by Jerome a Paris
Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 08:37:48 AM EST
The timidity of the official commemorations, in France, of the bicentenary of Austerlitz, opposed to the ostentation of the British celebration, in June, of the victory of Trafalgar -- which Paris had participated in with elegance--, illustrates one of the French paradoxes. Whereas abroad France and the French often see themselves blamed for their "arrogance", the country actually suffers from a kind of masochism which is expressed by a permanent propensity for self-flagellation.
The criticical way France looks at itself undoubtedly has multiple explanations, and it is a long established national tradition. But this behavior has spread, in recent years, to the point where it constitutes the unavoidable background of the political and economic debate.
In the now central ideological confrontation between proponents ans adversaries of neoliberalism, the former have smartly used this feature of the French national character. Since, rightly or wrongly, France, with its tradition of a strong State and generous social model, has become the most obvious pole of resistance to the dominant ideology, criticisms addressed to anything that smacks of "the French exception" have multiplied. And since liberalism is presented as "modern", all that does not go in this direction is tainted with archaism or inefficiency.
Almost all the elements which feed the most insistent criticism addressed to the "French model", on the topic of the "decline", are drawn from the liberal "sales leaflet". Even if this ideological paternity is generally overlooked, not without skill. What are we talking about? A State considered to be too expensive with its sky high taxes, labor regulations presented as paralysing, because it is too rigid and protective... All these arguments, which are presented behind the veil of objective economic theory, correspond in fact to the ideology of neoliberalism. To amplify the message, the (quite real) ills that France suffers from are presented as a national specificity, even when it is not the case. Often caricatural comparisons are made with countries presented as models, and which always happen to be of Anglo-Saxon culture.
The stratagy of the liberals has magnificently functioned for quit a bit of time. Certain opinionmakers have become the constant echo of this background noise, sometimes unconsciously, without having identified its ideological origin. But the whole thing is now out of control. The message has become so prevalent that it now constitutes common wisdom, and applies beyond economic policy. It is now "obvious" that "France sucks" and all is better beyond the borders.
It has now became archaic not to take part in the chorus of denigration. Any positive note, whether of a cultural, historical, economic or social nature, clashes with this background music must thus be downplayed, forgotten or overlooked. With the embarrassment of the authorities around the anniversary of Austerlitz, such excess became so manifest that Valéry Giscard d' Estaing itself -- the standard bearer thoughout his career of the very liberal ideas which are used to criticize France , had to call for a "cease-fire": the former president said, on December 11, that this "non commemoration" was due to "anti-French attacks wearying by their repetition".
The above article, by Jean-Louis Andréani, an editorialist of Le Monde, came two days after a scathing indictment of Europe by Eric Le Boucher, the economics editorialist, where he was explaining that Europe was losing its competitivity wordwide and stagnating because of its lack of efforts in R&D. Le Boucher has a great quality in the French press - he is economically literate and knows what he is writing about. But he is definitely one of those opinion makers that systematically say that France (and Europe) is too rigid, too stuck in old-fashioned and inefficient ways, and that the future lies in India and China, or in the USA.
The Andreani article, coming right on the heels of our latest "Anglo-Saxon" spat, was interesting to me because it was the first time I saw that argument explicitly made in Le Monde, with the veiled criticism of that newspaper itself (the opinion makers preoccupied with efficiency and rationality in the face of a rudderless government and losing sight of the bigger picture), and it also agrees with our team that global elites are trying to force the same model (called "néolibéralisme" here) down the throats of the populations of their respective countries, with little regard for national realities and achievements.
I am in strong agreement with that article, but you might be interested to see that it has generated pretty hostile reactions from Le Monde readers, mostly on the theme that "France really sucks today, and you are in denial". So either the article is crap, or the néoliberal "common wisdom" has indeed spread everywhere...