How Traditional Catholics Are Taking Back the Visual Culture of France, Part 1Patrick Le Brun
For most of my lifetime, the visual culture of France was not in dispute. It is not like in the United States, where nativity scenes were only recently ripped from the public square. Perhaps there was not a mutually accepted border, but for decades there has been a kind of line of control between all that was rooted in our culture and traditions and all garbage of the culture distorters. This is a frontier which runs through every city and small town of France. Disputes along this line of control are heating up in the last decade, led by a tiny elitist clique.
However, every action has a reaction. In this case, traditional Catholic monarchists, for generations an indissoluble and marginal group, has emerged with a dynamism none but themselves could have predicted. Despite some of their unpopular opinions (which now recede into the background of their discourse) they are winning the hearts and minds of many French.
The first part of this article will cover the background of this dispute and the network that has taken the other side over the trench wall to attack. The second part of this article will analyze the strategic campaign of Civitas now finishing its 3rd year, to reconquer the terrain of French visual culture.
Often, disputes over small issues divide our camp. I hope that this article will be my small contribution to goodwill between the Catholics and pagans amongst us. The truth is we each have our strengths and weaknesses, but our strengths are often complementary, and I believe we need each other to win.
All Quiet on the Western Front
At the end of the last century, it would be hard to believe that France was the same country that gave birth to Duchamp and company several decades before. The Old Left always felt they were within striking distance of power and didn’t have time for what they would qualify as petty distractions.
For example, the first ever gay pride march was as a column within the May 1st marches of the Left in 1971. This inclusion in the march was opposed by the CGT (communist trade union) which described homosexuality as a “tradition that is totally foreign to the working class.” These gay pride marches soon split into stand-alone groups and marches. These marches did not have the celebratory nature of today, but had all the dullness of a typical socialist protest march of that era. It was not until much later that we would see “men walking down the street with a feather in their asscrack” as Jean-Marie Le Pen would famously remark. For the most part these events took place in gay and bohemian neighborhoods and centered around secular-Republican monuments and not in front of churches or cathedrals.
President Mitterrand was the first President of the 5th Republic to openly seek homosexual support, but his method was more akin to that of a big city machine boss in Chicago than to a committed acolyte of the Frankfurt School. His appeal to their community was based on small changes in disparities on the age of consent between heterosexual and homosexual relations and on the partition of senior positions in his government. He also made Jack Lang, who worked on public relations during his campaign to the post of National Secretary for Culture and Youth. Lang, who was far more dedicated to New Left cultural goals than his colleagues began to build a powerful network and patronage system whose effect we are feeling today. Until very recently, socio-economic status, profession, location was more predictive of voting patterns of homosexuals than their sexual orientation, and it remains a less predictive factor than in the US.
Outside the world of politics, religious folk traditions remained relatively untouched. If one bought a Gateau d’Epiphanie (in Louisiana a “King’s Cake”) until only ten years ago, one had just as high chance of finding a Baby Jesus inside as Asterix or the “fève” (dry bean). Now only secular objects hide between the folds of this cake, sometimes you might even find foreigners inside, like Mickey Mouse! However, it is still possible to see Joyeux Noël in lights over pedestrian streets that are put in place by the local committee artisans.
Even attacks from the corporate sector were rare and relatively soft. In 1997 Volkswagen had a national billboard ad campaign featuring the Last Supper in which Jesus shares his excitement about the arrival of the new Golf. When confronted about putting such mundane words into the mouth of Jesus, Volkswagen removed the ads, the court case against them was dropped, and Volkswagen made a small donation to Secours Catholique (Catholic Charities of France). Eight years later, a single billboard was raised in a bourgeois suburb of Paris by the fashion house Girbaud. This presented women in the positions of the Last Supper with a single man exposing his tanned and muscled back to the camera with the slightest hint of crack showing. This also raised a tiny media controversy. Catholic organizations brought them to court but lost.
One strains to find anything resembling the Blitzkrieg of destruction and subversion taking over public spaces today. Sure the Obelisk was covered in a condom in 1992, but in this country that has few illusions about the private sexual activities of the general public, this was seen as important in raising awareness around a serious public health issue and was clearly not about mocking Ancient Egypt, the Reign of Terror, or the Assemblée Nationale across the Seine.
Versailles, “Tabernacle of Absolute Monarchy”
In 2007, the self-proclaimed defender of French Identity against the racaille of Africa, Nicolas Sarkozy, placed Jean-Jacques Aillagon in charge of the Chateau de Versailles. Aillagon noted with regret that more than two centuries after the Revolution, Versailles remains a “Tabernacle of Absolute Monarchy.” He quickly went to work to change this, beginning with an exhibition of that most celebrated and most puerile of contemporary artists, Jeff Koons. This exhibition definitely benefited his patron François Pinault, owner of the multi-billion Euro fashion conglomerate Kering SA. Several years earlier, Pinault had hired Aillagon to advise him on building his art collection. Pinault is a leading collector of Koons’ work and lent 6 of the 14 works displayed at Versailles for that exhibition. Pinault is now 78 and his son has taken over Kering, therefore inflating the price of his degenerate art collection is a short term priority. Donating works of contemporary art to museums upon the death of billionaires is the preferred method of helping their children dodge estate taxes and avoiding post-mortem block sales of stocks in the family company. High profile public exhibitions of an art piece like this inflate the attributed value in advance of the inevitable donation.
