France: Declinism is a Booming Topic

With respect to ‘Death of the West’ dynamics, France is arguably the canary in the coalmine. In the NYT is a story titled “France’s Obsession With Decline Is a Booming Industry”, which touches upon the subjects of déclinisme as a topic, the existence of an Alt-Left in France (that itself has been nudged into acknowledging déclinisme as a very real possibility), etc.

PARIS — Michel Onfray, a best-selling French pop philosopher, was sounding pretty upbeat on the phone, even though the title of his latest book is “Decadence: The Life and Death of the Judeo-Christian Tradition.”

His book had just come out, with an impressive press run of 120,000 copies, and was selling briskly in spite of — or perhaps because of — its gloomy prognostication. “If you think today about terrorism, the rise of populism, it was important to put that in perspective,” Mr. Onfray said recently. His research, he added, “shows a civilization that had been strong, that had ceased to be so and that’s heading toward its end.”

Mr. Onfray is one of the latest popular authors to join France’s booming decline industry, a spate of books and articles (with a handful of TV shows) that explore the country’s (and the West’s) failings and France’s obsession with those failings. (Last year, the word “déclinisme,” or “declinism,” entered France’s Larousse dictionary.) It’s a phenomenon that cuts across the political spectrum and has picked up velocity in recent years by tapping into an anxious national mood. And its loudest voices are intellectuals with platforms in the national news media.

Beyond Mr. Onfray’s, other books with decline on their minds have appeared in the past few weeks. “The Returned,” a best seller by the journalist David Thomson, is an investigative report about French jihadists who’ve returned home from Syria. “A Submissive France: Voices of Defiance” compiles interviews on France’s troubled banlieues, or suburbs, overseen by the historian Georges Bensoussan. “Chronicles of French Denial,” by the right-leaning economist and historian Nicolas Baverez, is about how France continued its economic decline under President François Hollande.

There’s also “An Imaginary Racism” by the left-leaning philosopher Pascal Bruckner, who was recently cleared of charges of inciting hate speech and argues that fear of being labeled Islamophobic is leading people to self-censor their speech, while in November, the Sciences Po professor Gilles Kepel published “The Fracture,” which explores how the radicalization of some young Muslims is tearing apart French society.

“The thing that’s very striking now is how pervasive those ideas are,” said Sudhir Hazareesingh, a professor at Oxford University and the author of “How the French Think.” “One of the things characteristic of the present moment is this idea that decline and decadence are not just the preserve of the extreme right.”

France’s preoccupation with decline has been dated by some scholars to the counter-Enlightenment of the early 19th century, and to the late 1970s and the end of three decades of postwar economic growth by others. Today, different “declinist” strains have merged, from Catholic reactionaries to nonreligious thinkers preoccupied by questions of national identity and political corruption.

With France’s presidential elections looming in April, these often abstract ideas are taking more concrete form as the hard-right National Front and the center-right Republican Party capitalize on sentiments of decline exacerbated by economic malaise and terrorist attacks…

The French Suicide,” by the conservative journalist Éric Zemmour, has sold 510,000 copies since it appeared in 2014; it argues that immigration and feminism have contributed to French decline. The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut’s “The Unhappy Identity,” about French multiculturalism and its discontents, started a national conversation in 2013, while “The Time Has Come to Tell What I Have Seen,” a 2015 political memoir by the politician and writer Philippe de Villiers that’s heavy on concern about decay, has been a best seller.

The right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles, which publishes frequent warnings about the decline of France and the threat of Islamic terrorism, saw its combined print and digital circulation rise to 119,000 copies last year from 86,000 in 2011, according to figures provided by the magazine.

Rod Dreher has more here.

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