PROFESSOR MICHEL ONFRAY v PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON
By David Arthur Walters
It’s up to me to make the souls of my parishioners live, to make them happy and dream that they are immortal, not to kill them. (Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martir
I had not heard of Michel Onfray before France became troubled by the Yellow Vest movement. He is reputedly the foremost intellectual of France; that is, outside of its center in Paris, where jealous critics scorn him for the popularity of his enormous production, referring to the university professor as a high school philosopher, which he actually was for many years in Caen before he founded his own anti-Platonic Academy.
First of all, Monsieur Onfray is reputedly an intellectual giant as opposed to a mean member of the intelligentsia. That is, he is an independent, unruly thinker. No, genuine intellectuals would not prostitute their very souls in institutional brothels, or so they might think until the devil offers them great jobs. And they shall read lots of books because they know that, as Onfray says, “words kill,” and they would like to do some killing themselves. That is why we find them whispering into the ears of kings, emperors, dictators, and presidents so that their will may be done as it is in heaven by the immortal god of death at the risk of becoming intelligent lackeys.
Eric Hoffer, an intellectual longshoreman and social critic, pointed out in The Ordeal of Change (1963) that intellectuals have been traditionally aligned with the powers-that-be; they seldom take up the interest of the masses unless they become frustrated or lose their status. Their love for the People is soon lost when irrational people get in the way of their rational plans. Where the exercise of power is concerned, they differ little from their former bosses: pharaohs, kings, presidents, generals, directors, executives, and so on. He observed that, although radical changes are pioneered by intellectuals, they in turn are eventually elbowed out by practical men because action takes precedence over words when something must be done. Nonetheless, men of words can win the battle for souls: “Only they can get around the roadblock which bars our way to the dispirited millions everywhere. There must be general awareness of the vital role the intellectuals have to play in our struggle for survival. And they must be given a limited share in the shaping and execution of policies which they will be called upon to expound and defend.” Enter the parade of poets, philosophers, writers, artists, scientists and professors to make the new policies “heard.”
Everyone scholiast knows that the philosopher’s Sisyphean task was inscribed on a temple at Delphi: Know Thyself. Onfray says to be a philosopher one must psychoanalyze one’s existential self (do not waste money on interminable Freudian analysis).
But one must know what his being is before puzzling his existence into pieces. That is impossible without the perception of someone else who reflects the self that one is besides one’s physical deeds, that is to say, his habit of thinking, the pattern of his symbolic action. Until then, the so-called ‘I’ or Category of One is an abstract universal, nothing but a myth, and a vain, empty one at that, making of every damned fool a god or colossal ego. Mind you that Onfray is careful to deny that his philosophy and self-spelunking psychology is egotistical.
Onfray’s perspective reminded me of Albert Camus, whose language is plainer, seemingly parched by the Algerian sun as if he were suffering from shellshock and inebriated incredulity. Nevertheless, I was not surprised to learn that both were cultivated in humble circumstances, both had suffered Catholicism, and that Onfray eventually wrote a book about Camus’ philosophy, a book that I have yet to obtain in English much to my disappointment because I want to know if Camus, who insisted he was not a so-called Existentialist, was more of a Gironde than a Jacobin, as some internationalists who claim to know the difference say. As far as I am concerned, the many interpretations of Camus’ works are far more pleasing to read than the works themselves. Yet what little I have read of Professor Onfray diverts me from boredom in its subtle attempts to evade the religious trappings of the prevailing death culture or structure of evil vainly designed to avoid evil by denying death. Google translations of his Romanic French into Germanic English preserves a tasty postmodern mélange that is often much ado about nothing in particular, or art for the sake of art conducted with greater ease than romantic Flaubert’s painstaking effort to be realistic in Leon while Colet was with other lovers in Paris.
Onfray’s wordiness would be tedious absent his rhetorical flourishes, his refreshing restatements of old platitudes, his neologisms, and his incisive if not caustic observations of a human nature that he ironically shares with the race and thus constitutes his self-portrait. There is apparently no such thing as writer’s block for him. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, he would not say exactly the same thing twice or quote his past work at great length, yet he still churns out hundreds if not thousands of words daily.
