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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Updated Final Version: A Remarkably Humorous Essay on French and American Stereotypes of One Another, Full of Agile Insights Too

Written with crackling, tongue-in-cheek humor and unusual insight into silly national stereotypes --- French and American, of one another --- this lengthy essay by Gene Weingarten, an editor of the Washington Post Sunday magazine, is a delight from start to finish, a product of an uncommonly talented mind. Probably only a few dozen writers in the entire world could produce an essay of its zest and intelligence, none of them academics . . . generally a solemn crowd, especially in this era of hotfooting careerists off to one conference or another, in between their frantic bouts of applying for this or that grant (all the while praying fervently --- please, please, Heavenly Father! --- that the next grant will be generous enough to allow them to move forward from the cattle-carrying section of their conference-jaunting airplanes to tonier business-class).

Read and enjoy the essay, anything but solemn. And see whether it doesn't, even as you laugh out loud, hit a bull's eye every paragraph . . . sometimes, when you get down to it, several times every paragraph.

The Problem With the French . . . is that they have no word for rapprochement.

A Difference in National Stereotypes

There is a difference though, an important one overlooked by Weingarten. Despite American stereotypes of the French --- which go back hundreds of years, influenced by English views of France --- there isn't any semi-official, ongoing national ideology of anti-French nature in American life that parallels French anti-Americanism, something the buggy prof site has repeatedly shown . . . not least in its summary of two recent books by French writers (the links will be given later here). The chief reason? The huge power gap, and increasingly divergent cultural impact. It's lopsided, with the American impact and intrusions into French daily life, for good or bad, without parallel and scarcely any echo of opposite influence in this country.

Consider the evidence. Most Americans know little about the French, and --- until recently --- didn't care about them one way or another unless they happened to be traveling there. Except in some limited intellectual circles, French influence hardly exists; even that doesn't match the impact French art and modernist literature had on American writers and painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As for the recent flurry of anti-French sentiment that emerged in the winter of this year, it was sparked by the French-led effort to construct an explicit blocking coalition with Germany and Russia in the UN Security Council . . . something unique in the history of NATO; maybe even, when you consider it, in the history of alliances, anywhere, any place. Without reinforcement, the anti-French upsurge here is liable, then, to prove transitory . . . however much it caught Americans by surprise who have little understanding of French policies or the one-sided impact of American life and culture in that country. Come to that, it's also full of silly stuff, like changing the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries.

By contrast, for decades now, the French have been obsessed with the US, seen as its major cultural and frequently diplomatic rival in the world for prestige and influence, an obsession that itself has roots in the steady decline of French power, prestige, and influence throughout the 20th century . . . and in power and diplomatic influence, throughout most of the 19th century (with its cultural prestige more vigorous than ever in that era, and justifiably so). The upshot? In French elitist views --- whether left, right, or center --- the decline necessitates a nationalist rallying point, especially given the class and religious divisions (clerical and anti-clericalism, which dominated the 19th century and persisted down until 1945) in the country . . . all the more so because a related theme, voiced especially on the right for most of the 20th century, was that the French had become a decadent, pleasure-loving people who had lost their taste for independence and grandeur and who therefore needed a national mission of greatness to unify the masses and release their energies and taste for glorious collective achievements on the world stage. There's another name for this alleged decadence and supposed indifference of the French masses to glory and grandeur: an identity crisis.

In his memoirs, General de Gaulle is unqualifiedly explicit on this point. "Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certain idée de la France," he begins: "All my life, I've cherished a certain idea of France," --- I'm quoting from memory, not having read his memoirs for decades --- and he goes on to clarify what that idea is: France can only be France when it has missions of prowess and glory in Europe and the world.

