Anti-French “Racism”

A French intellectual reviews of “Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France,” by John Miller and Matt Molesky for the New York Times and (translated from the original French) accuses the authors of “racism”:

[t]he whole book is a mad charge (whose only equivalent I know is the fascist French literature of the 30’s) against a diabolical nation, the incarnation of evil, bearing in the body and soul of its citizens the stigmata of an ill will the only aim of which throughout the centuries has been the humiliation of America the great.

This manner of trapping the entire culture of a country inside a caricature presented as eternal and characteristic has a name: essentialism. Pushed to such an extreme degree, and culminating in the profound question that ponders if ”the French, in short, will continue to be the French,” essentialism is another name for a temptation to which it is surprising to see such apparently respectable minds succumb: racism.

The fact is, yes, there is a kind of racism in dragging out as evidence a text by Mark Twain that contains, we are told, ”more than a little truth” and according to which ”the race consists of human beings and the French.” Go ahead, these careful readers of ”Tom Sawyer” urge, ”scratch a Frenchman” and you will discover ”a savage” if it’s a man, a ”harlot” if it’s a woman — a brutishness, in any case, ”unknown in civilized lands”!

France and America deserve better than this opposition of two apparently antithetical but actually perfectly symmetrical lunacies.

Miller and Molesky respond here.

Note: The link to the NYT review should be working now. Also, here’s a link to the introduction to the Miller & Molesky book.

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