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I read the article yesterday with mixed feelings. On the one hand the author is correct, the French self-criticism is often over the top and tends to ignore similar problems in other countries. However, in spite of his acknowledgement of France's real problems, I get the distinct whiff of a desire that they really shouldn't be talked about so much, a Chevenement style hardcore left wing nationalism that tends towards the mirror image of the syndrome he is discussing. That comes out in the non-economic part of the article.

He starts out with a complaint about the lack of properly grand celebrations of the anniversary of Austerlitz. Now, I tend to find people who complain about such celebrations a bit tedious - for the most part those kind of things are at worst mildly annoying and generally innocuous - get a life and worry about real issues. However, the opposite side, the 'why do we just criticize our past and not show proper pride like [fill in the blank]' is much more disturbing. It shows a nostalgia for the old notion of history as a privileged national narrative whose function is to whitewash the past and reinvent it as a triumphant series of great men and great events that will unite the nation. It is a perfect illustration of Renan's bon mot that national identity is more about forgetting than remembering. Any French person who plays this game should be condemned to being locked in a room with Pierre Nora's (ed) Les Lieux de Memoire, not allowed out until he has read and understood it.

That comes out again in his mention of the debate over the colonial past. Yes, Andreani grudgingly says that the criticism is sort of ok - but note his justification - because there exists a left wing French anti-colonial tradition. And if it didn't exist?

Or take his spin on the riots. Oh no, French people saying this is a sign things aren't working as they should. Suggesting that maybe France could look abroad to see what has (and has not) been successful elsewhere, particularly among those terrible Anglo-Saxons. The horror!

I think that Andreani reveals himself best in this passage:
Le regard critique de la France sur elle-même a sans doute de multiples explications, et son ancrage dans la culture nationale ne date pas d'hier. Mais ce comportement s'est répandu, ces dernières années, jusqu'à former la toile de fond du débat politique et économique. Car dans la confrontation, devenue centrale, entre adversaires et tenants du néolibéralisme, les seconds ont su mettre à profit ce trait du caractère national.

I read this and I hear Lynne Cheney and Fox talking heads complaining about the evil textbook writers who talk about the ugly sides of American history rather than the proper triumph of freedom, prosperity, and the glory of the unique American model. I hear every Polish right winger complaining about historians denigrating the sacred Polish nation by painting its past in shades of grey, rather than a beautiful (and blinding) blaze of white.  More specifically, when he says that decolonisation is too recent to be a 'historical' event I read 'to be properly assimilated into the triumphant Republican historical narrative.'

To finish let me go back to Nora - a passage from his preface and introductory essay.
"La Republique opere un redoblement de memoire, dans la mesure ou, regime politique devenu notre seconde nature, elle n'est pas un simple fragment de notre memoire nationale, mais sa redefinition synthetique et son aboutissement. La Republique se confond pratiquement avec sa memoire..." [p. 17]

"L'histoire, parce que operation intellectuelle et laicisante, appelle analyse et discours critique. La memoire installe le souvenir dans le sacre, l'histoire l'en debusque" [p. 25, Quarto edition]

 

by MarekNYC on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:03:03 AM EST
I don't think he meant it that way. He was simply comparing the difference in the celebrations between the two countries. Maybe it's a good thing that the French are able to see the two sides of their history (as Austerlitz is linked to slavery when we talk about the celebrations), but there are also times when it can temporarily be put to rest - and that does not seem to be happening. The point is not the debate about colonialism - it's the debate on whether talking about colonialism on the anniversary of Austerlitz is relevant.

As to your note on the riots, I don't see how you read this in his words. All he is saying is - those that think (gleefully) that this is a specifically French problem are probably wrong. He said nothing about France not looking elsewhere, he is only saying that France is not the only one with integration problems. In this case, YOU are putting spin in his words.

In fact, you are basically proving his point, because you are criticizing him for daring to say that there are shades of grey, and that not everything about France is black. So you are effectively saying that we have no right to say anything positive about France, because that would be neglecting all that is wrong.

And the dig about this article being worthy of Chevénement is a pretty damn cheap one. I am opposed to a lot of things coming from Chevénement, but I did not find this article objectionable for these reasons.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:36:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If a op ed writer in the US says stop talking so much about US problems with civil liberties and rule of law - look at other countries. Stop talking so much about the US budget deficit - look at other countries. Stop talking so much about problems with Katrina - look at France and the heatwave. When you talk about problems with racial discrimination and marginalization don't forget too mention that it isn't a uniquely US problem. Hmmh, I guess talking about Jim Crow and slavery is ok, we do after all have a usable national past of anti-segregation politics.  Why aren't we properly honouring the settling of the West or whatever other not so black and white historical event.  All this criticism is just those sneaky purveyors of the European welfare state model taking advantage of our willingness to self-criticize.

