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No Temporal Power Without Spiritual Power: An Interview with Jacques de Guillebon by Hélène de Lauzun

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Interview

No Temporal Power Without Spiritual Power: An Interview with Jacques de Guillebon

"Baptême de Clovis à Reims, 25 Décembre 496," an oil on canvas by François-Louis Dejuinne (1786-1844).

In the lead-up to the second round of voting in the French presidential election, Hélène de Lauzun spoke with Jacques de Guillebon, editor-in-chief of the French Conservative Magazine, L’Incorrect. They discussed the campaigns of Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, the landscape of the French Right, and the role of faith in public life.


INTERVIEW

A few days before the first round of voting, you published an editorial in which you were not kind to the candidate Éric Zemmour. The facts proved you right. What do you think was the main reason for his electoral failure?

It’s never pleasant to play the Cassandra, especially when it’s about a camp and ideas with which we can identify. But since September we have been trying to warn Éric Zemmour’s teams, through L’Incorrect, of the fundamental mistake their candidate was making by imagining that politics could only be the affirmation of power and domination, without concern for the weak. In fact, this is a discussion that we have had for several years with Éric Zemmour—as you can see in an interview with the essayist published in 2018 in our columns. 

Of course, one can in absolute terms, practice a politics of force and be called Tamerlane. But something has happened in the world, and in the West in particular, over the last 2000 years, which is called Christianity. It has fundamentally changed our relationship to politics, which can no longer be envisaged as the sole direction of peoples by all means, and mainly coercion. So when the Reconquête candidate successively affirmed that he would not welcome any Afghan or Ukrainian refugee, when he slipped up on the disabled, when he limited himself to apocalyptic speeches on the future of France which would require a drastic police antidote, he did nothing but cut himself off from the French people, who if they demand order, also demand pity and compassion. Announcing a Ministry of Remigration without precautions was a political mistake that he paid for in cash. In the end, his electorate was paradoxically reduced to the upper social classes and those Catholics who have an annoying tendency to think they are the centre of the world.

In contrast, Marine Le Pen ran a calm and reassuring campaign, under the radar of useless polemics. The people are not often right, but if you want to run a democratic campaign—where, according to the Gaullist formula that they like to repeat over and over again, it’s about the meeting of a man and a people—you have to take the appropriate means. In Zemmour’s case, there was neither a man nor a people in the epic of Reconquête. And the people love either a companion in misery or a protector. Éric Zemmour was neither one nor the other.

Do you think that the parenthesis will close or, as his most ardent supporters hope, that it is “only the beginning”? The beginning of what?

To be frank, it is unfortunately more of an end: the end of a movement to reconstitute the conservative or reactionary Right that began twenty-five years ago, and which culminated during the “Manif pour tous” movement in 2013-2014, producing beautiful intellectual and media fruits. However, these ideas have been abused during this campaign by this candidate who has damaged them, and also by the intellectual laziness of this right wing which thought it had arrived safely without having worked; who entrusted the keys of its political conquest to a gang of kids—Reconquête activists. France is now clearly divided into three populist blocs: one on the Left with Mélenchon, one on the Right with Marine Le Pen and the last one in the Centre with Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to make people believe that he is the leader of an enlightened elite when in reality he is merely navigating—skilfully—between the contradictory aspirations of his people.

For many within the Right, Marion Maréchal raised a lot of hopes. In a way, she could have achieved the famous “union of the Rights” that Zemmour failed to achieve. By having thus sided with a loser, hasn’t she also damaged her political credibility?

I myself was one of those admirers of Marion Maréchal, who had shown signs of great electoral and intellectual talent before her temporary withdrawal from politics in 2017. Alas, it must be noted that she failed by falling into the hysterical triumphalism of the Zemmourian sect, which, wanting everything right away, believed that it would be enough to bend over and pick up the sceptre. So the union of the Rights, as we called it, has not been achieved in the present circumstances. This does not imply that the idea, which ultimately rests on the alliance of the right-wing bourgeoisie and the people, was wrong: it remains right, if we want to come to power. But it will have to be achieved by other means and with other people. Those we had given ourselves as leaders, and Marion Maréchal is among them, have failed, and even participated in discrediting our thinking.

What would the authentic cultural policy you are calling for consist of?

This is a huge question. According to an apophthegm that I like very much, “you must hear the language of the people, but you must not speak it.” In a France threatened by the two “replacements” of which the writer Renaud Camus speaks—the large one by African-Muslim migratory submersion and the small one by Americanisation or globalisation of morals—it is a question of going to look for the different peoples where they are. You have to go and meet the children of peripheral France on the one hand, who are gorged with television, YouTube, and Tiktok, and the children of the suburbs who swing between rap, violence, and Islam—to give them back a common culture and history, that is to say, the myths and literature, and the paintings and arts in general that have forged Western civilisation. 

This must be done by using new means, which are neither too far removed from the state they are in, nor too demagogic. The French school missed its goal by believing that it was necessary to stoop to the level of the people rather than extend a helping hand that would have raised them. From now on, in the striking state of deculturation in which the French people live—and these are not the remarks of grumpy old reactionaries, they are unfortunately observable—everything has to be started again: we have almost returned to the obscurantist high Middle Ages. Nevertheless, we must succeed in restoring this thirst for higher culture to people who are convinced that Google is the key to the universe. 

This example is frequently given in France, but it is no less true: Philippe de Villiers’ Puy du Fou [historical theme park] is a rare success story of the beginning of reculturation, if I dare use this barbarism. A first step. Nothing prevents us, if not our cowardice and laziness, from seizing all the means, even technical ones, to redo a cultural policy that is worthy of what this people, the French people, has been. And I note that during this campaign no one mentioned the subject. Everyone’s obsessed with calculating their retirement pension annuities, which gives you an idea of our situation. To quote once again dear Péguy, “the modern man prepares his retirement as the Christian prepares his salvation.”

You rightly point out that there can be no conquest of temporal power without spiritual power. What does this mean in your opinion? How much responsibility does the Catholic Church in France bear for the wreckage of the Right?

I will never speak ill of the Holy Catholic Church, my sweet mother: however, as you note, it is made up of men who have often sinned through cowardice, laziness, and pusillanimity, and who, for fear of being accused of proselytism (how can this be a crime when we are asked to spread the Gospel among all nations?) have played the game of modernity—which had, it is true, violently defeated them in appearance, aping human rights and democracy which, if they have some virtues, are also full of errors, the most flagrant being the installation of man’s belief in self-ownership. From this total liberalism, it emerges that not only does no one believe in a “communion of saints,” where individual merits have a common efficiency and where an ekklesia, i.e., an assembly of all good wills, can be formed, but that politics itself no longer reasons in terms of the common good, but only according to individual passions and the cult of that self which we know is hateful. 

As long as our contemporaries have not been made to understand once again that without saints there are no heroes, we will be condemned to fall, in all orders. But of course, I am talking about a work of three centuries. Then perhaps Constantine and Clovis will come.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).

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