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Europe
Doubts tearing France apart
2003-10-13
Even the French think they suck.
An orgy of breast-beating in print claims the French ’piss off the planet’, Paul Webster reports from Paris.
At the FNAC Etoile in Paris, more a multi-storey literary warehouse than a bookshop, the shelves are buckling under the weight of ammunition for a political and social war. With titles such as French Arrogance, Falling France and French Disarray, this is heavy-calibre weaponry that is being trained on France’s political elite in a war that has broken out over the very soul of the country. Launched against a background of top-level disillusionment with Europe, accelerating unemployment rates, spectacular company failures and a stagnant economy, the books — by some of France’s leading social commentators — have added an incendiary factor to popular protests over reforms that could end the 35-hour week, cut social security benefits and introduce across-the-board austerity.
Maybe they should have Woody Allen say something?
Having recently emerged battered from national education strikes and months of street demonstrations over reduced retirement benefits, Jacques Chirac’s administration is looking on with dismay at media encouragement for right-wing intellectual claims that France is now the weak man of Europe, mired in hypocrisy nationally and internationally, indifferent to popular needs such as care of the aged, and shaken by the aftershocks of vain defiance of the US-led war in Iraq. In short, that France is going down the pan.
"Vain" is such an interesting word.
’Reading these books, France is in agony, powerless and irretrievably condemned to decline,’ Dominique de Villepin, the suave but widely mistrusted Foreign Minister, complained over two pages in Le Monde last week, comparing today’s prophets of doom to anti-republicans who collaborated with the Nazis.
Somehow, the guys with the brown shirts always pop up when you've been argued into a corner, don't they?
Equally piqued by France’s depiction is the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who sought out America’s Time magazine to complain about state-educated French intellectuals ’scrutinising French society while perched on the summit of a pyramid’ and obsessed with ’declinism’. And it is a pretty bleak picture, even by the account of the most rational of the ’declinists’, Alain Duhamel, whose lugubrious face haunts every TV channel and serious newspaper column and charges that the country has been struck down by an ’insidious evil’. ’French democracy, the political balance and even the nation’s personality are at risk,’ he writes in Le Désarroi français.
Oh, no! Not the nation's personality! But he's right. He means they've gone from being a happy, outgoing, tolerant folk, fond of music, poetry and dancing, to being sullen and quick-tempered, nursing old grudges as they pore over their geneologies. Somehow they traded personalities with the Spaniards, who can be expected to make better boulliabaise any time now...
It is an argument bolstered by Nicolas Baverez, a historian and free-market evangelist and author of La France qui tombe, who in only 134 pages trots out a thousand historical and contemporary statistics to claim that France is paralysed by ’economic, political, social and intellectual immobility and is plunging towards decline’. Both pale into insignificance alongside L’Arrogance française, where the journalist authors, Romain Gubert and Emmanuel Saint-Martin, state:
With our sermons, our empty gestures and our poetic flights, we (the French) have pissed off the planet. Worse: we make them laugh. It’s a sickness to which French people are addicted — believing that France must offer the world Light, Law and Liberty; that their leaders are the carriers of a universal message.
Arguments on the inevitability of French decline are based on three premises: chaotic history up to the end of decolonisation, the domestic mess caused by lost opportunies and mistaken choices since 1970; and, finally, the months following Chirac’s re-election in May 2002 with 82 per cent of the vote which has been followed by some of the worst economic statistics since the war, and an admission by Raffarin that the country is in recession. Since Agincourt, they say, French rulers have been repeatedly trapped by overconfidence. Napoleon in Moscow in 1812, his nephew at Sedan in 1870, and the Third Republic in 1940.
Three for three means yer out...
They point to a national tendency for self-immolation — the Terror, the Paris Commune, and Vichy — before going on to dissect the consequences of reckless decisions by all-powerful Presidents of the Fifth Republic, De Gaulle and Mitterrand among them, a tradition that they claim is pursued by Chirac. In this they argue that, blinded by their unchallengeable status at home, French Presidents stumble into their own diplomatic and social ambushes constructed with the help of a state-educated elite from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, ENA. But none admits his mistakes or apologises for appalling, almost comical, blunders typified by the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, by hapless frogmen in 1985.
Ummm... I thought that was one of the things they did right?
And it is the suave De Villepin who is mocked with iconoclastic vigour for his vanity in L’Arrogance française, as a cypher for this state-moulded super-class and who is never forced to admit being wrong. And it is De Villepin who is blamed in particular for persuading a malleable President to take such an uncompromising stand on Iraq although other advisers correctly warned of the long-term damage of taking no account of US hegemony and offending the emerging EU Eastern bloc.
Dominique is also a part of French tradition of Gray Eminences...
It is not just the elites that come in for criticism; by implication it is the considerable number of ordinary Frenchmen who have put their faith in the rural campaigner, José Bové, a neo-Poujadist. Much of this wave of populism, say the declinists, is fed by an insistence of both Left and Right on l’exception française, a modern form of chauvinism in which legal fences are built around French language and culture.
It is an ’exception’ that is mocked in L’Arrogance française as a hallucinatory drug that spills over into all facets of life from haute cuisine to the heavily subsidised and introverted cinema industry.
Competing without any opponent is always easier. But even in La Belle France, great lovers who practice only upon themselves must eventually perform with someone else...
It is all pretty apocalyptic stuff. But in one respect the declinists may be right: that their political masters seem somewhat blinkered to the way in which many, from the Murdoch press to the Bush White House, regard La Belle France. And it is De Villepin who is most exposed in this regard. ’Abroad,’ he writes in his answer to declinists: ’France rests a pole of thought and culture, a major economic, military and political power.’
Yeah, they’re a "pole" all right...
Posted by:tu3031

