12 June 2011


The French have a special knack for being interesting.  They seem to fail at many other skills that require more discipline.  For example, they are notoriously bad at fighting wars and organizing governments.  The French collapse in the face of Hitler’s invasion in 1940 is a good example of the former, the number of total political collapses the French state has experienced since 1789 a good demonstration of the latter.  Furthermore, it is a general truth that French thinkers make poor systematicians.  Somehow the gallic mindset must not lend itself toward a broad view of the world, since their most famous theorists and philosophers (Voltaire, Sartre, Camus, Barthes, Levinas, Descartes) usually write in short, manifesto-like tracts or literary works and fail to follow out the implications of their own thoughts.  The upside is that works written west of the Rhine tend to read more easily than those written to the east, in the land of systematics.  Discipline and principle seem to be the stuff of the German mind, though this apparently breaks down every few centuries, and always in a very dramatic way.  The French, meanwhile, are good at turning a phrase, showing us a glint of wit or insight, and then moving on.  Dwelling too long on a thought would make it tedious, and so, though one should never really look to a French thinker for a broad philosophical framework or worldview (alas for the poor souls who do!), they are always good to turn to when one is feeling intellectually dry.