I would like to thank Yoram Hazony for bringing us together today under the flag of ‘national conservatism.’ Our great idea is that conservatism is not a standard. It is not a fixed doctrine. It is, above all, a disposition of mind.
That’s why there are so many national expressions of conservatism. The genius of each people has translated, in its own way, the universal need for the self-preservation of society.
The particularities of the conservative movements present today is that they don’t just want to slow down the march of progressivism. They are not just saying, “yes, but …” They propose a radically different path.
We have beautiful examples of these different national paths here today and around the world: The ‘national conservatism’ of Donald Trump, the ‘illiberalism’ of Victor Orbán, the ‘sovereignism’ of Boris Johnson, the Austrian and Czech ‘liberal-conservatism.’
Why we are all conservatives
Behind our differences, we can all assume the term ‘conservative’ because we are all defending a common vision of mankind and its natural extensions—specifically, the national community. We are the new humanists of this century.
Why? Because we know and defend all the needs of the human soul: order, freedom, obedience, responsibility, hierarchy, honour, security (according the list of philosopher Simone Weil). All these needs are essential to the human being; but they are all ones that progressivism is refusing to satisfy. Without meeting these needs, there can be no civilization, no emancipation, no happiness.
We refuse relativism. We believe in natural law, in universal ethics. We think that the individual will cannot be the only compass of society.
We conservatives know that neither mankind nor nations can be reduced to intellectual constructions. They are real, sensitive, linguistic, cultural, spiritual realities.
We are trying to connect the past to the future, the nation to the world, the family to society, economy to politics, trade to borders, the person to the common good.
We represent realism, while our opponents represent ideology. We embody memory while they embody amnesia. We belong to a historical continuity while they are only focused on the next IPO—or the next election.
What about French conservatism?
What is the face of French conservatism? What a difficult question for a country that is both the country of great conservative figures—such as Bonald, Maistre, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Tocqueville, and Le Bon—and the original laboratory of progressive ideas!
Edmund Burke had already detected, in the French Revolution, the root of the evil that gnaws at us: the abstract ‘Citizen’ of the French Revolution—detached from his land, his parish, his profession—who is nothing less than a matrix of the ‘World Citizen.’
In France, there hasn’t been a conservative movement since the Third Republic. But there have been conservative moments since the Revolution: legitimism, social Catholicism, and Gaullism. There isn’t a linear history of French conservatism but rather a style. The late Roger Scruton spoke about it as romantic, poetic, literary but abstract thought—quite unlike British conservatism.
It’s logical: in reaction to the metaphysical event that was the Revolution of 1789, the French responded with a metaphysical conservatism. Yet we can still identify some of the characteristics of the French conservative tradition. It likes social commitment but dislikes socialism. It is in favour of state intervention without being centralistic. It adheres to Catholicism but may be hostile to the Church.
French conservatives long for a ‘direct democracy’ that relies on the strong connection between a “Man of Providence” and the political community. They enjoy order and freedom together. As de Gaulle said, “There is a pact twenty centuries old between France and the freedom of the world.”
We have the impression that revolutionary thought has won. Today, ‘conservatism’ is often synonymous with immobility, the bourgeois spirit, even liberalism.
So, is France doomed to be a progressive nation? Absolutely not.
But you are beginning to know us. We don’t know how to play politics without creating a little chaos.
The ‘yellow vests’ are the spectacular version of an electoral revolt that has been contained, morally blamed, and physically repressed. They are the French version of Brexiteers. The difference is, the ‘yellow vests’ haven’t been listened to.
The French have the feeling that a conservative approach has become a vital necessity to protect their material and cultural heritage. They fear that they could lose what is precious to them, what is familiar to them, what sets them apart, what defines them—simply said, their soul.
I’m sure you can see what the French soul is: Rabelais’ popular humour, Descartes’ philosophy, Voltaire’s irony, Baudelaire’s poetry. There is a specific French spirit of freedom, of reason. But what remains of this French spirit in an era of ideological delusions like ‘postcolonial studies’? What remains of it in a time of restrictions on free speech, of intellectual terrorism?
