In a debate with former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls published by the weekly L’Express, the philosopher Michel Onfray maintains that being French consists of loving France: “Do you love France? From that moment on you are French: that’s enough for me ”.
Not me. I don’t know if I love France —an entity too abstract and plural to arouse my feelings—, but I love the French language, I have French friends, I feel at home in certain parts of France and I adore some of its artists and thinkers ; not for that, however, I am French. Which shows that the sentimental concept of citizenship that Onfray postulates is false. The ideas of Onfray, whose latest book is entitled The Art of Being French (The art of being French), represent quite well those of a French left, opposed to Valls’ left, which in some aspects borders on the nationalpopulism that runs through the West and which has its best Gallic representative on the far right Marine Le Pen. Not for nothing is the sentimentalization of politics perhaps the most notorious feature of national populism; also, perhaps, the most toxic. Because the sentimental contamination of politics is equivalent to the death of politics, at least of democratic politics; This consists precisely in rationalizing problems, in order to solve them: reasons can be discussed, but not feelings: everyone has what they have, and it is absurd to try to convince anyone that they are wrong (Marcel Proust observed that you cannot rationally from a head that which has not entered it rationally). Onfray’s left is a left clouded by its own chauvinism, deeply anti-European: a left that, like Le Pen’s far right, fuels a delusion of nationalist persecution according to which the EU seeks to destroy French culture and “dilute” France , and that he does not understand or does not want to understand the flagrant evidence that a federal Europe is not built by destroying any culture, but by reconciling the cultural diversity of Europe with its political unity, and that this constitutes the most ambitious political project of the 21st century. the only one capable of preserving harmony, prosperity and democracy on the continent. There is no art of being Spanish (or French or European), and that is exactly what the art of being Spanish (or French or European) should lie in: no one tells anyone how it should be, that everyone is. as you please, sheltering the feelings you want; If someone wants to be Spanish (or French or European) hating Spain (or France or Europe), there he, just as if someone wants to be Spanish (or French or European) feeling only Catalan (or Breton or Sicilian) . As long as you pay your taxes and respect the rules of the game that we have given each other —those laws that make us equal and at the same time allow us to be different—, the rest is up to you. (It goes without saying that respect for the laws includes the right to change them and even to resort to disobedience and face the consequences, which is perhaps the highest form of respect for the law). This is what, in my view, democratic, secular, anti-tribal citizenship lies in this, not in seeking or demanding unwavering adherence to I don’t know what feelings or values supposedly Spanish or French or European. Onfray affirms that being French consists of assuming an inheritance that goes from Montaigne to Victor Hugo; It seems to me an admirable inheritance, but I do not believe that it is necessary to assume it to be French (nor that it is enough to assume it to be French), in the same way that I do not think that to be Spanish it is necessary to assume the inheritance that goes from Cervantes to Ortega, however admirable that it seems to me. You can be French (and Spanish) in many other ways. Let everyone choose the one they want.
Nobody is perfect: next to the free, open, hospitable, rationalist and pro-European France that Montaigne and Hugo embody like few others, there is still a narcissistic, claustrophobic, reactionary, cowardly and self-absorbed France. And it’s not just Le Pen’s France.