The early XX century French monarchist philosopher, Charles Maurras, wrote: "The Republic is bad at governing but good at defending itself." Seldom have these words seemed more true than during the Gilets Jaunes protests.
I live right in the heart of Paris, overlooking the Prime Minister's office, Hôtel Matignon, and a short distance from the scenes of some of the violence witnessed last Saturday. Ever since the Yellow Vests started to demonstrate at the beginning of December, I have seen, just outside my own front door, the massive police presence defending the seat of government while leaving the rest of the city, and indeed the rest of the country, to the mercy of rioters.
Cars were burned only a few streets away from where the serried ranks of the CRS (special police) were scrupulously preventing pedestrians from walking to the shops, while the ministry whose gate was smashed in with a fork-lift truck on Saturday is only five minutes' walk away.
Now, after the eighth series of weekend demonstrations, the French government has announced new laws to prevent demonstrations even before they happen. 80,000 police are to be mobilised for the demonstration expected next Saturday, 12 January, even though last Saturday there were reportedly fewer than 4,000 demonstrators. That would mean 20 policemen for every demonstrator.
Are there perhaps really more demonstrators than the official figures admit, or is the goal to deter them from demonstrating completely? And is a broken ministry door really a threat to the values of the Republic, as the government spokesman claimed, or is the threat being exaggerated in order to justify measures of political repression of the kind for which the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was mercilessly attacked in the West when he tried, very meekly, to stem the rising tide of street opposition to him during the Maidan demonstrations in late 2013?
There is no doubt that the Yellow Vest demonstrations have been systematically marred by violence. Thugs have looted, punched police, set cars alight and insulted residents in front of their own front doors.
During the first demonstration, anarchists gained entry to our apartment block and drew the anarchist symbol (an A in a circle) on the front door of our flat. There is therefore no doubt that such violence should be prevented if possible and punished if not. On the other hand - and here my personal experience is also relevant - there is never a police presence on such a scale. Certainly never a preemptive police action, among those unfortunately very numerous parts of France which, by common consent, have for years been no-go areas festering with crime and radical Islam such as the famous suburbs (les banlieues) which surround many French cities.
It is simply unimaginable that the euphemistically named "youth" from these suburbs would be subjected to the kind of controls seen in the chic parts of Paris. On the contrary, the police steer well clear of such areas.
The effect of such weakness is very clear. I was in Strasbourg on the day of the terrorist attack, 11 December. The next morning I met an acquaintance of the attacker's first victim, a girl he stabbed in the arm before fatally shooting a man in front of her. This is violence on a scale which dwarfs anything the Gilets Jaunes have done.
Yet, no sooner had the terrorist struck than it was revealed that he was known to the police and was under surveillance for extremism.Not yet 30, he had had nearly 30 convictions under his belt.He nonetheless still managed to give the police the slip for several days after the attack by disappearing into his quartier where no doubt he had plenty of friends, just as Algerian terrorists in the 1950s could vanish into the casbah after their attacks.
Everyone knows that there are hundreds of lawless zones like this all over France where police are forbidden by their superiors from going, for fear of provoking a backlash from locals. These territories have effectively been captured.
Lest anyone think that such claims are exaggerated, let us recall the apocalyptic vision of the security situation given by Emmanuel Macron's own former interior minister, Gérard Collomb. He was one of the first people to join his new party in 2016 when he resigned last October.
He told the Prime Minister to his face that large parts of French territory are no longer governed by the laws of the Republic but instead by the law of the jungle. "The law of the strongest... drug-dealers and radical Islamists." He depicted nothing less than a country on the verge of civil war.
"The situation is very degraded... tomorrow it will be totally out of control." He had made similar remarks off-the-record in February, but they were published only after his resignation in October.
Collomb was only saying in public what people have known for years and what experts like Thibault de Montbrial and Laurent Obertone have documented scrupulously in their books.
The fish rots from the head down. Emmanuel Macron is happy to upbraid inoffensive young men, accusing them of lacking respect for the presidency or for not trying hard enough to find a job, while at the same time posing for photos with bank robbers and ex-convicts.
France, in other words, is strong against the weak and weak against the strong. Such a regime merits nothing but the contempt that the Yellow Vests express. Such anger will not be quelled easily, not even by the French police.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
John Laughland, who has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford and who has taught at universities in Paris and Rome, is a historian and specialist in international affairs.