History of a concept. Where is France, according to its president, Emmanuel Macron? The latter declared during the Council of Ministers on May 24 that a “process of decivilization” was in progress. Different events would have inspired him this formula: the fatal assault of a nurse in Reims (Marne), the death of three police officers in Villeneuve-d’Ascq (Nord), during an accident caused by an alcoholic and drugged driver, and the fire at the home of the mayor of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (Loire-Atlantique) by opponents of a project for a reception center for asylum seekers.
The spectrum of phenomena that Emmanuel Macron seeks to describe by this term is wide and creates a form of confusion that is all the greater in that today’s France finds itself reduced to a neologism. Malleable, but not new, the term “decivilization” lends itself for this reason to all recoveries.
In 2011, when he had not yet theorized the “great replacement”the writer Renaud Camus published an essay entitled decivilization (Fayard, now republished by the author). “This book is a reactionary lament about the decay of social hierarchies, the spread of egalitarianism, explains Jean-Yves Pranchere, vice-president of the political science department at the Free University of Brussels. The prescriptive bourgeois classes have ceased, according to Renaud Camus, to watch over this heritage represented by good morals and the French language. The corruption of customs would have led to the ruin of civilization, the cultural base on which art and literature must be able to flourish. » The far-right propagandist and the president are therefore clearly not talking about the same thing.
Norbert Elias and progressive pacification
Especially since Emmanuel Macron does not castigate “decivilization”, but a “process of decivilization”. This syntagm brings us closer to the sociologist and historian Norbert Elias (1897-1990). The Head of State does not quote the author explicitly, but it is the latter who would provide the key to interpreting his remarks, note several of his supporters. Somewhat hastily though…
Through his work, mainly The Civilization of Mores (1939) et The Dynamics of the West (1975), Norbert Elias indeed studied civilization not as the set of cultural, religious, political features of a society at its peak, but as a process, a phenomenon of historical transformation, which led to the progressive pacification of the West. “Observing the evolution of mores over several centuries, Norbert Elias observes that self-control mechanisms developed in court societies have gradually spread to society as a whole. Individuals demonstrated increasing self-restraint through increased modesty thresholds, emotional control, and reduced use of violence. Dueling is prohibited as the state exercises a growing monopoly on legitimate violence.recounts the historian Roger Chartier, who prefaced several works by Norbert Elias, including The Germans (Threshold, 2017).
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