JONAH’S COUCH ON THE FROGS
Well, it turns out that with my publication Friday of my armchair’s top ten reasons to hate the French, I had my finger on the pulse of the Zeitgeist once again. The news this A.M. is that the French are being obstreperous about our attempts to blockade Serbia. Now, the blockade may or may not be a hot idea, but who are the French to tell us what we can or can’t do?
Today comes the second installment of anti-French jingoism. Friday’s went over extremely well with most of you, but two or three people thought I was profoundly offensive or flirting perilously with the forces of reaction. I thought I made it clear on Friday that I was simply being a traffic cop for the views of my staff. I have nothing but love for the peace-loving and heroic people of France.
Besides, running a list of the top ten reasons to hate the French certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility that one could also uphold a list of the top ten reasons to love the French. I won’t write it, mind you. But that doesn’t mean someone else couldn’t. After all, we have much to be grateful to our strategic partners about. De Gaulle liked to stick his thumb in the eye of America, but he certainly stuck to his guns in the fights against the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. They gave us Alexis de Tocqueville, they aided us during the Revolutionary War, and they gave us any number of wonderful wines and cheeses.
But what is particularly annoying about my critics on this point and several others is a particular breed of anti-American self-loathing in this country. When writing about Clinton’s degeneracy, the Goths’ silliness, Hollywood’s buffoonery, and of course France’s various profiles in courage, I seem to elicit this cartoonish “only in America…” response. People write me saying only in America could there be such a fascist revival of Puritanism over private sexual acts. Only in America could such prejudice, judgmentalism, bigotry, ignorance, prudery, etc., flourish.
Quite frankly, 99 out of 100 of these people are idiots. And, assertions that we have vast amounts to learn from other countries on any of these fronts are so often over-stated or completely wrong that serious refutation is a waste of time.
One critic wrote me saying, “Imagine the brouhaha in this country if a French, or other European, publication were to publish ‘10 reasons to hate the Americans!’ ” To be honest, I don’t think there’d be much of a brouhaha because most Americans rightly don’t give a rat’s ass what Europe thinks about us — with the exception of the British, who, notably do not consider themselves European. But second of all, what EU-regulated turnip truck did this guy fall of? Europe is replete with government-sanctioned anti-Americanism. They may not be coming up with top ten lists, but that is because they don’t think it’s funny. They think anti-Americanism is a legitimate and serious point of view.
When the French Minister of Defense, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, resigned in protest over America’s attempt during the Gulf War to liberate a country other than his, he was hailed in the land of 400 cheeses as a man of honor. His assertion that the United States was committed to “the organized cretinization of our people” was toasted by a nation of intellectuals who believe Jean-Paul Sartre is to philosophy what Jerry Lewis is to comedy. Or is that the other way around?
Still, one criticism did hit me, or rather my chair, pretty close to the mark: this notion that I was attacking an ethnic group. In my heart I was not. I was attacking a culture. To their credit, the French deserve some praise for promoting this distinction. After all, it was the French who required colonial Arab and African school children to recite “Our ancestors the Gauls…” in their history lessons. The French believe, much like Americans, that nationality derives from one’s creed, not one’s blood. Thus, many people of German and Polish descent are considered great Frenchmen. This also explains (but it does not excuse) French anti-Semitism to a certain extent because Jews were never perceived to have fully accepted French culture. I have no problem with people of French descent. In fact my problem is really with elite French culture, Parisian culture.
And so, on to my couch’s top ten cultural reasons to hate the French. It’s a little less comical than Friday’s because he is a bit more dour.
