"I am very surprised because normally French are cowards"

On the day France just said non, her most consistently interesting writer, Michel "the stupidest religion of all is Islam" Houellebecq, happened to be in Los Angeles hawking a new McSweeney's translation of his 1990s book on H.P. Lovecraft. (For a look at Houellebecq's free-speech travails in France, read this October 2002 Jacob Sullum column; for a humorous account of him getting his Gainsbourg on for a New York Times gal, try this.)

Houellebecq's performance at the Armand Hammer Museum was eloquent if a bit narcoleptic, but he perked right the hell up when asked about France's historic vote:

It's very interesting!... In France, normally, we have a representative democracy. Is the correct word? With some little part of direct democracy. So it happens, and not very frequently, because it's dangerous, but when it happens it can result like with something more indicative than representative democracy.... When people speak directly, representatives have to shut up. And it happened today.

Probably 95 percent of the professionals of representative democracy had one opinion, and 57 percent of the people had the other opinion. It's a great moment, really.... It's a growing phenomenon -- representatives don't represent any more the people. [...]

I am very surprised because normally French are cowards. When it's important for the state, the government tells you that you have to vote yes, there's no reason to vote no, it's irresponsible to vote no. And they repeated it at high levels with more and more stress until the last day. And the people voted no!... It's incredible.

As he said this I could hear the teeth of French Consulate officials grinding in the seats behind me. According to a friend there, some 80 percent of local expats (including my multilaterist wife) voted yes on the Constitution, and the diplomats were unabashedly in favor. And the delicious paradox, bien sur, was that Houellebecq's trip was at least partly paid for by the Consulate, and therefore the French taxpayer. Not only that, but his notorious reputation required some kind of provocative opening act, and this turned out to be the rather painful-to-watch Velvet Hammer burlesque troupe. I think it was when the Tijuana midget was flashing her pasties that I turned around to a crestfallen French diplomat and said, "this is why your country voted no."

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  • Phil||

    Depending on the reaction to the vote, it may be that the cheese-eating surrender monkeys are in Brussels instead...

  • ||

    I was looking at the varios links, trying to find out why Islam is a stupid religion. Other than that all religions are stupid, and that the Koran is boring, I couldn't find a reason that he gives that the religion itself is stupid.

  • ||

    [blockquote]the delicious paradox, bien sur, was that Houellebecq's trip was at least partly paid for by the Consulate, and therefore the French taxpayer[/blockquote]
    and
    [blockquote]I could hear the teeth of French Consulate officials grinding in the seats behind me[/quote]

    Don't you mean the paradox is that French taxpayers, who are opposed to the constitutional treaty, are paying the salaries of the Consulate officials who are obviously in favour of it?

  • Franklin Harris||

    Houellebecq, happened to be in Los Angeles hawking a new McSweeney's translation of his 1990s book on H.P. Lovecraft.

    Which I received just a couple of days ago. Interesting stuff....

  • Tim Higgins||

    Not quite sure what about the French vote is evidence of courage. It's not as if they were Iraqis voting against Saddam while he was in power, or Cubans speaking out against Castro, etc. I'm not familiar with any record of the modern French government punishing dissidents. Don't worry, Mssr. Houellebecq, the French may very well still be cowards.

  • Rob McMillin||

    They voted it down for the wrong reasons for sure, but wothehell, Archy, wothehell. For once France does the right thing.

  • ||

    Phil: Like you, Houellebecq says religion is stupid. Why isn't that enough?

  • ||

    Some people talk about the desire for a nanny state and they are right but in many ways it comes back to the fact that the labor unions are so much more powerful than they are in the US and UK.

    It is too bad for the French people; except those who belong to the powerful labor unions of course. It appears as though the long steady decline of France will continue and as an American I suppose I am happy to see that.

  • ||

    It appears as though the long steady decline of France will continue and as an American I suppose I am happy to see that.

    There is nothing to celebrate in the decay of another country's economy. As a fan of free markets I welcome economic growth regardless of where it happens because it represents new trading opportunities for America, and I lament economic decline regardless of where it happens because it means a loss of trading opportunities.

  • ||

    Jeff Boyd � the decline of France means that when they do crash and the survivors come to their senses, they will have nothing to buy our products with. Not a good thing.

  • ||

    richard-

    On the plus side, if the French crash and burn and install a dictator (as so often happens when countries crash and burn), we can always fund him just out of force of habit! ;->

    I'll bet a lot of Americans would support subsidizing a French dictator if we just said "Last year, so-and-so murdered 20,000 French people, tortured another 50,000, and imprisoned a million others."