How would you read that - as a 'remember, both the past and present are grey, not black'? I wouldn't.

The reference to Chevenement may have been cheap, but I meant it as a symbol of a certain political tradition on the French left that is suffused with a blind, nationalist worship of a constructed Republican memory and allergic to any criticism which cannot be located firmly within that tradition.  

I wouldn't have said that if the article had confined itself to merely attacking the neo-liberal attack on France's socio-economic model, but the author's choice to begin with Austerlitz and then to mention the equally irrelevant debate over colonization show that he is driven by something much more than that.

by MarekNYC on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 12:12:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing like waking up at noon to hop onto ET and read some good debate.  4's for you both.  Now, if only I could find that damned French-English dictionary.... ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:11:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You make a fair point, but the topic of the editorial is not whether the deficit is too high or whether colonisation is properly debated in France, it is whether it is justified to talk only in negatives about France, espcecially when the debate is ideologically driven and inspired by the supposedly superior systems elsewhere. In THAT context, it is highly relevant, and appropriate, to point out that France is not doing worse, or even better, on a number of measures, than the "systems elsewhere", and thus that holding these systems as examples of the reforms that should be done in  France is not necessarily a good idea.

I know exactly what you mean about Chevénement, that's precisely why I don't like him - and why I found the reference slightly unseemly here, as I don't agree with your interpretation of the article.

As far as Austerlitz and colonisation are concerned, I suppose these were used as recent examples of the trends described, with Austerlitz being particularly relevant in view of the Trafalgar parallel, and decolonisation brought in as the reason Austerlitz was sidetracked was because of the slavery issue, somewhat related to colonisation. I did not find these references inappropriate, even if they are certainly not the most significant one can find.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:25:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh! Oh! Hein! Mais euh!

Austerlitz is a bit special and the lack of celebration was quite stunning. I wouldn't care that much to celebrate, say, Bir-Hakeim, and I'm not a fan of the Corsican megalomaniac. But Austerlitz, Holy Crap! Austerlitz is Austerlitz, one of the most brilliant tactical maneuvers in contemporary history!

So, just like the Brits were right to celebrate Trafalgar (and the French Navy had no problem to lend a hand and a couple of ships for the celebrations), celebrating Austerlitz once every 200 years is not indulging in nostalgic, flag waving navel gazing or whitewashing the past. It's merely acknowledging the past, the same way the Rafle du Vel d'hiv is properly commemorated.

It was pretty stunning and shameful to see Chirac and Villepin AWOL on that day.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:38:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This I don't agree with you on, (from a British point of view).  I am glad the French didn't make a fuss about Austergar. I wish the British hadn't made such a fuss about Traferlitz. Commemorating battles sucks.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 03:24:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep. And I can understand celebrating a victory in a defensive war, but one in an offensive imperialisrt war?...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 08:33:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, no !!! The Third Coalition started it all! Napoleon was just defending himself in a very offensive manner :)

In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty to remove the French from Holland and Switzerland. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy. The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Lieberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July, 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (September 25 - October 20) Napoleon managed to surround Mack's army by a brilliant envelopment, forcing its surrender without significant losses. With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charles maneuvered inconclusively against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna. Far from his supply lines, he was faced with a superior Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperor Alexander of Russia personally present. On December 2 Napoleon crushed the joint Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz in Moravia (this is usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted a total of 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army while sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force. After Austerlitz, Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, leaving the coalition. This required the Austrians to give up Venetia to the French dominated Kingdom of Italy and Tyrol to Bavaria.

Now, of course, there is this little detail of France bringing Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and the metric system to the neighbours in the previous years...
by Francois in Paris on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 11:54:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, no !!! The Third Coalition started it all!

In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty to remove the French from Holland and Switzerland. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy...

So, who started it? :-)

Now, of course, there is this little detail of France bringing Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and the metric system to the neighbours in the previous years...

...and the French official language and cultural supremacism, setting off the virus of nationalism (in form of the reaction of the subjugated people). Terry Gilliam's recent Grimm had an ironic allusion to this, making use of the very real connection between the Grimm brothers' work and the French expansion under Napoleon.

An interesting what-if scenario would be to imagine if revolutionary France would have refrained from expansion and reverted to supporting foreign revolutionaries instead.

(It is a less-well-known fact that before 1917/8/9 and 1848, there have been two other instances of revolution spreading across Europe - the first in the wake of the French Revolution. If some of you have ever travelled to Budapest by train and arrived at Déli pu. (South Station), the park between it and the walled oldtown is called Vérmező=bloody field, because that's where the Hungarian Jacobins - exposed by the Habsburg secret service - were mass-executed.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:08:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK and Russia started to plot first :-)
by Francois in Paris on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:14:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, who started the Seven Years' War?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a prize question! (No Googling/Wiki!)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:45:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now, you two.

Why did I say commemorating battles sucked?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:26:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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