The most common perception of France found these days in the American
media is that of an arrogant country, whose international gesticulations are
the last hurrah masking its inevitable decline into oblivion. The French have
not yet come to terms with their lengthy collapse, which started with the devastation
of World War I, continued with the humiliation of their defeat in
1940 and was furthered by the loss of their colonial empire. This would
explain their support, still to this day, for a Gaullist policy made up of power
incantations, in contrast to real power—or lack thereof. Of course, this characterization
is meant as much as an insult as an objective statement of fact.
What few of these American commentators comprehend, however, is how
much this image of a nation blinded by self-confidence is erroneous. On the
contrary, the French have excelled at self-flagellation for a long time, rightly or
wrongly. Whether one calls it “malaise” or decline, French commentators are
the first to confess that France is free-falling—whether vis-à-vis the US, its
European partners, or its own aspirations.