April 14, 2005
France: a riddle in a mystery inside an enigmaBy Thomas Lifson
I was just about ready to give up on the French. Again. But this morning I am pausing to wonder if there might be some hope for their redemption.
France presents many dilemmas for me. Despite all the reasons they have given us to dislike them, there are many aspects of French society and culture I find quite admirable. Their devotion to art and beauty, for example. They take the trouble to make their public buildings and spaces, indeed their cities, attractive to the eye. They believe that by cultivating a taste for the finest art and music you can actually improve yourself and live a more satisfying life. Not every person or every aspect of their culture lives up to this ideal, of course. Far from it. But at least they make an effort in that direction, or at least feel something is wrong if they don't expose their children to Mozart.
And despite the widening gap between France and America in economic and technological progress, there are some things that the French do very well indeed. While America embraced the foolish fantasy that nuclear power generation would lead to disaster, the French set about pragmatically developing an economical and safe nuclear power industry. Today, one of their biggest exports is nuclear—generated electricity which they sell in large quantity to their European neighbors.
Similarly, the French passenger railways are an example to the world of how this highly—efficient transportation system can be not just maintained but improved with new technologies. By integrating their high speed TGV train system with their air transport network, they have enabled the public to get around easily and quickly without resort to automobile. It's not perfect,��but it is a lot easier for a traveler from New York to get to Lille via Charles De Gaulle Airport, say, than for his French counterpart to traverse JFK Airport on his way to Hartford.
But the French have not dealt very well with the nearly 2 full centuries of eclipse, since Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo, and les Anglophones ascended to absolute domination of the world's military, economic, and cultural spheres. Political instability, military failure, pretentious arrogance, and a willingness to shake hands with devils ranging from Hitler to the Iranian mullahs have marked France's desperate attempts to maintain the fiction that it is a leading nation of the world, and provide peace and prosperity for its citizens.
On a regular basis, the French say and do self—evidently preposterous things, all the while publicly maintaining their superior wisdom and virtue. Things like denouncing American 'unilateralism' in Iraq while dispatching French (and French—only) troops to the Ivory Coast to protect its citizens' considerable investment in that former colony. Or making a bestseller of a book claiming that the crash of civilian airliner into the Pentagon was a hoax.
All with a straight face. Not even a hint of Gallic irony.
Then there was the attempt to repeal the laws of economics by imposing a strict limit on working hours to only 35 per week per person, complete with intrusive overtime police, checking to make certain everyone went home on time. The entire enterprise, intended to increase employment on the theory that employers would hire more workers to supply the working hours lost to regulation, had to be humiliatingly abandoned, to the mirth of every sane, economically literate observer.
In order to think well of themselves, it seems, the French need to demonize the United States. So, as the cafes and boulangeries of their cities close down, one by one, in the face of a faster pace of life and the availability of more economical alternatives, it becomes the fault of Americans, and McDonalds restaurants are fire—bombed. As French wine exports fall in the face of better and cheaper wine from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and — humiliatingly — the United States, and as the French themselves discover that a lot of the plonk they produce isn't worth drinking and turn to beer, soft drinks, and other beverages, they protest the attempt of an American winery to develop vineyards in Languedoc, a region mostly overlooked by the wine snobs.
But today comes the startling news that the French government has decided to honor the cultural contributions of Bruce Willis with its highest cultural award, induction in the French Order of Arts and Letters.��
'The French culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, said the award paid tribute to an actor whose work 'epitomizes the strength of American cinema, the power of the emotions that he invites us to share on the world's screens, and the sturdy personalities of his legendary characters.'
'Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres said that the actor's roles could not be reduced to a simple struggle between good and evil, yet he added, 'You really have killed a lot of bad guys.'"
Mr. Willis is not just an American, not just a movie hero figure whose character never hesitates to unilaterally take on the bad guys with guns (!), he is a member of one of the world's smallest clubs, Hollywood Republicans. And the French culture minister is honoring him?
Maybe I was wrong about the French. Maybe they really are as subtle and nuanced as they would have us believe. Perhaps it is all a matter of irony upon irony, far beyond anything Seinfeld ever attempted.
Or else the French origins of the word 'hypocrite' are entirely appropriate.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker