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REFLECTIONS ON IDENTITY By Alain De Benoist

original Russian translation

https://web.archive.org/web/20171204140555/http://www.nb-info.ru/antipotkin/ident200611.htm

The issue of identity is central to the controversy surrounding immigration. From the outset, two remarks emerge from the discussion of this topic. The first stems from the observation that while much is said about the identity of the indigenous population, there is generally much less about the identity of the immigrants themselves, which, however, is most threatened, even by the very fact of immigration. As a minority, immigrants are under direct pressure from the way of life of the majority. Being obliterated or, on the contrary, inflated in a provocative, even pathological way, their identity is retained only most often in a negative (or reactive) way, due to the indifference or hostility of the environment in the host country, even the capitalist super-exploitation to which workers are exposed, who find themselves defenseless far from their homeland.

On the other hand, it is striking to see how the problem of identity in certain circles is made dependent solely on immigration. The main, if not the only, “threat” to which the national identity of the French is exposed, allegedly comes from immigrants. This does not take into account factors that are everywhere in the world, both in countries where there are many foreign workers and in countries where there are none at all, that cause the erosion of collective identities: the primacy of consumption, the Westernization of mores, the imposition of homogeneity through the mass media, etc.

It is not difficult at all, in this view of things, to make immigrants scapegoats. However, it is not the fault of the immigrants at all if the French seem no longer able to reproduce their own way of life and demonstrate to the world the originality of thinking and being. It is also not the fault of immigrants if social ties are destroyed wherever liberal individualism spreads, if the inculcation of selfishness narrows the public space that could serve as a crucible for the revival of an active civic spirit, and if people living according to the laws of market ideology become more and more alien to themselves. . It is not the fault of the immigrants if the French are becoming less and less a people, if the nation is becoming a ghost, if the economy is globalizing and people no longer want to be creators of their own lives, but accept more and more what what they decide for them, starting with the values ​​and norms in which they do not participate. Finally, it is not immigrants who influence the minds and impose on radio and television sounds, images, interests and models that “arrived from behind a hillock.” If “mondialism” exists, we will say with all clarity until proven otherwise, then it comes from the other side of the Atlantic, and not from the other side of the Mediterranean. And let’s add that a small Arab shopkeeper, by his neighborhood, definitely contributes more to the preservation of a French identity built on genuine French values ​​than an American-style amusement park or “shopping center”. interests and models “arrived from behind the hillock”. If “mondialism” exists, we will say with all clarity until proven otherwise, then it comes from the other side of the Atlantic, and not from the other side of the Mediterranean. And let’s add that a small Arab shopkeeper, by his neighborhood, definitely contributes more to the preservation of a French identity built on genuine French values ​​than an American-style amusement park or “shopping center”. interests and models “arrived from behind the hillock”. If “mondialism” exists, we will say with all clarity until proven otherwise, then it comes from the other side of the Atlantic, and not from the other side of the Mediterranean. And let’s add that a small Arab shopkeeper, by his neighborhood, definitely contributes more to the preservation of a French identity built on genuine French values ​​than an American-style amusement park or “shopping center”.

The real reasons for the erasure of French identity are in fact the same ones that cause the erosion of all other identities: the fact that the nation-state model has become obsolete, the destruction of all traditional institutions, the decline of civic spirit, the crisis of the representative system, the imitation of the American model, etc. . The obsession with consumption, the cult of material and financial “success”, the disappearance of ideas of the common good and solidarity, the fact that the individual does not connect his future with the fate of the collective, the development of technologies that have now become an independent factor, the growing export of values, the loss of economic, industrial and media independence – only they eroded the “homogeneity” of the French population to an incomparably greater degree than could be done by immigrants, who themselves are not least victims of these processes. “Our identity,” Claude Imbert emphasizes in this regard, “is much more damaged by the loss of citizenship, the cultural confusion imposed by the mass media, the impoverishment of language and spiritual life, and above all the decline of the formerly centralized, powerful, prescriptive state that created we have this famous “identity” (1). In short, if French (and European) identity is collapsing, it is primarily because of the vast process of increasing homogeneity in the world by means of technology and economics, the main engine of which is transnational or American-centered imperialism and which spreads everywhere a sense of meaninglessness, i.e. e. a sense of the absurdity of the world, destroying organic ties.

