Sunday 23 July 2017

Mary Kenny: Are we all surrender monkeys?

A new take on the history of France charts her impact on our world

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

A year after the horrendous terrorist attack at Nice, on the French Riviera last year, maybe everyone should mark France's national holiday next Friday, on July 14, as a show of solidarity. But then, according to a sensational, best-selling, new history of France, July 14 qualifies as a globalised holiday anyway, because the whole concept of a national holiday is French.

The Histoire Mondiale de la France (global history of France) is controversial because it takes a completely different approach to the national narrative, which traditionally began with the story of "our ancestors, the Gauls". This new version, written by a series of scholars and edited by Patrick Boucheron, emphasises not the national identity, but the cosmopolitan one. That's why some critics hate it - the leading French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut called the authors "the gravediggers of the great French heritage".

This new way of looking at French history has more emphasis on 'soft power' - rather than military power: it is more feminised; and it is seeking to show that there is no such thing as a pure French race. It does claim that European civilisation began in France, with Cro-Magnon man in the Dordogne, 34,000 years BC. This was first humanised settlement and these prehistoric folk displayed their humanity by painting on the walls.

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