I haven't said anything about the suicide of Dominique Venner in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris several days ago, because there's not a great deal to say, to my way of thinking. Venner himself provided all the commentary we may need about why he killed himself when he posted a statement on his blog prior to the suicide indicating that he was taking his life to protest the enactment of marriage equality in France, as well as the purported collapse of France to Islamists.
Venner's suicide was in many ways as consistent with everything he espoused throughout his career as such a disjunctive act of self-destruction can be consistent with a life lived prior to it. Throughout his life, he was an activist for the French far-right, joining the fascist youth movement Jeune nation, then opposing France's withdrawal from Algeria and joining the Organisation de l'armée secrète which sought to use armed force to keep Algeria in colonial servitude to France and to assassinate de Gaulle, writing defenses of the Vichy government, keeping alive anti-modern arguments of French fascism that blame democracy, the rise of human rights for women and minority groups, tolerance of non-European minorities, and the declining birthrates in European nations for everything under the sun.
I don't mean to sum up an entire human life with glib phrases, and I mourn the self-destruction of anyone. Even so, I find a strand of consistency in Venner's thinking and in his life, which makes the shocking way in which he chose to end his life at least somewhat understandable, when the act is placed against the ideological backdrop it was designed to serve, according to his own words on his blog prior to the event and in his suicide note.
Some of the best commentary I've seen about Venner's suicide is David Sessions's statement this morning at Daily Beast. As Sessions notes, the militant (Sessions's word) response of many French citizens to marriage equality has surprised American commentators who are unaware of or have forgotten about the long and deep alliance between some elements of French Catholicism and brutal fascist ideologies. Sessions writes,
While Venner chose the tensions surrounding mariage pour tous (marriage for all) as the stage for his dramatic exit, his act was less about gay marriage and more about an ideology with a long history in French politics and thought. It goes way back to counter-revolutionary monarchism, closely connected with Catholic fundamentalism and long hostile to any sort of egalitarian politics. In the 20th century, it evolved through various political ideologies, from the fascism and anti-Semitism of the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime to the Islamophobic, anti-communist terrorism that marked France’s colonial war against Algeria in the 1950s. Through all those events, the French far right has told variations on a single story: the degradation of society through democracy, capitalism, and immigration, the heritage of white Europe being trampled. Only in the context of that virulently anti-modern ideology can one understand the life and death of a figure like Venner in a country that Americans imagine to be liberal and irreligious.
And, of course, it is this history which is still very much alive in some sectors of French society that makes the choice of some French bishops (and here) and of Frigide Barjot to prophesy blood in response to marriage equality in France deplorable in the extreme. Deplorable in the extreme, since the bishops who have made such statements and Ms. Barjot have to know what they're energizing, and with whom they're allying themselves, with their talk of blood to save the French nation from anti-Christian forces bringing about the end of Christian civilization.
This is not new talk in France, any more than it would be new talk in other places in Europe which retain deep fascist penchants that use a Christian heritage as a smokescreen for repression of minorities and for movements designed to thwart the extension of human rights to groups historically deprived of rights. Le Monde is directly linking Venner's dramatic suicide, with his statement that the French people have entered into a period of history in which words must be authenticated by deeds, with the national march against marriage equality that Barjot will be leading this Sunday--and that linkage makes Barjot nervous, so that she has made statements distancing herself from Venner and his dramatic act to protest marriage equality.
And yet what Venner chose to do is directly related, in a symbolic way, to all that Barjot and the French Catholic hierarchy have been choosing to do and say in response to the enactment of marriage equality in France. Predictions of blood running in the streets have a way of becoming self-fulfilling, particularly when they're made against the backdrop of a bloody fascist history that co-opts Christian symbols to pursue bloody goals that have little or nothing to do with the witness of Jesus and the gospels.
French Catholics deserve better spokespersons than they have right now in the persons of Frigide Barjot and Cardinal Vingt-Trois. Or in the memory of Dominique Venner.