In the small party I am a member of, the swine flu non-crisis has been vastly overshadowed, last week, by a far more local, but, I think, far more culturally significant event : the Guerlesquin Ty-Breizh affair.
As I doubt many people outside Brittany, or even inside, have heard about it, I will develop a bit. Guerlesquin is a Breton village located in a rural area which, curiously enough, has long been a stronghold of the Communist Party and where we have been progressing rather nicely those last years.
Not so long ago, a group of young people have bought an old mill and set up a “house of Brittany”, proposing various activities – among which Breton language lessons – under the slogan “Identity, Ecology, Solidarity”.
This is a slogan we might have rallied behind. In fact many people within the political meanstream might have here. The problem is that it does not mean the same things for us and for them.
Upon closer examination it appeared, indeed, that those young people belonged to a far right movement called “Les Identitaires” - the Identitarians. They are something of a novelty in the French political landscape, having risen from the ashes of “Unité Radicale” a group banned by the government in 2002 after one of its members had tried, rather clumsily by the way, to shoot the then president Jacques Chirac.
The Identitarians develop a rather weird kind of radicalism, mixing anti-immigrants and anti-muslim diatribes with carefully worded slogans about the defense of local culture and of local workers' right. Of course, but they don't advertise it, the solidarity they promote is a solidarity among white people and if they defend the local identity, it is as a racially based one.
One can hardly imagine a project more removed from the one we, left-wing regionalists, fight for.
Of course the Identitarians were quickly exposed for what they are, by us among others, and we can rest assured they will be ostracized by locals, and most probably blacklisted by all the region's papers. Their chances of getting into power, even locally, are basically nihil and it's only a matter of time before they flounder into political irrelevance.
The very fact they have to masquerade to spread their ideas show how weak they really are. A conquering ideology does not need disguising itself and when wolves put on sheep's clothes, it is generally because they know they cannot win against the shepherd dog in anything approaching a fair fight.
If the Identitarian movement is bound to fail, however, the idea of mixing identity politics, nationals only solidarity and ecology is likely to have a bright future. As the crisis deepens and our society begins to slide down the other side of Hubbert's Peak, it will become more and more tempting for aspiring politicians to mix the rhetoric of nationalism with environmentalism and anti-system diatribes.
The beginning of such a discourse has begun to emerge, not so much in the Green movement which is libertarian in nature, but among the remnants of the Republicans – read left wing national-conservatives. It is particularly visible in the newly founded “Parti de Gauche”. Its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has recently given an interview to the journal “La Décroissance”, where he pleaded for a state-managed and planned “degrowth”. Of course the state itself is certainly not planned to “degrow”, so we can be quite sure such a program, should it be applied, would end up in a soviet-like authoritarian disaster. More radically nationalists agendas can be found in various grouplets such as the online journal “Riposte Laïque” or the nefarious trotskist sect “Parti Ouvrier Indépendant”.
Melenchon's gambit appears to have been a failure so far and its new party seems fated to a slow slide into insignificance, but this is mostly because he is not the right man for the job, both too vulgar in his behavior and too intellectual in his ideology.
Another might succeed, however, and as we advance further into the process of catabolic collapse the chance of seeing of successful demagogue appear increase. While American political culture tend to veer toward individualism and to see the central state as an enemy of freedom, the French one see it as the guardian of national liberties and of social equality. This has protected us from the worse excesses of the free-market ideology, but as the limits to growths become more and more stringent and our social model less and less adapted to a contracting economy, it opens the door to the worst kind of political adventurism. Peak-Oil might very well put us a gifted orator away from a Chavez-like strongman regime.
This would be a tragedy, and not only because it would dramatically curtail our freedom and make democracy a farce. By centralizing power and by bloating the administration, such a regime would make the unraveling of the French state far more messy, and probably violent, than it needs to be. Instead of the gradual hand-over of state functions to local and locally elected authorities, which is clearly the best way to make sure somebody reasonably decent will be able to take over when the time comes, we would have a concentration of power into the hands of local representatives of the state, which, as history shows, the best way to engender warlords and petty tyrants.