History and identity politics are intimately interwoven in modern French society. The history of the French Revolution and Napoleonic period to define the landscape of political ideologies (socialism, liberalism, conservatism) in the nineteenth century and forged the language of modern political culture.
Political writer and pundit Eric Zemmour is once again provocatively stirring identity politics in France with a new book, Destin français (or, French Destiny). He has been accused of inciting racial hatred with his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
In his previous books, Zemmour has argued for a French nationalist agenda based on imperial nostalgia, anti-immigrant politics, and Great Man history. “Zemmour’s detractors often link him to the Rassemblement National — formerly the National Front — but his true allegiance is to Bonapartism,” according to The New York Times. He even strikes a classic Napoléon Bonaparte pose for his photo.
Although he is not a trained historian, Zemmour’s political writing relies heavily on historical references and historiographical interpretations. Although he studied political science and launched his career as a political reporter, Zemmour presents himself as a historian. “Most of Zemmour’s books are what he calls ‘historical essays,'” according to The New York Times. “His narratives, based on a personal reading of many works by historians, are long (the last three were more than 500 pages each) and intended for an audience already familiar with Robespierre and the Girondins.”
Zemmour utilizes highly selective and idiosyncratic readings of French history in his political writing and punditry. The New York Times reports that “Zemmour’s newest book, French Destiny, is in some ways a response to the surprisingly successful World History of France, compiled and edited by the noted historian Patrick Boucheron and published the year before. Where Boucheron presents French history as a product of diverse ethnic and geographical influences, Zemmour adheres to Thomas Carlyle’s dictum that history is ‘but the biography of great men’: the most powerful win, and rightly so. For Zemmour, the strict hierarchical social order born of Catholicism, divorced from the church and joined with the principles of Roman law is what gives French society its unique structure.”
Historiographical debates continue to shape current political identities, historical memory, and national politics in modern France.
The New York Times reports on Zemmour’s new book, Destin français. Patrick Boucheron’s book, France in the World: A New Global History, is available in English.