When, in December 2001, Jean-Marie Messier said that “French-style cultural exceptionalism is dead,” he aroused horrified protests, but he was not going nearly far enough. He could have added: in fact, French cultural exceptionalism has never existed, thank goodness. If it had, it would be French culture itself that would be extinct. Let’s suppose that the sixteenth-century kings of France, instead of inviting Italian artists to their courts, had said to themselves: “This predominance of Italian painting is insufferable. We’ll keep those painters and their pictures out of the country.” The result of this castrating démarche would have been to thwart a renewal of French art. Again: between 1880 and 1914 there were many more French Impressionist paintings in American museums and the homes of private collectors than there were in France, despite which—or because of which—American art was subsequently able to find its own wellsprings, and then influence French art in turn.
These cross-fertilizations are indifferent to political antagonisms. It was during the first half of the seventeenth century, when France and Spain were frequently at war, that the creative influence of Spanish literature on the French was particularly marked. The eighteenth century, which saw repeated conflict between France and England, was also the period when the most active and productive intellectual exchanges between the two countries occurred.
Revel sees the greatest threat to French culture not from American culture or capitalism but from a willful attempt to cut France and Europe off from outside influences and the march of history.
The real danger—conceivably a mortal one—for European culture is that anti-American and antiglobalist phobias might derail progress. Guy Sorman has shown the scientific and technological retreats this obscurantism has led to in his book Le Progrès et ses ennemis. And this isn’t some “right-wing” or “left-wing” thesis; it is a rational one. It is defended alike by the liberal-democrat Sorman and by the socialist Claude Allègre. The latter wages war against the idea that Europe should abandon nuclear energy, genetic engineering and research using embryonic cells. Should the pressure groups that agitate against progress win the day, in twenty years the European states will regress, he writes, “to the level of the underdeveloped countries, in a world that will be dominated by the United States and China” (L’Express, February 7, 2002.) The anti-American fanatics will then have succeeded in making Europe even more dependant on the United States than it is today.
Revel thinks isolation brings on stagnation and that influences from other cultures cause a culture to produce its own innovations and new cultural products and schools of thought.
The original French version of Revel's book was also discussed in this previous post John Vinocur: Why France disdains America.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 October 08 01:58 PM Civilizations Decay|