Ah, Paris in the springtime! Clouds of tear gas. Tough CRS riot police breaking heads. Plate glass windows being smashed. Heaps of noxious garbage burning away. Retail stores being denuded of business or looted. Tourists cowering in their tiny, overpriced hotels.
In short, a city under siege. Ironically, the French are doing far more damage to Paris than did the retreating Germans in 1944. The government of President Emmanuel Macron is wobbly. There is talk of its collapse and a new, weaker Republic dominated by assorted leftists.
Paris old-timers, like this writer, know that street mayhem is as much part of its life as afternoon aperitifs. Rioting is France’s favorite sport, even surpassing the traditional ‘cinq a sept’ time for sensual rendezvous between married folks.
Street demonstrations have been part of Paris life since the Middle Ages. This ancient city, founded by the Romans, has always been a haven for rebellious and often violent malefactors known as ‘sans culottes’ or those without underwear. They form an explosive lumpenproletariat ready to erupt into violence and looting at the least excuse. That’s why King Louis XIV built his palace at Versailles, well distant from the teeming back alleys of Paris.
Students feature prominently in the violent demonstrations. One would think that twenty-something students would not get riled up over pension reforms that will affect them 40 years later. But the Paris street has fastened on to President Macron’s necessary pension reforms as a wonderful excuse to riot and break things. Paris always has a large mob of unemployed anarchists and hooligans just waiting for trouble, egged on by far left academics and professional revolutionaries.
Everyone remembers the massive street uprising of 1968.
Many of today’s rioters are students. Small wonder. The entire French education system is excellent compared to the second-rate American system, but it is top heavy with Marxists, Communists, Trotskyites and anarchists. They infuse their young students with all sorts of leftist claptrap and a general hatred of the free market and United States – while teaching the wisdom of Aristotle and Voltaire.
For many French, government is the sole source of all wealth and social benefits. Government is in effect ‘le papa.’ To get goodies from this paternal figure students demonstrate and throw violent tantrums. Governments usually back down after a lot of tough talk few believe. Great damage is done to the world’s most beautiful capital. Small armies of violent rioters always lurk in the old city and university area. The most violent are known as ‘les casseurs,’ or ‘the breakers.’ Many are anarchists (supported of course by government handouts) and some unemployed riff raff.
In 1848 and again in 1968 Paris erupted in revolt against the bourgeois government. Both revolts were brutally put down by the army. In fact, wide swathes of the old city were subsequently demolished to open broad boulevards that could be swept by cannon fire and cavalry charges.
Today, there is no mass killing, as during the infamous Paris Commune uprising of 1871. But each lurch to the left in France has always been met by a powerful reaction from conservatives and the Church. Given this dire history of left-right conflict, it seems odd that the current fracas in Paris and around France is all about retirement age. It is high time to amend France’s retirement policies.
France is a nation awash with unemployed 60-something retirees. Women tend to stay home and bake; men shuffle around and look for things to do. In the part of France I frequent- Alsace-Lorraine – retired men refurbish 100 year old forts, a labor of love that I, a military historian, heartily encourage.
But what a giant waste of talent and manpower. Vital, capable, educated men killing time because of France’s absurdly low retirement age. What’s more, the early 60’s national retirement age was enacted in an era when most people died in their 60’s. Today, a full ten years of natural life have been added. It’s really sad to see armies of talented French playing cards or playing ‘boules’ when the rest of the world is coming after France’s business.
President Emmanuel Macron was right, if heavy-handed, to ram the retirement legislation through government. The spoiled French need a kick in their ‘derriere’ to revive their fighting spirit. Napoleon did not conquer Europe and much of Russia with any army of 60-something card players.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2023