Sunday, May 06, 2007

It is time to stop the French jokes 

Is Francophobia on its way "out"? Perhaps it ought to be.

The French have elected Nicolas Sarkozy, who promises to be the most avowedly pro-American president of France's Fifth Republic. The following is from the introduction to Sarkozy's campaign book Testimony, with my occasional annotation:

France's friendship with the United States is an important and lasting part of its history. I stand by this friendship, I'm proud of it, and I have no intention of apologizing for feeling an affinity with the greatest democracy in the world. It goes without saying that this friendship does not prevent either side from making its own assessments and taking independent action. And since this goes without saying, I don't feel it necessary to run around chanting it every chance I get. It often seems to me that the more you assert your independence with words, the less independent you are in reality.

France and America are bound together by unbreakable historical links. People often forget that the Revolutionary War, which led to the creation of the United States, was long and difficult, and that its outcome was uncertain for some time. But France was right htere at America's side for the decisive battle of Yorktown in 1781, and it was a young Frenchman, Lafayette, who led the final attack on the English camp. [The French navy's victory over the British off the Virginia coast represented the only victory of the French over the British during the entire 18th century. - ed.] Without French support, history might well have followed a different path, one that would have been less favorable for the development of human freedom. ["Sarko" conveniently omits Napoleon III's invasion of Mexico in 1863, which was calculated to gain leverage on the United States while it was divided by civil war. The victory of the Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo may have saved us from intervening French perfidy. But let's cut Mr. Sarkozy some slack -- all politicians take liberties with history to make their point, and his point is ultimately gratifying. - ed.]

In the twentieth century, it was America's turn to protect France's freedom on several occasions. In 1917 and again in 1944 hundreds of thousands of young Americans crossed the Atlantic to pull Europe back from the verge of collective suicide. The French cannot forget that it was the Americans who liberated them from Nazi barbarity and who put an end to the bloodletting that this regime inflicted on the whole of Europe. For the forty years that followed the war, during which another kind of totalitarianism -- communism -- engulfed Eastern Europe, it was the military alliance with the United States that enable France and Western Europe to preserve their freedom. After centuries of hatred, after the Holocaust, European nations embarked upon one of the most ambitious projects of their common history: to create a zone of peace, unity, and solidarity. The United States was always at the forefront of this project, supporting it politically and financing it with the Marshall Plan, which protected Europe from Communist imperialism.

I am particularly sensitive to this gift of liberty in several ways: as a Frenchman, as a political leader who has always worked to promote freedom, and finally as a son who wants to honor his father, who settled in France in 1948 after fleeing Communist Hungary.

France and America, then, stood side by side to defeat the two deadliest forms of totalitarianism in world history. And now at the start of the twenty-first century, the United States and France again stand together in the same camp against a serious threat to global freedom. It was the United States that was attacked by Islamist terrorists on September 11, 2001, but it could just as easily have been France. Indeed, many French citizens died that day in the Twin Towers. Terrorists do not distinguish among free societies. They want to destroy ot subjugate them all, without distinction.

Every time that terrorism strikes -- whether in New York, Madrid, Beslan, Tel Aviv, Casablanca, Amman, or London -- it is freedom that is the target. Facing such a threat, free countries have no choice but to pool their forces and work together....

This book presents my analysis of the difficulties France faces. It outlines my proposals for putting France back on the path toward economic growth, social justice, and modernity. [What, exactly, is "modernity" code for, in this context? - ed.] And it addresses many of the common domestic, international, economic, and social challenges that advances democracies like France and the United States must confront.

I know my country well enough to know that certain aspects of American society would never suit France. I am proud, for example, that France devotes a large part of its resources to provide a social safety net for those who have the least. I believe that the possession of handguns is too dangerous not to be strictly regulated. I admire the way the French people are interested in global affairs. In the United States it's often only the specialists -- and there are some very good ones -- who show this degree of interest. [Ouch, because he's right about this, notwithstanding blogs such as this one and readers such as ours. - ed.] Finally, I like the way that France seeks to give its immigrants a new identity within the Republic, rather than continue to define them according to their ethnic origins. [On the one hand, the United States has a much better record of assimilation than France, so perhaps Sarko is wrong on this one. On the other hand, the American obsession with de jure recognition of ethnic identiy is new, and perhaps ultimately very dangerous for us. - ed.] These are not minor differences. They will remain part of what is unique to France.

But in a number of other areas, the United States has succeeded while France remains shackled by enduring prejudices. In these areas, I don't see why my country doesn't take inspiration from its great ally, rather than constantly trying approaches that have failed both in France and elsewhere.

