French & Anglo-Saxon ways of thinking

French thinking at Villandry

Having spent virtually all of my adult life within “Anglo-Saxon” cultures and institutions (not least in the hyper-English milieu of The Economist), I must have adopted Anglo-Saxon ways of thinking.

And what are those?

In this post, I’ll try to describe them, by contrasting the Anglo-Saxon mind with what I consider to be its foil or opposite.

Which is to say: French thinking.

And I’ll do that with just three little examples plucked from life:

  1. gardens
  2. cities
  3. laws

1) French and English gardens

In 1992, I spend my summer in Tours, France — allegedly learning the local language but mostly biking along the Loire and its tributaries with friends, visiting the various chateaux in that area.

I was twenty-two at the time, and gardening was not necessarily foremost in my thoughts. And yet, the gardens of those chateaux left an impression. That’s because I had an intuition that they explained a lot else I was observing in the country

Look at the garden of the Chateau of Villandry, above. Or look at the same castle from another view:

More French thinking

The principle that guides this and all “jardins à la française” is the expression of mastery over nature.

A landscaper imposes, through his reason, absolute and mathematically Cartesian symmetry and order onto what would otherwise be disorder.

It is a top-down notion of order. In fact, these gardens are best viewed from above, which is why almost all the chateaux are laid out so that there is a viewing platform above the jardins (as in the picture).

English landscaping developed largely in response to French landscaping and spread to many non-French parts of Europe.

The difference is striking. Here, for instance, is a view of the Englischer Garten, a huge park in the center of Munich, where I grew up:

Yup, those are sheep, in the middle of Munich.

Munich’s Englischer Garten was conceived during the Enlightenment by an Englishman, and the German landscapers to this day observe its “Anglo-Saxon” landscaping philosophy. Here, for instance, is a recent addition, a theater:

Let’s try to make the philosophy behind this landscaping style explicit:

If the French approach is to display top-down mastery of nature with an imposition of order, the English way is to integrate the human into nature, to adjust to the spontaneous or “bottom-up” order of nature itself.

The best way to enjoy such a garden is in fact “from below” — ie from the ground. You’re assumed to be in the garden, not looking down on it from above.

To give this the subtlety it deserves: English gardening does not deny the ability of man to create order (after all, there still is a landscaper). But the landscaper takes a much more humble approach to nature, choosing to see order in its disorder and incorporating its “accidents”.

Let me use a different phrase: The English landscaper “muddles through“.

2) Paris and London

Now think of the two cultures’ capitals as a “tale of two gardens,” writ large.

The “landscaper” of modern Paris was Baron Haussmann (Alsatian, hence the German name, but French). Between 1852 and 1870, he imposed order on the medieval street warren that Paris had been.

Here is the new Paris as he conceived it:

Haussmann's Paris

Boulevards (in red) as straight as swords now cut through the organically evolved webbing of streets, to clear vistas and let armies parade.

And that’s not enough. Along these straight boulevards, the houses must meet regulations as precise as Cartesian math. They stand in a row like soldiers being mustered:

Now London:

A century before Haussmann (and shortly after Descartes’ death), medieval London was burnt down in the The Great Fire of 1666. To the French, this would have been an opportunity to remake London in a rational and orderly way. There even was an equivalent of Baron Haussmann: It was Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect of many churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral.

What did Sir Christopher do? It was very English. He largely honored the network of streets as it had evolved over time. Using legal jargon, you might say that he respected stare decisis (“stand by things decided”).

Adhering to precedent, he then proceeded to … muddle through.

And that’s what London has been doing since. This is its street grid today:

In fact, that picture does not do its organic beauty/chaos (depending on your point of view) justice. London, unlike Paris, is not one city (even politically). It is many cities and towns that grew together. Each bit retains its own charms and problems, and the connections are haphazard and arbitrary.

London cabbies, in fact, spend years learning what they call “the knowledge” to navigate this maze. And London’s streetscapes are full of surprises, both positive and questionable:

3) Code Napoléon v Common Law

French law is a code. In some ways it goes back to Roman law, but its direct ancestor is the Code Napoléon of 1804.

