On the culture that is France


There really does seem to be something to this "cultures have a culture" idea you know. That France is different from England, Germany from Italy, for reasons far more deep rooted than simply language or style of governance. Take Sarkozy's latest bright idea:

Google’s plans to provide digital versions of classic books over the internet have run into trouble in France after President Sarkozy vowed to spend hundreds of millions of euros to see off what he regards as a threat to the country’s cultural heritage.

Mr Sarkozy has signalled that he will earmark a substantial portion of a new state investment fund to try to head off Google’s drive to digitise French-language and European books and art.

“We are not going to be stripped of our heritage for the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is," Mr Sarkozy said.

“We are not going to be deprived of what generations and generations have produced in the French language just because we weren’t capable of funding our own digitisation project."

There are several different mistakes wrapped up in that. That someone is willing to find the digitisation project does not mean that France or the French are deprived of their heritage: it means that they get it cheaper than if they did it themselves. That France (or at least, a Frenchman) is up in arms at the thought of Americans having anything to do with French culture is also behaviour quite usual. And there's also this quite cute insistence, quite contrary to any measure of human experience, that government will handle either a technical, cultural or computer project better than a private sector firm.

But rather than explain why this is so clearly wrong, I'd prefer to point out what this tells us positive about the world we live in.

This sort of knee jerk defence of home production, small scale rather than large business and a resolutely national approach to the origins of items to be consumed by the populace: well, it explains the European Union's attitudes towards trade and agricultural production very well, doesn't it? And with the same effect that this digitisation project will have on the French taxpayer of course: we pay vastly more for everything than we would if we simply bought the best in the world without regard to such petty nationalisms.