French politicians, intellectual elites and journalists don’t like American progressive ideas on “race, gender, post-colonialism” The New York Times recently reported. It should be a sign to Americans that “wokeness” is starting to go too far.
“Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States, with their problems, which I respect, and which exist, but which are just added to ours, I say to myself that it is reasonable to make this choice,’’ French President Emmanuel Macron recently said.
“And so we must, very clearly, re-invest, on a massive scale, in the field of social sciences, history, understanding of civilizations by creating posts, by stepping up dialogue, academic and scientific debate in order not to allow the knowledge, the understanding of Islam as a religion, of the civilization it underpins and its contribution to our country and our continent to become ideological and exclusively political debates.”
Macron’s education minister has also stated, “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities.”
This frustration with American progressivism has resulted in squabbles within French society. In one instance, the new German director of the Paris Opera faced criticism that his work in Toronto resulted in soaking up too much American culture when he announced that he would eliminate blackface and would diversify his staff.
French social scientists Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel also faced backlash from younger scholars after publishing a book critical of race studies. Mr. Noiriel, in particular, claims that race has become a “‘bulldozer’ crushing other subjects, adding, in an email, that its academic research in France was questionable because race is not recognized by the government and merely ‘subjective data.’”
Another fascinating aspect of this divide within French academia, politics and culture is how the subject of Islamophobia is treated within the country. As the victim of several high-profile ISIS terrorist attacks in November 2015 and in July 2016, Macron’s education minister has claimed that universities that study Islamophobia, under American influence, are “complicit with terrorists by providing the intellectual justification behind their acts.”
The Times portrays this attack against American progressivism and wokeness as “led by aging white male intellectuals,” but is there some truth to what these French intellectuals are saying?
The history of the United States, especially when it comes to slavery and immigration, is vastly different from France’s. Why should the French embrace critical race theory if there were few, if any, slave holders in the country of France? Going beyond that, is critical race theory even legitimate in the United States?
Though The Times points out that some theories on “gender, race, post-colonialism and queer theory came from France,” Europe and other countries, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. Not to mention the fact that there are large cultural and historical divides between the U.S. and France, which have resulted in different views on various subjects.
Also, when it comes to Islamophobia, doesn’t it sometimes feel like certain commentators, in their attempts to explain why a violent event happened, seemingly sympathize more with the perpetrators than the victims? Where is the line when it comes to explaining why something happened verses excusing it? Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell.
A truly free society isn’t limited by social media bans or cancel culture but is rooted in the free exchange of ideas. The founders of this country knew that, and the French are right to question the impact of American progressivism on their college campuses and within the culture.