Theodore Dalrymple From: The Australian September 26, 2011 12:00AM
NO ONE who has read the French press for any length of time will have failed to notice that the term Anglo-Saxon is not one of praise or endearment, to say the least. For many contemporary Frenchmen, including, but not, only journalists, the Anglo-Saxons are what the freemasons were for their predecessors in the 19th century: participants in a vague but sinister plot to control the world and destroy French civilisation.
It doesn't matter, of course, that the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries differ considerably among themselves, in their societies, policies and interests. Roughly speaking, Anglo-Saxon means a combination of lack of savoir vivre, terrible food, ultra-liberalisme (a term of art meaning lawless capitalism red in tooth and claw) and sexual hypocrisy, that is to say a mixture of prudery and prurience.
The "markets" -- a typically Anglo-Saxon invention -- are taken as being both wildly irrational and at present engaged on a concerted attempt to destroy the Euro as a common currency. For believers in the Anglo-Saxons as the secret movers of the world, it could not be that the whole idea of the common currency was flawed in the first place and was bound to lead either to financial catastrophe or to a completely undemocratic and authoritarian central control of the economic life of the continent, or to both. Not a sparrow, or a French bank share, falls, but the Anglo-Saxons are behind it.
The French banks have lost nearly two thirds of their share value since July 1 this year. Why? Could it be that, exposed to Greek foreign debt, of which they hold about a half, at a time when Hellenic default is l'air du temps and the European finance ministers cannot agree among themselves what to do about it, the banks are in a somewhat fragile condition? Not according to the head of the French employers' federation, Laurence Parisot, for whom Wall Street and the City of London, aided by their journalistic accomplice The Financial Times, are responsible for an organised drumbeat. For her, euroscepticism, the lack of transcendental belief in the European project (though no one will say exactly what it is), is a kind of mental disorder rather than a rational assessment of the chances of 27 European countries coming together peacefully in a kind of giant latter-day Yugoslavia.
For the French economist Shahin Vallee, the Anglo-Saxons "have always regarded the Euro as an intellectual crime and have looked on its success with a certain bitterness". What exactly that success consists of, other than its survival until now, is not explained. It certainly allowed several countries, Greece, Ireland and Portugal among them, to run up unsustainable debts, believed from the first to be guaranteed by Germany. Who would have lent the Greeks so much money if they thought they were going to be repaid in drachmas?
An economist at the French bank Natixis (which, incidentally, lost $US450 million [$460m] in Bernie Madoff's scheme), Patrick Artus, claimed that the US was in desperate need of a loss of credibility of the Euro, because it did not want a viable alternative to the dollar: otherwise it would not be able to finance its own enormous deficits. The implication of this was that a giant plan had been concocted, presumably involving not only Wall Street but the government of the US, to depress and then destroy the Euro.
Contrary facts hardly matter for believers in such conspiracies. The Anglo-Saxon banks that, for Vallee, "will see in the difficulties of the Eurozone an opportunity to gain market share" as if they were a bloc like the Warsaw pact, vary greatly among themselves. The Canadian and Australian banks, for example, are not much exposed to fragile European debt, but the British banks have lent a total of something like $US135 billion in Ireland alone, that is to say approximately $US30,000 per man, woman, child and baby in the country. That German banks have lent the same amount, and Belgian banks almost half as much, suggests that in reality there is more convergence between Britain and Europe than between Britain and the healthier parts of Anglo-Saxonia.
The affair of Dominique Strauss-Kahn was also grist to the mill of the French, who see an essential conflict between themselves and the Anglo-Saxons, a clash of civilisations as it were (if, that is, the Anglo-Saxons can be considered civilised at all).
For Pascal Bruckner, a French intellectual normally of great intelligence, the motive for the arrest in New York of DSK was the following:
" To punish France for [its refusal to participate in the war in] Iraq, for Roman Polanski [the film director whom it refused to extradite to the US], for its laws on the veil and the niqab, to bring to heel this recalcitrant nation, so persistent in its dissolute ways, such is the ultimate meaning of the DSK affair, at the moment when America bites the dust and seeks convenient scapegoats for its decline."
Though published in Le Monde, this is surely verging on the mad. He finishes the article by saying that the Americans have nothing to teach the French about the art of love, rather forgetting that the encounter in suite 2806, whatever else it might actually have been, was not exactly one of the great love stories of the 21st, or of any other, century.
Of course, it would be grossly unfair to suggest that the denigration of Anglo-Saxons, or the belief in their plot to take over the world, is universal in France. The nation is far too large and intelligent for that. Many sceptics about the viability of the Euro are now finding a public platform there, and the response to the DSK affair has not been entirely supportive of his way of making "love".
A majority of the French now want him to retire from politics. The Belgian francophone newspaper Le Soir published a cartoon after DSK's self-exculpatory interview on television with the beautiful Claire Chazal. In it, a middle-aged male viewer switches off the television in disgust, saying, "Disappointing -- he didn't even come on to her!"
Still, the term Anglo-Saxon is not one of affection in France.