I love the value Americans place on work and the desire for excellence that you find everywhere, from CEOs to the most modest workers. By limited the workweek to thirty-five hours, the French Socialists would have us believe that work is a sort of punishment from which people should try to escape. American society, on the other hand, understands that work well done is liberating. Work provides an opportunity to improve your lot in life and, at the same time, to discover qualities you didn't know you had. [I am very familiar with the French labor market. One of its tragedies is that its "stickiness" condemns workers to remain in jobs that do not suit them. People who are unhappy in their jobs are much less likely to leave them, so the result is that more people feel "trapped" in a system that provides such great insurance against unemployment. Put differently, the French system's great deference to the worker perversely traps many more people into jobs that do not suit them and do not make them happy. - ed.] This is a more effective approach for society as a whole, because it helps to avoid wasting humant talent, which is the most precious of all resources. And it's also only fair: after all, what could be more just than to ensure that those who work hardest and make the extra effort are able to earn more money and climb higher in society?

I respect the fact that in the United States it is possible for those who try hard and deserve it to get a second chance. [One of my favorite expressions is "America is the land of second chances". - ed.] In France and most European countries, you usually need the right diplomas to succeed in life. It also helps, if possible, to belong to the right families. Moreover, anyone who fails once -- by going bankrupt, for example -- hardly ever gets a second chance. By contrast, in the United States there are all sorts of opportunities for those who know how to seize them. Americans don't ask about the diplomas or the social origins of someone who comes up with a new idea; they just ask whether the idea is good or not. Past failures, if they're honorable ones, should be seen as an opportunity to learn, and not as a stain on one's reputation. [Exactly. That is the most profoundly "American" idea in the entire essay, and the root of America's most important gift to the world: the greatest fulfillment of human potential yet seen in the human experience. - ed.] It's thanks to these values that American society makes possible the most impressive social advancement of any country in the world. Scientific research in the United States attracts the best researchers from around the world, who quickly become American patriots. Indeed, half the Americans who have won Nobel Prizes have been immigrants. It is doubtless only in the United States that so many entrepreneurs without college degrees are among the richest citizens.

Relations with ethnic minorities are also better managed in the United States than in most European countries. [It is a tragedy that they "are managed" at all. - ed.] I don't like it when people are defined exclusively by their origins. That said, France won't have proven that it's open to diversity until it has a Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice as minister for foreign affairs, a John Abizaid as one of its top generals, a Rayford Wilkins as one of its leading businessmen, or a Michael Powell as the top regulator of its communications industry. This would signify real progress for France, since diversity among elites is an opportunity for any country.

Finally, American political institutions -- even if they sometimes lead to long and complicated decision-making processes -- are among the most remarkable accomplishments in the history of human freedom. One of the most subtle and profound debates in the history of political ideas was the one that took place among America's Founding Fathers in Philadelphia in 1787 over the balance to be struck between effective government and individual liberties. The document that resulted from this debate -- the current U.S. Constitution -- has remained almost unchanged for over two hundred years. This longevity attests to the genius of the Founding Fathers. France would do well to look to certain aspects of the Constitution for inspiration. I'm referring in particular to the important balancing role played by the U.S. Congress, which has the resources necessary to play such a role. But I also admire the American model of an executive branch that consists of a limited group whose titles and functions do not change with each election. Finally, I admire the precedent set by George Washington, according to which presidential mandates are limited so that the president can focus on acting rather than lasting.

But beyond all these characteristic of American society, what I admire most is its capacity to recognize its own weaknesses and to start correcting them right away. After all, the challenges France faces today pale compared those that the United States has confronted in the past. France does not have the sort of institutionalized, reprehensible racism that haunted the U.S. South for a long time. Organized criminal groups have never had the sort of influence in France that they did in the United States during Prohibition. Finally, French crime rates remain lower than those that America had to deal with in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet America's strength is that it was able, in each case, to identify its own weaknesses, decide together as a society to remedy them, and then to take action without useless nostalgia about the past...

France has elected an overt Yankeephile as its president, and we should be happy both for the result and what it says about the shallowness of anti-Americanism in that country. Americans who delight in hammering or mocking the French should give it a break, at least until they give us a new reason.

CWCID: Picture via Jonah Goldberg.

MORE: Heh.


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun May 06, 10:24:00 PM:

at least until they give us a new reason

Which is to say maybe this Friday? ;->

Talk is cheap -- as the cops say: "watch their hands".  

By Blogger The Mechanical Eye, at Sun May 06, 10:48:00 PM:

Anti-French sentiment is cheap and increasingly undeserved -- more Americans wished we went with France's decision not to intervene in Iraq.

