March 31, 2005


De Gaulle's Tattered Legacy (Jim Hoagland, March 31, 2005, Washington Post)

Charles de Gaulle bequeathed the French two big ideas and the atomic bomb to see them through the sad national duty of surviving without him. The bomb is still there and probably always will be. The ideas may not be as resilient. They face severe challenge this spring.

One idea was to form a superbly educated, merit-based political elite to revitalize the defeated and demoralized nation that emerged from World War II. The cream of the intellectual crop would be chosen by rigorous examinations, educated in prestigious national schools and assigned important government jobs based on grades.

This meritocracy produced two working generations of talented, dedicated administrators who gradually moved to the top of France's business and political establishments. How you respond to "the French" depends in some measure on how you react to dealing with the smartest kid in the class, who cannot resist occasionally reminding you of that fact. You may not find that as invigorating as I (usually) do.

Is there a more absurd notion than a French elite? Who's the last Frenchman that mattered? Napoleon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2005 12:22 PM

And he was a Corsican...

Posted by: Peter at March 31, 2005 12:26 PM

Napolean III. And he mattered in his manner of losing - in Italy, in Mexico and at Sedan.

Posted by: Brandon at March 31, 2005 1:02 PM

"...saps the moral authority of Chirac's government"

This is my leader in the clubhouse for the oxymoron contest.

Posted by: jeff at March 31, 2005 1:41 PM

jim has an odd idea about merit and what constitutes a meritocracy. not odd for a wapo journalist, just odd compared to the definition of the word.

Posted by: cjm at March 31, 2005 2:12 PM

A nation run by intellectuals, 'the best and the brightest'. No wonder it's like it is.

Posted by: Mikey at March 31, 2005 3:23 PM


That's defnitely the best candidate for the last Frenchman who mattered.

The only others I can think of who might contend for that title (Clemenceau, deGaulle himself) fall short. In the realm of intellectual figures, Sartre is simply a mirror of his times, and not that original in his view of the depsair about him. Perhaps Camus or Maritain?

Posted by: cornetofhorse at March 31, 2005 3:34 PM

Serge Gainsborough.

Posted by: carter at March 31, 2005 4:17 PM

Pierre Curie?

Posted by: Bob at March 31, 2005 4:40 PM

Inspector Clousseau?

Posted by: oswald booth czolgosz at March 31, 2005 6:05 PM

Jean Van de Velde

Posted by: g eugene at March 31, 2005 6:41 PM

Didn't we just go through this topic about famous Frenchmen (persons)? I thought the answer was Andre the Giant and Bridgett Bardot (when she was a young tart).

Posted by: AllenS at March 31, 2005 6:54 PM

Raymond Aron? Gilson?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 31, 2005 8:54 PM

Heck, when was the last time that France mattered?

Posted by: ray at March 31, 2005 9:23 PM


Under Napoleon.

Posted by: oj at March 31, 2005 9:36 PM


And, as this guy points out, in the end he was no match for a British footwear designer.

(Also see this.)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 31, 2005 9:45 PM

Marshall Petain, the sublime exemplar of Gallic flexibility.

Posted by: Axel Kassel at March 31, 2005 11:45 PM