March 2, 2006

France, that ultimate "Proposition Nation"

A historian comments:

You belled the cat quite well with your post on Fukuyama. The point you've made on a few occasions about France being the kind of "proposition nation" that the neocons claim America should be is also worth reiterating.

In "Americans First," I asked:

Finally, there’s an insidiously Jacobin implication to propositionism. If believing in neoconservative theories should make anyone in the world eligible for immigration, what should disbelieving in them make thought criminals like you and me? Candidates for deportation? For the guillotine?

My reader continues:

Paul Johnson notes in Modern Times that France has been split since 1789 between the proposition-based "Patriotic France" and the "Nationalist France" defined both against the principles of 1789 and by loyalty to place. Others have noted this tension, and part of it is implicit in having a "proposition nation." What happens to those who don't accept the proposition?

Massacre. Simon Schama essentially confirmed the old Catholic Royalist accounts by Guillaume Bertier de Sauvigny and others in his book Citizens, which describes both the Paris terror that eventually felled Robespierre and the less well-know story of massacres in the Vendee. This civil war of massacre and resistance among the French left an open wound that even De Gaulle couldn't wholly mend, and whichever side has the upper hand at any given time sticks it to the other as hard as it can. World War I and the Gaullist era mark partial exceptions, that underline the general rule. Nationalist France remains below the surface waiting to lash back, unless its rulers solve their problem by electing a new people.

If Mexico and Brazil offer a cautionary tale about social divisions reinforced by race, France shows the bitter fruit that "proposition nations" bring. But then Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom didn't mention that in their theory courses.

Examples of French v. French violence in the 20th Century include the right wing oppression during the Vichy Regime, the leftist reprisals in 1944-46, and the White Terror propagated by pied noir French Algerians and their Army supporters after De Gaulle sold them out in the early 1960s. The Dreyfus Affair at the beginning of the 20th Century led to unbelievable bitterness within French society, but fortunately stopped just short of civil war. The leftist May 1968 riots were so strong that De Gaulle, thinking the jig was up, fled to West Germany to take refuge with French soldiers there under his protégé General Massou. Pompidou and Massou had to talk him into going home and taking a stand by splitting the Communist workers from the student New Leftists by promising big wage hikes.

French anti-Americanism, especially Gaullist anti-Americanism, is, in large part, an attempt to unify the fractious French by finding a foreign country for Frenchmen to resent rather than each other. De Gaulle was a great, great patriot -- and, because of that, a complete pain in the butt to us "Anglo-Saxons," but we could afford to, and usually did, put up with his calculated offensiveness.

The neocons' touchiness about French touchiness is another example of their amusingly (but deleteriously) French-like childishness. The U.S. is so much stronger than any other single country on Earth that it's in our interest to respond phlegmatically toward minor rudenesses from lesser countries like France. Instead, the neocons act like Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau whenever his hauteur was trifled with.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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