As you read this it is very possible Paris is still burning. It certainly has been over this last weekend.
The Yellow Vests, I’m not quite sure if they are rightist or leftist —probably a mixture of both— have set cities aflame in a combustible protest against high fuel taxes. It resembles guerilla warfare, as roasted Renaults and piping hot Peugeots tell the story. The police want troops in the streets. But if you follow the news you already know this.
Some will guffaw, as the image of cheese-eating surrender monkeys dance in their eyes. And it’s true that Emmanuel Macron, the mommy-obsessed neo-liberal mannequin President of la Republique, is not quite John Rambeau. Though he has taken less of a dirigiste direction than his predecessors. He actually wants “academic selection,” meaning college admissions based on grades. The students of France disagree and are also now in the game. France has issues. But to dismiss her as some effete war loser just south of London is not to know a whit about history or culture. Of course, that describes the bulk of humanity.
Yes, my Francophile tendencies are showing. But they are borne not from snarky television comedy or a bumper sticker. I’ve been to Paris, and the rest of France, many times. Lived only several hours away in Germany for most of the 80s during my U.S. Army service and then college. Have family there. To throw away France on the embers of know-nothing bigotry is never to have sat in the Gare du Nord and did your best to casually smoke a Galoise to impress a pretty French girl sitting nearby. She was not impressed with the coughing fit that accompanied the attempt. It’s never to have been tearfully thanked by a Norman grandparent, who saw American Airborne troops land on a June night over seventy years ago, when he noticed your haircut and easily deduced you were a G.I. It is never to have spent hours at the Jeu de Paume or the Orangerie and marveled at the essential nature of beauty.
I assume also that those who think French tanks have one gear, reverse (yes, I indulge too), have forgotten a guy named Napoleon and another guy named Francois Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse. The good comte’s fleet bottled up Cornwallis, a move that directly led to our victory at Yorktown. So guess what? No France, no United States. Those of us who would have fought for the British might like that in the larger sense (I can hear the hissing. More on that touchy subject in a future piece), but I’m guessing the majority of you would not. And their victory at the Battle of Tours? Perhaps the most decisive engagement ever fought for Western civilization.
And anyway, the French have rioted like this before. It’s almost their national pastime. In 1968 leftist youth took to the streets and engaged with riot police over God knows what. It was the 60s and anyone under thirty engaged in God knows what on a regular basis. It eventually died down and those unwashed Bolsheviks grew up, sold out, and are now the people the current types are rioting against. No wonder the French came up with plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
The difference between a French protest and our Antifa shows is instructive. Our homegrown morons seem to wear all black (never a good choice for an outdoor event during the day) and cover their feral faces with masks. They turn over trashcans and start crying if a police officer looks at them the wrong way. The French protestors, as evidenced from recent coverage, wear designer clothes, perfect hair, just a little bit of makeup, and fetching frocks. And those are just the men. Okay, okay, I’ll stop it.
But truth be told many do dress like well turned out adults, seen to be having a better time than our agitators, and set way better fires. Plus more importantly, they have a talent for occasionally getting the CRS, the French riot police, to drop their shields, take off their helmets, and join in the amusement. The last time that happened, around 1789, there were many interesting consequences.
Though don’t think the French left gets all the fun. After the Jacobins took power in Paris the rest of France, especially in the pious Vendee, didn’t quite cotton to their brand of government. So the Vendee fought back and the Revo quashed the revolt with that particular style of Red vengeance. The targeted aristos met the same fate, but in a much more timid fashion. Sir Percy Blakeney, my personal spirit animal, call your office.
Today, the regime that runs modern France through the ultra-exclusive ecole system breeds the same type of resentment and bitterness that once energized the Vendee. France is a wired society. Don’t know the right people and go to the right schools to get the right tickets punched and you will be out of luck when it comes to the corner office. The European Union has only strengthened that process, as by sucking up to the Hun, the French delusionally think they have hard power status.
However, they remain the premier cultural capital of the West. Their art like Watteau and Monet, their music like Vierne and Reinhardt, beauty like Deneuve and Hardy, their literature like Stendhal and Hugo, prove it so. If you’ve ever taken a tour of the Piper-Heidsieck cellar and tasted stars, these things are self-evident.
If those Yellow Vests are fighting to throw off the chains of dirigisme and restore a semblance of meritocracy and capitalist democracy to France, then I say good for them. Burn, baby, burn…at least fast-food eateries and overpriced bordellos. If they are channeling Victor Laszlo, not Jean Paul Satre, then go for it.
But if this is the same old song and dance like the riots of 1968, then the charred storefronts, streets strewn with Molotov accessories, and smoky city vistas have nothing to do with high taxes or low taxes and everything to do with Parisian petulance and the modern French habit of senseless mayhem masquerading as social protest.
Pity, Paris is beautiful this time of year.