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Hoipolloi Cassidy, "French Fries"

Hoipolloi Cassidy writes:

"French Fries"

Hoipolloi Cassidy, Woid

At least the New York Times got it right: the French are pervs. Of course this has been the American view for ages, ever since those nineteenth-century tales of caution in which innocent 'Murican farm-boys end up in Europe, only to be seduced by women, wine, and fabulous health benefits.

That's been the unanimous response of that sector of the American Right that passes for a center. The Times has been popping with outrage about the selfishness of those French voters who overwhelmingly rejected the proposed European Constitution last week — even one of its art critics joined in. The gist was, that the French are so selfish they insist on working only thirty-five hours in the week but that'll learn them when some day they're overwhelmed by Screaming Yellow Hordes willing to work thirty-five hours a day, eventually. Bad enough that French people actually enjoy sex: now they want satisfaction on the job as well. Instead of the race to the bottom promised by neo-liberalism they demand a race to the top. Garçon! Champagne!It's odd that the American Left has been silent on this issue — I'd say confused, but since the American Left is always confused I'll settle for "conflicted." Perhaps it's because on either side of the Pond most discussions of the global implications of the Referendum followed the lines of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

This was particularly common among supporters of a "yes" vote, ranging all the way from the Italian paleo-Marxist Antonio Negri, who argued that a united Europe would stand up to America, to the German paleo-troublemaker Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who claimed to America a united Europe stand up, would. I suspect a similar dynamic among the American Left, since Chirac has become a bit of a culture hero here, for his opposition to Bush. Besides, there was a certain bemusement in seeing sentimental icons of Leftism like Cohn-Bendit going down as Enemies of the People. Americans are not used to the French Revolutionary Narrative, in which a progressive movement finds itself overtaken by a movement more progressive, or more extreme, if you prefer.

Still, the rejection of the European Constitution was a profoundly global event. This has been most evident within the French Socialist Party, which is on the verge of disintegration, and where the fault-lines map out the contradictions of European anti-globalism. Le Nouvel Observateur published a rant by Harlem Désir, a Socialist deputy to the European Parliament, denouncing ATTAC, the foremost European anti-globalist movement, and claiming "the treaty defined relationships between European nations, not between Europe and the rest of the world."

This is delicious irony. Désir, who is of African descent, denies the underpaid workers of Eastern Europe what he wouldn't dream of denying those of Latin America. He reminds me of that infamous, ironic statement by Montesquieu that the people of Europe, having exterminated those of America, had no choice but to enslave those of Africa.

It remains that the European Constitution was to be Europe's own NAFTA, and the only thing masking this obvious truth among Socialists like Désir is their own uneasy sense of privileged exemption.

So there's another attitude the American Left shares with French Socialists: the Bobo position. The term 'bobo" (for Bourgeois Bohemian), is far more commonly used in French, now, than in America, but is was invented by David Brooks, one of those columnists at the New York Times who've been having conniptions about — precisely — the lack of bobohood among the French electors. One of the most salient facts about the Referendum was that the bobo vote went overwhelmingly for 'Oui;" in fact, most of Central Paris supported it.

In politics as elsewhere we are fast approaching the point where the economic imperative is the determining one, far and beyond a decaying ideology — boboism, for instance. The "Non" vote was indeed thoroughly selfish, the selfishness of those with few illusions to spare. The American Left, unfortunately, has more illusions about itself than it knows what to do with. As another editorialist at the Times put it (the one who's not insane), America's economic profile is rapidly resembling Argentina's. Whether its ideological profile will ever rise up to Argentina's or even France, is anybody's guess.

"One feels pleasure in descending as long as one believes one can rise up when one wants." So wrote a French nobleman who had been among the upper-class progressive thinkers of pre-Revolutionary France, the bobos of their time. This is a lesson a part of the French Left has learned a lot faster than the American.