Sarko, L’Americain

Clemenceau, a proto anti-American

Clemenceau, a proto anti-American

France is back in NATO. Why does it matter that more than four decades after de Gaulle slammed the door, Nicolas Sarkozy is to bring France back into the Alliance’s integrated command? The gesture – for it is more potent as a gesture than as an action – is Sarko’s most radical move to date. Not because it will change much on the ground: France is the fourth largest provider of troops to NATO and has led NATO missions to Kossovo and Afghanistan but because,

a) it will put an end to decades of hypocrisy: all through the nineties, French foreign policy required that any arrangement which put French forces at the disposal of NATO, had to be agreed in secret (Daniel Vernet, Le Monde 24/6/08)

b) it undermines the sacred cow of anti-Americanism and thereby strikes at the heart of the nation’s identity.

Because despising the Americans – for their materialism, their consumerism and their perceived philistinism, in short for their quintessentially un-French value system – has been an acceptable national pastime ever since May ’68. And even before that, as far back as the First World War, the French ruling classes, who were learning to resent the emerging superpower, felt entitled to the kind of savage remarks made by Georges Clemenceau (who happened to be married to an American):

‘America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation.’


6 thoughts on “Sarko, L’Americain

  1. I imagine it’s difficult when part of your motto is ‘Liberty’ to be in anyone else’s gang.

    France seems to strive so hard to protect all that is theirs from guarding the language to shielding their culture.

    But somehow I wonder if it’s all in vain.
    Trying desperately to plug the gaps and stop it all from seeping away, like keeping hold of a handful of water.

    Perhaps Sarkozy has also realised that if you’re not a shareholder in the company you don’t get to vote.

  2. Hi Lucy,

    Good to see you posting more regularly. (In my experience, the hits go up, even if they don’t reach the current posts. Such is the mystery of the blogosphere…) And thanks for the link; I will be long-overdue updating mine shortly, so expect a reciprocal!

    I had a thought for something that would be good on here, given the dire state of the global economy and your unique position. Perhaps you could let us know how the French are handling it -from the French POV?

    I once worked in Canada and have two friends there, both still working in banks. As a result, I discovered – and checked it out in the Globe and Mail – that at a recent G6 meeting, the head bods of Finance in Canada were saying they were better placed with less unemployment; better interest rates; less bank exposure to the sub-prime markets and a better (more provenly effective) financial regulatory system that worked and was a model others should consider following. All this, while all we had reported in the UK was that our PM was proclaiming that we were better placed to combat the recession (a dud) and that actions taken by our government made the model that others were starting to follow (repetitive syndrome with no result based on the original objective proves otherwise).

    It would be good to know what actions France is taking, to be able to compare.

    Just an idea for you…


  3. I don’t think I’ve answered your question in today’s post but I think The Economist article will. Thanks cfr, for the encouragement and for the idea. L.

  4. lucy,
    Great article. Love the quote from Clemenceau. You still misspell civilization. 🙂
    my best to you, from a decadent american,

  5. Anti-americanism is not evenly spread throughout France and very much concentratred among intellectuals. Most ordinary French I know like the Americans.

  6. It’s true and it’s worth pointing out that those people not in thrall to the dominant (left wing) ideology of May ’68 are generally not anti-American. However, you only have to listen to French national radio (France Inter and France Culture) and read the columnists of France’s main national newspapers, Le Monde, Liberation (inevitably), and even Le Figaro, to realise that anti-Americanism, among the ‘leaders d’opinion’, is still perceived as acceptable.

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