17. The French Cultural exception

17.2 Collective Schizoidy

Charles the fifth remarked “no nation has done so much for its ruin than the French one; but all helps it2. Jean le Bon, prisoner of Edward III in 1356, was released on promises his son did not keep. The French king Louis XI, prisoner of the duke of Burgundy in Liege in 1468, was well treated. However, at the death of the duke (Nancy 1477), the king annexed the duchy to the kingdom. The emperor Charles the fifth who had captured Francis I released him on promises that he knew Francis would never keep. The treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt left large parts of the regions annexed by France (Flanders, Alsace, Roussillon etc.) in the possession of France. W. Durant remarks on that occasion that the French population’s sole reproach to Louis XIV was not his crimes but his ultimate defeat. Napoleon, defeated in 1814 and exiled on the island Elba, in the Mediterranean Sea off Pisa, renounced his word and returned to France, to be irremediably beaten 100 days later at Waterloo. He was not hanged but exiled on St Helene, in the Atlantic. D. Landes notes that, after the Napoleonic disaster, the French only complained that he lost at Waterloo. Napoleon himself noted in his memoirs that Frenchmen are not fond of liberty but sacrifice everything to vanity. Napoleon III had the nerve to demand, on August 1866, Belgium in exchange for his services to Prussia against Austria. Bismarck refused and Napoleon III aggressed Prussia in 1870, persuaded that France’s armies would easily beat the Prussians (see fig. 9.5). Defeat taught the French nothing but amplified their desire of revenge because they had to return Alsace to Germany. They exercised revenge in 1918 but still learned nothing. Denied are the savage destruction of the Vendée in 1793, slavery until 1848, the crime committed in 1917 by its military and political leadership against its own soldiers (fig. 17.4.), the active collaboration with nazi Germany, the forced labor and killings of about 15,000 German prisoners in 1945, the ravage of Alsace in 1945, the lawless “epuration” of 10.000 collaborators and the legal execution of 1,500 of them, organized by de Gaulle while he was still in England. The crimes committed by the police in France and the army in Algeria during the Algerian war (in the sixties) were denied and hidden during the following forty years.

Afbeelding 37

Figure 17.4. Front page of a soldier’s newspaper edited on 20 December 1917, with a drawing of Gus Bofa illustrating the censorship applied to his journal: ”Interdiction to buy this number” It is number 129, censored by decree of 30 May 1917. The movie “The paths of glory”, turned in 1958 by S. Kubrick, was forbidden of projection in France during 17 years because it depicted the criminal haughtiness and ineptness of the French political and military elites in 1917 during World War I.

Goethe noted that “Whatever you tell them, they translate into their own language and all at once it is something completely different”. Goethe had diagnosed collective schizophrenia that easily degenerates into paranoid obsessions. When Werther, the young melancholic romantic imagined by Goethe invokes death, he thinks only of his own. When the melancholic young Napoleon dreams of death, he dreams only of the death of others.

This condition results from a tangle of inherited vulnerability and life stresses. The hallmarks of a schizoid personality are a lifelong pattern of social isolation and an indifference to the feelings of others. It is alienation not from reason but from emotion and instincts. It is a heightening rather than a dimming of conscious awareness. It does not prevent the schizoid personality to possess great scientific and creative talent. Eugen Bleuler, who coined the term schizophrenia in 1908, describes “a specific type of alteration of thinking, feeling and relation to the external world”. Schizoid fine minds, incapable of empathy, withdrawn and inaccessible, provoke a profound feeling of incomprehensibility in other people.

The French sociologist P. Bourdieu (1930-2002) remarked that the social sciences are a difficult field of study in France because it reveals truths about what one is, that no Frenchman wants to know. His study of the French social fabric was devastating. He denounced the imposture of the mundane and mediatic French philosophers whose method is scholastic, rhetoric and blind to its own social genesis. There is not, for Bourdieu, a disinterested speculation but a more or less successful way to hide one’s interests and one’s desire of social recognition. Note that Spinosa already had stressed the need to know the social conditions of emergence of systems of thought to detect imposture: determine the life and the conventions of the author of each book ( Das Kapital and Mein Kampf come immediately to mind but many other revered books should be put under scrutiny), his purpose in writing it, on what occasion, when, for whom, who were the people who designated and recognized the book as canonic, etc. Today, the philosophers Bernard-Henri Levi and Michel Onfray stand glaringly out as spurious yet they enjoy consideration and fame.

Bourdieu further denounced the imposture of French contemporary art. The consecration of industrial waste, household refuse and organic dejections as art objects cannot possibly be achieved unless narcissistic snobs give a priority to the ritual of legitimation over the esthetic value of these objects. He denounced the imposture of the French elites. French institutions are characterized by a strenuous search for political domination or for intellectual distinction. Striving for recognition and accumulation of a capital of prestige are the fundamental dimensions of the social life of the nation. He denounced also the imposture of the social determinisms that snub the liberty of adhesion of the citizen. The various systems of domination applied to the citizen and the conditions of existence imposed on the citizen specify the whole of the socialized corpus. The achievements an individual reaches matter much less than the place he occupies in the social hierarchy. Finally, there is the imposture of the French media, meekly submitted to the academic, economic and political powers, inclined to sensationalize scoops instead of the expression of opinions.


2. “Nulle nation n’a tant fait pour sa perte que la française; mais tout lui tourne à salut”.

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