Friday, 15 April 2016

Thought 183: France and the Collective

It is an arduous task to generalise about France without falling into easy cliché. That being said, I have the advantage of understanding French culture from an insider's perspective, having grown up in that country and experienced both its educational and professional environments. 

The thing that in my opinion sets France apart from many nations, particularly English-speaking ones, is that it is a nation that embraces collectivist philosophy and largely views the State with a benign eye, seeing it largely as a proper caretaker and representative of collective desire, political polemics aside. 

The word taxpayer in English, with all its connotations of being thieved upon by centralised authority and generally being a mug, shares little common ground with its French translation: contribuable, i.e. contributor, but in the sense of someone who happens to contribute. 

France is a dirigiste nation par excellence, at least on this side of the global map, and whereas in America everything philosophically stems from the individual, the government being largely seen as an illegitimate form of control and exploitation (including by the Founding Fathers themselves), in France it is the collective will which matters - as encapsulated in the ubiquitous French expression "l'intérêt général" (the common interest) - and this collective will is ultimately what government is there to give voice to and put into action. 

Of course this is a very idealised summation of French collectivism, as dissent against authority is a French specialty, but unlike in the American tradition, the individual matters little as compared to the volonté générale as determined by the permanent negotiation between centralised authority and popular dissent. 

Anarchism is not a particularly strong current in France - not to say it is elsewhere - as few French people view the State with quite the same level of hostility as Americans do theirs. Is this the sign of some French cultural flaw or is it to be welcomed as a refreshing change from anti-government neurosis which never considers the good that could potentially come from centralised authority acting morally? 

It is true that the general problem with collectivist philosophy, which has as its desire the purported greatest good for the greatest amount of people, is that it winds up being determined in practical reality by a select few who happen to be in power and who may well decide to act in their own self-interest rather than the collective's or be misguided entirely in their idea of the greatest good. 

Ultimately, however, government is made up of individual people, and history has seen more enlightened rulers and aristocracies than others, which goes to show that the value of a system of power organisation is always determined by the morality of its deeds, whether it be democracy, monarchy or anarchy. 

My ideal is and always will be moral anarchy but should government be here to stay, it is preferable in my view to coax it towards greater morality through collective pressure and other democratic methods. Many American anarchists view government as intrinsically evil but fail often to see that anarchy, should it be immoral, would always lead to non governmental but nonetheless real forms of coercion and power abuse over others.