Letting Paris Burn

It is dismaying to see the horrific scenes from cities across France of large-scale rioting, looting, and street violence, with thousands of fires started and cars and buildings set ablaze in the three largest cities, Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. As I write, a full week of rioting has just subsided, having been triggered by the June 27 death of Nahel M., a 17-year-old ethnic Algerian, who was shot and killed by police while resisting arrest during a traffic stop. The damage from the fires and looting has been estimated by France’s Interior Ministry at $1 billion euros (US$1.1 billion).

It’s troubling to see the cities of France destroyed because of their historical connection to the creation of European civilization, and because their progenitors, the Franks, were the foster fathers of Western civilization after the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was the Frankish kings of the Middle Ages who were handed the baton of Christendom and the lamp of Western civilization as its flame nearly flickered out. France is today known as the “eldest daughter of the Church” because Clovis, who united the Franks into a single tribe, in 496 became the first king of what is now known as Europe to convert to Christianity. Europe and European civilization became a distinct reality when its lands were united in the eighth century under the rule of the greatest of Clovis’s successors, Charlemagne.

Alas, “France is no longer France,” as President Donald Trump proclaimed in July 2016, after an elderly French priest was murdered during one of a series of jihadist attacks that took place that year. “It’s only going to get worse, and it’s going to start getting bad in our country,” Trump predicted.

He was right. France’s native-born population continues to be overwhelmed with immigrants, who come mainly from French-speaking countries in Africa such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. France’s largest cities already faced an immigration problem long before the 2015 European migrant crisis, which only made things worse. In 2006, about 35 percent of the population of the Paris metropolitan area was either born in another country or born to at least one immigrant parent, according to a 2011 study by the French government’s statistics agency. More than 4 out of 10 people under the age of 20 were first- or second-generation immigrants, according to that now-outdated study.

France’s statistics agency insisted in March that there were less than 7 million first-generation immigrants in France, or 10.3 percent of the population, which put it on par with the rest of the eurozone and compared historically with 6.5 percent of the population in 1968. The independent statistics agency Statista, however, estimates that there were 8.7 million first-generation immigrants in France in 2021, or 12.8 percent of the population, noting that the flow of illegal, undocumented immigrants crossing into France and other countries from the Eastern Mediterranean surged, reaching a record number of 885,386 crossings in 2015, compared to just 24,799 two years before.

Both estimates underestimate the size of the French population, whether first- second-, or third-generation immigrants, who have not and will not assimilate, roughly 90 percent of whom live in the dense urban areas of French cities or its banlieues. It is the denizens of these suburban ghettos who showed over that fiery week this summer that they have the numbers and the will to completely overpower French police and loot, rob, and pillage France’s largest cities on the barest pretext—such as conveniently warm weather and the unremarkable death of a criminal youth fleeing police.

It is tempting for conservatives or anyone of a right-wing disposition to fantasize about what should be done in France or in any European or American city where similar riots break out. I think it’s safe to assume that, excluding principled libertarians, that fantasy involves harsh police action, military deployment of national guardsmen if necessary, and emulation of Napoleon’s orders to turn his cannons on the royalist rioters in Paris in 1795 to “give them a whiff of grapeshot.

This was certainly what the two largest French police unions had in mind when they issued a joint statement on June 30 calling for President Emmanuel Macron to order a draconian crackdown. “Today the police are in combat because we are at war, tomorrow we will be in resistance and the government should realize that,” the statement read.

“Faced with these savage hordes, it’s no longer enough to call for calm, it must be imposed,” the union statement continued. “Now is not the time for industrial action [i.e. union strikes] but for fighting against these ‘vermin.’”

Despite these official statements, such police action remains a fantasy. French society views its police with even greater contempt than do Americans or Britons, and the police unions were roundly condemned for their statement by public officials. Macron showed how seriously he took their concerns by being seen attending an Elton John concert on the second day of the riots, and stating in a July 1 press conference that social media and video games were to blame for the violence.

Restoration of order by force is not coming to France, or anywhere in the West, because neither Western leaders nor their subjects—whether on the political left or right—have the stomach to allow the police to put down these riots by force, particularly when the rioters are of the same multicultural population that has been relentlessly portrayed as the victims of colonial history and the heroes of civil rights movements.

The minority and immigrant rioters, for their part, have some real justification for grievance because they expected to share in Western affluence after having been allowed in by corporations seeking cheap labor and by left-wing governments seeking cheap votes. Yet that affluence remains out of reach for many, certainly for the denizens of the housing projects in Nanterre or Saint-Denis. Even for those doing much better economically in the United States, why would they give up the grievances that have secured them such advantages over the native population? Contrary to the claims of multinational corporations and left-wing political parties, the very arrival of all of these third-world immigrants into Western countries en masse has become a net detriment to the societies they join by depressing the price of labor, increasing the cost of living, and draining the coffers of welfare systems.

Order will not be restored by force, nor is it likely to be restored by electoral change because any right-wing party that manages against the odds to gain power in a Western country is not likely to have the will, social power, or legal authority to do what is necessary to turn around the inevitable trends of decline. Order, it seems, will only be restored after collapse.

So, let Paris burn—Macron is not worried about it, so why should you? Let New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Minneapolis burn, for that matter, and let the left-wing denizens of those cities deal with the consequences of their political decisions. Any attempt to arrest the inevitable collapse will be branded as right-wing extremism anyway.

Meanwhile, the worse the misgovernance of the left and the greater its intolerance toward dissenting opinion, the more of its own members will peel off to oppose it. “Look at how the right-wing accepts people who agree with them 5%,” Cenk Uygur, the left-wing host of online political talk show The Young Turks complained on Twitter recently. “Whereas the left-wing tries to banish anyone who disagrees with them 0.05%.”

Welcome to the right-wing, Cenk! We’re delighted you’ve decided to join the culture war. Now, get to the front lines and hold back the savage hordes! We’re behind you, 100 percent—way, way behind you.

(This editorial will appear in the August print edition of Chronicles.)

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