When the right took over control of the French Assembly this spring, with an enormous majority, they left economic matters in the hands of Prime Minister Eduard Balladur and proceeded to rewrite the French code of nationality and to restrict severely naturalization and asylum, responding to the desires of the vast majority of French citizens, native born and naturalized. It is hard for an American to grasp the significance of such an action. We live in a country run by judges and bureaucrats. Our elections are shams aimed at replacing Tweedledee with Tweedledum, or, in the case of presidential elections, with Tweedledumber. Bush was elected to continue the policies of the Reagan years: he sabotaged them. Blythe alias Clinton promised to change Bush’s policies; from tax-raising to saber-rattling, he has continued them. The American power elite takes its greatest pleasure in frustrating the committed will of the American people on issues from the death penalty to immigration reform. A subject of the regime that rules America can only marvel at a country where, when the voters change the ruling parties, the politicians respond to their will.
As important as the reminder that voting and self-government can function among an educated and responsible people are the reasons for the change. The nations of Europe represent distinct cultural and anthropological unities, characterized by traditions of language, law, art, and humane and physical science. Even within countries such as France and Italy, to move from area to area is to meet different wines, cheeses, and accents, each distinctive of its native region. Although these differences are in one sense natural, in another sense they must be maintained by conscious and willed human action, just as a healthy body is in one sense natural but will not stay healthy unless the mind at the top of the body makes wise and self-controlled decisions about food and exercise.
The French have long known this about language. There are laws, hardly enforced in a draconian fashion but on the books, which restrict the amount of foreign words used in advertising. The French Academy is conscious of its obligation to maintain standards in the quality of the French language. There is no question of maintaining a changeless French tongue, just as proper diet and exercise do not keep a body from aging. I have heard entire Nike commercials with every word in English. Many good French words in common use 20 years ago have been replaced by an American equivalent. The standards for serious writing and public discourse in newspapers and books of fiction and nonfiction have still, however, been maintained.
The contrast with the United States is again significant. When ordinary people are asked man-in-the-street type questions on the French news, they respond quickly, articulately, and fluently in idiomatic French. It is painful to watch the inhabitants of North America respond in such situations. They stutter, hum and haw, and end up mumbling an ungrammatical morass of cliches. I saw one man search his mind for ten seconds for the word he wanted. “It doesn’t happen, you know, not really, you know, like, often.” It is not just ordinary Americans, of course. For four years, Americans had in George Bush a President who would not be ranked as a native speaker by the oral proficiency standards of the American Council on the teaching of Foreign Languages. The TV news anchor usually rated as most articulate and impressive, Peter Jennings, is a high school dropout from Canada. High school dropouts are ignoramuses, but in other countries they can speak their native tongues. American college graduates cannot.
The differences can also be seen on higher levels. The recent book on education with the most impact in the United States was Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. Bloom was known as an effective teacher with few or no scholarly credentials who argued for reading Plato and other classics in literal translations and for a return to an ordered, self-disciplined intellectual life. The comparable figure in France is Professor Jacqueline de Romilly of the French Academy, one of the world’s greatest Thucydides scholars and an important student of Greek tragedy. Her best-selling books on education and on the history of ideas have presented a case for France to maintain the study of Greek language, literature, and culture as the source of European culture and its ideal of a free society, as indispensable for the survival of creativity and freedom. Her books, whether scholarly, popular, or fiction, are written with a deceptive clarity of language and structure. (She is also a delightful public speaker.) It is not just that there is a clear difference in quality of style and intellectual standards between their most popular educational writer and ours. Bloom lived in Paris and translated several important works of French political theory. He knew French intellectual life. (Similarly Orlando Patterson’s Freedom, an academic best-seller, resembles Madame de Romilly’s recent Grèce à la découverte de la liberté, but Patterson was not born and educated in the United States am more than Peter Jennings.)
Language and culture are integral parts of national identity. The public institutions of a nation have a duty to help preserve their integrity and standards. A massive intrusion of foreign words would muddy the vocabulary of a national language, although a slower introduction of new words and concepts helps to keep a language lively and vital. Language, culture, and customs live among citizens. A country’s population may profit from the slow introduction of new stocks and new people, but will be overwhelmed by a massive and sudden invasion. The French people understand this and (from an American perspective, amazingly) so does the French government.
For a long time French citizenship has been governed by the jus soli or droit de sol. Anyone born on French soil was French. It is a policy well adapted to a monarchical or absolutist system, interested in maintaining control and expanding possession. It has traditionally not been found in republican constitutions, such as those of ancient Athens or modern Switzerland, where a commitment to the standards and ideals of the nation are essential for continuity. France is a republic with a long and distinguished centralizing, absolutist, and imperial past, but in recent years it has had to face the catastrophic results of droit de sol. Those born in Tunisia and Algérie française before their liberation could by jus soli claim French citizenship. Many Tunisians and Algerians preferred French citizenship for themselves or the possibility of claiming French citizenship for their (large) families over what liberation offered them. France found itself increasingly dragged down into an economic abyss by claims on the welfare system made by young foreigners and their families. Even those with no claim on French citizenship found that if they had children on French soil, those children were French and could provide the basis for a legal claim to stay in France for parents and other relatives.