But let's keep up the French military jokes and the freedom fries talk. Because we should do everything to alienate as many potential allies America as possible.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 06, 10:55:00 PM:

But let's keep up the French military jokes and the freedom fries talk. Because we should do everything to alienate as many potential allies America as possible.

This is certainly the received wisdom on the American left. It is worth remembering, though, that attacking and mocking America has been a staple of French public discourse since at least the 1960s. Bizarrely, the French never worried that it would alienate their ally the United States. Why do you suppose that we worry that they will be alienated, but they have never worried that we would be?

My point is much narrower: Let's not embarrass Sarkozy in front of his voters until he deserves to be embarrassed.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 06, 10:56:00 PM:

I need to go to Wegman's and buy some fois gras.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 06, 10:59:00 PM:

ID, your tastes have certainly changed in 25 years!  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sun May 06, 11:39:00 PM:

Ban Ki-moon at the UN, Nicolas Sarkozy in France--all we need now is an effective Republican President in the White House.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 07, 12:08:00 AM:

"Anti-French sentiment is cheap and increasingly undeserved." Having had experience with the French well before 2003 as a tourist in South America, as a contract engineer for a French company in South America, and having had a French roommate in the US, my anti-French attitude is based on personal experience. I have heard from others who have worked with or for French companies, who have had the same reaction to the French that I had: aloof and/or arrogant. An example follows of the gap between French and American society, from French tourists in South America with whom I got along fairly well. A French woman, who was not aloof and arrogant to me,informed me that French friends who had hitchhiked around the US had been invited to the homes of some of the drivers who had picked them up hitching. This was also my experience as a hitchhiker from that epoch. The French woman informed me that there was something sick about Americans, that they would be so friendly to a stranger to invite them to their homes. So much for the frontier spirit. At the same time, greater reserve towards strangers compared to Americans- of both continents- is not merely a French trait, but a European trait. Be that as it may, I hope that Sarkozy will have some success in freeing up the sclerotic government-dominated economy of France.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Mon May 07, 12:18:00 AM:

The French are paranoid about "strangers", because historically they've been Germans ;->  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon May 07, 06:13:00 AM:

The French woman informed me that there was something sick about Americans, that they would be so friendly to a stranger to invite them to their homes.

Of course, that's just parochialism. The Japanese also invite travelers to their homes -- I have had the experience -- and it is hard to find two more different societies, at least among the rich countries.

DEC: Yep.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Mon May 07, 12:14:00 PM:

I feel about the French the way I feel about my life-long friends: I love 'em, even when they piss me off.

I worked in France as an intern with Elf Aquitaine in the summer of '83 (thanks to Princeton in France) after spending a month at the Sorbonne in the summer of '81. My wife and I spent 2 weeks in Provence last summer; almost everyone we interacted with was very pleasant. IMHO, nothing comes close to Hermes for ties and scarves, and no wine can touch a great red Bordeaux.

I'm very happy for Marianne today. Sarko is what France needed; I hope he can pull off what he's aiming for.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 07, 06:55:00 PM:

I don't think that one election, however well intentioned or inspired, will change a national identity overnight.
If Sarkozy is successful in rejuvenating the French economy and political vitality, the French will be as arrogant as ever, in the traditional (de)Gaulist fashion.
If he is unsuccessful, France will sink into a miasma of doubt and hostility.
And I work for a French company, have traveled in France and hold more than a few people in France as friends. I bear no hostility to them, but we kid ourselves to think that something fundamental has changed. Fundamental change may come as a result fo this election, but nothing is pre-ordained, no matter how well intentioned.
Lastly, the dead hand of history rides heavily on that country, for good or ill.


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon May 07, 09:26:00 PM:

Mechanical Eye - Alienating our uh, allies...ust speaking truth to power, y'know?  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Tue May 08, 12:15:00 AM:

Sarko apparently was not very popular with immigrants from what I saw on the Beeb last night. Parts of Paris were burning again, and I'm not talking about Ms. Hilton's UTI.

This guy has his work cut out for him if he is going to fix what's wrong with the French economy. We should all send him our best wishes for success, he's going to need them.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 08, 12:49:00 AM:

The french have had enough of that bungling idiot CHIRAQ he would make INSPECTOR CLUESAUE look common sense  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue May 08, 08:24:00 PM:

Overt Yankeephile? First, he's just another bureaucrat talkin' sh*t. I wouldn't read too much into this. Second, you have a pretty decent chuck of the Frogs who aren't Yankeephiles, still. Third, who the hell cares? I'm more concerned with regime changhe at home...  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 08, 10:30:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 08, 11:48:00 PM:

"the Frogs"

You're wasting your time polishing your Archie Bunker impersonation. The series was cancelled a long time ago.  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?