The burning of Notre-Dame de Paris was a catastrophe and a tragedy – not just to Paris, not just to France, but to the world. “We are filled with emotion and our hearts are broken,” according to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “Notre Dame represents an architectural, cultural, and religious heritage, a unique literary heritage that speaks to the whole world.”
Notre-Dame de Paris (literally “Our Lady of Paris”) is a prime symbol of the French nation, the Catholic church, and Western civilization. Construction began in 1163 A.D. and was carried on generation after generation until completion in 1345. It is considered to be, next only to the Notre-Dame de Chartres and the Notre-Dame de Reims, one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, with its extensive and innovative usage of flying buttresses, rib vaults, stained-glass rosettes, and sculptural decorations.
In 1458, Protestant Huguenots vandalized it for its “idolatry,” and in 1793, atheistic Jacobins vandalized it for its “superstition,” but Notre Dame survived both of these revolutions. France was once the most faithful of all the kingdoms of Europe, known as “the eldest daughter of the church” for early Christian monarchs like King Clovis (who converted the Franks to Catholicism) and Emperor Charlemagne (who unified the Catholic church and the French state). Yet even as France in particular and Europe in general have undergone the strange post-WWII process of secularization/de-Christianization and diversification/Islamification, Notre Dame still stands proudly as a patriotic symbol of Paris and of France.
In “The Wound at the Heart of Paris,” Rachel Donadio, a Paris-based staff writer for The Atlantic, describes what it was like to witness the Notre Dame go up in flames:
To those of us who live in Paris, Notre-Dame is as familiar as a landscape, and as solid as a mountain. How could it have burned so fast? I walk past it so often. I like it best at night, when the sculptures on the outside come alive under the spotlights, the gargoyles and saints and the few fallen angels plunging upside down from heaven above the central door.
In barbaric “Amerika,” ethno-masochistic white majorities ceremoniously destroy works of art in order to appease the tribal grievances of ethno-centric non-white minorities which still hate them anyway. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least 113 Confederate monuments have been destroyed since 2016 alone – irreparable and unforgivable damage to Southern heritage and identity. In civilized France, however, such hyper-ideological iconoclasm is unwelcome. On the contrary, the French government has an entire ministry – the Ministry of Culture and Communication – devoted to preserving and restoring the nation’s heritage sites.
When, at the height of the “gilet jaune” protests in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, it became a serious scandal that made the news and got the French President personally involved. By contrast, when mobs of American “antifa” overthrew the 106 year-old “Silent Sam” statue at the University of North Carolina, the authorities defied the will of the people (70% and 50% of North Carolinians were against illegal and legal removal, respectively) by doing nothing to stop it and even going along with it.
In “The Cathedral: Mirror of the West, Then and Now” at National Review, the (somewhat-reformed) neo-conservative Victor Davis Hanson reacts to this angry, ugly American phenomenon:
The contemporary West is in an age not of builders but dismantlers. We topple statues by night and rename streets, squares, and buildings – now judged wanted by our postmodern, always metastasizing standards of race, class, and gender – to virtue-signal our angst over our preindustrial moral superiors. Most silently acknowledge that few of us could have endured the physical hardship, pain, or danger of guiding three tiny 15th-century caravels across the Atlantic or could have walked the length of California founding missions. Discovering the New World was difficult, but a dunce can topple Columbus’ statue. How many contemporary American monumental buildings will last for the next 800 years?
