In the wake of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015, millions took to the streets to demonstrate their revulsion, expressing a desire to reaffirm the ideals of the French Republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. But who were the millions of demonstrators who were suddenly united under the single cry of `Je suis Charlie'?
In this probing new book, Emmanuel Todd investigates the cartography and sociology of the three to four million who marched in Paris and across France and draws some unsettling conclusions. For while they claimed to support liberal, republican values, the real middle classes who marched on that day of indignant protest also had a quite different programme in mind, one that was far removed from their proclaimed ideal. Their deep values were in fact more reminiscent of the most depressing aspects of France's national history: conservatism, selfishness, domination and inequality.
By identifying the anthropological, religious, economic and political forces that brought France to the edge of the abyss, Todd reveals the real dangers posed to all western societies when the interests of privileged middle classes work against marginalised and immigrant groups. Should we really continue to mistreat young people, force the children of immigrants to live on the outskirts of our cities, consign the poorer classes to the remoter parts of the country, demonise Islam, and allow the growth of an ever more menacing anti-Semitism? While asking uncomfortable questions and offering no easy solutions, Todd points to the difficult and uncertain path that might lead to an accommodation with Islam rather than a deepening and divisive confrontation.
In most developed countries there is a palpable sense of confusion about the contemporary state of the world. Much that was taken for granted a decade or two ago is being questioned, and there is a widespread urge to try and understand how we reached our present situation, and where we are heading. In this major new book, the leading sociologist, historical anthropologist and demographer Emmanuel Todd sheds fresh light on our current predicament by reconstructing the historical dynamics of human societies from the Stone Age to the present. Eschewing the tendency to attribute special causal significance to the economy, Todd develops an anthropological account of history, focusing on the long-term dynamics of family systems and their links to religion and ideology - what he sees as the slow-moving, unconscious level of society, in contrast to the conscious level of the economy and politics. He also analyses the dramatic changes brought about by the spread of education. This enables him to explain the different historical trajectories of the advanced nations and the growing divergence between them, a divergence that can be observed in such phenomena as the rise of the Anglosphere in the modern period, the paradox of a Homo americanus who is both innovative and archaic, the startling electoral success of Donald Trump, the lack of realism in the will to power shown by Germany and China, the emergence of stable authoritarian democracy in Russia, the new introversion of Japan and the recent turbulent developments in Europe, including Brexit. This magisterial account of human history brings into sharp focus the massive transformations taking place in the world today and shows that these transformations have less to do with the supposedly homogenizing effects of globalization and the various reactions to it than with an ethnic diversity that is deeply rooted in the long history of human evolution.