As the French celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation , it seems to me entirely appropriate to draw attention to a rather more sanguine view of French history.
French-bashing has always been something of an indulgent British cultural habit that appears to have caught on in the USA where I get the impression that it is fast becoming a national pastime. Speaking for myself, I find most of its manifestations to be crass and juvenile but that should not deter any serious and critical examination of the key role played by the French state in much of the darkness and turmoil that has so overshadowed the 20th Century.
Professor Christie Davies has done just that in a forthright and trenchant essay for the Bruges Group:
The French defeat in 1870 decisively confirmed France’s decline from being the most powerful nation in Continental Europe to that of a feeble and unimportant country rapidly falling behind Germany in population, economic importance and military strength. A decent and sensible country would have accepted that its relegation to the second division was inevitable but the French now tried to drag every country they could find into fighting the Germans. The French threw enormous sums of money into the economic development and thus military strengthening of Russia, then lost it all and nearly ruined themselves. The French shamelessly manipulated the guileless British into thinking they ought to be at the heart of Europe even though they never got further than the Somme. This delusion of an enfeebled France that it somehow had a historic right to dominate Europe, if not by force then by chicanery, is still the source of many of our more recent problems.
As I am not a historian I cannot vouch for the accuracy (or otherwise) of the various factual claims and I suppose it behoves me to point out that the Bruges Group is a think-tank staffed mainly by Conservatives who take a famously hostile view of the European Union.
That caveat aside, Professor Davies essay makes for a compelling, tragic and utterly damning read.