French President Emmanuel Macron visits Algeria (LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Columns

History in the Age of Woke

Macron aims to rewrite history, with Britain not far behind

This column was taken from the September issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.

Two appointments which Emmanuel Macron made with hamfists in his summer rejig of the cabinet have prompted the suspicion that he has lost his touch. We all know that any person, even the smug former mayor of Tourcoing, Gérald Darmanin, is entitled to be considered innocent till proved otherwise.

Nonetheless to hand the interior ministry to a chum enmeshed in accusations of rape, no matter how long ago the alleged crime was committed, no matter how apparently inconsistent the complainant may be, is the act of a president unable to read the mood of the public — that is, the mob, which is further unimpressed that the two organisers of a parliamentary petition pleading Darmanin’s innocence in Le Monde are themselves facing charges of sexual aggression and harassment.

They would, before he was named minister of justice, have no doubt sought as their brief Éric Dupond-Moretti, an ursine beardie, a self-proclaimed character, a bête de spectacle. He routinely attracts the euphemism bon vivant. He himself is not given to such delicacy: j’appelle un chat un chat. This is a more candid expression of bluntness than a spade a spade: chat is a familiar word for female genitals.

He is the country’s most celebrated defence lawyer, a constant critic of the magistrature and likely to prove hard to control. The noisy elevation of these two men and the unprecedented number of women in the new PM Jean Castex’s cabinet has caused its geographical composition to be overlooked: three-quarters of the cabinet comes from north of the Loire, most of it from the very north. Castex, a ringer for Congreve’s Sir Wilfull Witwoud, emphasises this imbalance.

After Shaw, it is impossible for a Frenchman to open his mouth without making some other Frenchman hate or despise him, and when Witwoud does so it is to a round of snobbish smirks and suppressed giggles.

Every syllable proclaims his Catalan origins: he has for 12 years been the mayor of Prades, a town inland from Perpignan that’s hardly more than a big village. His accent is bucolic and far from Touraine “correctness”, just as Witwoud’s accent in The Way of the World play is Salopian and far from that of his fashionable London cousins.

It’s indisputable that accent in France tends more to signify place of origin rather than social class. This is what the country tells itself. What it doesn’t tell itself is that placeism is as potent a means of discrimination and stigmatisation as social class. There exists a hierarchy of towns and regions.

Now, Darmanin, Dupond-Moretti and even Witwoud are here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians. In this century there have been nine prime ministers and with the possible exceptions of Philippe (beard), Villepin (hair) and Fillon (fingers in till) they are forgotten. A rather different “initiative” on the part of the president may prove to be longer-lasting and effect more damage than any of his appointees.

Soon after coming to power Macron, out to prove to teacher just how right-on he is and how well he has learned his lessons, described France’s presence in Algeria as a “crime against humanity”.

The ahistorical confidence was shocking. If there was such a crime it was committed by the loathsome narcissist de Gaulle, who treated with militarily defeated terrorists and abandoned a million French citizens and as many harkis who had been loyal to France.

Macron has now commissioned the historian Benjamin Stora to come up with a project which, in the name of reconciliation, will set out an official, state-sanctioned “memory” of the conflict which ended 15 years before Macron was born and which he seems to know little of.

Stora is parti pris. He is a pied noir who is massively mistrusted by the majority of pieds noirs and their descendants as an appeaser and an apologist for the FLN. The project is a risible act of vanity. A kingsize can of worms will be opened but the seething contents will remain intact, unchanged.

There may be a tokenistic recognition of the ill done to the harkis. But there will be no reprieve of the OAS, which was no more fascist than any other group fighting for its homeland, no acknowledgement that had France not brought medical nous to the famished, disease-ridden land there would be no righteous Algerian demanding French penitence. Their forbears would have perished.

There is a line in Jean-Pax Méfret’s song Le Pays Qui N’Existe Plus which exhibits the full banality of cheap music so duly sends a shiver down my spine: “Ils ont changé les noms des rues.” That is how history is really rewritten. And how the rewriting is acknowledged by the bereft exile. Were the Front National to gain power we could look forward to Place Laval, Boulevard Darquier de Pellepoix, Avenue Bousquet — but it won’t gain power.

The street map of Britain is, however, more susceptible to such adjustments. When every statue dating from before the Age of Woke has been destroyed, the serious business of neo-nomenclatures can be addressed.

Goodbye Emperor’s, King’s, Queen’s, Regent’s, Prince’s, Duke’s, Margravine’s. So long, despotic Trafalgar Square with its dead white man craving sympathy for disabilities received in pursuit of imperial glory; so long Keats Grove, commemorating a dead white man who became a burden on the Italian health system; good riddance to Fleming Way, named after a dead white man who won’t share the medicine he claims to have invented with non-binary Travellers; ciao Ian Fleming Walk, commemorating another dead white man, the “creator” of a violationist manimal whose monogrammed shirts are woven in Jermyn Street dungeons by LGBT++++ Palestinian orphans, personally whipped by Evil Bibi whenever he has downtime on a visit.

The problem, of course, with pointing to Political Correctness Gone Mad (does it ever go sane?) is that one finds oneself in the company of such thinkers as Arron Banks, Nigel Farage, Tim Martin and Suzanne Evans from Ukip whom I had the pleasure to meet on a television debate. I assumed she must have wandered in from the adjacent studio where they were doing a show about dominatrices.

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