Indeed, he seems to be a “writing machine,” a label my own worst critic flattered me with after I commented at book length on the pictures she had posted on the Internet of herself and her girlfriend embracing nude under a running shower. On the other hand, my best critic, a public official and former activist journalist, flattered me by telling me I was qualified for subsidized “artist housing” because I was a “bullshit artist.” Of course that category of housing was promotional bullshit, and the darling artist featured by the local newspaper, a man who said he had trouble making ends meet, was graced by an inheritance and had an income of over $200,000 per year.
Onfray’s prolixity, in any case, is far greater than mine, perhaps because he has bigger ears than mine. I tried to listen twice as long as I speak after I learned I have two ears and one mouth. That may be a great waste of time because absolutely truth, unlike, for example, the relative voice and face of my fair lady, cannot be recognized if one does not already know it, and much of what we know of truth is premised on nonsense. Still, thinking and writing machines are machines. I opine that our machines fly from death in patterns describing structures of evil erected by society in its denials of death, wherefore Ernest Becker’s books should be made available at airline hubs so that we know where we are going faster than we think.
So independent intellectuals love the genuine wisdom of which the foolish crowd has very little despite a fool’s bestselling book to the contrary. We would be philosophers, and to that end plain language suffices better than fancy talk. Socrates said a philosopher lives to die, preparing for death instead of avoiding it, so that he may welcome it when it comes. The final cause of life is death, yet I am beginning to believe as I near the blankest wall that the purpose is in the interim, in the propagation of life as an end in itself. In other words, and no number of words shall do, the purpose of life is to take the most pleasure in life that can be had without hurting others, to perpetuate life on Earth instead of dwelling on The End that is really nothing. I believe Onfray agrees.
Monsieur Onfray perceives, perhaps with the “I told you so” pleasure of foreknowledge, what appears to be the application of a biblical structure of evil threatening France today, as if it were prophecy because history repeats itself. That awful machine, dubbed the Borg in science fiction, is the European Union, the proverbial leviathan that would twist the independent lives out of European nations. It has the poor souls of France in its stranglehold, and President Emmanuel Macron, whom he suggests is a brutal monster if not Satan himself, would be its great dragon king in the form of a bronze oven called Moloch, an oven idolized to preside over the sacrificial holocaust of untold millions of souls. Horror of horrors, for Cronus could do no worse with his children in time, devouring them en masse on suitable occasions.
Of course we might think there is no such thing as metaphysical entities in themselves, or gods for that matter, nor that there is there a universal god, the one-god expected to save chosen members of mankind; that is, the omnipotent hence masculine God religious atheists deny although they, as Camus noted, pray to Him in dire emergencies. Western culture is Judeo-Christian, nevertheless, so we forgive atheists for their references to God, who would not be good without Satan, the angel who loves him the most.
In fact, Onfray advises us in A Hedonist Manifesto – The Power to Exist, to take an inventory of what is left of the Judeo-Christian in our daily lives. He correctly says that it is an illusion that Christianity, a punitive religion of redemption through endless guilt and suffering, is waning. In fact he says its immorality has crowded our prisons and mental hospitals with inmates, filled the cemeteries with corpses, and has cursed humankind with Nazi death camps, Stalinist Gulags, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, terrorism, Western fascism, and Eastern communism. So let us do the virtually impossible: eschew the fictions and fables, the ethics of heroes and saints of false religions; let us adopt the true philosophy, an atheism that denies the Torah, New Testament, and Koran in favor of the revolutionary enlightenment of scientific reason. Let’s abandon the ethics of heroes and saints and follow the ethics of the superlative Western sage. Well said, Monsieur, yet you know why that will never happen, because man may be wise but happens to be an animal at heart.
The sage would no doubt be the author who, like Onfray, wisely follows in the footsteps of his atheistic, materialist, existentialist predecessors. The true philosopher must put individual existence before the “being” of essential social constructs, so that the individual is rendered responsible for knowing that it is a body with a thinking brain, and, furthermore, that what we call the “I” is neuronal.
