A Liberal Explains French Nuttiness

Inspector Clouseau

Zut Alors! One of the New York Times’ liberal columnists, Roger Cohen, explains why the French are nuts : a culture of dependency:

After Osama bin Laden was killed, a prominent French radio station called me for an interview. It turned into a mildly hallucinogenic experience. Everybody from the president of the United States to Al Qaeda itself was saying Bin Laden was dead, but my interviewer kept pressing me for “the proof.”

I talked about DNA samples, the word of the American president, the accumulated intelligence, but it was clear that a Gallic conspiracy reflex — especially active with regard to France’s sometime American savior — had kicked in. The view that this might all be some U.S. plot or hoax had taken mysterious hold.

I was put in mind of an unpleasant Paris dinner when a France Télécom manager with international experience began to expound on the theory — more than plausible to his mind — that Jews had not turned up to work at the twin towers on 9/11 because Israel and the Mossad were behind the planes-turned-missiles that turned lower Manhattan into an inferno.

And now we have the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case, viewed, it seems, by close to 60 percent of French society as a conspiracy against the putative Socialist presidential candidate — a sting operation that somehow placed a West African immigrant maid in a $3,000 a night Sofitel suite whose number, 2806, corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist party primaries in France (06-28).

Oh, s’il vous please!

A rough rule goes like this: The freer a society the less inclined it is to conspiracy theories, while the greater its culture of dependency the more it will tend to see hidden hands at work everywhere.

France remains a nation of Napoleonic centralism where the functionary’s mentality holds sway. The ingrained reflex of that mind-set is to look to the state for salvation, to believe in some all-orchestrating higher power.

The nation’s world-class private sector, believers in agency rather than dependency, follows the old principle of “vivre heureux, vivre caché” — to live happily, live hidden — and thereby allows the functionary’s order to prevail as reference point. In this view, personal responsibility does not loom large.

Countless Franco-American differences of culture have been highlighted by the DSK case — in the judicial system, the press, attitudes to public figures’ private lives, sex and the gravity of a rape charge — but a very fundamental one lies in the relation to authority. French deference to power — with the accompanying conspiracy theories — has encountered the hard-knuckled application of U.S. law as applied equally to anyone accused of a serious crime…

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