From this point of view, immigration plays a revealing role. She is a mirror whose task is to enable the French to appreciate the full extent of the latent crisis in which they find themselves, a crisis of which immigration is less a cause than an effect among others. Identity is the more perceived as under threat, the more its vulnerability, instability, in a word, decay is felt. It is for this reason that it is no longer able to digest the influx of foreigners. In this sense, French identity is not so much threatened by the presence of immigrants in France, but precisely because that identity is largely blurred, France is no longer able to deal with the problem of immigration except by indulging in angelic naivety or advocating deportation.

The positions of xenophobes and “cosmopolitans” ultimately coincide, because both believe that there is an inverse relationship between the ability to assert a national identity and the integration of immigrants. The former believe that France, more concerned about its identity and becoming more conscious in this regard, will suddenly get rid of immigrants. The second thinks that the best way to facilitate the admission of immigrants is to contribute to the erasure of French identity. The conclusions are opposite, but the premise is the same. Meanwhile, both are wrong. Just as the presence of immigrants is not a fundamental cause of the destruction of collective identities, the assertion of a French identity will not exactly become an obstacle to the integration of immigrants, but, on the contrary, will facilitate it. Immigration creates a problem because the French identity is proving to be unstable. But it is thanks to the newly realized national identity that we will resolve the difficulties associated with the reception and adaptation of newcomers.

This shows how foolish it is to believe that it would be enough to reverse immigration flows in order to avoid a “decline”. Obsessing over the problem of immigration, making immigrants responsible for what was and was not, at the same time, you can forget about other causes and other culprits. In other words, attention is completely diverted to the other side. It would be interesting to know who benefits from this.

But first of all, you should ask yourself what is identity. Asking about French identity is not about asking who is French (the answer is relatively simple), but rather what is French. Meanwhile, in answering this more important question, the singers of “national identity” limit themselves in general to indulging in pompous reminiscences or appealing to the memory of “great people”, the more or less known founders of “true France” (Clovis, Hugh Capet, crusaders, Karl Martell or Joan of Arc), whose images were hammered into the national consciousness by textbook and pious historiography (2). Meanwhile, this little catechism of what might be called the religion of France (in which eternal France, which never changes, is ready at any time to stand up against the “barbarians”, and the Frenchman, in the extreme case, is defined no more than as someone who is not a foreigner, in the absence of any positive characterization, but only as not belonging to the world of others) has only a very remote relation to the history of the people, whose main feature was that he always knew how to deal with his contradictions. Moreover, they do not make any effort at all, arguing in a Manichaean manner about the continuity of national history, devoid of any contradictions, when globalization is considered simply and exclusively as a result of a conspiracy. Thus, historical digressions are immediately placed in a non-historical perspective, a perspective that is supposedly of fundamental importance, when the goal is not to tell about history, but to describe the “essence” that always allegedly remains the same, and which can only be defined in terms of resistance to otherness or rejection of the Other. Identity thus inevitably comes down to immutability, to a simple copying of the “eternal yesterday”, glorified in the idealized spirit of the past, a fully formed entity that can only be preserved and transmitted as a sacred relic. At the same time, the national feeling itself is deprived of the historical context (the advent of the modern era), which predetermined its appearance. Under these conditions, history becomes essentially something that has no periods, while history is impossible without division into periods. It becomes mere duration, which makes it possible to ignore differences, while duration, by definition, creates dissimilarity, difference between itself and itself, the constant emergence of new differences. Briefly speaking.

Identity is never something one-dimensional. Not only does it always include a diverse base, but it combines constant and changing factors, changes and external influences. Also, the identity of a people or nation is not solely the sum of its history, its customs and dominant traits. As Philippe Forget writes, “any country can be, at first glance, a set of characteristics determined by mores, customs, ethnic, geographical, linguistic, demographic and other factors. However, if these factors can, apparently, create an image or define the social reality in which a people lives, they do not help to form an idea of ​​what a people’s identity is as an ancient and permanent phenomenon. Therefore, one should reflect on the foundations of identity, referring to the essence.

