The striking idiocy of the French "youths"
THE SIGHT OF MILLIONS of Frenchmen, predominantly young, demonstrating in deep sympathy and solidarity with themselves, is one that will cause amusement and satisfaction on the English side of the Channel. Everyone enjoys the troubles of his neighbours. And at least our public service strikers just stay away from work, and spend the day peacefully performing the rites of their religion, DIY, and not making a terrible nuisance of themselves. In fact, many of them are probably less of a public nuisance if they stay at home than if they go to work.There is much more.
Of course, demonstrating in huge numbers is what the French do from time to time. We should never forget that to break a shop window for the good of humanity is one of the greatest pleasures known to Man. Trying to topple governments by shouting insults is also great fun.
We like to think of France as having a deplorably statist and centrally controlled economy, while the French like to think of Britain as a land of savage liberalism (in French parlance, the two words are as inseparable as Siamese twins), divided unequally between plutocrats and beggars. In fact, the two countries differ far less than is often supposed. While it is true that there remain some differences — despite Gordon Brown’s best efforts, the British labour market is still more flexible than the French — the similarities grow daily more striking (as it were).
The ultimate cause of the demonstrations and strikes in the two countries is the same: the State has made promises that it is increasingly unable to keep. It has pursued policies that were bound in the end to produce not just cracks but fissures that could no longer be papered over. The main difference is that while Dominque de Villepin is tentatively dragging France, albeit kicking and screaming, and with every likelihood of failure, in the right direction, Mr Brown is still stuck on the royal road to disaster, for which the British people, but not of course Mr Brown, will ultimately pay very dearly. When the crash comes, the social dislocation in Britain will make French disaffection seem positively genteel.