Good for them. It is enlightening to me that I read foreign news sources more often than American ones to get a view of what is actually happening in my own country. Yes, they are still left wing rags, but they retain an independence that American media has lost.
Six months ago, if asked what they understood by “woke”, most French people would have assumed it had something to do with Chinese cooking. And yet today in Paris, the notion of “le wokisme” is suddenly all the rage.
The government warns of a new cultural totalitarianism creeping in from the “Anglosphere”. The education minister has set up a Laboratory of the Republic, dubbed an “anti-woke think tank”, to co-ordinate the fightback.
And everywhere the precursors of what might be to come are being reported in the media: a new gender-neutral pronoun, a threatened statue of a dead statesman or a meeting on campus only for black students.
For the French, these signifiers of what critics in the UK and US have termed “woke” are all very new and unfamiliar.
For good or bad, France has so far resisted what is seen here as a left-wing cultural movement dedicated to the promotion of minorities that originated in American universities and now exerts considerable influence in the public sphere in the English-speaking world.
“Personally I find it liberating to teach here. I don’t have to mind my every word, like I did with American students. Here, there is still a presumption that universities are a place to learn, and the staff is not there to cushion the subject matter.”
That is indeed precisely what the anti-woke movement in France believes: that via universities, pressure groups and social media, the US is exporting a cultural virus into France that poses an existential threat to French society.
For the writer Brice Couturier, a member of the Laboratory for the Republic think tank, “wokeism puts people into tribes in order to control them. It says you belong in my tribe, and the leaders of my tribe will tell you how to behave. This is foreign to French mentality”.
“France has fought many civil wars in the past, and I fear we could come close to civil war again if this goes too far. Just as [former US President] Trump was a reaction to wokeism in the US, here we have crazies like [far-right presidential candidate] Eric Zemmour. People are taking sides.”