An archaic idea? Maybe so, but hardly idiosyncratic . . . even these days. The current foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin --- the author of a biography of Napoleon --- explicitly told the New York Times in an interview this last March 8th (2003) that Napoleon's philosophy was "Victory or death, but glory whatever happens." Villepin then added immediately, "There is not a day that goes by without me feeling the imperious need to remember so as not to yield in the face of indifference, laughter or gibes" in order to "advance further in the name of a French ambition." (See the buggy prof article on this.) Hardly archaic, then, in the mind of the French foreign minister now in office, this in-built urge toward granduer. Or, for that matter, in the mind of the President, Jacque Chirac. As Chirac's latest French biographer, Raphaelle Bacque noted in early 2003, "I think last year's elections convinced him that France was suffering an identity crisis," said Raphaëlle Bacqué, author of the political biography, Chirac or the Demon of Power, published early last year. "So one traditional way of repairing the French identity is to make France exist vis-à-vis the United States, exploiting the undercurrent of anti-Americanism that has always existed here."

 

What Follows?

Essentially this. For decades now, if not longer --- to overcome steady decline, alleged decadence, and domestic cleavages and conflict --- French elites have embraced and pursued a mission of reactive mobilizing nationalism as a rallying ideology, their only point of national unity in a country otherwise badly divided until recently by class, clerical, regional, and ideological cleavages . . . all reflected in abrupt and violent changes of political regime, 15 of them, between 1789 and 1958. Animated by a mixture of resentments, envies, grandiose ambitions, and politically mobilizing aims, such nationalism happens to flourish above all when a specific threat can be identified to national identity or self-esteem. The sources of that threat? In the 19th and early 20th centuries, modified only during the 70 year era of direct German military menace (1870, 1914, 1940), it was Britain and so-called Anglo-Saxon power and commercial culture, with the US increasingly identified in the interwar period as the dominant Anglo-Saxon menace to French identity and culture. (This theme emerges with clarity in a good scholarly treatment of French anti-Americanism that appeared last year in that country, Philippe Roger, L'Ennemi Americain: see the buggy interpretation of this, including a lengthy article by the International Herald Tribune on it and a book by Jean-Francois Revel, L'Obsession anti-americaine.)

Even in the midst of the cold war, President de Gaulle rallied the French to independence against such supposed Anglo-Saxon menaces by twice vetoing Britain's application to join the European Community, 1963 and again in 1967; in 1966, he withdrew France from the integrated military structure of NATO and ordered NATO and US forces off French soil. Nor were Britain, the US, and NATO the only threats. So was the European Community, where integrating momentum was shifting to the Commission. To stop any federalist powers coming under the Commission's purview, he boycotted the Community's Council of Ministers in 1965 and let France return only months later after getting his way. De Gaulle left office in 1969. His influence persisted. In 1973, the French foreign minister, Michel Jobert, said in the course of a long exchange on a two-hour Saturday morning radio program --- apropos of the American threat to France as opposed to the Russian military and diplomatic threat --- that there are, after all, many ways a country of France's greatness can be menaced, and he made no bones as to which menace was really the greater. (The buggy prof, who was at Bordeaux University at the time, listened to the broadcast, whose two narrators --- a Communist who owned a wine chateau and often participated while there, and an ardent Gaullist --- could only reach agreement, politically and ideologically, on this shared theme.)

The theme endures. If anything, it has gained more influence in an era of what the French call American hyper-power. For a recent French view of this, see the buggy prof take on Jean-Francois Revel's L'obsession anti-americaine, along with a translation of its review in Le Monde, the country's most prestigious paper, last fall.

 

The Gaullist Basis of Nationalism Clarified

We've mentioned the influence of General Charles de Gaulle several times so far. It's worth clarifying a moment or two, not least for its enduring impact on French life.

The Origins of Gaullism, the Latest Twist of Nationalist Revivalism

Go back to the immediate years after WWII, during which period the Communist party emerged as the largest political party in the country --- following years of vicious civil war between the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime in WWII and Gaullist and other resistance movements. As the first head of the 4th Republic, de Gaulle saw the need for nationalist revivalism as a critical unifying mission for the country, only to quit power and go into political exile after 1946 when it turned out that the French executive was too weak to pursue the kinds of domestic and foreign policies he cherished. (The 3rd Republic was notorious for having shifting parliamentary coalitions and a weak executive, reminiscent of Italian governments after WWII; and de Gaulle quit office when he found that the 4th Republic would recreate the same weak coalition governments.) In 1958, his self-imposed exile ended. He returned to office as a national savior --- brought to power again only because of a military rebellion by the French army in Algeria, where an inconclusive, bloody colonial war was being waged for years (itself undertaken after the French defeat in another colonial war, that time in Indochina).

