Eric Zemmour (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Le Pétain nouveau

France should look across the Channel before electing a journalist as president

This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

A once major power is led into nightmarish catastrophe and chaos by a journalist of sorts. A cruel mendacious antinomian narcissist, an aspirant dictator who revels in destruction (judicial powers, free speech, constitutional safeguards) having learnt the joys of destruction and ostentatious oafishness at, astonishingly, a seat of “learning”. The oaf’s only creation is a shivering, starving bedlam hidden by a policy of coarse populism, formerly trading as bread and circuses. They bring hope to the gullible millions. They are instruments of delusion.

Another once major power is rashly taking little notice. France persists in believing in the Ingerlandland of Major Thompson, frigidity and the stiff upper lip. It has not registered the country’s emotional incontinence. It has quite failed to see through the Prime Shit’s threadbare mask of amiable bumbling clown and children’s entertainer, and is becoming excited by the probability of a journalist’s candidature in next spring’s presidential elections.

He is a serious man, even if he is over-fond of shouting down anyone who disagrees with him

It should be heeding the warning from outre-Manche. Polls in mid-October put the ubiquitous broadcaster and columnist Éric Zemmour in second place behind Emmanuel Macron. He has overtaken Marine Le Pen, the loser in every election in living memory who has, by moderating her policies, alienated her core vote. All this, even before he has confirmed that he will stand. 

Zemmour is a very different sort of journalist from The Shit. He is an intelligent adult, tirelessly productive, a polymath, a vastly better writer with a wide historical and cultural scope. He appears to have preoccupations beyond his own glory and his own triumphalist ego. He is of course a self-creation — who of interest isn’t — but he is not, mercifully, a character, much less an optimist.

Zemmour doesn’t go out of his way to be liked. There is nothing folksy about him. He is a serious man, even if he is over-fond of shouting down anyone who disagrees with him in the endless telly debates which invariably turn into advertisements for his opinions.

He has already out-manoeuvred Macron on one front. The President commissioned a “rapport” on the Algerian war from the historian, Benjamin Stora. Macron knew what he was getting. Like so much written about that war it is predictably biased in favour of independence and, equally predictably, ignores the plight of the millions of Pieds-Noirs who lost their homes and the hundreds of thousands of Harkis who fought for France, as Mamluks and Zouaves had done before them.

The Harkis lost more than their homes. They lost their lives in the FLN’s orgy of revenge after de Gaulle disgustingly dismissed them as a “bunch of auxiliaries” and denied them refuge in mainland France. They were French citizens.

Stora proposed a “memory and truth commission” and Macron clearly hoped to make political capital out of this empty gesture: the sixtieth anniversary of the Evian accords which granted Algeria independence falls only three weeks before the presidential election. 

Macron’s was a deft move, but not as deft as Zemmour’s. He is a pied-noir and Jewish, non-observant. His working class parents escaped Algeria shortly before his birth. He thus possesses direct experience of life in exile, of refugees’ fates, of fear of Arabs. He knows what it was like then, and he plays on the country’s insecurity and the elite’s supposed betrayal of the people. Hardly an original stance, but that won’t inhibit its efficacy.

He seems to legitimise xenophobia and nationalism by his intellectual schtick

He is contemptuous of what he considers to have been the anti-colonial useful idiots and liberal supporters of the illiberal FLN, precursors of the soixante-huitards whom he equally despises — along, lest we forget, with the angelism of their issue. That’s three generations sorted then. 

Johnny Halliday said of Michel Sardou: “À force de passer pour un vieux con réac, il l’est devenu.” You become what you pretend to be. Zemmour is no longer an essayist, an analyst, a polemicist. He has spent so long shuffling towards the furthest, far-out-of-sight right that he’s arrived, wittingly or not, at a place from which there is nowhere left to go. Zemmour 2022 is a demagogue whose opinions have unbalanced him — but, so far, without cost. 

He describes Marine Le Pen as a creature of the left. But such silliness does not prompt collective perplexity. On the contrary he attracts a cadre which would not dream of voting for Madame Le Pen but which feels that xenophobia, nationalism, draconian punishments, mistrust of Muslims and deportation of immigrants are legitimised by his intellectual schtick. You need not feel sullied. You can live with yourself. 

Even at his most absurd he takes people with him. When he criticises Rachida Dati for naming her daughter Zohra he touches a nerve in les Français de souche. It perhaps has not occurred to him that Éric, too, is not a “genuinely French” name. It is as Scandinavian as Sven. 

Should, by some miracle, our misogynistic Norseman make it to the Elysée has he any idea of how he will effect the radical “policies” which are little more than expressions of his profound antipathies? The fact that he is an admirer of Marshal Pétain is perhaps a clue. 

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