La Belle France, fromagerie of the world's misfortune

Posted: Dec 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Ah, Christmastime. Joy to the world. God bless us, everyone. Through the rapturous din of carols and chimes, a stray condemnatory note can be heard, chastising the yuletide revelers for being too materialistic, too concerned with gifts that come wrapped in pretty paper and shiny bows.

Who can help but sympathize with such concerns, as the groaning hordes of shoppers appear like Huns outside the doors of Wal-Mart? That is why I am so grateful for a special Christmas present - holiday present, if you must - for the whole world. No mere thing or shiny bauble, this present is an idea, glowing with an ecumenism that fires the mind and illuminates the heart, uniting nearly all mankind in fellowship.

What idea is that? Why, the total destruction of France, of course.

No, no, I don't mean - or want - to kill the French people and salt the earth where they live. That would be wrong.

I mean the destruction of France as an idea, as a shining fromagerie on a hill, serving as a beacon of asininity to left-wing radicals and a siren to kleptocratic Third World dictators, who, after a career of mass murder, want decent medical care, a good lawyer and a fresh croissant. Two new books are out that attack the cheese-eating surrender monkeys from two of France's three most vulnerable sides, facts and logic (the third vulnerability, duh, is its border with Germany).

For centuries France has claimed a monopoly on political virtue by glomming all the credit for the Enlightenment, and by pretending to be its anointed protector throughout history. Gertrude Himmelfarb demolishes the first part of this myth in her scintillating intellectual history "The Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments." The enlightenment was that moment when mankind allegedly first threw off the shackles of superstition, tribalism and tyranny, and embraced reason, universal human rights and democracy.

Personally, my own view on debates over the Enlightenment can be summarized by Mike Myers' Scottish crank character from "So I Married an Axe Murderer": "If it's not Scottish, it's crap."

Himmelfarb updates this ancient wisdom by persuasively placing the Scottish Enlightenment under the rubric of the British Enlightenment, so as to join Edmund Burke and Adam Smith in a single tradition. She also adds another Enlightenment, the American, to the mix as well. The French have long tried to claim that the American Revolution is merely an offshoot of the French Enlightenment project. Himmelfarb disagrees. She shows that the French took a different road to modernity than the Anglo-Americans, who took similar but slightly different routes.

The British valued virtue more than liberty, the Americans had it the other way around. But where the French differed is that they sought to replace the religion of old Europe with a new cult of reason. They even made Notre Dame Cathedral into a "Temple of Reason." By making a religion out of politics, with the State at its center, the French never embraced liberty the way Anglo-Americans did. It was this legacy which lent intellectual heft to all the great dictators, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin.

My friend and colleague John Miller picks up the story basically where Himmelfarb leaves off. In "Our Oldest Enemy," he and his co-writer Mark Molesky debunk the mythology that America and France were anything like sister republics fighting side by side in lady liberty's defense. Yes, the French throne - not the Enlightenment philosophes - helped us out during the American Revolution, but that was a calculated attempt to give Britain a wedgie.

But before that - during the French and Indian War - and almost ever after, the French have practiced a nasty Realpolitik towards America and the world. The French supported the Confederacy in the Civil War, and let's not count how many Frenchmen supported the Germans - and the Holocaust. Suffice it to say, the Hollywood version of French heroism leaves a lot to be desired. "Next to the weather," Gen. Eisenhower lamented, "[the French] have caused me more trouble in this war than any single factor."

Eisenhower's lament was perfectly consistent with our entire history with France, as Miller and Molesky relentlessly document. During the Cold War, de Gaulle was always more of a hassle than a help. France's opposition to the Iraq war had a soupcon of principle in a kettle of cynicism and oil-for-food petrodollars. Indeed, we forget that the phrase "millions for defense, not a penny for tribute" stemmed from America's refusal to acquiesce to French shakedowns during the XYZ Affair.

Indeed, the most annoying irony is that while they ribbit a big game about bringing liberty and civilization to the world, France's record is one of sowing the seeds of tyranny and corruption almost everywhere they've planted their flag. Meanwhile, Britain's former colonies are mostly moving in freedom's direction.

These two books make excellent Christmas presents for those who need to wake up and smell the caf?u lait. So joy to the world, and down with the French! But I repeat myself.