This phenomenon, continues Philippe Forget, who refers to the discovery of space and time, “should not be traced back to a substantialist conception of identity, but to an understanding of being as a play of difference. We are not talking about understanding identity as something immutable and immovable, which can be qualified and turned into a canon (…) understood as woven from differences, which is renewed and reborn in the fertile soil of heritage, consisting of a set of past experiences used to overcome oneself. In this sense, it is impossible and should not have recourse to the defense of forms of existence that are seized as something inviolable, rather efforts should be made to transform society. Adherence to the identity of established forms also leads to the extinction and destruction of the collective identity” (4).

No less than culture, identity is not an entity that can be frozen or purged by command. It is determinant only in a dynamic manner, and can only be understood by taking into account the interactions (or retrodeterminations), the choice to give up personal identification, and the identification strategy that underlies that choice. From the very beginning, it is inseparable from the habit of doing something or refusing to do something, in a specific cultural and social context, that is, in the context of relationships with others. Identity is thus always reflexive. From a phenomenological perspective, it implies that one should never separate “self” from “other”. The subject of collective identity is not “I” or “we”, the natural wholeness.

The difference that emerges is that which Paul Ricoeur drew between the idem identity and the ipse identity. The stability of collective existence in the face of constant change (identity ipse) cannot be reduced to the course of events and repetitions (identity idem). On the contrary, it is entirely related to the hermeneutics of the concept of “self”, with the perception from the position of narratology, designed to demonstrate the “place”, space-time, which produces meaning and forms the condition for finding “self”. From the point of view of phenomenology, according to which nothing is given naturally, the object comes from a fundamental development, from a hermeneutic narrative, which is characterized by the assertion of a point of view that retrospectively builds events in order to give them meaning. “Narrative constructs a narrative identity, shaping the identity of the story told, Ricoeur argues, “and it is this identity of the story that forms the identity of the character” (5). Defending identity, then, is not content with ritualistic recitation of historical milestones considered important, or chanting of the past in order to avoid confrontation with the present. That is, to understand identity as something that is preserved in the conditions of the game of various parties, not as something frozen, but as always the only way to change or not change. to avoid confrontation with the present. That is, to understand identity as something that is preserved in the conditions of the game of various parties, not as something frozen, but as always the only way to change or not change. to avoid confrontation with the present. That is, to understand identity as something that is preserved in the conditions of the game of various parties, not as something frozen, but as always the only way to change or not change.

So, it is not a question of choosing the idem identity against the ipse identity, or vice versa, but to accept both in their mutual relationship through an orderly narrative that takes into account both the perception of oneself and the perception of the other. To recreate the conditions in which it will once again be possible to reproduce such a story – this is what finding oneself consists of. But it is a feeling that never freezes, for the collective subjectivation constantly proceeds from choice more than from actions, and from action more than their “fact”. A people survives thanks to its ability to tell, appropriating being for itself through successive interpretations, becoming a topic for a story about itself and thus avoiding loss of identity, i.e. becoming an object for a story about another. “Identity,” Philippe Forget writes further, “is always an attitude towards oneself, a perception of oneself and others and oneself through others. By definition, it is a narrative about oneself, created in a dialectical relationship with the other, that completes human history and makes history the history of collectives. (…) It is through the act of storytelling that personal identity asserts itself and reconciles stability and change. Being as a theme depends on the narrative act. The personal identity of the individual, like the identity of the people, is formed and preserved through the course of the narrative, the dynamism of intrigue, which creates the narrative action, as Ricoeur says” (6) created in a dialectical relationship with the other, which completes human history and makes history the history of collectives. (…) It is through the act of storytelling that personal identity asserts itself and reconciles stability and change. Being as a theme depends on the narrative act. The personal identity of the individual, like the identity of the people, is formed and preserved through the course of the narrative, the dynamism of intrigue, which creates the narrative action, as Ricoeur says” (6) created in a dialectical relationship with the other, which completes human history and makes history the history of collectives. (…) It is through the act of storytelling that personal identity asserts itself and reconciles stability and change. Being as a theme depends on the narrative act. The personal identity of the individual, like the identity of the people, is formed and preserved through the course of the narrative, the dynamism of intrigue, which creates the narrative action, as Ricoeur says.” (6)

