Review

Is the Napkin Ring Right-Wing?

As the author of these lines prepares to review Richard de Sèze’s latest little book, Le rond de serviette est-il de droite, published by La Nouvelle Librairie, a doubt comes over her: does the napkin ring—le rond de serviette—exist beyond the borders of the douce France? Can it be found outside the kingdom of Clovis, Louis XIV, and Charles Trenet? Are the subtleties of the use of this object, generally made of wood or cloth, known abroad? Nothing is less certain. 

The napkin ring provides a unique and rare service: it allows you, meal after meal, to keep the property of your napkin, and not to share its red wine or tomato sauce stains with the little brother’s or the grandmother’s, before the napkin is dirty enough to be washed—the supreme refinement of civilization. If the napkin ring is a totally French particularism, how can we share with an international readership, from Budapest to Dallas, the merits of this brilliant little essay, which pays a vibrant tribute to it, among other everyday things? The exercise is arduous, but we will nevertheless take the risk, as we believe this work deserves the attention of a wide audience.

In this essay, Richard de Sèze, an inspired columnist for the French magazines L’Incorrect, Valeurs actuelles, and Politique magazine, examines the painful question, not of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, but of the political affiliation of everyday objects. At a time when ever more invasive wokism claims to tell us how to read, how to think, how to eat, how to love, or how to wash our clothes in accordance with the fastidious standards of political correctness, what is missing is a weapon, or better still, a compass to foil the traps that lie behind the apparently innocuous mug, bra, cooking mould, or kitchen mouse. 

Far from being apolitical, some things are right-wing, some things are left-wing. Certain practices, certain manias, allow us to resist intelligently and to join the long cohort of our ancestors who understood before us where the essential was hidden. In the course of an apparently materialistic walk, which brings together the napkin ring, the roundabout on country roads, and the corkscrew in the kitchen, Richard de Sèze depicts an eternal and magnificent world—that of the true Right that we hold dear. An ideal made of frugality, simplicity, but also a taste for beautiful things that are cherished and passed on. A world where women are women, and men are men. 

Feminine grace, totally insoluble in gender theory, is expressed in a pretty skirt that turns, twirls, and turns heads: “dresses that fly” are therefore right-wing. The taste for receiving—which is ultimately true attention to others—requires a love of beauty and detail. The mug is mismatched, made of thick, low-quality porcelain, is filled with vile freeze-dried coffee at the office, and is adorned with TV series heroes. It chooses the camp of excessive personalization against the harmony of the Limoges porcelain tea service: the mug is therefore left-wing. 

Richard de Sèze’s brilliant and light pen swirls around the impressions of everyday life to give us a delicious panorama of things that pass and things that do not. Politics, perhaps, but above all poetry and humour are at stake. 

When will there be a translation? That remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Le rond de serviette est-il de droite? is terribly French, but also formidably conservative, and as such has a rightful place in The European Conservative‘s recommendations. 

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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