Recall briefly some French history here.

Since 1789, the French have experienced 15 abruptly different political systems, all of which were toppled by either revolution or rebellion or military menace, foreign or domestic. The military rebellion of the French army in Algeria in 1958 brought down the 4th Republic, itself created in 1945 only after France was liberated from Nazi occupation and Vichy rule by the US-Canadian-British Normandy invasion (later followed by a US sea-borne invasion on the French Mediterranean coast). The 3rd Republic with its weak coalition governments --- founded in the mid-1870s after the French loss in the Franco-Prussian war earlier in the decade --- had collapsed in 1940 as a result of another French defeat inflicted by German arms, a result of bad planning and generalship, not inferior arms. As for the Vichy Regime, which emerged in 1940 as a national savior regime headed by another former French general, Marshall Petain --- the hero of WWI --- it was a direct response to the German invasion and occupation; and its legitimacy and collaboration with Nazi Germany were contested by de Gaulle and his small forces that took refuge in Britain immediately afterwards, setting off a four-year civil war between the regime and Gaullist and internal resistance forces. (There's a very good film on the subject by Louis Malle, Lacombe Lucien, that came out in 1973. An excellent documentary on life during the Vichy era, until then practically taboo in the French media, was made by Marcel Opuls, The Sorrow and The Pity, which appeared two years earlier. About the same time, the pathbreaking work of Robert Paxton of Columbia, The Vichy Regime, appeared in a French translation and overturned three decades of apologetic historiography. The taboos in the French media of divisive subjects for the public run deep in French history. No TV documentary or drama of the Dreyfus affair, which split the country in half at the start of the 20th century, appeared until 1978. No showing of Stanley Kubrick's great film of WWI --- about the mutiny of French soldiers tired of being massacred in futile headlong assaults of German barbed wire and machine guns --- was permitted between 1957 and 1974.)

The political signficance of all this?

In the course of a mere 19 years, between 1939 and 1945, France would experience 4 major, violence-induced changes in its political system, all of them a result of military challenges to the existing regime. No other West European country has experienced such abrupt alterations in such a short time --- not even the Italians or the Germans. (It's worth recalling here that the Nazi triumph in 1933 had nothing to do with military maneuvering, rather the outcome of an electoral process in the Weimar Republic and the decisions of existing political elites to let Hitler take power after the Nazis had emerged as the largest party in the country.)

 

Further Instability in the Early 5th Republic

And there's more background here that has to be grasped if French anti-Americanism as a nationalist rallying ideology is to be understood.

In particular, after de Gaulle returned to power in 1958, political stability didn't materialize in the country for five years. The French military threatened to rebel again in early 1960, this time seeking to topple de Gaulle; he himself became the target of a new military rebellion a couple of years later, which was then followed by about a dozen assassination attempts on his life (brought vividly to the cinema in the film, The Day of the Jackal, based on the book of the same title by a British novelist, Frederick Forthsyte). France itself was an armed camp during the period between 1959 and 1962, with every public building in Paris protected by sandbags and armed Gendarmes and CRS para-military forces with machine-gun emplacements . . . a sight I encountered dozens of times daily when I lived in the country off and on in those days. In the early 1960s, huge protests against the Algerian war were launched in Paris and other cities. During one such protest that the buggy prof, then a student in Britain, witnessed first-hand (the fall of 1961), several thousand French Gendarmes and CRS riot police attacked a huge crowd in the streets of the Latin Quarter; the next morning, well over a hundred corpses were found floating in the Seine river nearby. No parliamentary investigation was carried out at the time. The police, examining itself, could find no explanation. Only in the late 1990s, decades later, did a parliamentary committee begin to investigate what had happened: the police had brutally murdered dozens of people, mostly Algerians, in the crowd.