- Anti-Americanism (I promise this is the only really long one, but my couch is pretty pissed about this). Critics who think listing reasons to hate the French is unprovoked arrogance, are utterly ignorant of the metaphysical hubris of French intellectual history. Galloise-smoking men in black turtlenecks and half grown mustaches have been coming up with reasons to hate America from day one. Abbé Raynal, Count Buffon, and Cornelius de Pauw, to name a few of the Founding Father’s contemporaries from across the pond, believed that the very ground and air in North America (a land “where frogs grew to 37 pounds”, and dogs “lost the ability to bark”) made Europeans shrink into rabid, small, mentally decrepit creatures. Americans, to these men, were a syphilitic race hurling fast on their way down the evolutionary ladder toward the status of the Indian. You don’t even want to know what they had to say about the American Indian. Later, European intellectual racism was largely launched by the French “thinker” Arthur de Gobineau, who, according to Hannah Arendt, was the man who first introduced the idea that race could explain the history of human civilization. Gobineau believed that the “rubbish” peoples being allowed into America would destroy it. Paul Johnson once said that “the French have always been outstandingly gifted [at] taking a German idea and making it fashionable with superb timing.” That may be true, but when it came to Aryanism it was the French who came up with the idea.
- The French Revolution. The Left has been championing this monstrosity as a victory for human rights for two centuries. The American Revolution was the real McCoy on that front. But nothing did more to grant legitimacy to the idea that modern and enlightened thinking could excuse killing, razing, burning, torturing, and social leveling for utopian or “progressive” ends than the French Revolution. It was an abomination to justice and a valuable lesson to France’s neighbors to the East.
- Ira Einhorn and Anti-American Chic. For those of you who are planning to watch NBC’s forthcoming mini-series on the “Unicorn Killer,” Ira Einhorn, let us not forget France’s bold stand on that front. Einhorn, a hippie guru from Philadelphia, brutally murdered his girlfriend and stuffed her in a steamer trunk. Then he fled the country. She sat there rotting in his apartment for over a year until the odor alerted the neighbors. An American court convicted him in absentia. When Einhorn turned up in France, we wanted him. The French said no. Einhorn became a folk hero in France because he was willing to badmouth the U.S. (Much the same reason why Oliver Stone and Mumia Abu Jamal are Oracles of Wisdom in France). When the court said it couldn’t return someone to the U.S. who had been sentenced to death, Dominique Delthil, Einhorn’s lawyer, said to rave reviews in France, “The United States has learned today, to its distress, that it still has lessons to learn from old Europe in matters of human rights.” Doesn’t the Napoleonic Code still say that defendants are guilty until proven innocent?
- Okay, okay. By popular demand: Jerry Lewis.
- All of those post-war existentialist intellectuals who, it turned out, had sucked up to the Nazis but felt perfectly comfortable lecturing at American universities about our moral decadence.
- French film snobs. If their movies are so good, how come they need import quotas on American films to keep our decadent films with — what are they called again? Oh, that’s right, — “plots” out of their country?
- The Dreyfus affair.
- French “economics.” It seems that no First World country is more determined to become Second World than France. There is a government agency in France dedicated to making sure people don’t work too hard. They count cars in the parking lots to make sure people go home on time and they fine people caught carrying laptops under their coats.
- In most countries the highest career aspiration is to become a successful businessman, a priest, an athlete, or even a politician. In France, the noblest class is the bureaucrat.
- Hygiene, baby, hygiene. The French daily, Le Figaro, reported some horrifying facts in a hugely comprehensive survey of the nation which believes it is the most refined. Here you go: Even though 96% of the French have showers in their homes, only 47% bathe every day. Only 60% of Frenchmen change their underwear daily. Only half of the respondents say that they use deodorant. Per capita the French buy only 4 or 5 bars of bath soap a year. And only 60% of Frenchmen regularly wash their hands after going to the toilet. Six percent said they never washed their hands. Now, I am no number-cruncher but just looking at my Venn diagrams here it seems a sizable number of French people — say maybe 25% — go without changing their underwear, bathing, washing their hands, or using deodorant in a 24 hour period. Class.
Sorry no corrections again. This thing ate up my entire morning. Hell, make that number 11.