paul berman on the french

A major piece from Paul Berman in The New Republic analyzing the intellectual condition, as it were, among the French, and making a number of claims about the rise of a new anti-anti-Americanism.

Anyone who visits Berlin will recognize instantly that Germany is a nation that has suffered stupendous and unbearable defeats–a nation that has been reduced to rubble repeatedly by events, even if the Germans have themselves to blame for some of those events. A visitor to France will come away with no such impression. Rubble, in France? And yet it may be that France, too, is a nation covered with scars–a wounded nation, different from Germany only in France’s gallant insistence that it is not a wounded nation. I turn the pages of Roger’s history and the other books, and I contemplate Glucksmann’s observations about the hatred that arises from a revulsion at one’s own weakness, and it occurs to me that, instead of rubble, which the Germans have aplenty, the French possess the very remarkable literature that Roger and the others describe. Not exactly rubble, but a kind of wreckage–the literature of a wounded culture, expressing more than two hundred years of conscious and unconscious injury.

But I don’t want to go too far with this observation. France’s grandeur is not, after all, entirely an illusion. It may even be a sign of French grandeur today that, at a moment when a more-or-less systematic anti-Americanism has blossomed from right to left all over the world, France has, ever so quietly, made itself the international home of a new literature of anti-anti-Americanism–this new and radical and brilliant literature that has not yet worked a powerful effect around the world, or even on conventional opinion in France, and is certainly not going to produce a sudden shift in outlook, but which, even so, might well turn out to be, in years to come, an event in the history of ideas. A flash of self-awareness. The stirring of an eyeball, breaking through sleep. A new realization, just beginning to awaken.