The Government of France

The Government of France

The Government of France

The Government of France

Excerpt

A perceptive son of France once remarked that throughout history his motherland has been obliged to live dangerously. This observer saw France's perilous history as the consequence of exposed geographic position. Others have claimed that the French people lived dangerously because their Celtic origins compelled them to combativeness; still others have ascribed France's adventurous life history to an inquiring and even aspiring national mentality, which some Frenchmen turned to individual genius in art, literature, and philosophy, while others were building both the most brilliant and the least exalted political traditions. Whatever the true causes, we are here concerned with a people whose relationship to life is as dramatic as their history has been, a people who have employed the same sense of daring in choosing their art forms, their fashions, and their cuisine as they have in building empires, in experimenting with almost every known form of political system, and in fighting innumerable wars and revolutions. It is no paradox, then, that some Frenchmen may have carried their disdain for the norms of middle class life, at any rate in the past, to a point of trembling danger.

France has often been described as a woman. The French people themselves have frequently chosen female figures to symbolize their country, suggesting in so doing the infinite variety they find in their homeland and the range of emotions which it induces in them. Indeed, the Frenchman sees in France all the qualities of feminity--the softness of her country side, the passion of her people, the pettiness of her national jealousies, the capacity to endure suffering under indignities, even the splendid mixture of beauty and ugliness of her older cities. They may love or scorn France, but because she is a woman they cannot ignore her. In fact, the absorption of the French people with France is the hallmark of their political life.

When a Frenchman speaks passionately of France he may be identifying himself with a moment in her history of which he particularly approves (or which he abhors) or he may be expressing admiration (or despair) at the whole kaleidoscope of French history, accomplishments, and failures. In his mind the motherland has lived not only dangerously but vividly; it has produced heroes and villains, though heroes and villains may not be the same for different men. Napoleon or Robespierre, Richelieu or . . .

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