Napoleon, being not only French (well, sort of) but a product of the Enlightenment, believed in the power of reason to impose order (here meaning justice) from above on the chaos of life, the infinite number of situations that can arise and must be adjudicated. The result was a document. Here is its famous first page:

Legal thinking in France and all other civil-law systems is therefore a process of deduction: You find the general principle in the code, then apply it to the instance in real life.

English law is not a code. In fact, England does not even have a written constitution (as its Anglo-Saxon nephew America does). Sure, there are statutes, laws written by legislators over time. But the core of the system in all Anglo-Saxon countries is the common law.

And what is it? In essence, it is the history of all former cases.

For about a millennium, the English have been considering each new case by comparing it with precedents, a bit as Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul’s on the site of the former church that had burnt down.

Which issues does this case raise? Aha, then it must be like X. But it is different, so it must also be like Y. And so on.

The process is inductive: The Anglo-Saxon mind starts with the particular, searches for a general principle, returns to the particular, adjusts the general principle, and so forth.

Put differently, the English mind muddles through.

Conclusion: Churchill vs Balladur

This post has been muddling through by inducing from particulars to generals. I will leave you with two quotes by former prime ministers that I think say it all:

Edouard Balladur of France:

What is the market? It is the law of the jungle. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against nature.

Winston Churchill:

The English know how to make the best of things. Their so-called muddling through is simply skill at dealing with the inevitable.

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62 thoughts on “French & Anglo-Saxon ways of thinking

  1. Brilliant post and thank you so much! I love learning everything I can about the different parts of Europe – especially their differences and likenesses… Simply brilliant post!

  2. This strikes a very deep chord, Andreas, and is, indeed an authentic instance of muddling through, which requires discipline.

    The mists clear and a truth is revealed with a natural, indefinable economy.

    Thank you.

    • By the way, it just hit me–if Andreas really grew up in Munich as he claims, it means he does know Shakin’ Stevens. Since, as I recall, on a previous occasion he also stated to be a natural born U.S. citizen, that already makes one true American who’s heard of the guy.

    • thecriticaline, might you be a through-muddler yourself?

      Cyberquill: Of course I know Shakin’ Stevens. We played spin-the-bottle to his voice circa 1982. My brain now associates him with learning to smooch.

    • Smooch? At the age of 12? Man, you were an early starter. And where? In my Munich perhaps?

      We remember your survy, oops, special report on job nomads very well. A masterpiece!

      Keep on!


    • Thank you, Peter Practice.

      Now I’m intrigued you you might be, of course.

      I should say that “learning to smooch” was badly phrased. “Fumbling with intent” is perhaps more appropriate. 😉

  3. I only spent a grand total of four hours in Munich. I didn’t see you there. Granted, it was in 1992, and you claim to have spent the summer in Tours, so you may have an alibi.

    I also didn’t see any sheep.

    I did, however, buy this leather jacket, which I then smuggled across the German-Austrian border. The customs guy on the train spent about half an hour examining it for a label or a price tag to betray its origin, but he couldn’t find one, even though he knew I was smuggling it, and I knew that he knew, but he couldn’t do anything. Sucks to have no proof.

    I hope the international statute of limitations has run out on my transgression, or I may get in trouble for my confession on your blog. I just had to get it off my chest after all these years, and this seems to be the perfect forum.

    So are you saying that it was Napoleon who designed Manhattan above 14th Street except for the British designing Central Park?

    • Well, that surprises me. 1992 is when the Schengen Agreement took effect, so there should have been no border at all any longer. There certainly isn’t now. My parents go back and forth every week, and the only reminder of the border is some Welcome sign and an unused restroom where the trucks used to pull up…

    • Must have been 1991 then. Still, I didn’t see you there. Where did you spend that summer? In Russia perhaps, allegedly learning the language but mainly biking along the Volga with a bunch of KGB guys on your tail? Can we therefore expect a future blog post contrasting Russian versus, say, Persian architecture?

      Growing up in Munich must have been rough, what with all the local gangs, like SMG (Spider Murphy).

      So you and I are basically the same age—I was actually 24 in the summer of 1992—yet you have a successful career, and I’m an unemployed waiter on the dole.

      I sincerely hope you’re on to something with that impostor thing.