The French would never dream of desecrating the symbols of their history just to appease, say, Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian immigrants. In fact, it was in France where historical conservationism originated, and it was Notre Dame itself which was the subject of the first historical-conservationist campaign. The famous French author Victor Hugo was revolted by the demolition of classic, historic French architecture and its replacement with buildings of a derivative, pseudo-“classical” style – particularly the neglect of the “majestic and sublime” Notre Dame, “the aged queen of our cathedrals.” “All manner of profanation, degradation, and ruin are all at once threatening what little remains of these admirable monuments of the Middle Ages that bear the imprint of past national glory, to which both the memory of kings and the tradition of the people are attached,” lamented Hugo. “While who knows what bastard edifices are being constructed at great cost (buildings that, with the ridiculous pretension of being Greek or Roman in France, are neither Roman nor Greek), other admirable and original structures are falling without anyone caring to be informed, whereas their only crime is that of being French by origin, by history, and by purpose.” According to Hugo, “A universal cry must finally go up to call the new France to the aid of the old!” Hugo’s novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in English), combined with his essay, “Guerre aux Demolisseurs!” (“War on the Demolishers!”), galvanized public outrage over “the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer,” leading to its first restoration in 1844.
Alas, in cruel twist of irony, it was the latest round of restoration work that appears to have caused the fire, though exactly what happened is still unknown.
Thankfully, the fire was extinguished before all of Notre Dame was leveled, although it was a very close call. “I say this to you solemnly this evening: We will rebuild this cathedral,” swore Pres. Emmanuel Macron the night of the fire. “We will rebuild because it is what the French people expect, because it is what our history deserves, because it is our profound destiny.” The roof (made from a veritable “forest” of trees) and spire (reconstructed in 1844) are cinders. Yet the towers and much of the stained glass (such as the “South Rose Window”), along with many artworks and relics (such as the legendary “Crown of Thorns”), are safe. In 2010, an art professor at Vassar College, Andrew Tallon, laser-scanned the exterior and interior of Notre Dame on his own initiative – data which will be an invaluable resource in the reconstruction. As Sophie Gilbert, writing “All Isn’t Lost” in The Atlantic, observes, “The saving grace of Monday’s tragedy is that the stone structure of Notre-Dame still stands, that most of its treasures seem to have been saved in time, that none of the 400 firemen who fought the blaze for nine hours lost their lives, and that much of the interior to the cathedral seems to have survived, including the three astonishing rose windows.” According to Gilbert, “None of this makes the Notre-Dame fire less catastrophic, or less of a wound to the soul of Paris, but it’s comforting, maybe, to consider how many sites have recovered from the grievous damage of natural and man-made disasters.”
Yet despite the admirable French culture of historical conservationism, this disaster has brought forth many ambitious Ellsworth Tooheys. “France Debates How to Rebuild Notre-Dame, Weighing History and Modernity,” reports The New York Times:
Jean-Michel Wilmotte, a French architect who recently designed a Russian orthodox cathedral in Paris, told FranceInfo radio on Thursday that rebuilding a “pastiche” of the destroyed spire, which was added to the cathedral in the 19th century, would be “grotesque.”
Indeed, some of the architects who have entered France’s international reconstruction competition have proposed rebuilding the roof out of glass and steel (in the style of an Apple Store) and replacing the spire with a minaret (in the style of a mosque). While conceding that modern materials/methods should probably be used for safety’s sake and refraining from any reactionary criticisms of modernity, it must be stated that giving Notre Dame a “modern makeover” would be an act of sheer vanity. There is nothing wrong with modern buildings being built in modern styles. Architecture, like any other form of art, should be a reflection of its time and place, and not merely imitative. Notre Dame is not a modern building built in a modern style, however, but rather an old building built in an old style that reflects its time and place. Thus, the rebuilding of Notre Dame is not supposed to be an opportunity to “update” Notre Dame’s style, but simply to reconstruct it in its original style. It is that building in that style which has made Notre Dame one of the world’s “most popular tourist attractions” and a “world heritage site.” Reconstructing a French Gothic cathedral like Notre Dame, an absolutely exemplary reflection of its time and place, to reflect a different time and place altogether, robs it of its very identity and defeats the very purpose of its existence. What would be the point of reconstructing Notre Dame as something other than Notre Dame? In short (and pardon my French), “Build your own damn building!”