#13  Mike need I remind that recuctant help you refer to has been repaid 3times over 1)WW1,2)WW2,3)Cold war.

If the help France sent the American Revolutionaries bankrupted France then thier economy was in the toliet anyway.
Posted by: Raptor   2003-10-14 9:25:29 AM  

#12  Yeah Umm, OK France is about ready to implode--a country that was driving the Moors outta Spain when the US was just an idea.
The demise of France is so often predicted but never happens despite wishful thinking on the part of right wing idealogues who hate France just because of their social welfare system and independent world view--as a proud American--who will NEVER forget what they did for us in our struggle to throw the British yoke off of our neck, bankrupting themselves in the process I say "Vive la France"
Posted by: Not Mike Moore   2003-10-13 11:22:59 PM  

#11  The French and Germans are sinking the Euro too.
Posted by: Ptah   2003-10-13 9:23:36 PM  

#10  Faster Please.
Posted by: Shipman   2003-10-13 6:31:30 PM  

#9  You want the Duke of Marlborough to beat you up?
Posted by: Fred   2003-10-13 2:26:49 PM  

#8  So "doubt" is collapsing Latinized-Germania? Then maybe its certain that their social-economic models are untenable. I volunteer to rule the Gallic entity with great skill. But I want everything that Louis XIV got.
Posted by: Imam Hotep Bejesus   2003-10-13 2:09:24 PM  

#7  DeVillepin: comparing today’s prophets of doom to anti-republicans who collaborated with the Nazis.

How's the State of Denial? Don't discuss the reasons for your decline, or whether your policies are right or wrong, just break out the pencil and fill in the Hitler moustache on your opponents. It's easy!

Oh, yeah: "Now batting for the French, New Republic, # 6".
Posted by: Raj   2003-10-13 12:25:02 PM  

#6  Old Patriot, our friends are in trouble. I think the malaise is isolated to the Left Bank in Paris mostly. We came to the aid of Berlin; now its off to Paris. We'll need 5 C-130's of Zoloft... Hey, they could use some couseling from Dr Phil... Also lets see what Tom McClintock is doing. He had a plan for California that is struggling with excessive union benefits and such. Maybe he can help out in France.
Posted by: Super Hose   2003-10-13 12:24:40 PM  

#5  "Yo, Dominique! I tinks I got yer pole right here, baby!"
Posted by: .com   2003-10-13 12:20:32 PM  

#4  ...sinking of the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, by hapless frogmen in 1985.

The frogmen did something useful in the last quarter century! Break out the booze!
Posted by: Charles   2003-10-13 12:02:15 PM  

#3  French "decline" is a myth - they never were that high to begin with. They have considered themselves the top dog since Charlemagne, regardless of history's verdict. One of these days, they'll get a clue, but I won't hold my breath.
Posted by: Old Patriot   2003-10-13 12:00:11 PM  

#2  wonder how long before the hard-working Poles pass them in income, GDP, and productivity?
Posted by: Frank G   2003-10-13 10:35:42 AM  

#1  And ChIrak is an asshole to boot.
Posted by: Atrus   2003-10-13 10:33:03 AM  

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