As the Islamic portion of these immigrants began to reach a critical mass, the French discovered that Islam is not a form of personal piety but a culture rooted in race, language, and tradition. Islamic immigrants, while looking for the legal protection of French citizenship, were not interested in assimilating to the distinctive and demanding French way of life. This social trend became a reality to many Frenchmen when Islamic girls began to wear the veil, the chador, to public school. Opposition to the chador helped unite otherwise disparate French communities. For the conservative, it meant the rejection of the religion and way of life that, in a profound sense, was France. For the leftist, it revealed a deep-seated repudiation of the secularism and women’s rights that were at the heart of the socialist agenda. How long could France survive as a creative community, if the fastest growing part of the nation was explicitly rejecting not only what France had been in the past, but the very terms of the debate about what France might become in the future?
Droit de sol had to go. The French senate voted against it two years ago and, with the triumph of the French rightist coalition in this spring’s elections, its repudiation was virtually the first item on the agenda of a French conservatism determined not to blow its opportunities as it had in 1986. For France to survive as a culturally and scientifically creative community, committed to self-rule and economic prosperity, the traditions of what it meant to be French had to be put firmly into the hands of French citizens, not into the pullulating beds of the hungry and ignorant of other lands, people committed to a way of life radically different from that of Western Europe and willing to spread that way of life by means of reproduction and conversion.
Those born on French soil to those who are not French citizens are no longer automatically French. (They may, of course, apply for French citizenship when they reach maturity.) French mayors are given much greater authority to abort mariages blancs, phoney marriages for the sake of attaining citizenship. Spouses of French citizens must now wait two years before applying for citizenship. French authorities are guaranteed much greater leeway in checking residency papers. There are many other details, not so important in themselves as in what they say about the determination of the French government to obey the will of the French people to maintain the coherence and integrity of French citizenship and the French nation.
There is a message here for the United States. The major economic players in the world, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and now France, are committed to maintaining their traditions of creativity and self-rule not just by excellent schools, but by entrusting the future of their countries to their own citizens, by the principle of jus sanguinis, droit de sang. Their future citizens will be the children of their present citizens. The United States not only has a vastly inferior school system, whose children rank at the bottom of the industrial world when tested for math and foreign languages, they have handed their future over to large masses of immigrants who are committed to achieving majority status by invasion and massive reproduction. They have put demands on our staggering welfare state that it cannot support. They have dragged down the level of our public schools while draining away money that could have been used to create or at least encourage academic excellence. Many of them have shown that they have no intention of assimilating to the standards and way of life that created the United States and could still restore it to prosperity and freedom, if consciously supported and defended.
No one who has absorbed the lessons of Lester Thurow’s Head to Head believes that the United States can maintain its former economic hegemony. That has passed to Europe and Japan. If, however, we arc to regain our competitiveness, we need to imitate Europe and Japan in several ways. Our educational system must achieve world-class status in foreign languages, mathematics, and science. The massive lay-offs of our private businesses are one side of a coin, whose reverse side reveals, for example, the continual incompetence of our space program and the international scandal of our attempt to steal the credit for the discovery of the HIV virus from France (whose entire budget for scientific research is less than that for our National Institutes of Health alone).
We must also resume self-rule and send the judges and bureaucrats who now rule us packing. We must resume control over our borders and over the right to determine who is an American citizen. This means the repeal of the 14th Amendment. It is the 14th Amendment that, by planting the disastrous jus soli in the heart of the Constitution, makes it impossible for the states to defend themselves from being overwhelmed by a hostile foreign invasion. It is the 14th Amendment that gives judges the power to overrule the will of the citizenry under the cover of civil rights. Foreigners have swamped our schools and social safety net under the slogan “civil” (i.e., citizens’) rights. The true rights involved are those of judges to rule our country. Only the repeal of the 14th Amendment can restore to the citizens the rights of self-rule and self-determination.
The French people have regained the right to determine the citizenry of France, the first step in maintaining self-rule and creativity. They may not use that self-rule and that creativity wisely, but the decisions will be taken by them, as individuals and as a people. We should remember that the votes of this spring and summer came not only from the decision of the French right to listen to the popular will, or from the raucous eloquence of Jean-Marie Le Pen, but also, perhaps primarily, from a work of fiction. Twenty years have passed since The Camp of the Saints was first published, and in those years Jean Raspail has won many of France’s most prestigious literary awards—and France is a country where literary awards matter. His lonely vision and satiric fire brought alive the pictures of what the future would hold if Europe and the West did not defend themselves against invasion. His moving testimonial in the form of a novel, Qui se souvient des hommes (Prix Chateaubriand, 1986), showed that he valued and loved the rich customs of even the poorest of the damnees de la terre. The world would be a poorer place without the many customs and ways of life that cover its surface. Among those ways of life are the ones embodied in the nations of Europe. One does not need to be a Francophile to understand that the greatness and weakness of France, from its abstract love of argument to its sensual devotion to good food and wine, lie rooted in the language and culture and people of France. In one of the great environmental triumphs of the decade, those people are now in a better position to survive than they were just a year ago. Those who love any aspect of French life can breath a temporary sigh of relief. Those who love America need to begin to gird up their loins. Now it is our turn.