From Deconstruction to Wokeness: French Conservatives Fight Back – The American Spectator

Après la déconstruction: L’université au défi des idéologies
By Emmanuelle Hénin, Xavier-Laurent Salvador, and Pierre-Henri Tavoillot
(L’Odile Jacob, 482 pages, $43)

Sixty university professors, along with intellectuals across multiple disciplines, convened at La Sorbonne in Paris on Jan. 7–8, 2022, and submitted essays for a colloquium that traced the evolution of the deconstructionist movement of the 1960s to the political correctness of the 1980s to the present-day wokeness and cancel culture and proposed solutions for combatting this progressive ideology. Earlier this year, Emmanuelle Hénin, Xavier-Laurent Salvador, and Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, the professors who organized the colloquium, published the symposium contributions in a book titled Après la déconstruction: L’université au défi des idéologies (After Deconstruction: The University Faces Ideological Challenges). Not surprisingly, the colloquium, which was held at La Sorbonne but not sanctioned by the university, generated a plethora of negative pre-event publicity, protests, and calls for a boycott, not to mention accusations of fascism, McCarthyism, and extreme-right rhetoric. The attempts to malign or shut down the event, however, only served to convince its organizers of its raison d’être. Après la déconstruction is a tangible manifestation of a conversation on an insidious threat to Western civilization that refused to be silenced.

Tavoillot, one of the three principal authors and also a professor of philosophy at La Sorbonne, delineates Après la déconstruction’s objectives and narrative organizational structure in the book’s introduction. Section I discusses the history of deconstruction. Popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s, deconstruction applies a binary approach to the analysis of logic or the exegesis of a text. Deconstruction assumes interpretation via a prism of two opposing forces, which are sometimes characterized by an inherent pecking order, such as boss/employee. Over the last few decades, the definition of deconstruction has been broadened to encompass the eradication of traditional values and mores. Section II discusses the limits of intersectionality, which address the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” Section III discusses the stakes and challenges of reconstruction, and Section IV provides guidance for specific academic and cultural disciplines.

Although Après la déconstruction was written by academics for a predominantly academic audience, non-academics will relish its historical context, bold commentary, and beautiful language. The book’s broad spectrum of contributors — which includes two former ministers of education, university professors, intellectuals, and journalists from multiple disciplines — further enhances its appeal.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s minister of education at the time of the colloquium, raises crucial questions, such as what motivates individuals to lobby for the cancellation of an academic event because they do not agree with the event’s agenda. He also ponders why the concept of destroying ideas is so attractive to young people today and argues that we need to defend universalism and reason from the onslaught of identity politics from both the left and the right. He cites the current polarization in the United States, which has not only advanced an ideological chasm but also separated its citizens from the social and economic liberties established by the Founding Fathers. Moreover, Blanquer expresses concern that the U.S.’s present-day cultural divide could be a harbinger of a comparable outcome for France and other countries.

Jacques Julliard, a historian, journalist, and former union leader, writes about the three great political ice ages that were created by the Left during his lifetime. The first one was Stalinism, which followed World War II; the second was the rise of Maoism in the 1970s; and the third is the advent of wokeness in the United States. Julliard notes several ways in which the troisième glaciation differs from its predecessors. While Stalinism and Maoism came into being in response to external threats to the Soviet Union and China, respectively, the woke movement is a reaction to factors and factions intrinsic to the United States. Although Julliard allows that wokeness is less “bloody” in its manifestation, it is still extremely dangerous because it represents a “regression of the human spirit,” which needs to be defeated. (READ MORE: Be Ethnic: What Schomburg and de Pareja Teach Us About Identity)

Claire Koç, a Turkish-born journalist who ultimately became a French citizen, writes about the backlash she experienced for embracing France from both the Turkish community and the left-leaning members of the French bourgeoisie, not to mention some of her colleagues and friends. First of all, she was widely criticized for having abandoned her Turkish first name Cigdem for the traditional French name Claire. Interestingly enough, Koç intimates that if she had gone from Claire to Cigdem, she would have been applauded for her decision. She also asserts that even though she has assimilated into the French culture, she has not erased her Turkish roots. When we play in the sandbox of identity politics, she explains, we reduce individuals to nothing more than their roots of origin. Despite having arrived in France as an immigrant, Koç decries instituting racial quotas for corporate recruitment or application decisions for France’s most prestigious universities, les grandes écoles. She takes pride in having passed the rigorous entrance requirements for her university education and having secured her professional opportunities based on her skill set and past experiences as opposed to a so-called leveling of the playing field. 

Carole Talon-Hugon, a professor who specializes in the philosophy of art and is currently affiliated with La Sorbonne, has written about the “militant censorship” of the fine arts, which started in the United States and has now spread to Europe. On both continents, university students are among the movement’s most ardent foot soldiers. Unfortunately, as Talon-Hugon postulates, cancel culture on campuses has a two-fold impact on the decline of Western civilization: Firstly, it shuts down freedom of creative expression and civil discourse; secondly, it stymies the ability of professors to transmit the tenets of history, literature, the sciences, and the fine arts to the student body. Talon-Hugon, in concert with many of the book’s other contributors, sounds a clarion call to take action against the dangerous progressive ideology and also provides discipline-specific recommendations that focus on retaining and transmitting culture as opposed to canceling it.

Après la déconstruction is both a fascinating exploration of the path from deconstruction to wokeness over the past 60 years and a reminder of the unfortunate role that the U.S. has played in disseminating the contemporary cultural plague to France and other countries. Yet, Après la déconstruction ultimately delivers a hopeful message for which the authors are to be commended: If we collectively mobilize as the stakeholders of a shared heritage and vision for the future, we can design a blueprint for reconstruction. 

Read More: From Deconstruction to Wokeness: French Conservatives Fight Back – The American Spectator

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