June 5, 2008

Francophilia and the Future of Europe

By: James Poulos

Jim Manzi has recently re-promoted American francophilia. I like this, and sympathize deeply with French civilization and French culture for many of the same reasons Jim and Charles Murray dwell upon. But from the catbird seat of wide-lens cultural comparativism, I think the root of any American francophilia has to be found in the uniqueness of France´s experience with liberty. Sure, their Revolution all went horribly wrong in a way ours never did. But in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the French, really alone among Continentals, developed a great yearning for political liberty which they actually managed to put into practice. Or so one slightly too slick and reductive account of how the French spirit is like the American spirit might proceed.

I find this interesting, nonetheless, for two main reasons. The first is academic (what can we learn about the failure of French liberalism between the rise of Napoleon and the fall of Napoleon III?), but the second is quite practical. France strikes me as the only continental European power with both the cultural energy and the moral credibility to guide Europe out of the petty, doomed wilderness of microethnonationalism — and into a healthy, flourishing future as a single polity. The danger for someone who agrees with me is excessively projecting Americanist aspirations onto France; Europe cannot and should not ´try to become America.´ Europe´s path to unity will be unique to its own history, and to the particularity of its composite countries. Still…it´s hard to imagine how Europe can unify well without developing some new and strange breed of federalism.

I can´t pretend to have all the answers, here, especially not in a blog post. But it seems to me that the cultural and civilizational connection between America and France — much more so than that between the US and Britain — will and should figure significantly into Western thinking about the future of Europe and what we could start thinking of as France´s duty to take the lead. A world without a vibrant, assertive, but non-pathological Europe is, as history has shown, not a very good world. Certainly the compensatory burden that´s been placed on the US is an unnatural one. And surely the results have been mixed at best.