What is currently most threatening to national identity has, finally, a strong dimension, represented by a tendency towards the destruction of the social, that is, towards the internal disintegration of all forms of organic sociality. Roland Castro could justifiably speak of a society in which “no one else supports anyone”, where everyone rejects everyone, where every individual becomes a potential stranger to every other. And liberal individualism bears the greatest responsibility for this. How can one speak of “brotherhood” (on the left) or “common good” (on the right) in a society where everyone is busy striving for the maximum satisfaction of their own interests, plunging endlessly into imitative rivalry that takes the form of risk in the name of salvation , constant competition that knows no end.

As Christian Thorel noted, it is “fixation on the individual to the detriment of the collective that leads to the disappearance of attention to the other.” Meanwhile, there is a danger that the issue of immigration will obscure this fact from us. “The alienation of which migrants are victims can make us forget that we are increasingly living in a society where alienation is also the rule in relations between the “autochthonous” themselves. Why should the French support foreigners if they support themselves less and less? On the other hand, some reproaches should be addressed to themselves. It is often said that young migrants are full of hatred and that they should respect the country that hosts them. But why should young Arabs be more patriotic than young native French, who are far from patriotic? In the end, the greatest danger is to believe that the spread of selfish sentiments will encourage criticism of immigration (which is legitimate in itself) will, when it is the spread of such sentiments that most destroys the social fabric. The whole problem of xenophobia, however, lies in the belief that the strengthening of the national feeling is based on rejection of the Other. After which, as it has become a habit, it ends up being normal to dislike one’s own compatriots. while it is the spread of such sentiments that most destroys the social fabric. The whole problem of xenophobia, however, lies in the belief that the strengthening of the national feeling is based on rejection of the Other. After which, as it has become a habit, it ends up being normal to dislike one’s own compatriots. while it is the spread of such sentiments that most destroys the social fabric. The whole problem of xenophobia, however, lies in the belief that the strengthening of the national feeling is based on rejection of the Other. After which, as it has become a habit, it ends up being normal to dislike one’s own compatriots.

A society that is aware of its identity can only be strong when it puts the common good above individual interests, and solidarity, empathy and generosity towards the other above the obsession with competition and personal success. It can exist only when it adheres to the rules of unselfishness and gratuitousness, the only way to avoid the breakdown of social ties, that is, the emergence of an order in which a person produces himself as an object, having previously managed to turn everything that surrounds him into an artifact. Meanwhile, it is obvious that not through the preaching of individualism, even in the name of “struggle for life” (a simple reworking of the individualistic principle of “war against all”), it is possible to recreate an organic and mutually aid-based sociality, without which no nation is worthy of its name. It is impossible to find brotherhood in a society where everyone aims to “succeed” more than his neighbors. And it is also impossible to restore the desire to live like a brother by turning to xenophobia, that is, to the rejection of the principle of the Other, which ends with the fact that everyone begins to understand this Other.

Alain de Benoist, translated from French by Andrey Ignatiev

Notes

1. Historique? “, in Le Point, 14 December 1991, p. 35.

2. See works on this topic that effectively expose the myths of Suzanne Citron, Le mythe national. L’histoire de France en question (ed. Ouvrieres-Etudes et documentation internationales, 2eme ed., 1991) et L’histoire de France autrement (ed. Ouvrieres, 1992), whose authors, however, often go to the opposite extremes towards what they reject. See also for a different perspective on French history. Olier Mordrel, Le mythe de l’hexagone, Jean Picollec, 1981.

3. Phenomenologie de la menace. Sujet, narration, strategie”, in Krisis, avril 1992, p. 3.

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. Soi-meme comme un autre, Seuil, 1990, p. 175.

6. Art. cit., pp. 6-7.

7. Le Monde, 17 aout 1990.

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