Assimilation of French Muslims impeded by zombies

When liberalism isn’t working, liberals look for a scapegoat.  It doesn’t have to be plausible.

Students of the Bonald-Le PlayZimmerman school of the importance of family structure will be interested in this review of Emmanuel Todd’s Who is Charlie?  Xenophobia and the New Middle Class.

Todd identifies two tranches of post-Christian France: one that moved away from religion – a move made by entire parishes, not individuals – in the 18th century, and another that only began to desert the faith in the 1960s. The first is located in an area he calls ‘the Paris Basin’, the geological term for a large part of north and central France, running from the Ardennes down to the northern edge of the Massif Central. It’s clear from the maps in the book that these early defectors were also plentiful in the Aquitaine Basin. Together they show up on the maps as a continuous north-south swathe of unbelievers running down the middle of the country with a southwesterly bulge towards the Atlantic coast. In addition a corridor from the Paris Basin connects this central body of non-churchgoers to a large annexe of like-minded people in the south-east – a stretch of Mediterranean coast and its hinterland corresponding roughly to the administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. In terms of size, the centre and the annexe account for about half the country. Everywhere else people remain devout for very much longer. Todd refers to the first group – the precocious unbelievers in the Paris Basin and the southeastern annexe – as ‘the centre’ and the dawdling faithful as ‘the periphery’.

Another of the maps assigns ‘equality in family structures’ by area (‘equality’ here refers to old rules of inheritance). It shows that property was likely to be evenly distributed in the centre, where families ‘were obsessed with the division of inheritances into equal parts’, while in the religious periphery it was likely to pass by primogeniture to the first male child. These two different traditions, like their irreligious and religious equivalents, persisted side by side without much difficulty, and Todd believes that ‘without the counterweight of peripheral France’, the egalitarianism at the centre ‘would have produced disorder rather than a doctrine of liberty and equality’…

Apparently whatever changed between 2005 and 2015 – a change for the very worst in Todd’s view – was driven neither by the founding generations of unbeliever-egalitarians, nor by North African migrants, but by the generations of French on the periphery who forsook religion late in the day, from the 1960s onwards. In an earlier book Todd and Hervé Le Bras, an INED colleague, came up with the name ‘zombie Catholics’ for this large segment of the French population that still carries the moral and sociological baggage of devout Christianity even though it is no longer practising. Zombie Catholics prefer authoritarian values to egalitarian ones, and they are in search of a universalising, transcendent faith to replace the one they have abandoned. They are the new reactionary force shaping the cultural politics of France in the 21st century.

But how is this force on the periphery – its territory more or less the same as it always was – redefining the temperament of the nation without eating into the home turf (also more or less the same) of the old egalitarian centre? Todd’s answer is that there are two crises of faith in France: one in the recently godless periphery, the other in the old heartland of godlessness, where militant unbelief no longer makes sense now the clerical monster that gave meaning to atheism has ceased to exist. (In the centre, the egalitarian temperament began to founder in the mid-1970s: we see this in the collapse of Communist Party membership, which came not with the fall of the Soviet Union, but almost a decade earlier when the decline of peripheral Catholicism had already begun.) And so, as the periphery casts about for certainties, the centre is also looking this way and that for a new vitality. Both are confronted with ‘the boundless void of a godless and atheist world’ and both have found a born-again affirmation of secular values in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders. ‘The demonisation of Islam’ anchors this new ecstatic consciousness in the real world and fulfils ‘the intrinsic need of a completely dechristianised society’.

Catholics are evil even after they apostasize.  When they embrace Republicanism, they just get their cooties on it.  Fortunately, Islam offers the religious partner Leftism has always dreamed of.

Islam – or rather Muslims – can bring about a new infusion of egalitarianism: the Arab cultures from which Muslims are descended have egalitarian family traditions, with property distributed evenly among brothers: sooner or later, Todd argues, the sisters are sure to be included. There is no cultural chasm, therefore, between French Arabs and the scions of that early, central swathe of egalitarian French. All will be well once ‘Islam has dissolved the anti-feminist component of Arab culture.’ Quranic stipulations on inheritance, Todd tells us, are hardly ever taken at their word: the most devout Muslim ethnic groups in Indonesia are matrilineal cultures with inheritance rules that tend to favour women…

But where zombie Catholics are driven by inegalitarian attitudes, post-religious Muslims of North African descent will reproduce the egalitarian values nurtured in the Arab family – the very values France needs in order to re-supply the demoralised forces of the ‘centre’ and restore égalité to its rightful place. In this sense the two big crises pointed up in Who is Charlie? – racism and inequality – would be solved mechanically by a slow, inexorable sociological change; but this, too, is a long way off, and attitudes will have to change now. Islam, Todd writes, must be ‘legitimated as a component of the nation, just as the Church was … We need to grant to Islam what was granted to Catholicism, in the era of triumphant secularism.’