    • Spider Murhpy Gang. getting sentimental.

      The impostor thing: Since you’re now about 42, let me just point you to my great uncle, Ludwig Erhard, or Harry Truman, or Eleanor Roosevelt, or any number of other characters in my book who at 42 either just started or had yet to start the life that we now know them for.

      It also works in the other direction, btw: I might end up an unemployed waiter on the dole.

      It’s all much too mysterious and fascinating to worry about.

    • Judging from how often these people call me per hour, it seems that Amex, Chase, and Bank of America are even more worried about my situation than I am.

      Some say it’s always darkest before dawn. Others say it’s always darkest before it’s totally black.

      Forty-two is a famous age. Elvis was 42 when he had his autopsy. (I actually had to look up how to spell “forty.” Surprisingly, there’s no u.)

      The Bundeskanzler was your uncle? And any chance they’ll do away with the natural-born clause over here so I can be like Trueman?

      Alright. Go ahead. Add me to the list in your book. Show us how deeply committed you are to your theory. Who knows, you may even become known as a prophet.

  4. Les caractéristiques des jardins et des villes des Français et des Anglais semblent à l’opposé des tempéraments nationaux des Français et les Anglais eux-mêmes, comme ces tempéraments sont habituellement représentées.

    Quelle est la raison de ce paradoxe? Peut-être de créer l’homéostasie?

    (The characteristics of the gardens and cities of the French and of the English seem the very opposite of the national temperaments of the French and the English themselves, as these temperaments are commonly depicted.

    What is the reason for this paradox? Perhaps to create homeostasis?)

    • “…… would you characterize the national temperaments for these gardens to be their opposite……..?”

      En regardant ce que j’ai écrit, je vois que ça s’applique plus aux Français que les Anglais. Pour écrire un commentaire peut parfois être frustrant pour son auteur, parce qu’il ne peut pas corriger par la suite.

      Les Français sont considérés comme décontractée, insouciante, comme les amoureux des femmes du vin et de la chanson, n’est-ce pas? Ils sont ouverts avec leurs émotions parce qu’ils ont le tempérament latin.

      Mais les jardins à la française sont conçus avec une précision mathématique. Ils sont plus germaniques que le français. Ils reflètent la délibération, l’ordre, la suppression des émotions, qui sont plus …….. si j’ose dire …….. les vertus germaniques?

      Je suis conscient que je suis s’engager dans l’application de stéréotypes.Mais, comme Satoshi Kanazawa a dit, les stéréotypes contiennent une certaine vérité.

      Si les jardins reflètent tempéraments nationaux, le jardin à la française ressemblerait le jardin anglais avec son naturellement.

      Par conséquent, le paradoxe.

      (Looking at what I wrote, I see that it applies more to the French than the English. To write a comment can sometimes be vexing to its writer, because he can’t subsequently correct it.

      The French are regarded as relaxed, insouciant, as lovers of wine women and song, are they not? They are open with their emotions because they have the Latin temperament.

      But the French gardens are designed with a mathematical precision. They reflect deliberation, order, the suppression of the emotions, which are more……..dare I say……..the Teutonic virtues?

      I am aware that I am engaging in applying stereotypes. But, as Satoshi Kanazawa has said, stereotypes contain some truth.

      If gardens reflect national temperaments, the French garden would resemble the English garden with its naturalness.

      Hence the paradox.)

    • Very interesting. Perhaps my own ability to stereotype was compromised by prolonged exposure to the actual specimens (ie, sojourns in France). I do not find them all that open with their emotions. Instead, bourgeois respectability seems to prevail. sure, they dress funky and all that, but they’re really quite conventional once you meet them.

      So, to me the gardens do reflect their mental interiors.

    • yes, i think this might me an error in Causation vs. Correlation.

      perhaps the more certainty one has in themselves the less they feel the need to control their external environment.

      @phil, would you try to rephrase… one example of the french temperament vs english temperament might be found in the beautiful ambiguity of the french language.

  5. Another quote from Winston Churchill that supports your point about Britain tending to “muddle through”:

    “American military thought has coined the expression ‘Overall Strategic Objective’.  When our officers first heard this they laughed; but later on its wisdom became apparent and accepted.” — The Gathering Storm 

    I am, by the way, an admirer of Britain’s ability to muddle through, especially in the World Wars.