Only gradually, by the mid-1960s, did French stability return. To strengthen the executive power of the presidency, General de Gaulle --- elected to the post in 1958 only by a narrow electorate of senators and notables --- decided to hold a referendum that urged universal suffrage for the office. The Conseil d'etat, the French equivalent of our Supreme Court, declared that the referendum violated the 5th Republic's Constitution. No matter. General de Gaulle never bothered about constitutional fine points, any more than French presidents since, especially the socialist Francois Mitterand (1981-1995) and the conservative-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (1995- ), both up to their necks in corruption, can be held accountable by judicial or parliamentary investigation in that country, something the three examining magistrates into Chirac's well-known corruption admitted to in the spring of 2002: there are, it turned out they said, two laws in France, one for ordinary Frenchmen, another for the powerful. The referendum passed, and a powerful presidency with huge emergency powers and exclusive control of foreign and security policies has marked the 5th Republic ever since.

 

Further Traumas: the Upheavals of 1968

The previous paragraph is misleading. It refers to the "return of stability" in the mid-1960s, and that's true enough --- but only in a specific sense: the threat of military rebellion by the French army and related terrorism on French soil disappeared. Domestically, however, the 5th Republic was no sooner consolidated with the end of this threat and the Algerian war --- plus de Gaulle's transformation of the presidency to universal election --- than domestic conflicts, always a rancorous repetitive problem in French life since 1789, erupted and threatened the foundations of the Republic. That was in 1968. What happened was that big protests by radicalized university students --- which involved increasingly violent demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere, met by assaults of the Gendarmes and CRS and municipal police --- were eventually joined by a nation-wide strike of French workers in both the private and public spheres, including seizures of factories. For several weeks in the summer of 1968, France again moved toward a new revolutionary upheaval: just as it had in the 1790s, 1830, 1849, and 1871. De Gaulle himself, on a foreign trip, had to return pell-mell to France to salvage the regime.

It did survive. De Gaulle's rule itself didn't: next year, to try further conslidating the Republic with a new referendum on certain parts of the electoral system, he found himself defeated and resigned. Though his successors have lived with a more tranquil France since then, they lived for the first two decades with a traumatic fear --- no exaggeration --- that a return to 1968 couldn't be ruled out. And once again, to restore and harden national unity in a badly divided country --- where ideological divisions modified after 1982 and the failure of the Mitterand radical socialist era --- French elites have resorted to the tom-tom of French grandeur and prestige, with a strongly related beat about American menaces.

Again, a sentence in the previous paragraph needs to be qualified: the claim that ideological differences were moderating after 1982, when President Mitterand --- an even more corrupt Socialist President between 1981 and 1995 than the conservative Gaullist Jacques Chirac since (Mitterand's associates were up-to-their-necks in corruption and his son, a weapons salesman, emerged a billionaire in that era) --- decided to retreat from his radical economic and social policies and move toward the center of the political spectrum, with heavy doses of grandeur as compensation. At the start of the Presidential election of 2002, French political life was again polarizing . . . related to disillusion on the left with the tepid reforms of the Socialist-Communist-Green Cabinet led by Lionel Jospin, to frustration on the right with economic blockage and slow economic growth, and to growing disenchantment everywhere in France with high unemployment and alarmist fears about globalization, pressures to change a rigid statist-dominated status quo, and unblock rigid labor markets. The French usually fear change; anxiety is almost a national sport there, on a recurring basis. Chirac himself publicly referred to the fact that the French "weren't happy in their being".

 



The results of this new polarizing threat were on display, shockingly so, in the first round of the Presidential election, late April of 2002.

