Category Archives: France

An American in barbaric Paris

A breathless New York Times ninny on a visit to the French capital writes that the Centre national de la danse building (Jacques Kalisz, 1972), at which she

stared open-mouthed

for a long, long time,

radiates childlike exuberance.

Dalrymple remarks:

Anyone who can see childlike exuberance in such a building is capable of seeing the milk of human kindness in a Nuremberg Rally.

 

Repulsive, disfigured Paris

The approaches to the city are visually hideous, writes Dalrymple.

Practically everywhere beyond the confines of the centre, the eye is greeted by a modernist mess of gargantuan proportions, and every occasional building that is not a total eyesore was built before 1945.

He notes that there has been

an utter collapse of æsthetic ability, judgment, and appreciation in France.

M. Clean

Freelance riot control: Alexandre Benalla, right, in action on May Day. He stands accused of assault and impersonating a police officer, apparently for the heck of it

An agent of presidential security, writes Dalrymple,

is not supposed to comport himself like the bouncer of a provincial nightclub.

Dalrymple asks whether this is the moment

to bring Emmanuel Macron back down to earth, with the president increasingly criticised for his monarchical manner and basking in the reflected glory of the French victory in the World Cup.

The affair, Dalrymple says,

has not yet run its course, and though it will fizzle out, it is another nail in the coffin of Macron’s popularity. Impunity in high places can only promote disorder below.

He adds:

Any politician who lives by cleanliness dies by dirt.

Did Goolagong’s victory help the Aborigines?

Dalrymple writes that the victory of les Bleus in the World Cup

no more solves the social problems of France than did the victory of ­Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon solve the problem of Australia’s Aborigines.

The outburst of hysterical optimism in France

is destined not to last very long — as it did not the previous time, in 1998, and as the riots in the Champs-Élysées and elsewhere indicate.

Of course, he says,

the desire for a magical or symbolic solution to intractable problems springs eternal.

Les Bleus champions du monde: des photos pour l’éternité

Dalrymple lights upon this heading in the French magazine the Point. He is reminded of

Kim Il-sung, president of North Korea for eternity.

There is, he writes,

something in the modern régime of bread and circuses that encourages such stupidity, in which a minor accomplishment counts as major and serious problems go by default.

Celebratory rioting, looting and arson

His heart swelled with patriotic relief when rioting broke out in various cities in France during the celebrations of the country’s victory.

Here, at last, was evidence that the English are not uniquely stupid and that other nations are catching up.

Some of the rioters who left the Champs-Élysées in a terrible mess

came prepared, bringing balaclavas. They smashed windows, looted stores, and attacked what in France are known as the forces of order. Nearly 300 people were arrested (more than 100 in Paris), and more than 800 cars were burned out. The fact that the forces of order felt it necessary to employ water-cannon and tear-gas suggests the problem was not on a minor scale.

But the ­reporting in the French press of these happy events, and in the Western liberal media,

was muted, to say the least. Why the reticence? Riots generally make excellent copy, none better in fact.

Celebratory looting and rioting

National rejoicing in France

British culture: a form of ruminant grazing

The terrible deterioration in the character of the English

The decline of religious belief, writes Dalrymple,

which provided a basis for personal responsibility, occurred at the same time as a decline in Britain’s world power. Intellectuals, impotently enraged by this, mocked at every value and belief, without providing alternatives. Unlike France, which remained the standard-bearer of a language and a culture, Britain was turned into a province, a deep humiliation for a country which had been metropolitan for two centuries.

Young Britishers

have been deliberately deprived of any knowledge of British achievement: they know nothing of Shakespeare and Dickens, Newton and Darwin, Brunel and Lister. They know of nothing of which they can feel proud.

In the absence of a system of values, says Dalrymple, adolescent revolt

has become a permanent state of mind.

The lack of belief in anything

is compensated for by shrillness, as if noise could fill the void.

The trouble with Britain is not the government. It’s the people

The malaise, Dalrymple points out, is not confined to an underclass.

Every week I meet members of the middle classes who consider themselves victims of some injustice or other in order to lend significance to their lives. They are only victims in the sense that Marie Antoinette was a shepherdess.

The attempt to find transcendent meaning in social justice

destroys or perverts aesthetic appreciation: for how, it is asked, can beauty and injustice subsist in the same world? The aggressive ugliness (not mere lack of taste) of the mode of dress of many of my younger patients, especially those with intellectual pretensions, is intended to provoke the very rejection that will then be used to justify the resentment that gives meaning to otherwise meaningless life.

