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Just another conspiracist?

By Joel Gombin

France is bored. So, every now and then, the French like to indulge themselves in some fierce controversy with virtually nothing at stake. This year, the rentrée littéraire witnessed a polemic about a very short text (17 pages) entitled “Éloge littéraire d’Anders Breivik” (“Literary praise of Anders Breivik”), by Richard Millet. Millet is a prolific writer, and a recognized publisher at the famous publishing house Gallimard (he published two Goncourt prize-winning authors).

What Millet has to say is by no means original. As with many other French writers, he doesn’t like modernity, he doesn’t like immigrants, and he doesn’t like Anglo-Saxon globalisation. Several authors have built their careers on these themes and the polemics they generate: Renaud Camus or Michel Houellebecq, among others. The paradox, of course, is that the core of their discourse is that everyone hates and despises them – not so much so, if one is to judge by the number of times they can be seen on TV or read in the papers. And “Éloge littéraire d’Anders Breivik” is likely to be a great bookshop success – something its small publisher, Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, will undoubtedly appreciate.

So Millet’s provocative discourse is nothing new, and neither are the responses of his enemies. The famous writer Annie Ernaux wrote an opinion piece in Le Monde calling Millet a fascist, and dozens of writers and intellectuals approved her. Insults were thrown on both sides. Millet finally resigned from his position as acquisition editor at Gallimard.

What is more interesting is what was not told about Millet. It may well be that, as he claimed, his praise of Anders Breivik was ironic, and that he doesn’t approve of the 77 murders the Norwegian did. But it seems clear that Millet shares a view of the world with Breivik. They both see the present state of the world, as they perceive it, as the result of a conspiracy. This is very clear with regard to Breivik, who wrote a lengthy manifesto exposing various conspiracy theories, especially “Eurabia”. In his view, Islamisation is a major threat for the European society, and is consciously organised by “the elites” – the European Union, the politicians, the American, the Jews, whoever. Millet’s rhetoric is subtler, and he never uses the word Eurabia, but the bottom line is similar: there are forces (that Millet calls the System, the New World Order, the world socialism, the Propaganda) waging a civil war against… against whom? Well, Millet and those who think like him, or so it seems. The aim and mean of this civil war is multiculturalism, and it is “the ultimate consequence of the Marshall plan” (sic). The “New World Order” is a conspiracist pattern, referring to the conspiracy of global elites to set up a totalitarian government to rule the whole world, thereby replacing nation-states. Hence the role of the Propaganda, a word central in Millet’s text: the impoverishment of European and French literature and culture is a necessary step to build this New World Order he fantasises about.

Faithful to his view of the world, or to his media strategy, Millet likes to picture himself as a victim. In the media, he explains (see for example this opinion piece, entitled with some sense of drama “why are you killing me?”) that everyone hates him, because he denounces the System. His enemies are therefore “clerks of the media-literary system, journalists, gossip columnists, upstart writers”. Typical rhetoric of the conspiracy theorists: they tell nonsense, and if people denounce their nonsense, it is because they are unveiling the conspiracy.

Surprisingly enough, however, nobody in the press underlined this (the only mention of Millet’s tendency for conspiracism I am aware of is this tweet by Tristan Mendès-France). Is it because once someone is called a fascist, there is nothing left to say? Or because the French contemporary intellectual debate is not so much interested in intellectual honesty as in ideological orientation? Hard to say. But, at any rate, one might wish that Millet’s distant relationship to rationality would attract more attention.

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