Chirac emerged as the candidate of the right, to no one's surprise. To widespread shock, though, the extremist right-wing leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen --- a Jew-baiting anti-Muslim hater, whose only similarity with the rest of the French political elites is a vocally shared anti-Americanism (plus anti-EU sentiment on the far right and far left) --- beat out Lionel Jospin, the moderate socialist, winning 18% or so of the vote. Nor was that all. Radical leftist parties also won about another 15%, resulting in a total of about a third of the French electorate swerving toward the extreme. As we noted earlier, de Gaulle's most recent biographer found that Chirac's response --- when he won the second round ("Votez l'escroc, pas le facho" said the left: vote for the crook, not the fascist) --- was to intensify the standard anti-Americanism coupled with a call to grandeur and French prancing on the global scene.

The strategy, it has to be said, has worked . . . to an extent. Last spring, the French-led efforts to block the US-UK war against Saddmite Iraq led to unpredented national rallying to Chirac and the new conservative Cabinet. Chirac was hailed as a great statesman, the man who had brought France back to center-stage in international life while saving the world from Bushite belligerence . . . or at least containing it. Even the worrying growth of the French Muslim population --- Europe's largest, and increasingly alienated and angry and tending toward fundamentalism and support for terrorism (including against the small French Jewish community: 500- 600,000 vs. about 6 million Muslims if you include the likely number of illegals) --- was overcome momentarily in the nationalist effusion.

 

But only, note, "to an extent."

The French are angry and unhappy again, polarizing once more. Even moderate efforts to reform the rigid statist-controlled economy, including an extension of the retirement age for public-sector workers, provoked waves of strikes last June . . . halted only when the six-week summer vacs then began. The French public, rightly, seems to suspect that this reform is only the first of several unsettling changes in the rigid status quo. Meanwhile, unemployment is rising above 10% again --- with another 15% or so of Frenchmen (largely youth, kept forever in universities as phantom students or supported briefly, without long-term results, by government-supported training programs; and GDP growth next year will likely be mediocre too, or so predicts the IMF. Nor is that all. The shocking deficiencies of the French health service this summer --- when 12,000 or more elderly French perished in a heat-wave while the President luxuriated on vacation in Canada, and the rest of the elites cavorted on the Riviera or in mountain retreats --- have caused further surges of discontent and worry, with massive disbelief, discontent, and anxiety on the rise again.

The 12,000 deaths need some perspective. France is a country of 57 million or so; the US about 300 million. The equivalent figure here would be 60,000 dead Americans . . . more than the total number of US soldiers who died in a decade of combat in Vietnam. No wonder the public there was shocked; we would be too. By contrast, read the French press, and you'd think that the recent deaths of 150 American soldiers --- not defenseless sick old civilians left to die by their relatives, usually in understaffed hospitals with no air-conditioning as temperatures soared above 100 degrees for weeks --- was an American calamity that underscores the folly of American policy in Iraq. Eighty times the number of Frenchmen died in about a month there, and in American terms that'd be 400 times greater. Good luck finding some perspective of this sort in the French media . . . when it doesn't stop gloating over American troubles in Iraq.

And as the national tradition of protest, jitters about the future, fretful discontent, and polarization emerge again in France, what has happened? The resort, predictably, to nationalist revivalism, the tom-tom beating for national unity faced with the national foe . . . by decades for now, the United States. Yes, there can be legitimate differences between the US and French governments in foreign policy. Nobody denies that, unusual as it is for an ally (with the German government briefly in tow) not just to disagree with two powerful allied governments on an issue that they were willing to go to war on, but to organize, systematically, a blocking-coalition in the UN Security Council. But French resistance to the US goes much further --- exaggerates and multiplies these differences --- for domestic reasons that we have little or no influence over. To say as Thomas Friedman has this last week --- the ordinarily level-headed moderate op-ed columnist for the New York Times --- that France is "not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy" --- may be going too far. An enemy would be organizing not just a blocking-coalition, but an armed alliance presumably.

Still, it's a sign of how even those who have been critical of the post-Iraqi policies of the Bush administration --- Friedman vocal on this point at times --- can say such things.

 

Final Observation: Has the Buggy Prof Exaggerated French Animosity?

