“Dramatic events often focus our minds on the dilemmas we would prefer to ignore,” begins Samuel Gregg in a recent article for the Library of Law and Liberty. He discuses France and Situation de la France, a new book by professor of political philosophy at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Pierre Manent.
In a nation’s life, there are moments that decisively change its trajectory. One such event was the fall of France in June 1940—a humiliation from which, suggests Manent, it has never really recovered. There is no guarantee that a nation’s leaders will lead the people well in these moments: most of France followed Marshal Philippe Pétain rather than General Charles de Gaulle in that crisis. Nor are today’s leaders, Manent maintains, responding adequately to the problems violently thrust into public view by what he unabashedly describes as les actes de guerres committed by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in early 2015.
The reaction of France’s leaders to the murder of cartoonists and Jews by three French-born Muslims in Paris, Manent observes, was to preside over mass street marches and outpourings of grief while repeating, mantra-like, the same easily disprovable bromides that follow every act of Islamist terrorism (“This has nothing to do with Islam”) and obstinately declining to consider what must be done politically if France is to defend itself against jihadism. Yet such a refusal, according to Manent, is logical because to act appropriately would mean admitting that France’s present political arrangements cannot address the new realities. The point of the book is to identify the nature of the danger, explain why France’s present political regime cannot address it, and then sketch a reasonable way forward.