by Nathan Greppi

Outside the Anglo-Saxon world, the Western country that has so far undergone the greatest attempts to import the new ideologies linked to the cancel culture is undoubtedly France. In last December, the neo-Jacobin association "la Libre Pensée" had obtained from the administrative court of Nantes the approval to pull down within six months the statue of St. Michael and the dragon, located since 2018 in the square in front of the Church of Saint-Michel in the municipality of Les Sables-d'Olonne, a seaside resort in western France. At the same time, in Fort-de-France, capital of the island of Martinique (located in the Caribbean but a French possession), two statues of the politician Victor Schoelcher were demolished, despite the fact that he was one of the abolishers of slavery in France.

Although such cases may provoke pessimism, France seems to have begun to react against this drift. In Rouen, socialist mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol tried to remove a statue of Napoleon that had been there since 1865 from the central square and move it to the suburbs, but had to give up when his fellow citizens, when asked if they thought it was right, 68% opposed it.

The anti-woke event at the Sorbonne

The counterattack against cancel culture is emerging not only among ordinary people, but also in those who are the main bastions of its proponents: the universities. On January 7 and 8, the Sorbonne organized a two-day event promoted by the Observatoire du décolonialisme and the Collège de philosophie, where philosophers, historians, political scientists and sociologists spoke out against the drifts of political correctness and decolonial thinking, which seeks to impose itself "as a moral dogma against the critical spirit".The event was sponsored by the Ministry of Education and, counting both in-person and online participants, had more than 1,200 registrants.

According to the speakers at the event, decolonial thought "represents a challenge for the world of education. Beyond a legitimate intellectual debate that should not be avoided, and certainly not prohibited, it introduces into the educational sphere, and sometimes into schools, a form of moral order that is incompatible with the spirit of openness, pluralism and secularism that constitutes its essence". The impact of this ideology, "imported for the most part from the United States, should neither be overestimated nor underestimated. Suffice it to say that it is now gaining a foothold in all sectors of society, including the world of education, where it has already caused some damage".

There has been no shortage of counter-reactions from the decolonial Left. A petition in the newspaper "Le Monde", signed by 74 academics, rejects the terms of the debate, arguing that "wokism" is just a "polemical term, which has served, first to the American right and then to the French neoconservatives, to disqualify any progressive interpellation".

The students' letter

It is not only professors and managers who have taken a stand against such drifts in the universities on the other side of the Alps, but also a part of the students: on January 4, it appeared in the newspaper "Le Figaro" an open letter drafted by a group of students from various French universities, which begins as follows:

We, students of all the political science institutes of France, deplore the censorship, official and unofficial, omnipresent in our schools, by some students, associations and professors, and by the administration. Moreover, in our own small way, we want to sound an alarm about the dangers posed by cancel culture. Far from being a purely Anglo-Saxon phenomenon relegated within the walls of American campuses, the exacerbated communitarian spirit of this out-of-touch intellectual enclave wants to dictate everything.

The letter is mainly promoted by the student associations "Uni", close to the Gaullists, and "Printemps Républicain", of liberal matrix. It continues as follows:

The sectarian and extremist attitude of the left-wing, pseudo-political associations, followed by the docile crowd of the other sports and cultural associations, creates a deleterious atmosphere in the student life of the French political science institutes and within the associations themselves, whose members refractory to radical progressive ideals are quickly expelled. Traumatized by the fact of being 'white cisgender heterosexuals' and therefore 'privileged' and 'dominant', the professors and members of the directorates of the institutes of political science trace, out of the necessity of repentance and even masochism, a royal road to the Lgbt and feminist associations.

[...] The objective herein is not to pose as victims, but to alert our fellow citizens and our leaders to the drifts of the French institutes of political science which, let us not forget, are destined to train our future intellectual, political and economic elites. The drifts we currently observe within the Sciences Po of France will soon spread everywhere.

Before these statements, the impatience of a part of the students was already growing because of recent decisions of UNEF, the main French student organization. Their president, Melanie Luce, revealed in March 2021 to the radio station "Europe 1" that they were organizing "non-mixed" meetings in universities, where whites are not allowed as they would be part of the dominant group and would be at the origin of the so-called "systemic racism" that, according to them, oppresses French society. A policy that was also challenged by UEJF, an association representing Jewish students in France, since - despite the strongly present anti-Semitism in the country (which also led to the murders of two elderly Jewish women, Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll, in 2017 and 2018 respectively) - according to UNEF's logic, Jews would be part of the dominant group.

La scienza piegata al pol.cor. -- Nathan Greppi a Radio Libertà
Reactions from politics

Even on the part of politicians there is no shortage of stances against the new trends. If Elysée candidate Eric Zemmour went to the aforementioned Les Sables-d'Olonne to defend the statue of St. Michael, even in President Macron's "En Marche" party there are those who oppose it. The Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has declared that the cancel culture "seeks to undermine our humanistic civilization" and, in order to take countermeasures, he inaugurated in October "Le Laboratoire de la République", a think tank created with the express purpose of studying the phenomenon of cancellation and developing strategies to counter it.

The basis of the reaction

One of the reasons why, perhaps, France seems to have more antibodies against political correctness than English-speaking countries is that its intellectual class includes many intellectuals who are either right-wing or who, despite having been politically formed on the left, have later moved away from it to become very critical of their environment of origin: names such as Michel Houellebecq, Michel Onfray, Robert Redeker, Pascal Bruckner and Alain Finkielkraut manage to carve out a not inconsiderable space in the main transalpine media and influence public debate.

Another possible reason is that French society as a whole is increasingly siding to the right, which has become even more evident in the run-up to the presidential election in April. According to January 12 polls, Macron is given 23% for the first round; behind him, Republican candidate Valerie Precresse is at 17%, a similar percentage to Marine Le Pen, while Zemmour is credited with 13%. On the left, instead, the radical Jean-Luc Mélenchon is given only 9.5%, while the Green candidate Yannick Jadot and the socialist Anne Hidalgo would stand at 7% and 3.5% respectively.

The importance of having a good number of men of culture aligned on non-radical chic positions has been thoroughly understood in France, much more than elsewhere. Perhaps it is also for this reason that Marion Marechal, Le Pen's niece from whom she distanced herself due to differences of views, in 2018 founded in Lyon the ISSEP, an academy of political and economic studies established to create a new right-wing ruling class. Marion has stated verbatim that her goal is to "pull the plug on 1968".

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Giornalista pubblicista, ha scritto per le testate MosaicoCultweek and Il Giornale Off. Laureato in Beni culturali (Università degli Studi di Milano) e laureato magistrale in Giornalismo, cultura editoriale e comunicazione multimediale (Università di Parma).