No . . . not on the elite level of French life: meaning the political class, the top administrators, the media types, and the intellectuals. Whether that's the case of the average French public is another matter. At times, anti-Americanism is popular, other times it's less so; and attitudes captured in opinion polls show ups and downs . . . though hardly fondness. (Actually, polls show the French don't like anybody else very much, even in the EU; or for that matter, at times, one another.) In any case, anti-Americanism as an ideology seems confined to elitist circles. Somebody, after all --- most of the public presumably --- likes seeing American films (more popular that the homegrown stuff) and American television, listening to American music, and eating at MacDonald's sufficiently to keep 1000 MacDonald restaurants flourishing there.

As for the elite, it shapes foreign policy more than the public does. And on that level, it's worth recalling the buggy translation of Le Monde's review last fall of Jean-Francois Revel's, L'Obession americaine. Remember it appeared last fall, before the conflict broke out over how to deal with Saddamite Iraq.

No way to escape it: Whether in newspapers, on television or radio, or just gossip at the local café, you're bound to hear America slammed. Since 9/11, paradoxically, the slamming's got worse . . . almost everywhere, but singularly in France itself, where all sorts of busy hands specialize in this genre of assault. As is apparent, the gripes of the anti-Americans are numerous: "a capitalist country, it gets rich daily by daily impoverishing the rest of the world; imperialist too, its leaders plot systematically to extend its economic and military domination around the world; egomaniacal, it is concerned only with its own interests whether or not that jeopardizes the rest of the world. It gets worse. Fascist too, its government is busy introducing systematic censorship and limits on democratic life everywhere, not just in the US itself, all the while manipulating others with chicaneries and violence. And vulgar in the extreme, it strives to impose its uniform, repulsive entertainment upon everyone else, etc. etc." True, you usually don't hear the anti-American tittle-tattle puts so brutally. The experts in anti-Americanism like to finesse their brutal stuff: by allusions, hints, and a variety of other stratagems. Always, though --- whatever the topic --- the source of all the evils and misery of the world can be reduced in their view to Americans.

With pugnacious and intelligent verve of an unusual sort, Jean-Francois Revel --- "a philosopher by training, and well-known journalist" [the buggy prof's insertion] --- tears into each of these anti-American obsessions, one by one, showing how they exaggerate, distort, and obfuscate. His first aim: show how idiotic and false these obsessive attacks on America are . . . not an easy undertaking, mind you; what with the ponderous resistances that anti-Americans in France rely on, falling back willingly, deliberate, on one after another in order to rest secure in their ignorance. Oddly, though accurate information about the US and American life is easily accessible, the real truths about American life are systematically brushed aside by the true-believing American-haters in order to sustain their faith that whatever is wrong with the world, the US is responsible for it. Not that Revel finds the US without problems or blemishes: the US can be criticized fairly on a number of counts . . . but only fairly too if the US's numerous successes are weighed against its drawbacks. In the end, French anti-Americanism is an ideology, nothing less: hostile by nature to the US, blind to anything that contradicts its pious fundamentals, indifferent even to the incoherent amalgam of contradictory claims it heaps together.

Take the critics of globalization: for Revel, the only way countries develop is under the impact of globalizing forces and the growth of the American economy, and the stuff that these influences impoverish the developing world is poppycock. As for the ardent ultra-green fanatics, Revel reminds them that none of the 177 countries that have signed the treaty, four years after its introduction, has applied it in the last 18 months. The informed observer, moreover, would stress how much important environmental research --- the best in the world --- is undertaken by Americans, even as the systematic destruction of the Soviet Union's environment left almost everyone indifferent during the cold war. Under Revel's microscope, the pacifist movement doesn't emerge any better: the US went to war with Iraq in 1991 only after Iraq had attacked and occupied Kuwait; the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were what drove the US to destroy Taliban Afghanistan . . . all facts ignored or downplayed by the anti-Americans, who manage in their ideology to distort history and transform American self-defense into American aggression.