Jean-Jacques Aillagon rose to these heights thanks to services rendered to powerful patrons like Pinault, but also thanks to the powerful network of homosexual Cultural Marxists around Jack Lang, mentioned above. Jack Lang is a senior Freemason of the Grand Orient, son of a senior Freemason, Jewish, and was the most senior homosexual of President Mitterrand’s government, as well as Mitterrand’s liaison with the powerful patrons of that then still hidden community. Jack Lang has been a power broker since the ’80s in all that relates to the Ministry of Culture and related private organizations. As most of the senior members of the network are in their 70s, they seem to be institutionalizing their once informal and organic network. According to the leading business magazine of France, Challenges, two organizations stand out. One is a discrete and seemingly nameless dinner club which meets once a month in the 9th Arrondissement (which just happens to be where the seat of the Grand Orient is located) and the other is Les Enfants de Cambacérès a club for Masons of all the various Obediences to meet which was founded by Donald Potard, former CEO of Jean-Paul Gaultier and #8 on the Challenges list of most influential gay men.
What makes such networks function are elitism, cohesion, unity of purpose, and strategic action. These networks are not open to just any gay man, and no one benefits from the network without first serving the network and its goals. Cohesion and unity of purpose should be obvious to anyone who remembers the kind of price these men paid before the massive change in public acceptance of homosexuals. Nothing builds group cohesion like shared suffering. During their rise to power, this lobby was not hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Rather the points of interface with other powerful networks acted as cracks and footholds along the cliff face as they slowly climbed to power. These points of interface are not held by ideological affinities or big picture promises. Helping Mitterrand get elected or helping Pinault build the value of his art collection are typical of the kind of services rendered to other centers of power. These efforts pay back dividends to the network and its most effective members. Finally, the article in Challenges makes quite clear that before achieving power they tried to cast a large shadow of uncertainty over their importance, and now that they have achieved power they vociferously deny that their network exists. They are following Sun Tzu’s advice to “appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.”
“An Invasion of Cultural Barbarism from New York”
The arrival of the Jeff Koons exhibit in Versailles woke up the residents of this sleepy bedroom community outside of Paris, composed of a significant number of residents who proudly trace their descent back to the court of the Sun King. A number of local dissidents converged to protest regularly at the gates of Versailles as well as to present and sell recently produced works of art that celebrate European culture rather than mock it. They regularly appeared on the news to denounce this “invasion of cultural barbarism from New York” which gathered a great deal of sympathy during that period marked by a general feeling of anti-Americanism. They regularly meet for fundraising dinners presided over by members of the House of Bourbon.
The issue of Contemporary Art in Versailles became a serious public debate which pitted the oligarchs and their lackeys against the vast majority of French. Didier Rykner, a blogger on art and art preservation, took what might be described as a “Centrist” position on the issue between the Cultural Marxists and the Traditionalists:
The inclusion of contemporary art in historical monuments and classical art museums is a passing trend, and as such will tend to disappear . . . As long as this phenomenon remains temporary (or permanent, but in a relatively discreet and successful way as for Anselm Kiefer at the Louvre), a debate is not called for, even if visitors coming to Versailles only once in their lives do not really feel like seeing Jeff Koons there . . . To set the record straight, there seems to be a current of intellectual terrorism dominating the French artistic scene which is extremely exasperating. Claiming that a small group of extreme rightist writers with ties to traditionalist circles have opposed the Jeff Koons exhibition by invoking such ridiculous arguments as “Louis XV’s moral rights,” but more likely still due to their ingrained hate of contemporary art, anyone who thinks that Jeff Koons does not belong at Versailles, nor Jan Fabre at the Louvre, is by extension also an extreme-rightist reactionary who is systematically hostile to the art of our times. This argument, be it overt or implied, is despicable and just as dismaying as the one claiming that Versailles has opened its doors to a “sacrilegious exhibition.”
In this debate, those trying to take an evenhanded view were probably the least popular. While the masses of French people do not appreciate the wholesale rejection of the Revolution nor the nostalgia for aristocratic privileges of the organizers of the protests, they are in full agreement on the protection of French culture and identity against the ridiculous garbage that Aillagon and company were forcing them to accept as the equal of Le Notre and Girardon.
The protests return each time a new exhibition arrives. Aillagon remained in charge of Le Château de Versailles until his 65th birthday when he was forced by law to retire as a state bureaucrat. Sarkozy replaced him with a woman who is far more focused on restoring the fountains and exteriors of Versailles which, quite frankly, were in a pitiful condition. Unfortunately, the dissidents of Versailles were out of touch with trends in youth culture, created poorly designed web content, and did not have a quality social media presence. However, the SSPX-linked group Civitas took notice and decided to strike back against the Culture Distorters with equal gravity.
Part Two . . .
Part Two of this article will examine the roots of Civitas, the Traditionalist Catholic think tank and activist organization, as well as their current campaigns gaining traction in France.
7. Unlike the US and England which have one unified body of Freemasonry, France has several, which are known as Obediences. However, there are clubs which are Inter-Obédiences. The more established of these contain only former Generals and Admirals or senior Judges, for example. In 2012, Le Figaro, one of the two most circulated newspapers in France, referred to the Ministry of Defense and Interior as Fiefdoms of the Masons (http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2012/12/07/01016-20121207ARTFIG00492-le-nouveau-pouvoir-des-francs-macons.php). These Inter-Obedience clubs play a key role in maintaining these fiefs. For more info on the peculiarities of French Masonry, please see my review of Un Maçon Franc a memoir by Christophe Bourseiller, https://counter-currents.com/2012/11/freemasons-against-the-modern-world/
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