“Conservation,” as opposed to “creation,” requires the repression of these narcissistic impulses, a quality lacking in many modern artists and architects. As Steve Sailer quips in Taki’s Magazine, “Ironically, they don’t realize that contemporary architects with their egomaniacal hatred of tradition represent white maleness at its most Promethean and annoying.” Modernist narcissism is not the only threat to Notre Dame’s historical integrity, however. There is also “ethnic sado-narcissism,” which the Claremont-based American Greatness defines as “a demonstration of self-love that perversely manifests itself as a desire to denigrate and punish the broader ethnic group to which one belongs.” According to American Greatness, “Among all ethnic groups, only white liberals are biased against their own ethnic group.”
“Give Notre Dame a Modern Roof the Alt-Right Will Hate” the ethnic sado-narcissist Erika Harlitz-Kern demands in The Daily Beast.
While Notre Dame was burning, conspiracy theories began to surface, and declarations were made of the fire portending the end of Western civilization and its Judeo-Christian values. Instead, what was happening was the destruction of a medieval past that has, in all honesty, never existed
What does Harlitz-Kern mean by “alt-right”? Does she mean the ghettoized Internet subculture of anonymous trolls with Nazi anime-chick avatars? (Because it is not worth redesigning a world-famous cultural, historical, and spiritual monument just so a “hate group” will “hate” it.) Or is she vilifying anyone who loves history and wants to see Notre Dame faithfully reconstructed as “alt-right”? (Because that is illogical and unfair.) Harlitz-Kern is trying to bolster her shoddy argument by implying that the opposing argument is “alt-right,” and thus evil.
Western civilization is a term that grew out of the creation of history as a topic of study at the universities in England, Germany, and France in the 19th century. In her book History. Why It Matters, historian Lynn Hunt states that “history grew as an academic discipline in tandem with nationalism and a growing conviction of European superiority over the rest of the world.” This conviction led to the West “being portrayed as the source of technical innovation and cultural advancement,” also known as “modernity.”
Harlitz-Kern is resorting to semantics – a form of sophistry – in an attempt to deconstruct Europe’s sense of self-consciousness and self-confidence. The fact that the terms used today to refer to Europe were only recently coined does not mean that Europe had no sense of itself prior to the 19th century or that its sense of itself was formed in colonialist, imperialist, and “white supremacist” contexts. Before there was “the West,” there was “Christendom,” which from the 11th to the 13th centuries waged “the Crusades” to defend Christian civilization from various Islamic caliphates and continued to fight against the Ottoman Empire until the 17th century. That is evidence of a sense of self. Furthermore, it is not even true that the idea of “the West” was invented by proto-Nazis in the late-1800s. It originated in the 5th century A.D., when the Roman Empire split into “East” (where it survived until Ottoman conquest in 1453) and “West” (where it collapsed from unstoppable “barbarian” immigrations and invasions, though was reunited under Pater Europae Charlemagne in the 8th century). The fact that in 331 B.C. Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king from the west, crowned himself “King of Asia” when he conquered the Persian Empire to the east and made enemies trying to forge a “brotherhood of man” among the manifold nations under his rule, suggests that an “East-West” self-awareness originated even earlier, perhaps even stemming back to that first “clash of civilizations” – the Graeco-Persian Wars of the 5th century B.C. Would Harlitz-Kern ever argue that because the idea of “Africa” is largely a “Western” construct that, therefore, “Africa” has never really existed?
This brings us to the notion of Judeo-Christian values, where once again the Middle Ages are used to make an argument that actually misrepresents the time period. In the eyes of those who promote the ideas of Western civilization and so-called Judeo-Christian values, the Middle Ages stand out as the ideal time period when Europe was a white society united in a homogeneous Christian culture led by one single Christian institution.
