"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."