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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, March 28, 2003

Overwhelming Force

Apparently the Wall Street Journal ran a guest editorial explaining the merits and glorious history of France. But these rebuttals are an instant classic:

More About France Is Actually Less

In regard to the March 11 Leisure & Arts column, In the Fray, by Mary Ann Caws, "There's More to France Than a Veto Threat":

There's also less; that is, less that is good, and more that isn't.

No one denies the contribution of some individual French men and women to Western Civilization, but Prof. Caws's list is noteworthy for its weaknesses rather than its strengths. Marie Curie was Polish by birth, not French, and Rousseau was Swiss and Beckett Irish. Debussy is fine but hardly in the class of Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms and many others. Moliere can't be compared to Shakespeare. Not mentioned was Descartes, but rational thinking and, indeed, the Enlightenment, both things of which the French can be proud, would hardly have failed to occur had the French been absent.

She is justly prideful of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, but that August 1789 document was clearly derivative of our earlier Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. It was also closely followed by the Reign of Terror, somehow not mentioned and something not seen in the Anglophone countries. The French contribution to democracy was followed almost immediately by the Directoire, Napoleon as Consul (1799-04), Napoleon as Emperor (1804-14), King Louis XVIII (1814-24), King Charles X(1823-30), King Louis-Philippe (1830-48), Louis Napoleon, President of the Second Republic (1848-52) until he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III (1852-70). This was followed by three more Republics and the Vichy regime of World War II. Perhaps there is a French taste for autocracy, Jacques Chirac being the latest in the line of De Gaulle and the Bonapartes.

The Napoleonic Code was needed because there was no tradition of common law, but it is hardly better than the systems in use in the Anglophone countries. Since the criminal system is inquisitorial rather than adversarial under the Code, the presumption of innocence is weakened. (Interestingly, it makes French prosecution of terrorists easier. )

Nowhere was mentioned the issue at hand: the political demeanor of the French from the suppression of the Huguenots (St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre where 100,000 innocent Protestants were slaughtered within a week) and the betrayal of Joan of Arc to the English, after she had served a purpose, to French colonial policies in Indo-China and Algeria, disgraceful by any conception of civilization. Perhaps they are more proud of the Dreyfus Affair.

Presumably, a distinguished professor of English, French and comparative literature, wanting to compliment the French, led with her best shot. Now that she brought the matter up, the record is less than most realize.

Stuart L. Meyer
Department of Management & Strategy
Kellogg School of Management
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

The Great Corrupters of Our Discourse

Yes, yes, yes, we've heard it all before. Personally, I love Paris, I love French music, cuisine, drama and fiction. Yet I ask myself, why did Ms. Caws, scholar that she is, stop her litany of achievement before mentioning the great corrupters of our discourse -- Derrida, Foucalt and the rest? French deconstructionism and French Marxism have so affected current intellectual pursuits, insisting that all issues must be seen through the lens of gender, race and class, that our universities and their intellectual products have become the many talking only to each other with no relevance to the world as it is.

And, by the way, is French existentialism, Sartre, Camus, et alia, still discussed by anyone?

Paul N. Duggan
Truckee, Calif.

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