It is yet one more surprising fact that France is perhaps the only developed, capitalist-oriented country on our planet where so many people are ready to believe that society is composed of a Manichean division between rich and poor, and where so much credibility is lent to a Marxist-inspired, ideological doctrine which seeks to create, through revolution, an egalitarian, classless paradise for all. For, as we already have had occasion to observe, this vision still imparts a distinctly red hue to the French political scene where it not only colours the moderate left (which, in consequence, has less room for manoeuvre than its European neighbours), but also weighs heavily on centre and even right – to which it imparts a more leftist inclination than with many Socialist governments elsewhere.
And it also constitutes an important cog in that machine of state, la Fonction Publique, the Public Service, and is present enough to divert union efforts from necessary social reform by assigning to them a strongly ideological role. For, paradoxically, the main reason France is ravaged by strikes is not due to exceedingly high union membership (the opposite is the case compared to most countries), but because left-wing extremism is not diluted enough by the presence of sufficient numbers of non-politicized members. As a result, the more leftist syndicats are frequently controlled by a minority concentration of hard-liners who consider their function to be more political than social in so much as they perceive their union as a counter power to capitalistic governance and are, therefore, more intent on imposing egalitarian doctrine than reforming or improving working conditions. In addition, egalitarianists tend to be portrayed by much of the leftist media as being not half so diabolical as their extreme right-wing opposites, the nationalistic, anti-immigration stances of which are associated with strong fascist tendencies, reminiscent of Vichy collaboration with the Occupant during the Second World War, and as such a denial of the legacy of the Revolution, and the values represented by a country still proud of its reputation as the cradle of human rights and individual freedom.
So anchored in the mentality are these egalitarian attitudes that they can be frequently observed in the banal situations of everyday French life. And it is certainly this same egalitarian factor, moreover, which has spawned that exclusive French tendency whereby more private satisfaction is gained from the failure of others than by one’s own success, and has produced in many a Frenchman the secret urge to end what he perceives as ostentatious personal advancement by reducing the successful person to the level of everybody else.
In this respect, my English alter has recalled to my mind that experience my company-owning neighbour, Monsieur Martin, had during a period when the relative tranquillity of the town where we live was disturbed by a series of top-of-the-range car thefts. One evening, on leaving the restaurant where he had been dining with a customer, Monsieur Martin was mortified to find that the space in which he had carefully deposited and then locked his recently-acquired limousine some two hours previously was now as vacant as the most gaping of yawns. It was certainly the same soporific kind of simile which occurred to Monsieur Martin, for it took a series of vigorous, self-applied pinches to convince him he was not in the land of dreams, and send him along to the commissariat, the police station, to report the theft.
A policeman was seated at the reception desk, his eyes intently focused on the sports page of the local newspaper spread out before him. It soon becoming obvious to Monsieur Martin that his precipitous arrival had in no way altered the policeman’s resolve to finish the article he was perusing before indulging in any professional activity of note, my businessman neighbour took the liberty of producing a discreet cough. The policeman slowly lifted his head and, raising a peremptory finger in the vague direction of the three subdued-looking citoyens Monsieur Martin had failed to see perched on a bench opposite, gruffly enjoined him to ‘Wait your turn … like everybody else!’ Monsieur Martin meekly complied. A few minutes later, wishing to inform Madame Martin of his predicament, and realizing he had left his cell phone in the stolen car, Monsieur Martin again approached the policeman, and politely asked if he might avail himself of the telephone reposing on the desk. The same imperious forefinger was lifted, this time towards the door, and the same grumpy voice was heard to say, ‘Why can’t you use the public phone box outside … like everybody else?’
After a lengthy wait the officer finally summoned Monsieur Martin to come forward so that he could take down his statement. After noting his name and address, he asked him for the registration number and make of the stolen vehicle. On being informed it was an expensive German marque, the policeman’s eyes shot up and his lower jaw dropped down in an expression of irritated stupefaction. ‘But why can’t you drive a Renault,’ he growled, ‘like everybody else?’