VIEWSrnCommentary on the Gallic Culture Warrnby E. Christian KopffrnWhen the right took over control of the Freneh Assemblyrnthis spring, with an enormous majority, they left economicrnmatters in the hands of Prime Minister Eduard Balladurrnand proceeded to rewrite the French code of nationality and tornrestrict severely naturalization and asylum, responding to therndesires of the vast majority of French citizens, native born andrnnaturalized. It is hard for an American to grasp the significancernof such an action. We live in a country run by judges and bureaucrats.rnOur elections are shams aimed at replacing Tweedledeernwith Tweedledum, or, in the case of presidential elections,rnwith Tweedledumber. Bush was elected to continue thernpolicies of the Reagan years: he sabotaged them. Blythe aliasrnClinton promised to change Bush’s policies; from tax-raising tornsaber-rattling, he has continued them. The American powerrnelite takes its greatest pleasure in frustrating the committed willrnof the American people on issues from the death penalty tornimmigration reform. A subject of the regime that rules Americarncan only marvel at a country where, when the voters changernthe ruling parties, the politicians respond to their will.rnAs important as the reminder that voting and self-governmentrncan function among an educated and responsible peoplernare the reasons for the change. The nations of Europe representrndistinct cultural and anthropological unities, characterized byrntraditions of language, law, art, and humane and physical science.rnEven within countries such as France and Italy, to movernfrom area to area is to meet different wines, cheeses, and accents,rneach distinctive of its native region. Although these differencesrnare in one sense natural, in another sense they must bernmaintained by conscious and willed human action, just as arnE. Christian Kopff is a professor of Greek and Latin at thernUniversity of Colorado in Boulder.rnhealthy body is in one sense natural but will not stay healthyrnunless the mind at the top of the body makes wise and self-controlledrndecisions about food and exercise.rnThe French have long known this about language. There arernlaws, hardly enforced in a draconian fashion but on the books,rnwhich restrict the amount of foreign words used in advertising.rnThe French Academy is conscious of its obligation to maintainrnstandards in the quality of the French language. There is nornquestion of maintaining a changeless French tongue, just asrnproper diet and exercise do not keep a body from aging. I havernheard entire Nike commercials with every word in English.rnMany good French words in common use 20 years ago havernbeen replaced by an American equivalent. The standards forrnserious writing and public discourse in newspapers and booksrnof fiction and nonfiction have still, however, been maintained.rnThe contrast with the United States is again significant.rnWhen ordinary people are asked man-in-the-street type questionsrnon the French news, they respond quickly, articulately,rnand fluently in idiomatic French. It is painful to watch the inhabitantsrnof North America respond in such situations. Theyrnstutter, hum and haw, and end up mumbling an ungrammaticalrnmorass of cliches. I saw one man search his mind for tenrnseconds for the word he wanted. “It doesn’t happen, yournknow, not really, you know, like, often.” It is not just ordinaryrnAmericans, of course. For four years, Americans had in GeorgernBush a President who would not be ranked as a native speakerrnby the oral proficiency standards of the American Council onrnthe teaching of Foreign Languages. The TV news anchor usuallyrnrated as most articulate and impressive, Peter Jennings, isrna high school dropout from Canada. High school dropouts arernignoramuses, but in other countries they can speak their nativerntongues. American college graduates cannot.rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn