Manif pour tous demonstration in Paris, January 2013

‘La Manif pour tous’: the coming-out of French conservatism

Brustier, Gael. Le Mai 68 Conservateur; Que restera-t-il de la Manif pour tous? Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2014.

Even if they didn’t attract considerable coverage in the Greek media, the massive mobilisations in the years 2012-2013 in France against the proposal and then against the law of the Socialist government of President François Hollande which legalised homosexual marriage surprised many in and out of France with their extent and dynamism.

The people protested issues that the liberal-libertarian intelligentsia of the West considers solved. A galaxy of groups, organizations, groupuscules, religious communities and networks was mobilized to substantiate the galaxy of demonstrations, public utterances, personalities and texts which we include under the umbrella term La Manif pour tous (LMPT)[i].

Crucial was the convergence of the Catholic Church with the (Far) Right within this particular movement.

During 2012, in September, a good friend of mine had invited to Athens her French roommate when she studied abroad, Chloé.

Given my interest for religion, I asked Chloé about her relationship with the religious identity of her ancestors.

“Nowadays being French doesn’t mean being Catholic”, Chloé answered.

I suppose that many among the participants in the Manif pour tous demonstrations would want to reverse her answer. Recently the fire at Notre-Dame triggered the public expression of analogous desires and hopes in the French public sphere.

One can easily realize the underlying conviction that moral behaviour requires national loyalty and religious faith.

Nevertheless, the Greek Union of Atheists circulates leaflets with the slogan “Do good without God!”, while the more demanding among us can resort to the Greek translation of Ronald Dworkin’s collection of essays Religion without God by Professor Stelios Virvidakis, who summarizes the opinions of the famous philosopher of law in his informative addendum: respect towards the sacrality and intrinsic value of human life and the pursuit of a virtuous life do not require a belief in a transcendental God[ii].

But the traditional religious worldview which considers man the apex of Creation is diluted by certain postmodern movements and beliefs.

It is no accident, as the French intellectual Jérome Fourquet writes in an article in the news magazine Le Point[iii], that the newly-founded Animal Rights party has achieved its less successful electoral results in the regions of France where secularization occurred later and to a lesser extent and depth than elsewhere in the country.

“Nothing spectacular for a religion which highlights the difference between human beings and animals, the latter being considered devoid of an immortal soul. No elements of antispeciesism in its very anthropocentric Bible”.

Someone could accuse me of imagining connections among different and incompatible ideologies, but I firmly believe that a common thread unites the demands of the LGBTQI community, animal rights, veganism and even antispeciesism.

Drawing an example from Greek reality, I urge you to read the interview given to Elpiniki Chagia by the famous LGBTQI/vegan activist Jason-Antigone (Jason Dousis), before the elections of the 26th May/2nd June during which he unsuccessfully stood for a seat in the council of the periphery in the central sector of Athens with the ticket of Rena Dourou (SYRIZA)[iv].

*

“You don’t wake up a giant who sleeps”: with those words begins the introduction of the book by Gael Brustier in which he describes  and analyses the LMPT movement during 2012-2013, before and after the vote of the controversial law institutionalizing homosexual marriage in the French Republic.

In the first chapter, he delineates the axial beliefs of the Sarkozy presidency which preceded that of Hollande.

“Essentially, Sarkozy tended to approach the conservative revolution begun by Margaret Thatcher, mixing the free market with authoritarianism in matters of morality, economic individualism and the resurgence of patriotism”.

The author refers to another book which analyses the identity of the demonstrators: “Not all of them participated in the International Youth Days, but the critique of John Paul II and Benedict XVI of the culture of death touched them. They did not all vote for Sarkozy but they lauded his criticism of May 1968, his homage to eternal France”.

The reconfiguration of the socioeconomic geography of the country resulted in the reconfiguration of its religious landscape.

The relatively fervent religious practice in the bourgeois departments of Paris – like the 16th and the 8th – amounts to a reversal of the tenet of conventional wisdom that wealth and education lead to the waning of religious feeling in a given population.

This finding can of course be questioned since the statistically-proven decline of the influence of the Catholic Church in everyday life, in ceremonial occasions, in the commitment to exercising formal religious duties (like participating in Sunday services) and in many other aspects of French life has been observed from 1961 to this day, a period when wealth and education has been accessible to wider strata of French society than in the past[v].

*

In the second chapter, the author criticises the complacency of the French Socialists and their sense of superiority over the demonstrators (which is absolutely equivalent with the stance of the Greek “enlightened” intelligentsia  towards Greeks with a marked Christian Orthodox identity).

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Neither can provide adequate answers concerning the cohesion of society nowadays.

To put it bluntly, the French Socialists – as well as the progressive intelligentsia in Greece – consider, in a more or less discreet manner, those citizens with manifest national and religious identities as Neanderthals and stupid – without being able to provide an alternative narrative that could federate society and ensure social cohesion.  

Brustier points out that it would be a mistake to consider the totality of LMPT adherents as nostalgic fans of Marshal Pétain, homophobes and loyal admirers of the founding father of the French Far Right, Charles Maurras.

It is also fallacious to interpret political life solely through the criterion of “rational choice” and to ostracize the opinions of the other side as “archaic”, “homophobic” and “dated”.

Here I can’t help but tell an anecdote from personal experience. A few days after the Greek national elections (7 July 2019), I met a neighbour who told me, among other things, the following: “I have been waiting for years to see respectable people wearing a suit and a tie take a religious oath by putting their hands on the Gospel”.

This neighbour is not a naive woman but a dynamic businesswoman.

It’s an example of the role of symbolism in public life which a purely rationalistic approach and an anthropology based in the logic of homo economicus can not explain adequately[vi].

*

The book then refers to plays and a painting that provoked the ire of Christian activists in France.

From recent Greek history I would like to draw a parallel with the effort of Golden Dawn to draw political capital from the wounded religious feelings of our compatriots which culminated with the riots near Hitirio Theatre  because of the production of a play that was considered blasphemous by some.

The unfolding of events and the impending changes in legislation forced the French Catholic hierarchy “to take sides”.

The Church organised itself against what it considered to be a transmutation of anthropological paradigms.

The upheaval against the Taubira law (the Minister of Justice who introduced the law – ed.) gave the French bishops the chance to differentiate themselves from the intregrists of the Society of Saint Pius X without having to offer public space to the latter.

At the August 15 2012 day of the celebration of the Ascension of Virgin Mary, André Vingt-Trois (then-Archbishop of Paris – ed.), issued to parishes “a national proposal for the prayer of the faithful” which was read from the pulpit and whose motive was obvious.

In Lourdes on October 11 2012, Cardinal Barbarin proclaimed legitimate the participation of the faithful (in the LMPT demonstrations – ed.) if they so desired.

“Most Catholic France’” was mobilized. It had networks, places for assembly, meetings almost ritual in nature where action was contemplated and prepared.

The resonance of the organisations close to the Church was built up in order to achieve the widening of the front of the refusal against “l’engagement 31” (the 31st commitment in the programme of the Socialists: to institute homosexual marriage if they got elected – ed.) of François Hollande.

In reality, though it hadn’t done so for a long time, the Church was “addressing the Nation”.

*

The chapter continues by referring to the birth of gender studies in the North American world and their fundamental tenet concerning the social and not the biological construction of gender. The formation of “gender theory” which became a “sign of contradiction”.

The book refers to the adoption of those theories by LGBTQI activists and the controversies that arose later when some thought that an attempt was being made to instil those opinions in students through French National Education.

Anybody with a good memory can remember  the controversies regarding the educational material concerning “gendered identities” which the former SYRIZA government introduced in secondary education when Costantinos Gavroglou was Minister of Education.

The French Catholic Church orchestrated the theoretical rebuttal of these opinions through its network of intellectuals.

One of the most prominent among them was Tony Anatrella, a priest and psychoanalyst, who wrote about the action that had to be taken against “a totalitarian ideology, more oppressive and pernicious even than Marxist ideology”.

(For the record, although it is not mentioned in the book Anatrella was accused for sexually harassing patients during psychoanalytic sessions designed to cure homosexuality – the Catholic Church after a canonical investigation forbade him from exercising his ministry – ed.)[vii].