Monsieur Onfray recently made much of President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that he, Macron, is the product of a brutish history, and we could do the same by elaborating at length on Onfray’s reference to the idealist notion that his philosophy is pig philosophy, but that would be rude. He describes his liberal project, apparently unable to rid himself entirely of Judeo-Christian philosophy because, after all, the first existentialists were Jews to whom the unknown deity was so unknown it was anathema to even pronounce the name.
Atheists, we are informed, would give bodily existence priority over destructive abstract universals:
“They refuse to turn pain and suffering into paths to knowledge and personal redemption. They propose pleasure, enjoyment, the common good, and gladly accepted contracts. They take control of their bodies and don’t hate them. They master their passions and impulses, desires and emotions, instead of brutally extirpating them. What is the aspiration of the Epicurean project? The pure pleasure of existing: a project that is always welcome.”
We may imagine therefore that we are mental fields with identities determined by various circumstances and the rather mystical power of self-determination called Will. Indeed, our sage declares that I have the power to fashion myself. My attempts to exercise that power have given me considerable pain, and I feel guilty for reclining instead. One trainer tells me, “No pain, no gain,” and the other says, “Don’t do it if it hurts.”
“What should we endeavor to produce?” Onfray asks, and answers, “An I, a Me, a radical Subjectivity, a singular identity, an individual reality, a proper person, a noteworthy style, a unique force, an impressive strength, a comet tracing an untraveled path, an energy making its way down a luminous passage though the chaos of the cosmos, a beautiful individuality, a temperament, a character. We don’t have to aspire to a masterpiece or aim for perfection—of the genius, the hero, or the saint; we should just reach out for an insight that will give us a sovereignty we did not previously know.”
Of course we should use the Reason of the Enlightenment as our guide to the happiness of the greatest number. Is that the Reason idolized in churches during the Revolution? That Reason is an Ideal, a Being, the very sort of nonsensical nothing that Onfray would evade for our own good, wherefore his argument is beheaded, first of all, by the Absurd. What we naturally love the most is power, and politics is the distribution of that power. Political reasoning justifies the beastly drives. The concept of Reason is a social construct; according to whose reasons or causes, and what school of reasoning should I act? Should I read books on logic after abandoning Christian Logos, and remake myself according to Onfray’s reasoning or President Macron’s reasoning?
The problem with reason is human nature. Reasoning is all too often the rationalization of the irrational urges of the beast within. We want to do something, so we do it in the name of reason, and say our conduct is logical. Logic exposes faults in the process, the story, but what is logical is not necessarily true to factual reality, so the effect we want from the cause does not follow. Scientific reason or ideology, the science of ideas, may be helpful in that regard, but politics, the distribution of the absolute power everyone would like to have alone in order to live forever without resistance, is ultimately destructive hence logically absurd.
No doubt Onfray believes that the ‘Reason’ of the Enlightenment, the Light of Reason, has served humankind well inasmuch as it has purportedly liberated the duly educated man from irrational superstitions and prejudices and autocrats. Conservatives may disagree, and some independent intellectuals believe our scientific ideology is idiotology, a philosophy that has replaced theology, that we are plagued by the same daemons within as always, given different names. Onfray may not escape the daemons however fervently he denies their existence, so he might as well refer to such mythical entities and Moloch, Satan, God and the like, and excuse himself by saying the names are merely metaphorical. He probably has perused Antonio Rosmini’s reasoning on this subject and appreciates his declarations that:
“It is clear that the essence of being cannot be known through any other knowledge but through itself. The essence of being, therefore, is knowable in and through itself, and is the means whereby we know all other things. It is, therefore, the Light of Reason. From this point of view we say that the idea of being is innate, and that it is the form of intelligence.” And. “Human reason has only one Form, which I call the Form of Truth. Ideology is the science of ideas. Ideas are illuminated in the Light of Reason. That reason is Being.” So methinks the Reason of the Enlightenment is really the Supreme Being when idealism is realism.
