Monday, September 12, 2005

The French Model

For quite some time now the French and foreign press, as well as a number of French and foreign politicians, have been shrilly and repeatedly observing that the "French social model" is "behind", "failing", "obsolete", "invalid" and, quite frankly, "dead". Several main reasons are generally given for this alleged state of affairs.

The first is a "stagnant" economy coupled with high and persistent unemployment. The second is that with the enlargement of the European Union to twenty-five countries, French influence is severely diminished (a smaller fish in a bigger pond, en somme). The third is French demographics: with a population gradually growing older, the social model is increasingly unable to care properly for aging babyboomers, and should hence be modified, if not cast outright onto the trash heap of European history. Added to the foregoing are the facts that a) the French voters refused the ratification of the European Constitution and b) London was recently chosen over Paris for the 2012 Olympic Games. Disaster beckons, they would have us believe.

Furthermore, the catastrophists assert that the "French economic model" should be replaced by a "modern" economy - as though sweeping away a societal model that took many years to devise, to build and to fine-tune is easy (and desirable !) to do. Forever comparing French statistics with those in other countries (unemployment rate as well as healthcare, education and defense spending, for example), these ranting prophets and screeching snake-oil salesmen seem to have all missed the point in two important respects. What is truly galling, moreover, is that some French movers and shakers, who should know better, have donned their doomsaying jerseys and joined these preachers of cataclysm and ruination.

Stating that the "Anglo-Saxon model" is the "way to go" is the first major error, for applying selected "Anglo-Saxon" standards and measurements (notably "American" ones) to French society is like grading a soccer player on how well he or she can play rugby. There might be some points in common between the two sports, but there are differences which immediately make such comparisons invidious and frequently irrelevant. It's the same for these so-called "measurements".

The second - and more grievous - error is strikingly obvious. French society is not organized as, say, American society is.

What are the goals of American society ? Why, they're in the Declaration of Independence:

"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (la Vie, la Liberté et la recherche du Bonheur)

In France ? How are things organized ? Just look on the front of any mairie (city hall):

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity)

Quite a difference, eh ?

How can one apply identical measuring tools to societies with such different goals and render the measurements obtained meaningful so as to take subsequent action ? With great, great difficulty. Does one change the entire car when the motor misses on one cylinder ? Of course not.

It should be pointed out - over and over and over, as many times as necessary, to those who offer "analyses" and "solutions" to the French - that the great quality of life in France most assuredly didn't come about by adopting "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" but by being faithful to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. It's as simple - and as complex - as that.


L'Amerloque


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque

2 Comments:

Blogger jean said...

You couldn't be more right in your contrasting of the goals of the two cultures. Anglo-Saxons have long felt the need to prescribe models for the French which are just not compatible with the underlying beliefs of French culture. The French spirit of solidarity is a stronger force than many realize. They will never achieve liberte, egalite, and fraternite in the literal sense, but these remain strong values.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Frania W. said...

Thank you L'Amerloque for another great dissertation. The difference I see between the goals of the two countries as stated in their respective motto, and which have molded both societies since the end of the 18th century, is that the American “Life, Liberty & the pursuit of Happiness” was or is tailored to the ideals of a pioneer society: with Life, one can fight for Liberty & keep pursuing Happiness. And one should realize that the very word “pursuit” does not mean “catching” but “running after”. In other words, while pursued Happiness may never be caught, in pursuit there is Hope & eventually Conquest.

When at time of the Revolution the French Republic adopted its “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” motto now engraved on the façade of every Mairie, the French people living in the “Hexagone” were not going anywhere in search of further physical horizons. (Those who lived “outremer”, outside of France, leaned more toward the American motto.) Their goal was to change their society, a society that had its roots in religion & the divinization of its rulers since the Middle Ages. The goal of the 18th century philosophers who planted the seeds of the Revolution was to modernize French society. So out with kings, privileges & medieval rules. Let’s start all over again. Let’s put back on the drawing board a country that already exists and let’s change the rules so that we are all Free, Equal & Brothers. And with its “ups & downs”, “avances & reculs” and mistakes France has been trying for over two centuries to reach this goal. Just as the United States have tried, with their own “ups & downs”, “avances & reculs” and mistakes to reach their goal.

What makes the difference between the two are the words “Pursuit of Happiness” & “Fraternity”. These two concepts are practically opposed as, while the citizens of one country run after their Happiness, not concerned by those left behind (that’s how the West was won!), the citizens of the other are supposed to help each other as brothers (that's where Solidarity comes in). The one pursuing Happiness is free as a bird while the one trying to achieve Brotherhood is held back. It also must be noted that, as every human dream, none of these concepts has ever worked to perfection. Are they only dreams?

In his last paragraph, L’Amerloque writes; “It should be pointed out - over and over and over, as many times as necessary, to those who offer "analyses" and "solutions" to the French - that the great quality of life in France most assuredly didn't come about by adopting "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" but by being faithful to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. It's as simple - and as complex - as that.”

Isn’t it strange that by being faithful to the guiding principle of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité one can almost “catch” Happiness?

Frania

9:47 AM  

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