The claimed correlation between primogeniture and religiousness and authoritarianism deserves further study.  We don’t know what causes what, but if primogeniture really does promote “inegalitarian attitudes” this would be a good reason for us to favor it.

18 Responses

  1. Primogeniture is right. It’s heyday was the 1890s, the last gasp of sanity in the West, and also one of the most productive times. No coincidence.

    For some reason I thought this sector of the internet knew this already.

  2. Primogeniture actually weakens paternal authority because the father cannot threaten to disinherit the designated heir. When primogeniture is abandoned there is no guarantee of “egalitarianism.” The father can now leave his estate to whichever child or children he favors, so if his estate is large, he has more opportunities for tyranny.

    The article omits to mention some basic facts about the geography of France. The basic pattern is one of core and periphery, with persistent religion on the periphery being, in part, a symbolic rejection of the metropolitan core. These people looked at Paris and its environs much as Americans look at New York, or Austrians look at Vienna: its “another country” and they don’t think much of it.

    Also, most of the primogeniture-and-religion-practicing periphery is hilly or mountainous, whereas the core (Paris Basin) is part of the northern European Plain. Hill farms can’t be cut into as small pieces as plain farms because more of the land is waste to begin with. Primogeniture ensured that one son prospered. Equal division of such an estate ensured that all son’s starved.

    The statements about Muslim egalitarianism would be hilarious if they were not so insanely suicidal. Muslims are egalitarian if you are a man and a Muslim, and even then they are not especially egalitarian.

  3. The equal division of inheritances is a legacy of Roman law.

    The area South of the Loire, roughly from Geneva in the East to the mouth of the Charente in the West was known as le pays de droit écrit – the country of the written law.

    As Lord Aton explains, “The Cæsarean system gave an unprecedented freedom to the dependencies, and raised them to a civil equality which put an end to the dominion of race over race and of class over class. The monarchy was hailed as a refuge from the pride and cupidity of the Roman people; and the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism implanted by Rome became, at least in Gaul, the chief feature of the national character… The hatred of royalty was less than the hatred of aristocracy; privileges were more detested than tyranny; and the king perished because of the origin of his authority rather than because of its abuse. Monarchy unconnected with aristocracy became popular in France, even when most uncontrolled; whilst the attempt to reconstitute the throne, and to limit and fence it with its peers, broke down, because the old Teutonic elements on which it relied – hereditary nobility, primogeniture, and privilege — were no longer tolerated. The substance of the ideas of 1789 is not the limitation of the sovereign power, but the abrogation of intermediate powers”

    There is some merit, at least a symbolic truth, in the Abbé Sieyès’s suggestion that the Revolution was a Gallic revolt against the rule of the Frankish aristocracy.

  4. “When primogeniture is abandoned there is no guarantee of “egalitarianism.” The father can now leave his estate to whichever child or children he favors, so if his estate is large, he has more opportunities for tyranny.”

    The Roman rule of legitim prevents this, by overriding contrary provisions in the will (bonorum possessio contra tabulas).

    In France, Art 913 of the Code of 1804 reproduces this rule. It gives half the parent’s estate to an only child, two-thirds to two children and three-quarters to three or more, in equal shares, with the children of a child who predeceases taking their parnt’s share. In addition, half of a parent’s inherited property (biens de famille) go to the children or other legal heirs. Lifetime gifts are brought into account in determining these shares.

    As a surviving spouse can elect either a usufruct in the whole or a one-quarter share (the Roman quarta Falcidia), a person with a surviving spouse and three children cannpt dispose of any of his property by will.

  5. The substance of the ideas of 1789 is not the limitation of the sovereign power, but the abrogation of intermediate powers.

    Bingo. Political liberty is the destruction of subsidiarity: the concentration of authority into a monolithic Power which makes sure, good and hard, that nobody is permitted to tell anyone else what to do.

