France: Not Crumbling, says Judt

The estimable Tony Judt (whose Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956 I just finished) takes to the op-ed page of the New York Times to — gasp — sort of mildly defend Jacques Chirac! In passing, he aims a few darts at America’s Europhobes

On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Chirac’s political obituary is being written in distinctly unflattering terms.

But is the French situation really so dire? From every quarter one hears calls for “reform” to bring France more in line with Anglo-American practices and policies. The dysfunctional French social model, we are frequently assured, has failed. In that case there is much to be said for failure. French infants have a better chance of survival than American ones. The French live longer than Americans and they live healthier (at far lower cost). They are better educated and have first-rate public transportation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower than in the United States or Britain, and there are fewer poor people.

Yes, France has high youth unemployment, thanks to institutionalized impediments to job creation. But the comparison to American rates is misleading: our figures are artificially lowered because so many dark-skinned men aged 18 to 30 are in prison and thus off the unemployment rolls.

2 thoughts on “France: Not Crumbling, says Judt

  1. Uuuuuh! If that last sentence had been from the feather of a European (not to say German) journalist, that would have been a delicious feast at Davids Medienkritik…


  2. Tony Judt certainly defends Chirac – but not convincingly. Judt’s advances various points in Chirac’s defense but the whole thing has a disjointed feel to it.

    The criticism of Jacques Chirac which really matters has little to do with what Americans like of dislike about him but rather the fact that he was an utter failure as the reformer which he claimed to be and was elected to be in 1995. France is not ‘crumbling’ I would say, but it is losing ground and has definately lost it’s way. It’s not me who makes that judfgement but the people of France themselves – I’ll take their word for it. Chirac failed badly at his real job and the crisis has deepened. But it takes a deep crisis to provide the incentive to change profoundly enough to make a real difference – as De Gaulle did in 1958. France seems to need a major crisis every 30-70 years; it has been almost 50 years since 1958 and the pain level is rising…..

    Where I differ from the Mark Steyn’s of the world is in historical perspective – France is not ‘doomed’. Or perhaps France has been doomed many times over history but has nevertheless managed to avoid the final dissolution (1815, 1871, 1914, 1941, and 1958) and will no doubt do it again. ‘I have a certain idea of France’ – Charles D Gaulle. He was not alone.

    I do believe the ‘dictatorship of the beauracracy’ (to coin a phrase) has about run it’s course in France and in the EU. Time for France and the EU to try new ways of doing things. I’d say the same thing about the US as well, of course. As much as I may deplore them personally the new Democratic congress represents an opportunity for the US to reform certain thing which need reforming – much as their GOP predecessors did in 1995. A nation needs a change more often than once every 30 or 40 years. remember the old Imperial Democratic Congress? That was a bad thing, but replacing it with an Imperial GOP congress would likely be an equally bad thing. The Democratic victory of 2006 broke that up, which was needed sooner or later.


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