Philippe de Villiers, a French entrepreneur, politician, and author, belongs to what one might call the New French Resistance, a group of contemporary French patriots for whom Paris, not Vichy, symbolizes treason against both the French Republic and the historic French nation.  Descended from an aristocratic family in the Vendée, Villiers is the founder and proprietor of Le Puy du Fou, among the most popular theme parks in France; the nominee for president in 2007 of the Movement for France (of which he is the party leader); a former civil servant in the government of Jacques Chirac and a former member of the European Parliament, despite his Euroskepticism, his nationalism, and his traditionalism; and a devout Catholic who writes here that, “Henceforth, to learn history is to learn to hate” France.  A French correspondent (and contributor to this magazine) informs me that The Time Has Come to Say What I Have Seen signals the author’s desire to return to political life after a bout with cancer and a respite from public life.  If so, Villiers’s timing is well considered.  More than any other Western European people, perhaps, the French are increasingly furious with their leaders, with the social and cultural elite from which these people are drawn, with Brussels, and with the entire European project that is collapsing about them after having succeeded in reducing France to a shadow of her former self.

Villiers’s book is a shorter, somewhat gentler, and more retrospective companion to Éric Zemmour’s The French Suicide, published a year previously and only several months before the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.  Though both books are a sort of narrative pastiche, Suicide is an historical work, and Villiers’s an autobiographical one, more personal and narrowly focused, more subjective, and more impressionistic.  A significant part of it consists of mordant anecdotal character sketches of some of the “grands hommes” in recent French history whom he has known and with whom he has worked: Chirac, Giscard d’Estaing, Georges Pompidou, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, François Mitterrand, François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, and—in another category entirely—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  These sketches are trenchant and amusing—and damning.  Villiers’s Chirac, “the cavalier of the Steppes,” dislikes the history of the West and detests Rome and the Roman imperium.  (“It stinks of death!”)  Chirac’s interest is in the Orient, from Russia east across the steppes and on to China and Japan, and he prefers Buddhism to Catholicism.  For Chirac, the history of France is “no great thing.”  Giscard believes that the historical France is irretrievably lost, can never be recovered, and in any event is irrelevant to the world today.  “I wish to rejuvenate and change France . . . [O]ne cannot maintain eternally our rural France, traditional, thrifty, governed by a gerontocracy, centralized and hierarchical.  Politics must locate itself in tomorrow.”  Pompidou agrees with Jacques Servan-Schreiber that the idea of an independent France, like la gloire, is superannuated.  Mitterrand interprets the Magnificat as a presage of leftism and admits with a smile that SOS Racisme was conceived at the Élysée to embarrass the National Front and “pound the classic Right into the ground.”  Hollande denies the Christian character of Europe’s roots, which he insists are as much Muslim as Christian, and asserts that to inscribe them in the Constitution of the European Union would be “historically debatable and politically maladroit . . . It’s absurd!”  Sarkozy, the half-Hungarian immigrant, confides, “You [Philippe] have your roots here.  I do not.  This country has nothing to say to me.  With Cecilia, we would be as happy at Budapest and New York.”  (Apparently the last few presidents of the French Republic have been no more French than the president of the United States for the past eight years has been an American.)  Daniel Cohn-Bendit—“Danny the Red” during the student uprisings in Paris in May 1968—describes himself proudly, almost defiantly, to Villiers as “a bourgeois”: “I have not changed.  I find myself with the liberals, I do not want world borders, nor states.”

In 1993 Villiers arranged to have his friend Solzhenitsyn deliver a speech at Puy du Fou.  “Chers Vendéens!” the Russian novelist and historian began, and went on to say that as a child two thirds of a century earlier he had read with admiration stories about the courageous but hopeless rising of the Catholic and royalist Vendée against the Jacobins.  At the end of this book, published eight years after Solzhenitsyn’s death, Villiers recalls the master’s prophecy to him.  Europe’s roots, the great man had said, remain alive, and so the Continent will experience a restoration of civic and spiritual values despite the present eclipse there of intelligence, suffering, “the sickness of the abyss,” the elites’ loss of a sense of superior values, the reign of rationalist humanism, the extinction of the interior life.  The reason, he explained, is that “humble necessity” that is part of the laws of the universe.  “Today,” Solzhenitsyn predicted, “the dissidents are in the East, [but] they are going to pass on to the West.”

Philippe de Villiers agrees: “Progressivism is dead.  It has sunk in technophilia,” though progressives do not know this yet.  Meanwhile, “Le temps est revenu, de la résistance française.”  The time for French resistance is here.  What a paradox, should the country that birthed the international revolutionary left launch leftism’s counterrevolutionary antidote more than two centuries later!  Unlikely as that may seem, the French—a great many of them, anyway—seem closer today than any other Western people to grasping the reality of the situation in which they are living, and to doing something to change it.


[Le Moment est venu de dire ce que j’ai vu, by Philippe de Villiers (Paris: Albin Michel) 344 pp., €21.50]