France was considered for centuries “the eldest daughter of the Church.” But what is left of it—when my country turns into the backroom of Salafism, when 150 French districts are in the hands of Islamists? Every day in France, Christian churches and cemeteries are ransacked to the indifference of the media.
France is the nation of women’s emancipation and of galanterie. What is left of it in an age of gender theory, inclusive writing, and neo-feminism?
France is also known as the nation-state par excellence. What is left of it when European technocrats and judges ignore the will of the people?
France is, finally, a motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Of these three values, ‘fraternity’ is the only one that cannot be decreed, the only one that politics cannot impose, because brotherhood is a feeling. I feel loyalty for the one to whom I feel connected. This solidarity is the condition of democracy. But what remains of this brotherhood when so many French territories are in a state of cultural secession? What is left of it when minority lobbies take the law into their own hands?
Is the country of Emmanuel Macron a greater civilisation—more harmonious, more ingenious—than the one we have built until now? I doubt it—and reality is my best argument every day.
The French vision on the challenges of the 21st century
I am convinced that it is conservatives who are best equipped to meet the main challenges of the twenty-first century—that is, population explosion, the social divide, ecological exhaustion, the anthropological revolution, and the future of our European continent. Let us consider each.
1) The future of the European continent
About the future of our continent, I’ll first ask a question: what are we going to do with the European Union? I will not waste time on criticisms of the EU. I think we are all in agreement. There is no reform to be expected from the European Commission or Parliament. The solution and the commitment will only come from the national governments.
To reform, we need a new European balance of power. Only new coalitions of governments can engage in an effective power struggle with the European institutions.
This is what I imagine: a Latin alliance between France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal—a coalition that would represent 167 million inhabitants and more than one billion speakers. I imagine a Latin alliance which would walk with the Visegrád countries—an alliance that maintains links with Britain and Russia, a country we must not leave in its tête-à-tête with China.
The European Union is a process of ‘forced standardisation.’ What we should really be is an organisation for cooperation around common interests: our technological and food autonomy, our digital sovereignty, our investments (such as research, space exploration, or sustainable energies).
We must not seek to speak with one voice but to sing the same song. That is why only a Europe of conservative nations can carry a power strategy forward—because, unlike progressivism, we want to defend a civilization (not a market).
2) The population explosion
That is why only we can respond to the huge challenge of the population explosion—because we don’t see men as interchangeable beings, because we know the danger of having massive imports of foreign workers to make up for the European birth deficit.
Just one fact to bear in mind: in just 30 years, the world’s population will increase by 2 billion people. In 2050, India will have 1.66 billion inhabitants, China 1.36 billion, Africa 2.5 billion, 5 billion total—and Europe will stagnate at 500 million.
What does that mean? That the major population movements we are witnessing are only just beginning, and that the resource crisis—including the food and energy crises—will become increasingly acute.
Conservatives have a duty to take drastic measures to deal with this phenomenon. We have no choice but to rebuild our borders. There is no other choice than to protect our agriculture as a strategic sector. There is no other choice than to base our power not on numbers but on ingenuity.
Let us reconnect with the European spirit as illustrated by the figure of Ulysses!
3) The social divide
France’s identity crisis is coupled with a social crisis. In recent years, we have seen a new territorial fracturing (a situation that does not concern only France). Today, my country is divided in two: on one side, globalised and dynamic big cities where careers, investments, and wealth are concentrated; and on the other side, the “peripheral France”—composed of small and medium-sized towns, un-chic suburbs, post-industrial wastelands, and forgotten countrysides—now representing roughly 60% of the population.
This territorial divide is accompanied by a political divide: the famous “anywheres” against the “somewheres” of David Goodhart—the winners against the losers of globalization.
Recently, we had an incredible example of this phenomenon: four European capitals—Vienna, Warsaw, Budapest, and Bratislava—adopted a pact against their own governments. This situation is the result of an absurd territorial policy based on false beliefs.
The progressives think that in a global economy, in order to increase the creation of wealth and employment, we cannot support all territories. They think that it’s necessary to support, above all, the metropolis—which is considered to be the only territory capable of generating start-ups, excellence, and innovative people, the only model able to compete in the global market.
