Today's date:
Summer 2006

Multiculturalism: Nationalism of the Minorities

PASCAL BRUCKNER, one of the so-called “nouvelle philosophes” along with Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksmann, is one of France’s most acclaimed novelists. His books include Bitter Moon and his just published The Saint and a Gigolo. He spoke with NPQ contributing editor Michael Skafidas recently at the PEN Festival for International Literature in New York.

NPQ | You have described France as a “monochromatic civilization,” which is a more discreet way of replacing the adjective that many older Europeans reserved for the French all these years: “chauvinistic.” Within this monochromatic frame, as you’ve said, France closes itself off, psychologically as well, to the so-called Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal world. And that’s how what you’ve called the “Asterix Complex” has emerged. Would you elaborate on that?

Pascal Bruckner | The Asterix Complex, named after the cranky Gallic cartoon character, is this feeling of the French people that they are besieged by the outside world: besieged by America, besieged by liberalism, by capitalism, by globalization, by immigration

This is quite paradoxical because France is the most visited country in the world. We have 75 million tourists every year, yet at the same time we maintain this huge suspicion toward the outside world.

You could describe the French attitude today by this motto, “down with the outside world.” That’s exactly what we said one year ago, on May 29, 2005, when we said “no” to the referendum on the European Constitution. We have this tendency in France to withdraw into our own territory, psychologically and culturally.

But, of course, this is not possible anymore! We need to open up to the outside world.

NPQ | Yet, you’ve also said “the French are ashamed to be too patriotic.”

BRUCKNER | When today you call yourself a nationalist it is really a kind of nationalism of resentment. You see this not only in France, but also in Greece, in Italy or in Spain. But the idea of nationalism, of course, is rather suspicious because it has dragged us into wars and persecution during the 20th century. So we are extremely suspicious of patriotism, whereas the Americans are not at all.

It seems every American you meet is proud to be American—even now, after Iraq. If you say today you’re proud to be French, people will look at you with some suspicion: Are you a fascist? I think the Left has a big responsibility in this, in the cultivation of a post-war European guilt. We should be proud to be what we are. There’s no need to be ashamed of what we are, especially if we want to construct a new Europe together.

In France this anti-patriotism is also related to the global European history. We’ve had colonialism, slavery, fascism, communism. Our history is so stained with blood and massacres. We are constantly haunted by it. This has led to a pan-European complex of shame. American pride and European shame are very big contrasts.

Everybody in Europe right now accuses America of being fascist. But there is another reality. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch-Somali who has stood up to radical Islamists, had her citizenship and character challenged because she upset so many people, where did she go? To America. Again, when you have difficulties in Europe, just as during WWII, where do we Europeans go to be safe and free? America.

NPQ | What happened to European multiculturalism?

BRUCKNER | Multiculturalism is an upsurge of Romanticism since it insists on the identity of belonging. It stresses cultural and national origins rather than the individual life.

The Enlightenment said “I am a man, never mind if I speak French or German, if I’m Indian or Chinese or Jew, I am a human being.” Then Romanticism tried to put some flesh and blood on this universal abstraction. Romanticism is thus related to nationalism.

Multiculturalism is, in effect, the nationalism of minorities; minorities as small nations trying to maintain themselves as such in the mainstream, among the majority. This sentiment is not very strong in France but it is being asserted little by little.

In France, we have this republican tradition which insists on equality. That’s why we passed a law prohibiting the display of difference whereby Muslim women would wear the headscarf.

But, of course, there had to be a counter reaction. What we see in France today is what we see everywhere in Europe—more and more veiled women. In France you can even see women today wearing the burka, totally covered from head to toe. You can’t even see her face. I think that should be prohibited. This is a scandal. This is not a human being anymore, it’s a walking jail.

NPQ | French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte has complained of the lack of momentum of French literature in America. “When a reader enters a French bookstore,” he claimed, “the choice is truly cosmopolitan—on a bookshelf of 100 novels, more than 35 are translations, and fully two-thirds are Anglo-American. When a reader enters an American bookstore, the experience is quite different—he similarly finds himself before a bookshelf of 100 publications, but only three are translations, and only one is the work of a French author.” Why is this so?

BRUCKNER | The main reason is American indifference. The Americans are only turned inward; they’re not interested in the outside world and certainly not in France. The percentage of the translated books in the American publishing industry is 3 percent and then France is a very small percentage of that 3 percent. We don’t count in size for the American publishing industry. Maybe we are not politically correct as the Americans expect us to be. We don’t belong to a minority. We belong to the old, dead, European, male history.