​[Critique] “Who cancels what? » Scholarly censorship of history

Who remembers that in 2017 a plaque honoring Southern American President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), installed in 1957 by nostalgic ladies, was removed from outside the La Baie store in downtown Montreal? ? Outraged by a murder on the sidelines of a supre gatheringmacist in charlottesville, censors wanted to reject the racist past of the southern United States. They were rare ‘awakened’ scholars known as ‘wokes’.

This example from Montreal brings the very abstract object of the book by the Frenchwoman Laure Murat (born in 1967) closer to us by making it more concrete. The essayist gives university French courses in California and his book Who cancels what?despite its conciseness, explains with great density, by approaching the double French and American point of view, the new and difficult concept of ” cancel culture “.

Why a difficulty? As Laure Murat explains, “the cancel culture or, literally, cancel culture is essentially a polemical, derogatory term, an “expression of the American right adopted by French neoconservatives to better disqualify progressive interpellations”, according to the astute analysis of French historian André Gunthert. ‘art “.

Illustrated in the United States, since 2013, by the Black Lives Matter movement or the #MeToo movement, launched in 2017, the cancel culture, this mode of protest against the injustices alleged on social networks, requires, recalls Laure Murat, that we cease “to honor personalities accused of racist acts or sexual assault”. In order not to get lost in a thousand denunciations, it is limited to examining the unbolting of statues, such as those of Southern General Robert Lee (1807-1870).

“Cancel culture is also and perhaps first and foremost this: an immense fed up with two-speed justice, an immense fatigue at seeing racism and sexism honoured, through statues supposedly irremovable or artists considered above the law, when black people are killed at point-blank range by the police and the statistics of rape and feminicide continue to increase. »

If it is appreciated at its fair value only by those who are familiar with the history of the southern United States in the 19e century, its examination has the advantage of arousing constructive reflection on the relativism of history and the error of adopting radical measures which will ultimately prove to be more oppressive than the injustices which one wishes to eradicate. Laure Murat bases this criticism on the idea that the cancel culture would ultimately be “nothing but the logical, inevitable avatar of a breathless democracy”.

With good reason, censorship remains an oppression, foreign to the nuances of truth. Laure Murat concludes: “Do not look for the violence of cancel culture elsewhere than in the brutality of power. »

She recalls that the American president Abraham Lincoln, in 1862, declared that his “essential objective” was to save the Union, that is to say the whole of the United States. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would,” he said.

In spite of this lack of humanity, horrible according to the censors, Lincoln will abolish slavery in 1863. For the friends of the truth, conscious of the slownesses and the hesitations of the history, here is initially what counts.

Who cancels what? On cancel culture


Laure Murat, Seuil, Paris, 2022, 48 pages

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