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Qu'est-ce que la France? Qu'est-ce que la France?
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-28 11:08:40
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I'm not French, not did I ever try to be French. But like DeGaulle, I have for a long time had my own  “certain idea about France.”

To me, France is a great place to observe the clash between socialism and capitalism.

Socialism everywhere from Korea to Laos to Cuba to the USSR to Israel in the 1960s to Italy in the 1990s tends to be one giant working class, ruled by hypocrites who praise socialism while secretly living luxurious lifestyles. But, socialism is not just one giant working class making close to minimum wage. Socialism is also affordable housing and healthcare, strong labor unions, low working hours, and lots of free time.

pari001_400The idea of French socialism like all socialist systems is an interesting system. Ideally, you are supposed to survive with a meager paycheck, just enough to get by. But in exchange you get plenty of free time, and use that time to engage in “cultural” activities. Ideally in France, you would earn low wages, but engage in intellectual pursuits, and try to understand the meaning of life.

France also has a certain idea of capitalism. Capitalism means more stress, more greed, less time to engage in cultural activities. And stress leads to “junk culture” or watching television programs where pornstars get interviewed, talk show hosts brush their teeth live on television, and singers discuss in great detail how they lost their virginity and the first time they had a threesome.

So the socialist France tells the capitalist France that it would readily trade low wages in exchange for an evening of debates on “industrial society symbolism in Dostoyevski's 19th century Russia” rather than make more money, and spend that money on junk food and prime time TV shows where the dominant themes are sex, drugs and alcoholism.

The capitalist France replies that sex and money is really what France should be about, and that literature is for 40 year-old virgins.

This debate exists today, but oddly enough also existed in the 19th century, some would say ever since the French revolution, perhaps even in the times of Louis the 14th. The peasant is cultured, the aristocrat has no culture was the stereotype.  

Now let me bring immigration into the whole debate. The ideal factory worker was a factory worker who worked at the factory during the day, and read poetry or fiction at night. That factory worker gradually developed a sense of justice, joined labor unions, and fought for “just” and “fair” working conditions.

When the immigrant factory worker came to France, immigrant factory workers (I'm paraphrasing what a lot of pundits say) cast out the notion of a “cultured” factory worker. Immigrant factory workers could not speak French properly, much less read Marx or Louis Aragon.

Some pundits argue that it is this very notion of “immigrant factory workers” that installed a notion of lack of culture or cultural bent within factories, which lead to the de-industrialization of France and to French factories outsourcing to Romania, Turkey, North Africa or China.

So in the 1980s, it was hedonist capitalists and cultured factory workers. In the 2010s, both capitalists and factory workers “lack culture” and engage in pleasures considered as “base” or “vile” by many.

So what French pundits like to say is that France is the land of culture, a land where reading and fine arts are important. Two categories of people destroyed the value of reading and arts: the capitalists (which many associate with the Jews) and the immigrant factory worker (which many associate with North African and sub-Saharan African Muslims).

So what is the French Far Right? The French Far Right is a movement that was born to fight Communism in the 1970s, specifically because the French Far Right thought that Communists were trying to replace French factory workers with immigrant factory workers.

The French Far Right fights on two fronts: first front is capitalism, which they argue is all for “open borders” and “destroys French culture.” Second front is Communism, which they argue is all for “open immigration and slave immigrant labor” which they argue destroys French culture.

But did the “cultured” French factory worker ever exist?

Most factory workers were never culture buffs. But, in the past, a lot of factory workers did admire culture and intellectuals. And most factory owners also respected culture and intellectuals, along with elite sportsmen.

So there was something of solidarity among corporations to help elite sportsmen and intellectuals. Albert Camus was employed by a newspaper, handed a typewriter, and told to focus on his novels. Michel Jazy, the 1956 Olympic distance running champion, was employed by a sports newspaper, handed a salary, and told to go train for the Olympics and not to show up for work. Georges Perec worked at a hospital but was allowed flexible work hours to focus on his books, and allowed to take days off to promote his books. These are famous examples, and there are many other such examples, that go all the way back to Balzac who in the mid-19th century was employed by a newspaper but told to focus on his books. Same goes for Maupassant, also employed by a newspaper without ever showing up for work. In some cases it was aristocrats who fed, clothed and pampered intellectuals, as was the case with Flaubert.

In today's France, if you're an elite sportsman or writer, you're more likely to get harassed and sabotaged by bestial supervisors than get any words of encouragement from your colleagues.

But the Far Right movement, this movement that wants France to go back to its tradition of low wages for a nation of culture and intellect, remains rather marginal, as most Frenchmen and women would rather make a quick buck and enjoy a sex, drugs and rock n'roll lifestyle than be forced to give up high wages in exchange for reading this disgusting thing called “books.”

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