Revel's decisive argument is to argue that it's Europe ---and it alone --- that created colonialism in the 19th century, the world wars of the 20th century, and the various totalitarianisms that we call fascism, Nazism, and communism. For all that America's adversaries like to claim that it isn't even democratic, it has never produced any dictatorships --- a truth with two upshots. The global dominance of the US doesn't derive from just its own efforts; the foolhardiness and failures of all the other powers have also contributed to it. And the main function of anti-Americanism for those who profess it so ardently is that they then don't need to face up to their own responsibilities for their countries' weaknesses.

The will not-to-know here has accentuated since that attacks of 9/11: hence all the rabble-rousing hokum afoot that sees the US as responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, essentially --- in the view of its adversaries --- nothing more than a justified riposte to its quest for global dominance. To claim this, Revel notes vigorously, is to ignore that the Islamist terrorists weren't attacking just the rich, but all Westerners as impious and impure idolators --- secular, democratic, exponents of free expression and women's rights and equality. Their goal is ideological, not economic, and hence to plead for economic development as the solution to terrorism is not just to sidetrack effective anti-terrorist activities, but to see the whole terrorist threat in fantasy terms.

Given the scope and virulence of anti-Americanism these days, this brave, clear-sighted book will likely provoke instant repugnance in numerous intellectual circles. Not that Jean-Francois Revel will care, preferring as he does hard truths and rigor to all sorts of illusions and blinkered anti-Americanism. When you get down to it, isn't that why we should honor truth-seeking intellectuals? "

--- Roger-Pol Droit


Replies: 5 comments

If there is any country in the world that takes itself more seriously than the United States, it is France. Herein lies the source of French animosity. Though they see their country as being better than America (more cultured, more historically rich, more correct philosphically), they are constantly assaulted by displays of American power and wealth that dwarf their own. This creates a conspicuous disparity between the international prestige and rank that they feel they deserve and what they actually have. After all, if they are a better nation than the US, why does the US have all the money, power, etc? Basically, the French envy the ease with which we can display, project, and use our power and status around the world because they feel that should be their job. Political differences are not the source of French animosity towards the US, but rather a creation of it, as proud France seeks eternally to distinguish itself from being in our shadow and display its superiority in any way they can. Following the same path as the Americans is, for the French, submission to them.

Posted by Gordon Silliker @ 09/24/2003 04:35 PM PST

Great piece. Enlightening. Next time around would you comment on what effect if any the changing population demographics i.e. increasing percent of Muslims , plays in French policy .

SWS

THE BUGGY RESPONSE

Steve:

Thanks for the comment --- and the earlier ones. Some previous buggy prof articles have dealt with the rapidly growing Muslim community in the EU, not just in France --- about 15-20 million in all, very young, increasingly fundamentalist and alienated, lots of violent crime alas --- and compared it with the US's far smaller Muslim population and far better educated, employed, and assimilated. There are about 2 - 3 million Muslims here, according to two independent expert surveys carried out two years ago, and they have on average a higher level of education and income than Americans in general. There are scarcely any signs of alienation . . . most either Asian Muslims or, since the 1970s, a Arab Muslims in origin. (Most Arab-Americans, note, are Christian, and have been here for generations.)

Given the low birth rates of native Europeans in the EU --- not high enough to maintain existing population levels over the next two generations (as the Europeans age swiftly, like the Japanese, with Americans aging far more slowly and hence less likely to experience the burdens of supporting a dependent, elderly population living on pensions) --- Muslims will swiftly grow in number, quite apart from illegal immigration itself. The growth of fundamentalism, sympathies among the young for terrorism in the Middle East (though not necessarily Al Qaeda itself), high unemployment, school failure, and crime in these communities --- with predictable backlashes among the native European populations (a major reason for the populist breakthroughs in the political systems, up and down in numbers, in Austria, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, France, and Italy --- the growth of social conflicts will likely intensify in West Europe. In the process, what has helped create the large welfare-state systems in the EU --- a sense of ethnic and national solidarity after WWII, after two centuries of ruinous ethnic and racial conflicts, class conflicts, clerical and anti-clerical struggles, and extremist ideologies (save in Britain, Holland, Scandinavia, and Switzerland) --- will likely diminish too. Already, all over the EU, there are outcries against welfare-mooching by foreign immigrants and immigrant-communities into the second and third generation as residents.