A man enlightened by reason is supposedly not a brute. President Macron, presently confronted by the Yellow Vests, a mass protest of workers wearing yellow traffic emergency vests, purportedly implied that he is a brute when he told the press on 13 February 2018 that he is the fruit of a brutal form of history, a literary faux pas our Gaulish philosophe, Monsieur Onfray, pointed out in a polemical brief entitled ‘The Brute,’ now being romantically hailed as one of the most eloquent tracts ever written in the French language. That is in addition to other remarkable pronouncements he has made casting the president as a Molochian monster. To be fair, President Macron, well educated by his fair lady, Brigitte, was probably referring to another great principle of the Enlightenment, namely Progress, and meant to say his enlightenment is historical, something every Marxist would understand.
Never mind. Onfray claims that Macron, a student of Machiavelli, does not seek to maintain order but to repress liberal reforms. Wherefore ‘Monstrous’ Macron is virtually a devil incarnate although not as smart as Satan because he made snide remarks, sneered at the poor, and failed to corrupt them up front for appeasements that would soon be wiped out with inflation.
You see, animals are not stupid. The brutish, ‘Jupiter’ Macron, is both lion and fox, in keeping with Machiavelli’s formula for becoming a successful prince.
“The thought of Macron, too complex to be really understood, will enter the minds of citizens faster with the help of flash balls. At the behest of Jupiter’s reason, power breaks teeth, breaks bones, lets out eyes from their sockets, shatters jaws, tears out hands, handicaps, invalidates, fractures, hurts. Eleven people died so far. This armed response illustrates the lion’s share that Machiavelli tells us that with that of the fox, they share the political cake.”
He refers to Machiavelli’s recommendation that, “A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them…. Those that have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler.”
Monsieur Onfray attended a Catholic boarding school he did not like yet he obviously learned to sympathize with the poor and oppressed; he does not like seeing the common people brutalized by the power elite, now represented by The Brute. His listing of the victims of the brutish government is heartrending; we wonder why the United Nations did not intervene with troops after its human rights experts denounced the oppressive police tactics employed against the Yellow Vests; to wit: “Since the start of the yellow vest protest movement in November 2018, we have received serious allegations of excessive use of force. More than 1,700 people have been injured as a result of the protests across the country,” the experts said. “The restrictions on rights have also resulted in a high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators’ possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flash-balls’.”
Onfray himself deplores “the violence of this Maastrichtian [EU] state against single women, single mothers, widows with amputated retirement pensions, women forced to rent their uterus for a mercenary sperm, victims of conjugal violence arising from poverty, young boys or girls who prostitute themselves to pay for their studies; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the rural private day after day of the public service that their indirect taxes finance yet; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the peasants who hang themselves every day because the ecologist profession of faith of the urban Maastrichtians does not clutter with ecology when it comes to the plate of the French that they fill with meat damaged, toxic products, carcinogenic chemistry, food from the end of the planet without caring for the trace carbon and which can even be organic; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the generations of children cretinized by a school that has ceased to be republican and which leaves to the girls and sons of the possibility to get out not thanks to their talents, but with the help from the piston of their well-born families; the violence of this Maastrichtian state which has proletarianized young people whose only hope is the security of employment of the police, the gendarme, the soldier or the prison guard and whose job is to manage through legal violence the waste from the liberal system; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the small bosses, the tradesmen, the craftsmen who ignore the holidays, the leisure, the weekends, the outings – the violence there, yes, was the first violence. These are the ones that did not generate violence, but just a first protest against the increase of fuel.”
Fuel costs around $5.50 gallon in France. That is very expensive for low paid workers who have been pushed out of the expensive metropolitan centers into outlying areas and who must therefore drive to work if public transportation is unavailable, not to mention the high freight cost to distribute products, high cost of utilities and so on. That and more, including taxes associated with membership in the European Union have made it difficult for hundreds of thousands of people to make ends meet. It is so bad according to press reports that some families have to huddle for warmth in one room under a single light bulb. Yes, small farmers are reportedly committing suicide. Meanwhile the government is doling out money to emigrants, some of whom are living high off the hog in nice quarters. So people are madder than hell.