Like Dinesh D’Souza’s crackpot historical revisionism, “multicultural Medieval Europe” relies on gross exaggeration and sheer obfuscation, as well as an all-around ignorant audience. Of course Europe was aware of and interacted with the outside world, but Harlitz-Kern twists every economic, diplomatic, or military “contact” that Europe had with another civilization to argue against the very existence of a distinct, coherent civilization in Europe. (Curiously, the reverse is never the case: Harlitz-Kern would never, ever claim, for example, that Marco Polo’s mission to Kublai Khan made Mongolian civilization any less Mongolian than it made Italian civilization any less Italian.) Indeed, hucksters like Harlitz-Kern are constantly searching for any “Moorish” ambassador or merchant who visited Europe once whom they can then transmute and multiply into a subpopulation of black Africans living throughout Europe. (The Moors were Middle-Eastern colonists in North Africa, not indigenous sub-Saharan Africans, but whatever.) Harlitz-Kern’s “multicultural Medieval Europe” is just as political as D’Souza’s “Democrats are the real racists,” too: it is meant to degrade and subvert Europe’s sense of self.
History is an ongoing process of human activity. Notre Dame is an example of history being a living, breathing thing. History is not static, and neither is Notre Dame. Or as medievalist Lisa Fagin Davis puts it, “Nothing makes it from the Middle Ages to the 21st century without being transformed along the way.
Harlitz-Kern, an adjunct professor at Florida International University, is so shameless and soulless that she is actually taking advantage of the destruction of Notre Dame to publicize her malicious and mendacious revisionism.
In “How Should France Rebuild Notre Dame?” Rolling Stone hears out both sides of the debate:
Birignani and Harwood’s criticism is just modernist narcissism rearing its ugly head again. Why on earth should Notre Dame be rebuilt as “a reflection of France today”? The whole point of historical conservation is to preserve “reflections of an old France.” New buildings are what should reflect the France that is “currently in the making,” not old buildings. Birignani and Harwood are just like the “demolishers” whom Victor Hugo denounced as “ignoble speculators whose honor has been blinded by self-interest…so idiotic that they don’t even understand that they are barbarians!” As for the idea that “non-secular, white European France” is a “France that never was,” that is just ethnic sado-narcissism. Charles de Gaulle, France’s heroic wartime and peacetime leader, rejected this multi-cultural, multi-religious mirage in its inception, as “decolonized” North Africans began immigrating to France. According to de Gaulle, “We are still primarily a European people of the white race, Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion.” While De Gaulle believed that France could be “open to all races,” it was only open “on condition that they remain a small minority…otherwise, France would no longer be France.”
Although the author of the Rolling Stone article, E.J. Dickson, is clearly in favor of the deconstructionists, she gives the last word to the conservationists:
[Jeffrey] Hamburger, however, dismisses this idea as “preposterous.” Now that the full extent of the damage is being reckoned with – and is less than many initially feared – he sees no reason to not try to rebuild and preserve one of the few remaining wonders of medieval architecture. “It’s not as if in rebuilding the church one is necessarily building a monument to the glorification of medieval Catholicism and aristocracy. It’s simply the case that the building has witnessed the entire history of France as a modern nation,” he says. “You can’t just erase history. It’s there, and it has to be dealt with critically.
