December 3, 2022

Éric Zemmour at the 2012 Paris Book Fair. (Photo: Thesupermat)

Zemmour Rising

One of the most widely reported phenomena on the French political scene is the rise in opinion polls of Éric Zemmour, who looks set to rival the incumbent president, Emmanuel Macron, in next April’s election. While Zemmour has decided views on many issues, he opposes unchecked immigration above all as an existential threat to France.

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Zemmour has long been a fringe figure. Some know him as an essayist who states in a polemical form certain of the themes, ideas, and messages found in the work of the enfant terrible of French letters, Michel Houellebecq.

An article by Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian Weekly’s October 15 edition, “From pundit to president? The far-right rise of Eric Zemmour,” quotes two sources who are fiercely hostile to Zemmour. Stanford University Professor Cécile Alduy tells the Guardian that Zemmour’s message is not new but that it is quite unprecedented for someone espousing such views to gain the platform that Zemmour has acquired. The article also quotes French comedian Yassine Belattar calling Zemmour a provocateur and making the questionable assertion that never before in history has racism run so high.

Radical Fist-Pumping as Education

An article in the Economist’s October 23 issue, entitled “Race and class,” (paywalled) denounces the moves that eight U.S. states have made to ban critical race theory from public school curricula, and makes a case for ethnic studies lessons. The Economist details how San Francisco’s school district launched an ethnic studies pilot program in 2010-2011, relying heavily on faculty of San Francisco State University. The article cites findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that purport to show that the implementation of ethnic studies curricula in San Francisco sc

Ray Bradbury, wearing the medal of a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2009. (Photo by Caleb Sconosciuto)

hools has had positive effects. The same Economist article reports findings of Sade Bonilla of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and her colleagues purporting to show that the program boosted high-school attendance by six to seven percentage points and also had an effect on graduation rates. But perhaps the most significant finding reported in the article is the UMass researchers’ claim of a higher GPA for those who have enrolled in ethnic studies courses.

The radical educators have the last laugh. The Economist notes that California plans to make ethnic studies a requirement for graduation throughout the state by 2030.

Books Are Burning

When published in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 stood as a warning about where consumerism, instant gratification, and anti-intellectualism might lead. It depicts a dystopia where corps of firemen make the rounds, not putting out fires but gathering whatever books they can find and setting them ablaze. People in the dystopia may not read. They may not possess the intelligence, awareness, or potential for concerted dissident action that reading fosters. Hence the tyranny of the firemen to whose ranks the hapless protagonist, Montag belongs, until his conscience can no longer bear what his crew is doing and he launches an ill-fated one-man rebellion.

From our vantage point in 2021, the awful truth is that Fahrenheit 451 is a more literal prophecy than readers, critics, and maybe even the novel’s own author believed it to be. Yes, ideologues and fanatics are burning books. One example cited in my recent review for Book and Film Globe is a book-burning organized in Ontario in 2019 as part of a supposed effort at reconciliation with indigenous people who have been the victim of racist stereotyping in the past. While people of good faith can agree on the distasteful and offensive nature of such stereotyping, the act of burning books crosses lines and sets precedents that one would have thought unimaginable in a liberal society predicated on certain concepts of creative freedom and tolerance for different viewpoints.

Heroism in a Doomed Cause

The strategic and tactical missteps of U.S. leaders in Vietnam are the subject of numerous academic and popular histories. It is all too easy to overlook or forget the skill, courage, and selflessness of individual soldiers in that conflict. A very few publications keep the flame alive by running profiles of such warriors. An article by William E. Welsh in the fall 2021 issue of Military Heritage magazine offers an account of First Sergeant John L. Canley, one of the heroes on the U.S. side of that pivotal phase of the war known as the Tet Offensive.