  6. MPS @ Thanks for the details on laws of inheritance in post-Revolutionary France. In the cast of a single child, say, what happened to the half that was not assigned to the child? Was it taken by the State, or was it in the gift of the parents?

  7. Does the geographic division have anything to do with the Germanic element of the French population? Germanics seem to be big on equality.

    Thomas Jefferson, a teutonist, wanted to abolish primogeniture. I seem to remember that he wanted it abolished as a mandatory practice so I suppose it could have been still carried on as a chosen practice by individual familes.

  8. Primogeniture allows the survival of an aristocracy or plutocracy – it was for this reason that the British were so keen to force the division or partitioning of property among heirs on the Irish, as they thought this would destroy the nobility and gentry that they supposed to be their chief opponents. You can see how well that worked out for them.

    Furthermore, we can look at the American plutocratic class and see that the preservation of familial wealth doesn’t really tend to foster conservatism in the current environment – both the “old money” and “new money” rich are more steeped in both little- and big-L liberalism than the population at large. Some of this is doubtless due to institutional capture of the sort that Buckley* complained about sixty-five years ago in “God and Man at Yale”, but some of it goes back further, at least to the “progressive era” when the barons first started setting up trusts and charitable foundations of the sort that are so troublesome today.

    *Buckley’s generation was either the last where the wealthy were more conservative than the population at large or the first where they were less so, I think.

  9. I would say that Germans have always been big on decentralization. As France developed into a unified and highly centralized state under the monarch in Paris, the germanies (as they used to call it) remained divided into the loose confederation of principalities known as the Holy Roman Empire. This runs contrary to the common stereotype of German authoritarianism, but once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere.

  10. > The article omits to mention some basic facts about the geography of France…

    Wow, your field is pretty useful. For this argument to work, I’m assuming that the waste is spread out in lots of small bits so that each estate would have some. The implication would be then that inheritance customs come from geography. Being a religious authoritarian could at most reinforce this. It suggests to me that causality runs the other way. Equal inheritance leads to godlessness, egalitarianism, and hostility to authority.

  11. Obviously I’m not a thoroughgoing materialist when it comes to historical explanation, but material reality does put the pinch on people in any number of ways. I’m not an expert on France, but inheritance customs are generally closely tied to the character of the property that is being inherited. The most obvious example is that equal shares are much more feasible when the inheritance is, or can be converted into, cash. Beyond a point, division of land leads to abandonment of what could be productive soil. What I said about mountain farms was extrapolated from theories of overpopulation in mountainous regions. The soil quality is much more uneven than on the plains, so woodlot cannot be converted into a pasture, the pasture cannot be converted into a cornfield, etc. So the farm works only so long as it is a unit. In the plains one can cut the farm in two and have two more or less equal farms.

  12. I don’t understand inheritance laws. It seems like one would want to break up big estates but not small ones. Why must there be one law for everyone?

  13. Precisely.

    Acton again, “It condemns, as a State within the State, every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own.”

  14. “in the cast of a single child, say, what happened to the half that was not assigned to the child?”

    The deceased sould dispose of it by will (subject to the rights of any surviving spouse)

    To your point about geography, there is also the influence of feudalism. The feu was originally intended to suport the vassal in the duties he owed the superior. Diviiding it would have led to problems in the case of personal services.

  15. “Germanics seem to be big on equality.”

    In fact, primogeniture was introduced into France by the Franks, a Germanic people. It was the Gallo-Roman popultaion that retained the Roman law of equal division

  16. “Thomas Jefferson, a teutonist, wanted to abolish primogeniture…”

    What Jefferson objected to was not so much primogeniture as entails, or tailzies, as we call them in Scotland.

    A typical deed of tailzie not only gives land to X and the heirs-male of his body, whom failing &c, but contains prohibitions on altering the order of succession or alienating the land, absolutely or in security.

    This means that the proprietor cannot raise money for improvements, either by borrowing against the land or selling part. A typical “bonnet laird” had to let most of his land, because he had no capital with which to stock and work it himself. Any spare cash was likely to be spent on educating the younger sons to follow a profession; the only legacy he could leave them.

  17. […] back to Bonald… He questions the thesis that Assimilation of French Muslims impeded by zombies (aka., nominal Catholics). Meh. Correlations are too easy to […]

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