What The Daily Beast and Rolling Stone are not going to publicize is the reverse-colonialist vengefulness revealed in the literal celebrations of the destruction of Notre Dame. “Hafsa Askar,” the vice-president of the French Student Union at Lille University, boasted, “I don’t give a damn about Notre Dame because I don’t give a damn about the history of France,” and asked, “How much are you people going to cry for some bits of wood?” According to “Sarah Sahim,” a writer for The Independent and The Guardian, “Notre Dame burning is cosmic karma for all the historical sites and artifacts France destroyed and stole when being colonialist scum.” Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who recently emigrated from France to Israel, speculated that the burning of Notre Dame was “divine retribution” for French anti-Semitism in the 13th century. In a letter to The Atlantic, “Ken Mondschein” sneered that Notre Dame was a symbol of the nation “that exiled Captain Alfred Dreyfus and, in more recent times, has marginalized its Muslim citizens.” Mondschein asked, “Will the rebuilding use aped medieval materials to conjure an imagined past, or will it be built in the same spirit, but employing a diversity of modern materials, to bespeak the reality of contemporary France?” Vice interviewed a number of young Parisians about the fire, one of whom, an artist from Israel named “Jonathan,” praised the fire in the name of equality and diversity:
I thought it was sad but beautiful. It was an important lesson: Nothing lasts forever, everything comes to an end. We’re watching the beginning of a new modernity; religion and the church don’t have the same influence they did before, and it’s always a good thing when white men lose their power…I saw the fire with my own eyes. It was really beautiful, as though Satan was speaking to us humans to say, “The end of your world is coming!” I identify as queer or gay, I’m a spiritual person, and I believe in the same light that burned the cathedral. I think we need to burn all churches and get rid of all organized religions. We need to reconnect with spirituality, to understand that all human beings are equal so that we can finally all accept one another…In Muslim countries, when ISIS came into power, they destroyed Egyptian and religious places that were clearly more important, and nobody cared. Now this happens in Paris and the whole world feels invested; that makes me cynical. If you ask me, it’s crazy that in just a few hours, people have given more than 450 million Euros for a little f*****g church! We have plenty of other problems affecting actual human lives
Andy Ngo, an investigative journalist at Quillette, compiled a list of Twitter users cheering the fire. Many of these people, such as “El Buchón Mariwano,” who tweeted, “idgaf [i.e. “I don’t give a f**k”] about Notre Dame burning down because how many times have white colonizers burned or destroyed our religious structures?…F**k the Catholic church,” received thousands of “likes” and “retweeets.”
For my own part, I came across one such cretin on Facebook – a friend of a friend – who had shared a picture of Notre Dame on fire with the caption, “When the Paris police are knocking and you need to get rid of your child-porn collection.” He was both befuddled and amused with why anyone would be “offended” by him “making fun of the place getting torched,” because while “it sucks that it burnt…the religious aspects mean jack s**t to me.”
This hate – this bile, this poison – does not stop with mere words. “Catholic Churches Are Being Desecrated Across France – and Officials Don’t Know Why,” Newsweek reported a month before the fire at Notre Dame. “France has seen a spate of attacks against Catholic churches since the start of the year, vandalism that has included arson,” continued Newsweek. “Vandals have smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, and torn down crosses, sparking fears of a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment in the country.”
“And then, in the 21st century,” the philosophical Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky foretold, “to the accompanying howl of the triumphant mob, a degenerate will pull a knife from his boot, climb the stairs to the marvelous image of the Sistine Madonna, and slash this image in the name of universal equality and brotherhood.”
The opening of Sir Kenneth Clark’s documentary series, “Civilisation: A Personal View,” features Notre Dame in a very moving way. Standing on the banks of the River Seine, the famous art historian and museum director posed a question. “What is civilization,” he asked. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I can’t define it in abstract terms.” Turning around and beckoning toward the majestic cathedral, Clark concludes, “But I think I can recognize it when I see it, and I’m looking at it now.”
In his same opening monologue, however, Clark includes a word of caution:
Looking at those great works of Western man and remembering all that he’s achieved in philosophy, poetry, science, law, it does seem hard to believe that European civilization could ever vanish. And yet it has happened once. All the life-giving human activities that we lump together under the word “civilization” have been obliterated once in Western Europe, when the barbarians ran over the Roman Empire. For two centuries, the heart of European civilization almost stopped beating. We got through by the skin of our teeth. In the last few years we’ve developed an uneasy feeling that this could happen again, and advanced thinkers (who even in Roman times thought it fine to gang up with the barbarians) have begun to question if civilization is worth preserving
Notre Dame may have survived the fire by the skin of its teeth, but modernist narcissism, ethnic sado-narcissism, and reverse colonialism, which questions whether civilization is even worth preserving, will prove far more dangerous to that 800 year-old cathedral – and the even older civilization that it represents – than any fire.
James Rutledge Roesch lives in Florida. He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, as well as the author of From Founding Fathers to Fire-Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States' Rights in the Old South.