The proximate cause of the Yellow Vest mass movement was an increase in the gas tax intended to fund climate change mitigation programs, wherefore Monsieur Onfray argues that Articles 13 and 14 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen now embedded in the current Constitution specifically provide citizens with a right to determine for themselves whether taxes are needed, to consent to them, and to make sure the burden is distributed according to their ability to pay them. Some members of the economic class concerned here, mostly white, lower middle class workers, are angry with the elected representatives and therefore want to exercise their right for themselves, that is, directly. They have no power to initiate referendums under the Constitution, wherefore they would have the president or parliament amend the Constitution to provide the right of initiative.
Monsieur Onfray has apparently forgotten to mention Article 12, a provision that certainly appertains to the police brutality he claims is employed by the President of the Rich to suppress the poor:
“The guarantee of the rights of man and citizen requires a public force; this force then is instituted for the advantage of all and not for the personal benefit of those to whom it is entrusted.”
President Macron suggests that he may be amenable to the provision of limited direct democracy, but claims the crowd is not wise enough to, for example, manage the national budget. He has called what may be a sort of constitutional convention in a series of national debates around the country to determine what measures might be put forward for referendum. Monsieur Onfray, however, claims the national debates are just perfume for the monster’s campaign to lead the European Union. The representative of evil, of capitalism run rampant, is merely exploiting the crisis for his own personal good and that of the “Masstrichtian camp,” a communistic allusion to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty signed by members of the European Community to further European economic cooperation into a political confederation.
From Monsieur Onfray’s perspective as an indoctrinated materialist, the idealistic president of France is a reactionary phony and a liar. The debate is no debate at all because it terms are preconceived to arrive at foregone conclusions. Monster Macron, although a brute, is well versed in the methodology of the Greek sophists, and he is using empty rhetoric to pull the wool over the eyes of the ignorant, credulous masses in need of a thorough indoctrination in historical materialism, in anti-idealistic atheism, so the poor will not be deluded like Jesus into suffering the rich in the name of a non-existent god. Instead they shall take pleasure in self-serving hedonism. They shall be governed by epicures who shall determine what is most tasty.
As for the billions of Euros in concessions made to labor by the so-called President of the Rich aka King of the Bourgeoisie, they are mere “crumbs,” a favorite term of communist polemicists. And never mind the mainstream media. Its journalists are the power elite’s running dogs. What you see on television is really fake news, propaganda to perpetuate the ruling order it is beholden to. The audience is so untethered from reality that it perceives whatever appears in fabricated virtual reality as truth. President Trump over in America does not even bother to read much because he can please his fawning base by feeding Fox news with outrageous lies and taking the advice of his favorite conservative talk show host.
Monsieur Onfray claims that the President and his ministers fed mainstream media with false propaganda, casting the Yellow Vests as a motley crowd of racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, anarchists, not to mention the Anonymous. Brown shirts, black shirts, yellow vests: it makes no difference. As a matter of fact, they were there in small numbers to take advantage of the situation, just as political ideologues, philosophes, armchair journalists, professors, and other intellectual people flocked to the media outlets to hover over the movement. The Yellow Vest movement, we know, is not tightly organized and lacks a charismatic Mussolini, wherefore it is destined to peter out with modest gains to the cause. Some of its members tried to police the demonstrations, but gave way to the “wreckers,” who use tried and proven techniques of rioting to provoke the police, into overreacting and appearing as brutes.
Violence breeds violence: the brute in almost everyone becomes inflamed; nice people assault gendarmes, the insult is returned, and someone trying to get to work to make a living gets mad and drives his car into the crowd. Fortunately, few people have thus far been hurt in comparison to the thousands lost in China during the Tiananmen demonstration. Even so, pots like to call kettles black, and the rhetoric of Monsieur Onfray, who professes non-violence, projecting all the blame for the violence on the government, and particularly on President Macron, may serve, in the minds of the participants, to justify further outrages, for, as he says, “Words kill.” After all, what is going on here, he says, is “populicide,” the slaughter or massacre of innocents, so presumably righteous people have the right to take up arms in self-defense. The president, then, is a murderer, in a manner of speaking, and it shall be an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. At least he has, with the help of the infernal Masstrichtian press that amplified his vilifications, murdered the souls of hundreds of thousands of poor working people, has rendered them zombies, wage slaves, that is, if they are lucky to have work instead of welfare.
