Blogs > Cliopatria > Damn French, always standing in our way

Nov 18, 2004 9:42 pm

Damn French, always standing in our way

No one in America appreciates a Gallicist. Claiming to know and understand the French is a step backward from being a Germanist (and I can claim to be both). The parade of books and articles that have been published in the last two years have armed the public with straw men arguments that form the basis of American familiarity with France. Each one claims that the nation is full of ungrateful contrarians bent on undermining American will.

Our Oldest Enemy is no exception. I have read reviews by conservatives who describe its argument as simplistic. Critics (willfully) ignore the contributions and assistance that France has provided to the US. The universalism, an exaggerated aspect of French political culture, is a legitimate target for criticism, but it is hardly different from the universalism of American democracy that is currently forced onto the world.

However, the notion of France being our oldest enemy is simplistic as well. How many states could claim that status? Very few were sufficiently organized and powerful to project their interests in a way that confronted American policy. In 1776 there were five: England, Portugal, Spain, the United Provinces, and, of course, France. Only two survived as world powers.

France is the straw man for promoting unfiltered American power. One nation stands in the way of the American will: the exercise of power is the means of defeating a weak, obstructionist nation.

BTW, I also want to congratulate Kevin Boyle, who was the graduate chair of history at UMass-Amherst when I was there, for winning the National Book Award.

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Jonathan Dresner - 11/19/2004

Well, it wasn't selfless. Doesn't mean that it wasn't help. Or that they didn't pay dearly for it later, in spades, and we were pretty snippy about it when their revolution came, as I recall.... something about Sedition acts?

I've always thought that the French aid was one of the great historical ironies of world history: they aided our revolution to tick off the British Empire, then when their citizens realized what it cost them it resulted in their own revolution. Kind of a two-for-one deal.

Nathanael D. Robinson - 11/19/2004

People refused to believe that France gave us any help--no selfless help, at least.

Julie A Hofmann - 11/18/2004

But wasn't there something about France being our oldest friend that went along with that Lafayette character and the Revolutionary War? Or was that something Dan Brown imagined?