France, by the way, has the largest Muslim population --- officially, 5 million (about 8-9%); probably closer to 7 million with illegals and problems of deciding who's a Muslim. For a buggy prof take on this --- which appeared in gordon-newspost, which the buggy website has replaced since late January 2003 --- see https://mail.lsit.ucsb.edu/pipermail/gordon-newspost/2002-February/002162.html.

For comparisons with the US Muslim population, see gordon-newspost in early 2002 too: https://mail.lsit.ucsb.edu/pipermail/gordon-newspost/2002-May/002424.html

On the growing cultural conflicts in France where young Muslim girls are seeking to wear headscarfs to school --- the French public school system militantly secular and anti-clercial since its creation in the 1880s (originally fighting Catholic Church cultural and political influence, the Church arrayed against the 3rd Republic between 1875 and 1902 when it was dis-established) --- see a British view by a psychiatrist who is a good social observer, has lived in France, and writes frequently in a variety of publications: Theodore Dalrymple , http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_4_23_03td.html.

On growing anti-Semitism in France --- fueled in fairly large part by Islamist fundamentalism among the young, but also on the far right and far left --- see another gordon-newspost article that goes back to early 2002: https://mail.lsit.ucsb.edu/pipermail/gordon-newspost/2002-February/002170.html By March and April of 2002, there were hundreds of reported assaults on Jewish cultural centers, synagogues, elderly Jewish pedestrians, and Jews in general by Muslim thugs. The government denied any serious problem was going on. The Presidential and parliamentary elections no doubt played a role in this, along with sheer denial as a psychological mechanism. It's only fair to point out that after the parliamentary elections were finished in June 2002, the conservative government appointed a very tough Minister of Interior, in charge of the police and domestic security, and he has taken an unstinting stand against these racist outbreaks and violence.

On tendencies that were evident in France during the run-up to the Iraqi war this March to appease the Muslim population in that country, see the buggy prof article on it this April: http://www.thebuggyprofessor.org/archives/00000074.php

Posted by Steve Shea @ 09/23/2003 01:53 PM PST

What follows is Mr. Turner's comments, then the buggy response.

The Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten on US and French stereotypes of one another is indeed hilarious, and your refresh of recent French history most excellent. As an Englishman living on the Côte d'Azur I am frequently amused by the "sound and fury signifying nothing" that makes up most of French politics. On all this, your article was right on the money.

However I think I should point out that a large part of the reason why so many people died in the heat wave was due to the lack of filial attention by the French general public themselves. It is true that the government could (and should) have issued more warnings about the forecast heatwave and could have forced more doctors and nurses to take their vacation at a different time of the year, but that is by no means the whole story. Many French families buggered off on their congées (vacs) leaving their aged and infirm relatives behind and utterly failed to take any responsibility for their well-being. Indeed there were numerous stories of families being unreachable by hospital who wished to report the death of relatives as well as those cheerful stories of the dead being discovered by the family on its return home and/or the smell of decomposition annoying the neighbours. Very few of the casualties suffered from much more than heatstroke and dehydration, both of which are easy to cure by lying in bed and drinking water. Doctors and nurses are not exactly necessary nor, though it would shock the French pharmacists that there are pills they can dispense that are more advanced that some vitamins and mineral salts. However what they do need is a bit of care and attention such as having someone go shopping for them and remind them to drink etc. Admitting this would unfortunately require the French to admit that the government cannot solve all problems and that individuals should take some personal responsibility for their nearest and dearest.

MR. TURNER: Good comments: please see the next article, where they're reproduced, along with the buggy response.

Posted by Francis Turner @ 09/23/2003 06:37 AM PST

Definitely a radical right troll in moderate clothing. Blame it all on Paul Krugman.... Troll.

Posted by Ari @ 09/18/2003 02:03 PM PST

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Posted by Laura in DC @ 09/17/2003 03:09 PM PST