Words from Monster Macron’s mouth are not merely bullshit. They are, of course, “symbolic violence” in the ears of people who disagree with him, opines Monsieur Onfray, and, what’s more, they are warmongering slaps in the face! Imagine being told that you do not know what is going on, and your ideas of reform are worthless because true reform is not a child’s play! And, he suggests without any evidence that agent provocateurs were at work for the government to provoke the crowd so gendarmes could beat the hell out of people, engage in murderous populicide, and terrorize the survivors into not coming back the next weekend. This is enough to cause some people to reach for their weapons in self-defense, to say that the best defense is an offense. But of course he does not recommend violence. It is best for a hedonist to refrain from violence if he would please himself for long, or for an epicure to retire to a utopian commune to appreciate the finest things of life instead of gorging oneself with red meat, or, better yet, to escape from reality by writing philosophical books because the best thing to do about something is nothing when the conclusion is ordained from the beginning: Never mind the brutal state: it will wither away one day, and people will live happily ever after, at least until a comet destroys Earth before humankind inhabits other planets.
Our philosophy professor is correct when he says the police overreacted, that its means were brutal in comparison to the method taken to quell violent rioters in 2005, and that the “child king” failed to immediately take appropriate action when the movement began. But he is incorrect when he says the President is a liar if he says he is not personally responsible for injuries and deaths, because, in fact, he is the head of state, and as such he is a murderer. The brute is him, sayeth Onfray. Do not blame his ministers entirely for the decisions made, for he chose the repression; each wound inflicted is his fault. He is a perfect scapegoat.
My first thought when I saw the videos of the demonstrations was, “Why are the gendarmes tear gassing demonstrators and shooting at them with flash balls and trapping them in side streets to beat them up when they were just standing still or walking peacefully on the Champs-Élysee? The way this is going pleases the anarchists.”
There did not seem to be any rules of engagement except to engage the protestors in one way or another just to be doing something. Why so much tear gas? Tear gas can seriously damage the lungs, and is outlawed in war. Why the flash balls? There are other devices that disintegrate on impact, and there are water cannon. Why are they shooting people in the head with flash balls?
Not that I am a “bleeding heart liberal.” In fact, I was in Chicago with my family during the great blizzard, and when Mayor Daly said “Shoot looters to kill,” I agreed that shooting criminals after warning them was good policy. And I would not have cried out loud except for the loss to relatives if the French police shot wreckers engaged in destruction of property, looting of shops, and endangering the public. Of course that may be bad policy since that may enrage a crowd to overwhelm the police, but I am not a politician.
My personal opinion was not that some monster named Macron, in collusion with the EU government, had ordered his minister to have the police terrorize the peaceful demonstrators in order to boost his aristocratic ego, perhaps become a virtual president of a United States of Europe, and cause dissidents to cringe and go home with tails between the legs. Imagine, what was going on behind the scenes? Was a communist plot detected and a coup feared?
More likely, what we saw was the result of inexperience, bad training of the rank and file, and outmoded police methodology. More likely, the government learned from the experience. More likely, Monsieur Macron is not as arrogant as he looked in the beginning, and that he and his cabinet and Brigitte loved the French in French people well enough to listen to people and provide billions in relief to everyone concerned. That relief is not as crummy as the power-hungry leftists would have it. The whole thing is a blow to the economy at the wrong time, just as the UK, which contracted nationalism measles, might exit the EU.
On the one hand, Onfray, whom we hope is a not a classic cynic or someone who has little faith in the value in the salvational value of the artificial or idealized cultures of man hence would presumably take pleasure in living like a dog under the porch and fornicating at will in public, portrays the President as being as clever as Satan. But on the other hand he mocks him for not being clever, that is, for not being as cynical as Pompidou back in May ’68.