The combination of dangerous theories, irreverent works of art and legislation that attempted to reverse the moral and social assumptions and the anthropological paradigms of centuries led to the birth and construction of the LMPT and to the decision of the French Catholic hierarchy  to collaborate with and offer spiritual legitimacy to that movement.

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(Not the whole hierarchy though; dissent existed within the French episcopate – ed.)[viii].

Activists and bishops, the book continues, knew that in order to succeed they had to overcome the strict frame of “most Catholic France”.

The solution that would maximize their communicative capacity was found in the person of Virginie Tellenne, more widely known under her pseudonym Frigide Barjot.

Barjot possessed a consummate knowledge of the arts of communication and public promotion but her style and path made her a ‘’sign of contradiction’’ among the traditionally minded faithful. Think of the advertised relation of pop singer Madonna with religion and you will get an idea.

The style of the demonstrations avoided displays of such classic symbols of the Right as the Sacré-Cœur the church constructed after the suppression of the Paris Commune to remind to the Parisian people that both Dieu et Maitre do exist – ed.) or the white color of the Monarchy.

The style was modern and trendy, with Frigide Barjot on a chariot calling to mind more a scene from Gay Pride than a manifestation of the Catholic Right (I am sure the other side saw wolves in sheeps’ clothing in the mise en scène).

The chapter closes with a reference to the struggle between social Catholicism and intransigent Catholicism, pointing out the tactic of the latter to co-opt the achievements of modernity, especially in the field of technology, without aiming to make any essential concessions and planning to use them against modernity itself.

*

The third chapter begins with the admission that La Manif pour tous in the winter of 2012-2013 won the adherence of thousands of French citizens in the streets and millions in public opinion.

Even if it didn’t express the majority view of society regarding homosexual marriage, it strived to become a majority on questions related to medically-assisted procreation and gestational surrogacy.

It was not a spontaneous movement but the product of different historical currents of a political or spiritual nature.

The author uses two very evocative Latin expressions – reductio ad maurrassum and reductio ad lefebvrum – to protect the reader from the easy conclusion that the politically-inspired adherents of the Manif pour tous are admirers of the opinions of Charles Maurras – that is, supporters of the Far Right – while the religiously inspired adherents of the Manif pour tous are spiritual children of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was adamantly against the modernis ing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and was finally excommunicated by Pope John Paul II – that is, religious fundamentalists.

Although he refuses to generalise, the author does not exclude elective affinities and refers to the great importance for the development of the LMPT of the coexistence between the supporters of Catholic Tradition and those who emerged from the constellation of movements collectively known as the ’’ Charismatic Renewal’’ of Catholicism.

To describe this new “tribe” he coins the neologism Tradismatiques (from the French equivalents of the words ‘’traditionalist’’ and ‘’charismatic’’). He also points out the differences between ecology as perceived by young Catholic Conservatives and Deep Ecology, which leads to the extremes of Antispeciesism, Malthusianism and Eugenics.

*

In the fourth chapter of the book, the Manif pour tous generation is described, or rather the LMPT generations.

I will not expound on the description of each sub-group within the movement, but it is important to bear in mind the crucial utilisation of the internet as a mechanism of communication, mobilisation and formation of opinion by the activists, and to look more closely at the case of the group Les Veilleurs (“The Guardians”), to whom the author devotes a few more pages.

Why? Because they adopted a particular way to make their presence felt: they gathered during the night by the light of candles to read books, thereby achieving a rare combination of public reading, prayer vigil and social protest.

Because some of them were graduates of the ENS (École normale supérieure), one of the most prestigious French grandes écoles and they used their knowledge for the theoretical fortification of their programme and aims.

Because from their bosom sprung Sens Commun (“Common Sense”), which became a part of the mainstream Center Right party (UMP – now named Les Républicaines) and tried to find a role through classic politics – that is, to overcome the strict frame of “most Catholic France”.

