Can France stay distinctive in a globalised world?by prospect / February 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
What galileo said about the solar system-that it defied common sense, with the earth actually orbiting the sun-could be applied to France, too. Many analysts, after establishing the long list of France’s failures, reluctantly concede that this strange country remains the world’s fourth largest economy and still has an influence which extends far beyond what economic and demographic logic might suggest.
This paradox is the starting point of a new book, The French Exception by Andrew Jack, a former correspondent of the Financial Times in Paris. He writes that “the principal reason to examine French exceptionalism-and the main weakness of any argument that is too critical about its system and culture-is quite simply that while it is different, it works.” His book does not suffer from being too critical, and it is attractive-to a Frenchman at least-because, while balanced and well-informed, it remains sympathetic to France. But I am not sure it fully explains the paradox. The author eventually suggests that France cannot afford to be “so special” any more-that the hour of reckoning is coming and France must fall into line.
This strikes me as a very French way of looking at France. I wondered whether Jack’s analysis was not influenced by the sense of impending doom that sometimes appears in French conversations. But whether he is right or not should concern not only France, but also the rest of Europe: if France were to slip behind, at a time when similar worries have been expressed about Germany, it would have a big impact on the future of the European Union. The question has to be asked once again: ten years after the end of the cold war, is France condemned to a choice between remaining “special” and losing ground, or accepting radical change-with the risk of losing its “Frenchness” and maybe the secret of its success?
Outside its borders, France is often perceived as an arrogant country. If Flaubert could publish a new edition of his famous Dictionnaire des id?es re?ues, he might be tempted to define France as that country which keeps reminding the rest of the world qu’elle n’a de le?on ? recevoir de personne; that it has no lesson to learn from anybody… Not a good starting point in an interdependent world. But this puffing Gallic rooster should not mislead outsiders about the reality of France. I submit that the best-kept secret of French…