Why the French Behave As They Do

by Patrick J. Buchanan – March 5, 2003

Having rescued France in two world wars, Americans are puzzled. Why are they organizing the Security Council against us? Why are they sabotaging the president’s plan to bring democracy to Iraq, as we restored democracy to France? Why are they doing this?

What the French are up to, however, is not unreasonable, if one can see the world from the perspective of Paris.

To understand what France is about, and perhaps deal with our French problem with more maturity than dumping champagne in the gutter, let us go back five centuries.

In 1500, there was born in Ghent a future king who would come to dominate the world as we do today. At six, the death of his father Philip of Hapsburg gave Charles the crown of the Netherlands. At 16, the death of his grandfather Ferdinand made him Charles I of Spain and of all its dependencies in Italy and America. At 19, the death of his grandfather Maximilian brought Charles all the hereditary lands of the Hapsburgs and the expectation of being elected Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1519, that title had been in the Hapsburg family four generations. Yet it remained an elective office. And two young and ambitious rulers challenged Charles for that title: Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. Francis was by far the more formidable.

He set about bribing the electors. But Charles had access to the Medicis and the Fugger bank of Jacob the Rich, the strongest in Europe. Charles bought up more electors and was chosen Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

France was surrounded. Charles ruled almost all of what is today’s Spain, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy, except for the Papal States. What did Francis, seething with resentment, do? Exactly what balance of power politics dictated. He began making alliances with the nations not under Charles’ control, and went to war.

In 1525, Charles’ armies crushed the French Army at Pavia and captured the French king. “Nothing is left to me,” Francis I wrote to his mother, “except honor and life.”

By agreeing to humiliating peace terms, Francis won his freedom and returned to France. There, he began preparing at once for a new war, winning the support of the pope and the Italian states that were coming to resent the dominance of the hegemonic Charles.

Defeated again, Francis made alliances with Scotland, Sweden and Denmark, with rebellious princes in Germany, even with the infidel Turks, an unprecedented act for a Christian king. Francis fought Charles until his death in 1547. Point of this history: For Francis I, read Jacques Chirac; for Charles V, read George W. Bush.

Again, consider the world from the Paris point of view.

French was once the language of every court in Europe. I speak German only to my horses, said Frederick the Great. But now, because the Americans speak English, English is the language of diplomacy, of the Internet and the Global Economy.

Once, French culture was predominant. Today, it is not even competitive. It is American television and cinema Europeans watch, American books, magazines and newspapers they read. The Cannes Film Festival cannot compete with the Academy Awards.

Jealous they have been displaced, resentful of having had to be twice rescued by the Americans, France is following the dictates of balance-of-power politics, trying to form up and head up a coalition of the resentful, who equally oppose America’s military, economic and cultural hegemony.

When Americans began braying about being the “last superpower” and the “indispensable nation,” and tossing our weight around all over the world, it was predictable that this would happen.

Now, the French are trying to assume the leadership of the anti-Americans, and there are hundreds of millions worldwide who would relish seeing the haughty Americans taken down. And with the Red Army back in Russia, France no longer needs us to defend her, nor does she need NATO as a constant reminder of her past dependency.

We brought this on ourselves. Had we packed up and come home after the Cold War, and dissolved NATO and other outdated alliances, America would today be the most courted country on earth.

Instead of our bribing nations to fight their wars, they would be begging us to defend them. Instead of our spending national treasure on bases all over the world, other nations would be buying our arms to defend themselves. Instead of yelling “Yankee, go home,” they would be pleading, “Yankee, come back.”

As has been said before, we Americans are lousy imperialists.

The sole consolation of our mismanaged diplomacy is that it is the harmless French who have taken up the anti-American banner, not a more formidable strategic rival like the Russians or Chinese.