Twittering classes in France, as in the USA, do twitter, but generally after thinking a bit, unlike most of the talking heads in the USA.
This IHT article, New leaders say pensive French think too much, quotes Finance Minister Christine Lagarde that “France is a country that thinks,” she told the National Assembly. “There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.”
The article is worth reading for Lagarde’s background and to hear the twitter she gets as a reply.
New leaders say pensive French think too much
Saturday, July 21, 2007
PARIS: France is the country that produced the Enlightenment, Descartes’s one-liner, “I think, therefore I am,” and the solemn pontifications of Jean-Paul Sartre and other celebrity philosophers.
But in the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, thinking has lost its cachet.
In proposing a tax-cut law last week, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their “old national habit.”
“France is a country that thinks,” she told the National Assembly. “There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.”
Citing Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.
Lagarde knows well the Horatio Alger story of making money through hard work. She looked west to make her fortune, spending much of her career as a lawyer at the firm of Baker & McKenzie, based in the American city identified by its broad shoulders and work ethic: Chicago. She rose to become the first woman to head the firm’s executive committee and was named one of the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine.
So now, two years back in France, she is a natural to promote the program of Sarkozy, whose driving force is doing rather than musing, and whose mantra is “work more to earn more.”
Certainly, the new president himself has cultivated his image as a nonintellectual. “I am not a theoretician,” he told a television interviewer last month. “I am not an ideologue. Oh, I am not an intellectual! I am someone concrete!”
But the disdain for reflection may be going a bit too far. It certainly has set the French intellectual class on edge.
“How absurd to say we should think less!” said Alain Finkielkraut, the philosopher, writer, professor and radio show host. “If you have the chance to consecrate your life to thinking, you work all the time, even in your sleep. Thinking requires setbacks, suffering, a lot of sweat.”
Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy, the much more splashy philosopher-journalist who wrote a book retracing Tocqueville’s 19th-century travels throughout the United States, is similarly appalled by Lagarde’s comments.
“This is the sort of thing you can hear in cafÃ© conversations from morons who drink too much,” said LÃ©vy, who is so well-known in French that he is known simply by his initials BHL “To my knowledge this is the first time in modern French history that a minister dares to utter such phrases. I’m pro-American and pro-market, so I could have voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, but this anti-intellectual tendency is one of the reasons that I did not.”
LÃ©vy, who ultimately endorsed Sarkozy’s Socialist rival, SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal, said that Lagarde was much too selective in quoting Tocqueville and suggested that she read his complete works. In her leisure time.
The satirical weekly Le Canard EnchainÃ©, meanwhile, mocked Lagarde for praising the sheer joy of work and quoting Confucius’s oft-cited line, “Choose a work that you love and you won’t have to work another day.”
Such “subtleties have escaped the cleaning lady or the supermarket checkout clerk,” a commentary in the newspaper said Wednesday.
The government’s call to work is crucial to its ambitious campaign to revitalize the French economy by increasing both employment and consumer buying power. Somehow Sarkozy and his team hope to persuade the French that it is in their interest to abandon what some commentators call a nationwide “laziness” and to work longer and harder, and maybe even get rich.
France’s legally mandated 35-hour work week gives workers a lot of leisure time but not necessarily the means to enjoy it. Taxes on high-wage earners are so burdensome that hordes have fled abroad. ( Sarkozy cites the case of one of his stepdaughters, who works in an investment-banking firm in London.)
In her National Assembly speech, Lagarde said that there should be no shame in personal wealth and that the country needed tax breaks to lure the rich back.
“All these French bankers” working in London and “all these fiscal exiles” taking refuge from French taxes in Belgium “want one thing: to come back to France,” she said. “To them, as well as to all our compatriots who are looking for the keys to fiscal paradise, we open our doors.”
Indeed, the idea of admitting one’s wealth, once considered dÃ©classÃ©, is becoming more acceptable. A cover story in the popular weekly magazine VSD this month included revelations that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable: the 2006 income of leading French personalities ($18 million for soccer star Zinedine Zidane, $12.1 million for rock star Johnny Hallyday, $334,000 for Prime Minister FranÃ§ois Fillon, $109,000 for Sarkozy).
“We are seeing an important cultural change,” said Eric Chaney, chief economist for Europe for Morgan Stanley. “Working families in France want to be richer. Wealth is no longer a taboo. There’s a strong sentiment in France that people think prices are too high and need more money. It’s not a question of thinking or not thinking.”
Still, the French seem to be divided about the best way to get rich. On Thursday, a widely reported TNS-Sofres poll of more than 1,000 people concluded that 39 percent of the French think that it is possible to get rich by winning the lottery; only 40 percent believe that getting rich can happen through work.
Certainly, the veneration of money more than ideas is new to French politics.
Other French presidents flaunted their intellectual sides. Georges Pompidou was a teacher and author of a widely read anthology of poetry still used in French schools. FranÃ§ois Mitterrand was a literature buff who collected rare books.
ValÃ©ry Giscard d’Estaing, now a member of the AcadÃ©mie FranÃ§aise, has written important political tomes. Even Jacques Chirac, who liked to drink beer and eat bratwurst, was acknowledged as an expert on Asian culture and art.
Sarkozy is by no means an intellectual dwarf. His campaign speeches were filled with allusions to weighty French thinkers. He wrote a book more than a decade ago about one of his heroes, George Mandel, a Jewish government minister before World War II who opposed the collaborationist Vichy government and was arrested and eventually executed by the Nazis.
Still, Sarkozy likes to boast that, unlike Giscard D’Estaing, Chirac and legions of ministers and senior civil servants, he did not attend France’s finishing school for the political elite, the Ã‰cole Nationale d’Administration. (Only one of his cabinet members is “Enarque,” as the school’s graduates are called, but nine of the 16 either practice law, like Sarkozy, or studied it.)
Some intellectuals find aspects of his man-of-the-people style a bit dÃ©classÃ©.
In an after-midnight round table on French television this month, Finkielkraut, the philosopher and a Sarkozy supporter, called on him to abandon what he called an “undignified” pursuit.
“Western civilization, in its best sense, was born with the promenade,” Finkielkraut said, noting that thinkers like Aristotle, Heidegger and Rimbaud all were walkers. “Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act. Jogging â€” it is management of the body.”
His fellow guests agreed. “It is a change of rhythm â€” it’s called Jimmy Carter,” said one, reminding viewers of the American president who brought jogging into the White House.
“And Bill Clinton,” said another.