He credits Pompidou with ending the disturbance by employing intermediate bodies with a political cynicism should have inspired Monsieur Macron: union and government officials colluded in meetings culminating in the Grenelle Accords with spectacular salary increase, increase of the unprecedented minimum wage, reduction of the weekly working time, expansion of the right to organize, a boost to family allowances, an increase in the benefits offered to the elderly, payment of strike days, lower user fees for social security, knowing very well that inflation would offset these gains a few years later.
Well, yes, it would behoove the President of France, that is, if he would be a great man instead of a diacritical mark over a vowel in French history, to promote the provision of such relief as can be had within reason, and that is what he is doing albeit he was late in the uptake. Yes, he knows that inflation might wipe out those gains, especially if more money is printed to foster socialism. As an investment banker he knows that inflation tends to reduce the value of debt, which can be a very bad thing for investors. So I suppose he is cynical enough about the competitive nature of man to try to strike a compromise that might keep the people on the Middle Way, namely, the wisest path, perhaps a yellow or gold path that will widen the middle economic class and keep people fat enough to stay off the warpath.
As for May ’68, I must attend Monsieur Onfray’s class, because I thought it was actually Charles de Gaulle who saved France from revolution and not Pompidou’s “cynicism.” The great general was unpopular at the time, but when he disappeared to a military compound in German and his wife secured the family jewels, he gave the people the classic choice between order and chaos: the overwhelming number of people chose order and went back to work.
I expect the French people will most likely choose order today. Reforms are needed. People have their liberties and they are indeed suffering liberally. But they are not eating grass and rotten bread filled with sawdust and ground up bones of people starved to death. Would be leaders of the Yellow Vest movement are at odds with one another, and the gentler ones, the ladies, are being insulted and threatened as the movement is boiled down to its diehards. The movement does not have the students and the unions. It does not have a Mussolini and philosophers to fashion a popular political platform.
May revolution and war be forgone although militants advocate it, reasoning that a conflict is needed to keep the wheel of progress rolling forward. It would annihilate everyone in its path until total destruction is accomplished. May heaven forbid—the atheists would have their heaven on Earth. Herr Hegel the idealist was so shocked by the horrors of the Terror on French soil that he withdrew into the logical absurdity of dialectics. I prefer Madame Beauvoir’s ambiguities, but dialectic will do provided it is limited to pacific argument and constitutes rolling compromises.
The tendency of the progress of social organization is to growth and consolidation into a highly organized federal world or international global order tolerant of diverse cultures, states, and nations. That order is socialist, not the corporate board socialism of the few but the socialism of the many. Einstein was correct when he characterized nationalism as virus, a contagious disease. The West is suffering an outbreak of this disease. The EU may collapse. The United States of America, an indissoluble union of states forged in civil war with the help of French libertarians, has lost its bearing in truth. Lacking a vaccine, billions may die of the plague, but we think not because a socialist backlash is mounting.
The vaccine is the right balance of freedom in order. Yes, man must have matter, the ground or hypostasis, not to crawl upon but to stand erect upon with his head in heaven. If Monsieur Onfray were correct in his perception that the government of France is repressing people so they may not stand up for their rights, forcing them to crawl on their knees for crumbs or be imprisoned or liquidated, I would congratulate the intellectual giant for his eloquence. I refrain from doing so for now to see the effect of his words, whether they incite violence or motivate peaceful reform.
Shorn of its rhetorical ornaments and sophistries, his philosophy appears to be molded by communist propaganda of the pacifist sort. We might say, to please the French, that it is a secularized French version of resentment, namely, ressentiment, a silent resentment that frustrated peoples have towards superiors whom they blame for their predicament yet do nothing about it whine, remaining submissive while feigning moral superiority.
I agree with the man on many things, for he is like me whether we like each other or not. I agree the most with his pronouncement that:
“The self must have a healthy relationship to itself if it is going to relate well with others. An identity that is either missing or weak prohibits any kind of ethics. Only the force of an I authorizes the mobilization of morality.”
Whom do we hate the most when we hate the others, and whom do we love the most when we love the others? Hypocrisy is the underlying crisis between our ideals and realities. We hate because we love something better. Confess and forgive the beast, have faith in your higher self, hope for the best, and you shall have charity.
Miami Beach February 2019