by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet
Friday, 19
November 2021

Éric Zemmour vs Stéphane Bern: a battle over the soul of France

Despite their common history, these men have different visions for their country
by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet
Éric Zemmour is in London tonight. Credit: Getty

For months, exasperated Parisians have waged an online battle against City Hall under the hashtag #saccageparis (#wreckingparis). They complain, with telling pictures, that under Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo the city has become a hell of concrete bollards, unswept streets, entire squares given up to crack addicts and dealers, overflowing rubbish bins, massacred street furniture (including decapitated or even sawn-off historic lamp posts on Place de la Concorde), dried-up crabgrass in untended parks, street lights held together by duct tape and concrete blocks, over one thousand trees torn off every year, and much more.

The most recent voice condemning the sorry state of the City of Lights has come from an unlikely corner. “Paris has become an unbearable rubbish-bin,” thundered the star television presenter and personal friend of Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, Stéphane Bern, in an interview to the most-read Parisian tabloid, Le Parisien, announcing that he was leaving the city for good. 

It takes a lot to lose Stéphane Bern, France’s most emollient, twinkly-eyed, gently loquacious celebrity host. He is equally at ease chronicling the sentimental travails of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco, or retracing the costly parties and art-purchasing of Gilded Age American robber barons in his peak-rated “Secrets d’Histoire” documentaries (full disclosure: I took part in one in 2013). Bern, 58, has perfected a kind of smiling, ideal-son-in-law personality. In short, there is no-one more agreeable in France. 

Curiously, Bern’s television fame and passion for popular history has much in common with the abrasive, controversial would-be presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, 62. Both are the sons of displaced Jewish families (French-Algerian for Zemmour, Polish for Bern); both are self-taught historians (Zemmour flunked the examination to the elite government school ENA; Bern flunked entrance into Sciences-Po). And both believe in the very French notion of “assimilation”, versus “integration”: it’s Bern who says (to the Left-wing daily Libération in 2016): 

My religion is the Republic. To me, everyone has the right to forget their origins and the communities to which they may belong. That’s what being a true republican is all about in my mind. It means saying I don’t see your skin colour, I don’t see your gender, I don’t care. You are here. You have the same rights as me.
- Stéphane Bern

(Where Zemmour wants to send them back, Bern believes that immigrants could help revive depopulated French regions.) 

In many ways, this latest controversy illustrates the battle for the soul of France. Both Bern and Zemmour have for France, her history and her heritage, the misty-eyed love of a Joseph Roth, the Galician exile, for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They both reject what the French call the Anglo-Saxon model in which identity politics reigns supreme.

Both are hugely popular in France, a country whose best-loved personalities have for decades regularly been headed by similar French figures: the tennis player Yannick Noah, the popular singer Jean-Jacques Goldman, the former Justice minister, European Parliament president and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil; the actor Omar Sy. 

Éric Zemmour is speaking tonight to the French of London, officially on a book tour; in reality seeking approval (and funds) for his almost certain presidential run. Bern will not vote for him. But it is ironic that the object of #saccageparis’s ire, the woman who booted Stéphane Bern out of Paris, the Spanish-born Mayor Hidalgo, is another of those French citizens who thank the Republic for having given their refugee parents shelter; and themselves their best life. Yet above all else, what is clear is that, as Zemmour’s latest book’s title proclaims, “France Hasn’t Yet Said Her Last Word”.

Join the discussion

  • ‘Both Bern and Zemmour have for France, her history and her heritage, the misty-eyed love of a Joseph Roth, the Galician exile, for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They both reject what the French call the Anglo-Saxon model in which identity politics reigns supreme.’
    But what is this love of France but identity politics? See Francis Fuukyama Identity: the demand for dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) who points out the ‘essentialism’ that characterises both the ‘identity liberalism’ that determines the agenda in university arts departments and the ethnically defined nationalisms that have sprung up across the world.
    Zemmour more than Bern exemplifies the latter.

  • “They both reject what the French call the Anglo-Saxon model in which identity politics reigns supreme.’”

    “But what is this love of France but identity politics?” NO, no Patriotism is Not Identity Politics!

    Or as a Liberal would put it, ‘Why are they not intelligent enough to loathe their Gender, Race, Nation, Culture, and Privilege’ like us enlightened do? Identity Politics is NOT Patriotism, like Anorexia-Nerovsa is NOT dieting, they are pathologies.

    From Wiki:

    “Many contemporary advocates of identity politics take an intersectional perspective, which accounts for the range of interacting systems of oppression that may affect their lives and come from their various identities. According to many who describe themselves as advocates of identity politics, it centers the lived experiences of those facing systemic oppression; the purpose is to better understand the interplay of racial, economic, sex-based, and gender-based oppression (among others) and to ensure no one group is disproportionately affected by political actions, present and future. Such contemporary applications of identity politics describe people of specific race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sex, sexual identity, age, economic class, disability status, education, religion, language, profession, political party, veteran status, and geographic location. These identity labels are not mutually exclusive but are in many cases compounded into one when describing hyper-specific groups. An example is that of African-American-Woman, who constitute a particular hyper-specific identity class”

    Identity Politics is Oppressor-Oppressed based on a collage of ‘Identities’ one possesses, which are immutable, and that ALL relations between people is Oppressor/Oppressed based on those identities. The Liberal/Lefty only moral answer to this ‘Intersectionality’ is “Equity” where that all with more – irrespective of how hard they worked, and how little the receiver did, have their $ and Position taken from them and given to the Identity with less. Identity Politics = Neo-Marxism = social destruction.

  • No doubt Bern voted for Hidalgo and now wants to escape the nightmare he helped create.
    Friends who live in Lewes describe something similar there. Escapees from Brighton who voted for the Green Party which transformed Brighton into a sh1thole now voting for the same party in Lewes. Where will they escape to ruin next?

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