  • ||

    When I made the comment about it being good for America I had mixed feelings about it. The French leadership seem to regard America as evil and that is entirely too bad but if they are going to take this position I would prefer them to not try and "infect" the rest of the EU with this lunacy.

    Still; I just can't workup a good dislike of the French people. I like them too much and they are not cowards and lazy as many think. They are just poorly led and need a Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher to help straighten things out.

  • ||

    You are shooting fast with many inaccuracies but you are right that it isn't the end of the EU. France, however, has been in steady decline and I see nothing to indicate that this will change.

  • ||

    How does Britain have the lowest per capita income? Didn't they just have a bunch of former Soviet block countries join? What about Greece and Turkey?

  • ||

    I suppose the level of crazy talk on the thread today is the result of irresponsible blog visiting while intoxicated on Memorial Day.

    No constitution is perfect, but no constitution that runs to more than 400 pages in length could possibly be perfect (for examples of legal documents suffering from their length, I think one only need witness our tax code or election law). For whatever reason the French voted no--likely fear that their workers' paradise will be undermined by having to compete even more directly with places like Poland and Estonia and the cushy protections afforded workers themselves will be undermined by the free movement of labor--the Dutch seem likely to vote against it for a totally different one--because it is an example of PC-technocratism that flies in the face of their recent brushes with religious extremism.

    If the Europeans want to federalise, I hope they do so. I'm just glad they apparently won't be using the constitution lately on offer to them.

  • ||

    The question isn't whether or not the Koran is stupid-that's poorly phrasing the question. More importantly, what has the Koran done for those who practice its teachings?
    Very little in the past 1,000 years.
    Look for value in a religion in the type of society that the religion produces.

  • ||

    France is DONE and TOASTED.

    It WILL NEVER RECOVER. The leftists will
    in fact be taken over (and eliminated) by the Muslims by 2025. That is a statistical fact
    that you cannot change. The birth rates are
    well known. Eventually we will be at war with
    Muslim France.

  • ||

    War with France. For some reason I'm not worried.

  • rwellor||

    Am I the only person here focusing on the important part!

    The Tijuana Midget twirling her tassels!

    Now that's international diplomacy!

  • ||

    You know why we didn't ratify that Constitution? Because we've already got one! But you can't look at it. Why? Because you are Americans. Me, I'm French. Why do you think I have this outrageous accent?

    You don't frighten me, silly American pig dogs! I fart in your general direction. I blow my nose at you, sons of silly persons! Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!

  • ||

    Fear of the EU foisting (relatively) free-market and anti-protectionist economic policies on the French definitely had a role here, but I think other important factors are also at work. Namely:

    1. Anti-Elitism. The EU has always been seen by many French as a project pushed by a select few upon the masses. Coupling this with traditional anti-elitist sentiments (witness the 20% support of Le Pen, a baguette-eating Pat Buchanan) made for a potent mix.

    2. A fear that events were moving too quickly. It was only about a decade ago that the EU was primarily seen as a Western European economic union. Now there's already a grand push to solidify it as a continental political union. The speed at which it happened might've given some of those who are generally supportive of greater European political integration a sense of vertigo.

    3. Nationalism. Probably the most important non-economic factor. While there's an avant-garde on the continent (heavily concentrated among the young, political elites, and business leaders) that views itself as European first and French/German/Italian/etc. second, I think it's safe to say that a majority of EU denizens still hold the opposite mentality. Ratifying a federal constitution (and thereby also giving consent to the creation of an EU president and foreign minister) was likely seen by many of them as the red line whose crossing would mean that their homeland could no longer be really considered a soverign nation-state.

    It also probably didn't help that the EU decided upon a cartoon spokesman who made Captain America look cool by comparison (can't find the link to his site, but it was hillarious).

  • ||

    Eric II,
    Is it possibly Captain Euro? http://www.captaineuro.com/

    Now, am I to understand you're suggesting Captain America is not cool...?

  • Franklin Harris||

    Captain America is not cool, has never been cool and will never be cool. Flag costumes look silly on men. Now on women, like Wonder Woman, well that's a different matter.

  • ||

    Yep, that's the guy. The site's a laugh a second. The Captain America line was, in retrospect, an unconscious Freudian slip. I was thinking of Captain Planet, while referencing Captain Euro (whose name I couldn't recall), and so I ended up mentioning Captain America (whom I'm generally indifferent to).

