‘Freedom ceased to exist in France a long time ago,’ says French left-wing philosopher Michel Onfray

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French philosopher Michel Onfray is sometimes described in his home country as a “left-wing Zemmour” because of the positions he has taken in the media, which are often considered politically incorrect, particularly on immigration. Reacting on RT France to the British weekly The Economist classifying France as a “failing democracy,” Onfray said that “freedom ceased to exist in France a long time ago.”

The philosopher, who is considered a leftist libertarian but also a sovereignist or a “leftist Gaullist”, said: “Since 2005, when the people voted against the European treaty when there was a referendum… we have seen most of the political class consider that what the people did not want, they would still have it [with the Lisbon Treaty] through the Senate and the National Assembly, and I think that was a kind of putsch that made us enter at that time into an era that was no longer a democratic era. We are in a post-democratic era.”

Then Onfray spoke about freedom of expression in France, saying that “many troublesome intellectuals are being ousted. For example, I was myself kicked out of [public radio station] France Culture because I made Emmanuel Macron uncomfortable. Many newspapers that are subsidized by public money hold an ideological discourse in which there is not much room for freedom and intelligence. People who do not follow the Liberal logic of Maastricht are insulted a lot…. In the French media — I am thinking of [public radio] France Inter for example — which is state media, or in media outlets like Arte that operate with public money, which are totally ideological media, freedom is non-existent. When you don’t think the way those people think, you are considered a Nazi, a fascist, a Petainist.”

In June 2020, Onfray launched the quarterly review Front Populaire, which describes itself as the review of “sovereignists from the right, the left and, above all, elsewhere — namely, those who do not recognize themselves in the bipolarized, and therefore Manichean, political game”. In September, the launch of the magazine was hailed a “great editorial success” by the French Journalism Observatory.

Thanks to his editorial successes and popularity, Onfray still manages — like his right-wing counterpart Éric Zemmour — to make his voice heard and feel rather safe in France, but this is no longer the case for all philosophers.

Didier Lemaire, a philosophy teacher at a high school in Trappes, near Paris, has also always had strong left-wing convictions. Since November 2020, Lemaire can only leave his home under police escort. His crime was to publish in a left-wing magazine (L’Obs) — following Samuel Paty’s throat was slit by a Chechen jihadist — an open letter denouncing the Islamist threat in his city and the overwhelming responsibility of the government in this very dangerous drift.

Such a situation perfectly illustrates the discourse of the philosopher, columnist and writer Eric Zemmour at the “Convention of the Right” in 2019, who commented on the alliance of liberal, human-rightist totalitarianism and Islamic totalitarianism against the freedoms typcially represented in French society, an alliance that Zemmour compared to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

In the “fatherland of human rights”, as the French like to call their own country, the author of that speech was fined €10,000 for insult and incitement to hatred. In addition to these fines, Zemmour was ordered to pay the legal costs of the NGOs that had filed civil suits under French laws which provide tools against freedom of expression that are unique in Europe.

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