Essentially personal dissatisfactions (of the kind attendant upon life) are projected on to society as a whole. This

has its advantages: it absolves one of the often painful necessity of self-examination. But it breeds the angry passivity that is now almost a national characteristic.

The sullenness of many of Dalrymple’s young patients

is not mere adolescent rebellion, it is a permanent condition: they will not grow to courtesy. They do not have the dignity or self-respect of previous generations which have known suffering that is not self-inflicted.

How young French Muslims are abandoned by society

Dalrymple writes, by way of understatement, that France has not been especially successful in integrating its immigrant population into the mainstream of national life. This, he points out,

need not be because of any higher levels of xenophobia or racial prejudice: a more rigid labour market will prevent integration quite successfully. Laws to protect the employed have the effect of enclosing unskilled immigrants not merely in ghettoes, but in workless ghettoes. Anyone who has visited the ring of Le Corbusier-style ghettoes around Paris (or other French cities) will soon realise that by comparison with their inhabitants the average Brixton drug-dealer is a model of integrated respectability.

Dalrymple explains that Islamic fundamentalism is not much in evidence among the disaffected young prisoners of France,

and is therefore of not much importance, at least numerically.

The problem is that Islamic fundamentalism

has its attractions for the more intelligent, or at least the more intellectual, among them, who seek a total explanation for, and solution to, their predicament. And as we have seen, it doesn’t take many people to disturb the peace of the world.

Muslim prisoners in France are

not deeply religious, or indeed deeply anything.

France has successfully secularised the Muslim younger generation,

but without having replaced the religious ethic by any other. They are left in a vacuum, suspended mentally and culturally somewhere between the Maghreb and France, but belonging fully to neither, and therefore at home nowhere.

The rigidity of the labour market

makes it more difficult for them to redeem themselves by work,

and modern culture,

which holds out easy enrichment as a solution to existential dislocation, makes crime a permanent temptation.

French prisoners of North African origin feel that French society is fundamentally unjust.

They do not so much deny that they have done what they are accused of having done, as justify it as a revenge upon, or at least the natural consequence of, that primordial injustice.

This resentment, Dalrymple notes,

is simultaneously a powerful provoker of crime and an obstacle to rehabilitation. What these prisoners need, apart from the passage of time that in itself cools the ardour of criminality, is not what they get in prison — antidepressants and tranquillisers by the bucketful — but a Socratic dialogue that will help them to overcome their resentment. If the principal cause of crime is the decision to commit it, then the removal of a justifying sense of grievance is of great importance. In addition, prisoners, and those who will soon become prisoners, need real opportunity, not chimerical equal opportunity, which is to say government of bureaucrats, by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats.

The superiority of Air France over British Airways

Dalrymple will not go into

the rights and wrongs of the managers’ decision to make 2,900 employees of Air France redundant, and whether such a decision was in effect forced on the managers by

  • the financial situation of the company
  • the intransigence of the staff who militated against any kind of change in their very comfortable billets
  • the excessive social charges that the French state imposes upon all employers in France
  • the subsidies received by some its main competitors

He will not go into the matter because he admits to

a weakness for Air France: I find its service agreeable by comparison with, say, that of British Airways, which is as lumpen as the nation of which it is the principal carrier, even though Air France is strike-prone and such a strike once left me stranded in Port-au-Prince. I did not mind this very much, for it allowed me to make the acquaintance of the eminent German author of books about Haiti, Hans Christoph Buch.

France’s chronic malaise

Dalrymple notes that among the country’s problems are

  1. its frightful battery farms of resentment, trafficking and delinquency — in atmosphere if not physically, worse than anything in England
  2. the decay of its vaunted educational system thanks to the belated adoption of gimcrack theories
  3. its appalling modern architects, who are among the worst in the world. After 1,000 years of successful practice, the French now cannot build a decent house
  4. its rigid labour laws, social charges, regulations and legal bias against small businesses that inhibit efforts at expansion and reward idleness

On 4. Dalrymple writes:

Only three weeks ago, two small businessmen — one a forester in the depths of la France profonde, the other a Parisian taxi driver of Vietnamese origin — complained to me that, after 40 years of work and paying taxes, their pensions would be no larger than those who had never worked in their lives. (The taxi driver said that if, in the second round of the election, it came to a choice between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, he would vote Le Pen.) I did not ask them how many people they knew of pensionable age who had never worked; but certainly I know people in France who regard a two-year sabbatical on unemployment benefits as their right rather than as a shameful act of exploitation.