  • ||

    Could it be that the generally pacifist French public, are rejecting Chirac's premise for creating a European federal entity? Perhaps they don't want to be the spear tip stuck in the side of the American superpower.


    You mean to say there really was a naked midget? I thought it was just a joke.

  • Jeff||

    We must not forget Capt. America's French nemesis Batroc the Leaper
    http://www.ebcomics.20m.com/batroc/index.html
    and his top 5 mosy humiliating defeats
    http://www.ebcomics.20m.com/batroc/defeats.html

  • ||

    Wow, that website is unreal. How did they hope to succeed when their biggest weapon was a eurostunner?

  • ||

    Interesting thought regarding antagonizing the American government but I doubt it. The French people and their leaders are anything but pacifist and in fact have a long and even recent history of military interventions in Africa.

    Their leaders want to be able to say when armed action is appropriate, however, and they have never approached the UN before taking action that they perceive to be in their interests. America wants to call all the shots too so we really aren't any different in that regard.

    One difference though is that America does not have an imperialist track record that France does. Mexico and Canada might disagree but we've behaved well for the last 150 years so that should count for something.

  • ||

    Tellement longtemps, et mercis de tous les poissons!

  • ||

    I was going to rip this apart, but ya know, I think it might be more fun to set it out here and quietly step away...
    ============================================

    "Captain EURO� is an internationally registered brand created by Twelve Stars Communications. He's fun. He's friendly and he appeals to all Europeans because he's totally multicultural and non-political. In other words, he is a true European - through and through. Captain EURO symbolises Europe's new popular culture. Europeans will identify with Captain EURO and related characters are applied to almost anything from T-shirts and stationery, to comic books and video games.

    Everyone will want to identify with the Captain EURO brand. It brings emotion to the concept of a united Europe, adding value to products and services.

    Captain EURO is the super-hero of Europe. He's the protector of Europe who holds out for justice, who promotes peace and carries the message of goodwill around the world.

    As Captain EURO and his partner, EUROPA, embark on one mission after another, breath-taking adventures unravel before them. The two take off at a second's notice, bringing together millions of Europeans and protecting wildlife and the environment as they go. Wherever they are, everyone recognises their distinctive European branding.

    Captain EURO makes everyone proud to be European."

  • ||

    One difference though is that America does not have an imperialist track record that France does. Mexico and Canada might disagree but we've behaved well for the last 150 years so that should count for something.

    Uh...the number of people who clearly remember France's last imperial adventures(Vietnam, Algeria)is dwindling by the day, while the number who can recall American imperialism (Honduras, Argentina, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and the latest Iraq excursion) is growing all the time. The trend is just as important as the history.

    The majority of French involvement in Africa since 1958 has been in support of the francophone nations, generally either helping governments root out marxist rebels or providing peacekeeping troops.

  • ||

    cdunlea - That is a great example of the double standard applied by the French.

    How many American troops and government administrators are maintained in all of your examples of American imperialism? America is Iraq now but it will be gone soon enough.

    There clearly is an element of economic imperialism but any country that does not want to trade with America doesn't have to.

  • T||

    cdunlea,

    The majority of French involvement in Africa since 1958 has been in support of the francophone nations, generally either helping governments root out marxist rebels or providing peacekeeping troops.

    Oh, really? How does complicity in the Rwandan genocide and siding with the rebels in Ivory Coast while shooting civilians fit into that paradigm of France's "selfless" intentions?

    I'll also note that France wasn't done killing Algerians in their last ditch attempt at maintaining the empire in 1958. They didn't give that up until 1962.

  • ||

    Complicity in the Rwanda genocide ????
    One of the stupidiest thing I have ever read!
    But, why should have the French helped the Hutus to kill the Tutsi ?
    Can you give us some reasons please ?

    "siding with the rebels in Ivory Coast"
    Come on Boy, The French army came to Ivory Coast because the legal regime led by Laurent Bagbo asked him to do so !!!
    At the time Bagbo's army was not strong enough to win again the rebels. But As I notice you never give any reasons or established facts to support yours opinions, that's so easy...

    "I'll also note that France wasn't done killing Algerians in their last ditch attempt at maintaining the empire in 1958. They didn't give that up until 1962"

    I also note that the FLN which was fighting the French in Algeria was a terrorist and marxist group who killed hundreds of thousands of people and not only French civilians. They mainly killed Algerians who didn't share their views.
    The French army was fighting the FLN not the Algerian people. It's the same idea that people who say that the American Army is fighting the Iraqis. No, they fight the insurgents that's different.
    Why do you think a vast amount of algerians supported the French gouvernment ?

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