this city, “Hey, what do you think about the French revolution?”

    Thank you for giving me an excellent idea for a mini-project over the coming few days. This should be interesting.

    Hopefully you won’t run into more younger people who, (like when Jay Leno used to go out and ask basic history questions and no one knew what he was talking about) say what French Revolution?

    • #26
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