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The book makes special mention to the co-founder of the Guardians, Madeleine Bazin de Jessey, who created Common Sense, whose manifesto included the following words:

“From November 2012 until May 2013, against all expectations, a historic social movement, which begun from youth and was immediately adopted by all generations, produced in the whole of France a fervour and an enthusiasm without precedent, awakening in everyone a feeling of engagement, generosity and courage. What are we going to do with this awakening of consciences? Shall we leave all this remarkable dynamism to die out? Or shall we choose to hear and react to this cry of expectation and hope uttered by the people?”

This chapter closes with the description of the institution of summer universities which the LMPT tried to found as spaces where the theoretical formation of cadres and networking among like-minded individuals could take place. The portrait of Ambroise, a typical adherent of the LMPT, follows on after.

*

The last chapter examines the possibility that the LMPT will become a hegemonic power within the Right. It points out the choice of the Identitarians to exchange the Hammer of Thor with the Cross of the Nazarene and assesses the chances of personalities such as Laurent Wauquiez on the Right and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen on the Far Right of achieve a synthesis within their respective political groupings which would include and utilise elements of the rhetoric, the practice and the identity of the LMPT.

In the epilogue, Brustier returns to those personalities  and their capacities of synthesis and capitalization of the dynamic created by the movement.

After the publication of the book, many developments took place. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen resigned from her seat in the French National Assembly and active political life. Laurent Wauquiez became leader of the Centre-Right and chose as the head of his party’s list in the European elections of the 26th May 2019 the young Catholic intellectual and philosopher François-Xavier Bellamy.

The party achieved an electoral result of about 8.5%, a historical low point, and Wauquiez resigned a few days later.

Politicized Catholic piety in a popular or in an academic form does not convince the French electorate[ix].

*George Karpouzas is a Greek lawyer and journalist who lives in Athens. He has an undergraduate degree in Law from the Aristotelion University of Thessaloníki School of Law and a Masters in Public International Law from the University of Athens Law School, as well as vocational training in Journalism.

A contributor to the internet and print editions of The Books’ Journal (TBJ) – a monthly magazine covering political, social and literary topics in modern Greece – Karpouzas has a keen interest in the political and social aspects of organised religion, Church-State relations and news.

Connect with Karpouzas on Twitter and Facebook.


[i] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Manif_pour_tous

[ii] Ronald Dworkin, «Θρησκεία Χωρίς Θεό», μετάφραση-επίμετρο Στέλιος Βιρβιδάκης, για την ελληνική γλώσσα 2017, Εκδόσεις Πατάκη.

[iii] Jérome Fourquet, “Les vrais raisons du vote animaliste”, Le Point, 2444,, 4 juillet 2019 p. 28-30.

[iv] Jason-Antigone (Jason Dousis): “The necessity for a political direction in vegan demands finds me a  fervent supporter”, Lady Papaya, May 1st 2019 (interview in Greek): https://www.ladypapaya.com/2019/05/01/jason-antigoni-i-anagki-politikis-kateuthinsis-stis-vegan-diekdikiseis-me-vriskei-enthermo-opado/

[v] Guillaume Cuchet, “Comment notre monde a cessé d’ etre Chrétien: anatomie d’ un effondrement”, février 2018, Editions du Seuil.

[vi] Ηλίας Κανέλλης, «Πατρίς, θρησκεία, οικογένεια», Τα Νέα, 551, Τρίτη 9 Ιουλίου, σ.6 (Elias Kanellis, “Fatherland, religion, family”, Ta Nea (The News), 551, Tuesday 9 June 2019, p. 6.

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Anatrella

[viii] “Bisbille chez les éveques de France: Acceptation des évolutions sociétales ou défense des valeurs traditionelles: l’ episcopat est divisé”, Le Figaro Magazine, 1747, 19 Avril 2014, p. 47.

[ix] Laurent Joffrin, “La défaite de la pensée Finkielkraut”, Libération, 19 mai 2019: https://www.liberation.fr/politiques/2019/05/29/la-defaite-de-la-pensee-finkielkraut_1730384

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George Karpouzas

George Karpouzas is a Greek lawyer and journalist who lives in Athens. A contributor to the internet and print editions of The Books’ Journal (TBJ) – a monthly magazine covering political, social and literary topics in modern Greece – Karpouzas has a keen interest in the political and social aspects of organised religion, Church-State relations and news.