All of that is mythology. It is the mythology of “critical mass.” It is the same reasoning for territories as for international companies or for supranational structures.
As Boris Johnson said recently, all territories can make innovation and create employments. But we must have other ambitions for these territories than just having a residential economy or a trickle-down economy. We must rely on our rural and middle cities to have a diverse economy, to have strong social structures, to offer a future to all our people.
4) The great ecological depletion
It is obvious to me that ecology is a conservative cause. (Sorry, Greta!)
Even in the word “ecology,” we find the root “eco”, which means “the home” in Greek. Preserving our territories, our biodiversity, our landscapes, should be the natural fight of conservatives.
Let us not cede the defence of nature to the cynics of the extreme left or the crazy people who make love to the trees. I don’t want to choose between Greta’s followers—hysteric ‘collapsologists’—and the climate sceptics—equally ideological—who deny the damage caused by an ultra-productivist model and planned obsolescence.
Don’t believe the mantra, “global problems, global solutions.” Global problems seldom have global solutions. On the contrary, for the environment, I believe in local and particular answers. Waiting for a global consensus is the best way to disempower nations and citizens and give them an excuse not to act.
Furthermore, ecology should not be reduced to the climate. We also have to act on the disappearance of biodiversity, land artificialisation, the hyper-consumption model, waste, chemicals, soil pollution. On these topics, only nations have the means to act effectively.
I know the granite of Brittany and the hills of Vaucluse. I know the sweetness of the Loire Valley and the plains of the North. We do not protect what we do not know.
The free market should not be a religion. There is no logic in promoting a model in which products are manufactured—and then consumed thousands of kilometres away.
Finally, there can be no ecology without peasantry. Farmers are our link to nature. A nation of urbanites cannot understand—and, therefore, respect—nature.
If we are to preserve our landscape and defend our food traditions, we cannot continue with the present system: a system that drives farmers to suicide (one every two days in France), that makes them living dependents on financial markets, and that drives them to monoculture and intensive production out of necessity.
Let us not be pessimistic. Many opportunities are available to us. Recently, scientists have found a way to make almost eternal batteries from nuclear waste! Conservatism must encourage the innovation of companies and science to realize its ecological ambition. It must carry this fight far from the lobbies, far from the effects of bargains, media outbursts, and international mass events. We must act locally and think nationally in order to preserve the home of our fathers.
5) The anthropological revolution
It is surprising that progressives defend the ecology of nature but not human ecology. Today, man and the human body are becoming objects of consumption: bellies are for rent, gametes can be bought or sold, embryos are guinea pigs.
Today’s world presents man as a simple social construction. Gender and filiation are merely the result of individual desire. Father and mother are becoming interchangeable options. This anthropological revolution has only just begun. Already eugenics is reappearing and transhumanism is taking shape.
Confronting this revolution, we face a choice between being ‘fashionable’ and championing the new humanism of the twenty-first century—a humanism that respects human dignity, that refuses the commodification of man and his products, that preserves and develops the human brain in the face of machine expertise, that responds to the human soul, and that refuses to shape it for ideological purposes.
We have all the resources—intellectual, historical, civilizational, medical, and technical—for a project of an ‘integral ecology’ that combines the preservation of nature with the defence of human dignity.
Conclusion: Notre-Dame de Paris
Everyone here still has in mind those terrible images of Notre-Dame de Paris devoured by flames. Eight centuries of civilization almost disappeared before our eyes.
Some people who watched cried—a lot. Some could not take their eyes off the screens, refusing to believe it. Still others, in groups, spontaneously prayed on their knees in the streets of Paris. In front of the flames, the French felt an intense need to preserve.
And the emotions didn’t stop there. Because even if the roof went up in smoke, the foundations and the walls held. And by a miracle, everything that was essential was saved: relics, statues of saints, stained glass windows. Even the proud Gallic cockerel—the symbol of our nation—was found almost intact after the collapse of the spire.
Some saw this event as a symbol: that of our dying society. Others saw it as wake-up call to the vulnerability of our heritage. I prefer to see it as a promise of hope—that of the still-standing foundations of our civilization in spite of the perils of the times—and a call: to rebuild this roof that protects us and this spire that connects us to Heaven.