Left Foot Forward

A plethora of new Left-leaning French magazines show that in France the intellectuals remain socialist

Which newspaper wouldn’t dream of earning almost 30 million euros in a few weeks and to go from a 30,000 weekly circulation to more than 1 million? That is what is happening to Charlie Hebdo, the satirical weekly which was the target of the terrible Islamist attack in Paris in January, in which 12 people died, including 11 staff and contributors. The outrage unleashed a torrent of subscriptions and donations to the magazine. A special issue, the numéro des survivants, sold 7 million copies. Yet just before the attack the magazine was close to collapse. Not surprisingly, the atmosphere has become rather tense within the team. A dozen employees are demanding that they be made proper associates and get a slice of the pie, currently owned by relatives of the former editor Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb”), who died in the attack, the cartoonist Riss and the finance manager, who don’t seem ready to give up their share.

Most French newspapers and magazines may look at this unfortunate fortune with envy. So there is still a market, they may think. Some of them certainly think so, as they try to spawn new ventures, and, among them, the Left has been the busiest. Two new left-wing online titles have met great success: Rue89, launched in 2007, and Mediapart, which gained its popularity during the Bettencourt affair in 2010. In the family of glossy cultural magazines, there is now XXI, a successful quarterly full of cartoons and long articles; Le 1, a weekly born a year ago; and most recently Society. In 2012 the Huffington Post launched a French version. There is also Charles (a reference to De Gaulle?), which deals with the interesting stories behind politics. They are supposedly non-partisan, but culturally they are on the Left.

After the success of Rue89 and Mediapart, the online route became very fashionable and another website, Atlantico, appeared in 2011: it now has more than 3.5 million unique visitors per month. Presenting itself as a general audience website, it denies being on the Right, but its views and most of its contributors are definitely so. It is pro-market and socially conservative, but not in a very deep way. A new print daily, L’Opinion, which most people consider to be right-wing, claims merely to be free-market and socially liberal. Fortunately there is still Causeur, a print and online monthly founded in 2007. Causeur fights for “anti-political correctness”, sometimes in a comic manner, as when it published its “Manifesto of the 343 Bastards”, in which famous men admitted they used prostitutes and criticised a proposed law against soliciting. Causeur’s greatest asset is to gather writers from Left and Right. But it is essentially anti-free-market, because, as often in France, it thinks that being culturally conservative means you have to praise state intervention.

This trend is not an exception. Both in the US, with Jacobin (I didn’t know the name could be claimed by anyone outside France), Strike!, n+1 and The New Inquiry, and in the UK, with The White Review and very soon Salvage, the Left leads the trend, while the centre-Right has created only one magazine on either side of the Atlantic in recent years: Standpoint, in 2008.

Does it mean that the Left is bolder and more interested in ideas and culture? Is quantity better than quality? What is certain is that in France, media and politics never really change: the “intellectuals” remain socialist, the Right doesn’t want to admit it, and nobody is properly conservative—intelligently pro-market and intelligently socially and culturally conservative at the same time. And for sure Charlie won’t help with that.

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