France is an Incredibly Foreign Country

We talk quite a lot of smack about France here, because we can. But one of the underlying points is that, in our terrible American high school educations, we’re taught that there are countries “like” ours (France, England, Italy and maybe now Germany), countries that are less-good versions of ours (Mexico, Canada, Australia), countries that are disasters (Russia, India) and countries that are weird and scary (Japan, Honduras, Philippines, “Africa”). And this isn’t true at all, and in the actual practice, France is as “alien” in terms of operational ideas as, well… Senegal and Algeria. (Heh.) The usual history lesson here goes something like “de Tocqueville blah blah,” and since then we’re basically the same country — but that couldn’t be more wrong. And we are bizarre to them, which is why the French are horrified at how we treat the arrested in general (as in, with a lack of dignité), among other things. This is why we have the bizarre and somewhat paranoid ramblings of Bernard-Henri Lévy today, whose last official act as dominant philosopher was to send France to war with Libya. To us it is incredibly absurd that he can write “I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed ‘accusatory,’ meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime.” The French horror at our criminal justice system is not unreasonable, all told — Americans should as well be horrified at the way we’ve created an immense second class of semi-citizens in the prison industrial complex. But in terms of operational principles of accusation and trial? I can’t even imagine another way! And neither can BHL, who has no conception that to us, the ability to accuse is considered a foundation of equality.