Far be it from me to object to the Allegretto — the one in Beethoven’s Seventh, of course, the one that would melt an igloo in Alaska or chill a tin-roof shack in Panama City — and if you want to use if for a campaign theme, fine, it just shows there is no end to the opportunism of marketeers, political ones foremost. And yet.
In this space we have tried to keep a steady, cold eye on French politics because we at TAS take it as doctrinal that France and Western Civilization are, comment dire?, closely intertwined. There are of course other countries about which this can be said. England and the others in the ex-United Kingdom. Switzerland and its charming cantons. The city-states of Italy. Poland. Without Poland, there goes the Counter-Reformation, not to mention the resistance and defeat of the communist empire in Europe.
These countries have their catalogs of betrayal — betrayal of their friends in the so-called community of nations, of their own people, and peoples, of their own most sacred foundations, laws, quaint customs. It is all in Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster. You want something more pithy and explicitly bitter, read e e cummings on the betrayal of little Hungary, “Thanksgiving, (1956).”
However, the issue is not failure. The issue is the chance for redemption and success. If you rate the latter higher than the former, you are a conservative.
This holds in France as it does anywhere else, including even in our exceptional nation. Saul Bellow used to tell me the French have been going downhill since the Revolution and sometimes he even pushed the metaphor to the extreme “dead as doorknobs,” but he knew he exaggerated, although I have to admit that with reference to the post-war years, that is since 1945, he sometimes sounded like he felt he was making an understatement, out of courtesy to their past glories.
Eric Zemmour would have said, you are right, and you are wise, but I can fix it. We can come back. Bellow would have nodded, after all he always said one of the problems in Chicago was crime and he would not have disapproved making it a campaign issue, as Mr. Z does. But — this is only a guess — he might also have asked himself how the French manage to produce so many goofballs.
Eric Zemmour announced for the presidential competition (they vote in May) via YouTube and he was wearing black suit, black tie, looked somber, heavy maple desk with 1940s microphone on it as a prop, reading what looked like handwritten speech, and plus, it was the second day of Hanukkah, it may even have been the third if he spoke in the evening and did he mention that? Of course not. Did he mention the attack on Pearl Harbor, anniversary of which was coming up fast? Not. What did he mention? French fears.
Immigration, crime, economic insecurity, control by remote faceless elites and bureaucrats, in Paris and Brussels and who knows where else, and what else? Non-recognition. Legitimate concerns, sure, and I don’t doubt Bellow would have nodded politely. This is stuff out of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, with a touch of hysterics thrown in. And the creeping fear that the France of our childhood — everyone’s — will soon be gone.
The music in the background, sometimes faint and other times distinctly vivace, was Beethoven’s Seventh, and notably the famous Allegretto. I know this would please Messrs. Tyrrell and Pleszczynski, thoughtful men and classical music listeners, but — even if my tastes range from Johnny Cash — now there is a man who knows how to wear black, by the way, and knows why he wears it — to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, but, I ask: the Seventh?
Now I am as much a Beethovenophile as the next bluegrass fan, but hey, the Seventh is the one, great as it is, inspiring as it is, miraculously alive and beautiful as it is, that Beethoven, who was a music man not a political man, wrote in defiance of whom? Napoleon! Whom Zemmour admires, in fact there was a clip of him in the video.
Beethoven was briefly smitten with the mighty general, and some people even think he wrote the Third — the Eroica — to celebrate a man he took to be a liberator. He scratched that when he realized the dashing revolutionary, who would free the peoples of Europe from feudal monarchs — or so Beethoven thought — was having himself crowned emperor. By the time he wrote the Seventh, he viewed the Corsican ogre — to speak like an Englishman, which I admit I am not, but you know, Mr. T. is a big fan of the greatest Englishman of the 20th C., so — as a serial mass killer.
Statistical science was in its infancy back then, but Bonaparte led armies across Europe from 1803 to 1815 — mind, he already had taken his devoted battalions into Italy, Egypt, and the Levant, and for that matter certain towns of France itself, including Paris, where he thought a bit of the old strong-arm might be called for. Twelve years of blood-soaked battlefields, fighting one coalition after another. By the time of the War of the Sixth Coalition, Beethoven had had it with this crazy person and he specifically meant for the Seventh to be dedicated to the Tsarina Elizabeth Alexeievna, whose husband’s peasant infantry stopped the mighty French at Borodino on the outskirts of Moscow. They retreated, but the victory was, what is the term, Pyric. The Russians burned the city and that was it for the Grande Armée. Mark Knopfler nails it cold in one of his melancholic ballads, “Done with Bonaparte.”
France’s population never recovered from the loss of men in the emperor’s endless wars. Soon Germany was ahead in manpower, as well as coal and steel production.
Now Zemmour hammers away in this dark YouTube video, France will disappear if we do not — do not — stay French. Now there’s a program.
I had the fleeting thought he might have chosen the popular military tune La Marche Lorraine for his show, but now that I think about it, Beethoven was not a poor choice. He could have gone with the Ninth, though. On banjo.
However, soyons clair, as the French like to say, let us be clear. Zemmour may be filled with nostalgia, he is nonetheless raising questions that, as he himself said in the speech announcing his campaign, he has heard many French ask — but not the rulers of France. It is perfectly true that you can go into almost any neighborhood these days — I say almost — and people will tell you, as Zemmour says, “we feel like strangers in our own country.” If he wants to make this a campaign issue, bully for him.
He referred to the France of Jean Gabin and there was a quick clip of Jean-Paul Belmondo — actors who incarnated France and the French style, and still do. The Belmondo clip, though the line was not recorded in Zemmour’s video, was a paean to France that ends with the line, more or less, “If you don’t like it [this beautiful and great country], go to hell.” Yes, that is a good campaign theme for these times, and not only in France.
To get on the ballot, candidates need 500 endorsements from elected officials. The man of the sign of the Z — the original wore a cape — does not have them yet. Since there will be several candidates, there is likely to be a runoff, and if the incumbent Emmanuel Macron garners, as expected, a plurality of fewer than 50 percent plus one, he will face off against whoever comes in second.
But it will be a nasty campaign. A top Socialist party hack immediately qualified Zemmour, who is Jewish, as a “louse,” which is what Hitler would have called him. In the death camps the Jews were, officially, “de-loused” and presumably it was an accident that the cure was more lethal than the disease the Nazis diagnosed in their patients.
Zemmour, assuming he qualifies and stays in the race, would mainly be a threat not to the Socialists but to the neo-post-Gaullist center-right Republican Party, whose candidate will be Valérie Pécresse, and to the National Rally (ex-Front)’s Marine Le Pen, because he will appeal to conservative voters. Neither lady would even think of such a vulgar, and politically and racially charged, insult.
But maybe the Socialists realize already they are out of this race — partly because of what Zemmour has been writing and saying — and they are letting their true colors show. Well over two decades ago, another Socialist hack noted that the Arab vote is worth more than the Jewish vote.
We promise to keep TAS readers abreast of developments. For now, our only advice is for all the French candidates to lay off the personal ugly mouthing, gather around, and break into a popular Christmas song of yore, Il est né le divin enfant. Everybody in France knows it, or used to. Then for once, and for a brief lovely moment, there will be concord amongst the children of the Church’s Eldest Daughter.