These very political roots (and secondary effects…) of the rise of witchcraft in France

A voodoo doll attached to the front door of a home on Oct. 11, 2014, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A voodoo doll attached to the front door of a home on Oct. 11, 2014, in New Orleans, Louisiana.


New crisis in sight

The Pogba affair has highlighted the growing adherence of athletes but also of the French in the broad sense, and in particular the youngest, to esotericism and practices inspired by black magic. If the importation of cultural practices via immigration is of course in question, this rise is also an indicator of the powerful crisis of meaning that weakens French society.

Atlantico: The Pogba affair, potentially involving a marabout, is making headlines. If the world of sport is affected by the proliferation of occult sciences, society is not spared. According to an Ifop study dating from 2020, young people believe the most in black magic (40% of those under 35 compared to 25% of those over 35). How to explain this phenomenon ? How symptomatic of a loss of rationality and a loss of meaning?

Eric Deschavanne: It should be added that this is a historical trend, carried by the new generations: the survey to which you refer showed an increase of ten points in 40 years of the influence of superstitions on the French population. This decline in rationality corroborates the diagnoses of the drop in educational level and is of course a worrying sign of intellectual and moral decadence.

I do not claim to explain the phenomenon, which probably results from the combination of several factors. I would formulate three explanatory hypotheses, which are not mutually exclusive. The deregulation of the “cognitive market”, the heart of Gérald Bronner’s diagnosis on “the democracy of the gullible” plays a determining role. The authorities in charge of information and the instruction of minds are subject to competition from the Internet and social networks: not only are all the sources there equal on the starting line, if I may say so, but it is creates new hierarchies, based on numbers and buzz, where the irrational dominates the rational. Without the mediation of an educational authority, tempers run at ease, so that astrology appears more attractive than astrophysics.

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The second hypothesis is that of secularization and the decline of Christianity in France. One could a priori think that secularization and rationalization go hand in hand. This is partly correct, but we can also consider that Christian theology, within Catholicism as in European Protestantism, offered a structured and rational approach (at least rationalized) to existential questions to which the sciences cannot provide answers. responses (emotional and identity anxiety, anxiety about death and uncertainty about the future). Secularization has also been accompanied by the decline of major political ideologies. The question of “meaning” is that of hope: ideologies (communism and nationalism in particular) integrated personal hope within a collective hope. Left to their own devices, the contemporary individual now creates, within small community bubbles, their own spiritual cuisine. This explains the proliferation of “low cost” religiosity or philosophies (from an intellectual point of view), which are the contemporary forms of superstition.

Last but not least, we must mention the impact of immigration in recent decades (immigration of non-European origin). Immigrants bring their culture with them. In this case, whether it is Islam, evangelical Christianity or marabouts, we are dealing with cultural forms that convey many superstitious beliefs, or, to put it another way, that are the result of a history that has not yet experienced its “century of enlightenment” or “disenchantment with the world”. The progress of superstition among young people is accompanied by a progress of religiosity, which paradoxically favors secularization, which for the moment affects only native Christianity, shaped in Europe by several centuries of progress in rationalism.

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In general, we see that public discourse – in particular that of the “circle of reason” – has too often lacked transparency or veracity in recent years. The promises of globalized capitalism, in particular, have not all been kept. What part of the responsibility do politicians have in the emergence of alternative discourses (conspiracy theories, occult sciences, non-scientific arguments, etc.)?

Policy accountability is relative. We have collectively taken too long to become aware of the rise of public powerlessness and the need to put in place new regulations adapted to the transformations of the contemporary world. That said, it is an evolution that affects the deep identity of societies, their way of thinking and living. In this matter, the influence of politics is very uncertain and particularly delicate to conceive.

To what extent does this situation, which is particularly prevalent among young people, risk leading to a major political crisis?

The consequences are already measurable. Irrationality does not only affect personal existence but also public life, especially with the proliferation of conspiracy, fake news, stupidity of bias and political debates. Moreover, and this is obviously the most worrying, the authority and the seduction of the scientific discourse are affected, which necessarily leads to the decline of a nation, scientific progress being the engine and the key to industrial power, therefore also economic and political power.

How can governments reverse the trend? Could the emergence of a real self-criticism suffice today?

I wish I could tell you that school is the cure, but I don’t believe it. It seems to me that we have collectively lost the taste for rationalism and the secret of public education.

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These very political roots (and secondary effects…) of the rise of witchcraft in France

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