This past week, Parisians in yellow safety vests took to the streets to riot against French leadership. They have defaced the Arc de Triomphe, thrown rocks at policemen and soldiers, and lit fires all over the city. Macron literally had egg on his face and continues to suffer abysmal approval ratings, while the current protests enjoy high approval ratings in the country, despite the destruction.
Most commentary (which happened all over France, not just Paris) has focused on the fuel tax increase as the main reason for the protests, as though the French have never paid exorbitant taxes before. It has also characterized the yellow vest protests as a recent event, but they had been going on for weeks before they became violent these past few days.
Macron and the French media have unsurprisingly tried to pin the protests and riots on Marine Le Pen’s racist minions without evidence, while residents in France have claimed that the protesters are mostly middle-aged Frenchmen with no political affiliation.
Losing the Body and Soul of France
While protests and car-burnings are actually common in France, what’s happening now is much worse than usual and will not go away anytime soon. What observers should know is that this is not about fuel prices or Macron’s incompetence; this is about the fall of the West.
People have long complained of France losing its soul by becoming a secularized, progressive, socialist welfare state shortly after two miserable losses in the two world wars. After being known for its fine arts, beautiful landscapes, rich Catholic tradition, genius philosophers and scientists, and famous monuments, people now see France as a stagnant irrelevant pool of decadence (this descent is captured well in Thomas Merton’s description of the country in Seven Storey Mountain).
It is the land of nasty writers like Celine and Michel Houellebecq, nasty singers like Serge Gainsbourg, and nasty architecture like the Musee de Pompidou. All the same, most Frenchmen didn’t seem to mind this decline as long as they could have shorter workweeks and socialized health care.