  6. Paradoxically, by celebrating the English you are celebrating the German mind, so philosophical oriented

    Let me blabber a bit about things that are known.

    All you say is explained by a deeper classical imprinting by the French I believe.

    Hyppodamus of Miletus (see Manhattan map), the Roman castrum, the Italian and French gardens or Corneille or Racine vs Shakespeare: they all have something in common, ie a civilization based on reason as a moulding factor.

    In Raffaello’s School of Athens Plato’s gesture is upwards since to him knowledge came from preconceived ideas. Aristotle instead points in front of him, meaning via experience (non via a world ‘beyond’) we get to form our ideas generalizations & categories through which we acquire knowledge. Deduction.

    In the history of thought the British embraced Aristotle; the more deeply romanized ‘Continent’ ie Italy France Spain, Germany, Austria etc. prederred Plato.

    Every folk borrows what is more congenial to its mind: the Brits were more matter of fact (in the best sense of the term, like the Romans were.) Aristotle better appealed to the British mind. Possibly – but I an ass in modern philosophy – empiricism, US pragmatism etc. vs German Italian French rationalism, this difference I mean came from the fundamental bifurcation of (Socrate’s?) thought: Plato, Socrates’s most creative heir, and Aristotle, Plato’s most creative heir.

    (to be continued)

  7. (continued)

    Interesting how also Shakespeare, compared to Corneille or Racine (who followed the rational rules of classical tragedy), ‘muddles through’ according to Austrian Wittgenstein, who in 1950 writes in his diary (Vermischte Bemerkungen):

    “I cannot understand Shakespeare because in absolute asymmetry I want to find symmetry. It seems to me that his plays are huge sketches, not finished paintings, roughed out by one who, so to say, can afford to do anything. I can understand those who admire his art and call it the most sublime, but I don’t like it. I can then understand those who are left speechless in front of his plays, although it looks to me we misunderstand Shakespeare when we admire him in the same way for example Beethoven is admired.”

    Wittgenstein loved symmetry, clarity! The world, he said, is asymmetry, so at least in art lemme wallow in order and reason! (or so I have interpreted it)

    On a similar tone French Voltaire commented on Hamlet and his author centuries earlier:

    “Je suis bien loin assurément de justifier en tout la tragédie d’ Hamlet: c’est une pièce grossière et barbare, qui ne serait pas supportée par la plus vile populace de la France et de l’Italie. […] On croirait que cet ouvrage est le fruit de l’imagination d’un sauvage ivre. Mais parmi ces irrégularités grossières, qui rendent encore aujourd’hui le théâtre anglais si absurde et barbare, on trouve dans Hamlet, par une bizarrerie encore plus grande, des traites sublimes, dignes des plus grands génies. Il semble que la nature se soit plue à rassembler dans la tête de Shakespeare ce qu’on peut imaginer de plus fort et de plus grand, avec ce que la grossièreté sans esprit peut avoir de plus bas et de plus détestable.”

    In English:

    “I am certainly very far from justifying in all Hamlet’s tragedy: it is an unrefined and barbarous play, that would not be tolerated by the meanest populace of France and Italy. We would believe that this work is the fruit of the imagination of a drunken savage. But among all these unrefined irregularities, which to this day make the English theater so absurd and barbarous, we find in Hamlet, by a yet greater oddity, sublime elements worthy of the greatest geniuses. It seems like nature had delight in collecting within Shakespeare’s head all that we can imagine of what is greatest and most powerful, together with what rudeness deprived of wit can contain of what is lowest and most repulsive”.

    I wrote a post on that. I’m not that quick lol:

    • I admire your ability to go deep, really deep, on almost any subject, Roma!

      Framing the difference between France and the Anglo-Saxons in terms of Plato v Aristotle is very neat.

      My understanding is that Aristotle was considered “the philosopher” (ie, the only one) ALL over Europe in the middle ages. But continental philosophy later became more Platonic (deductive) again, whereas British philosophy took a dramatically empiricist, utilitarian, “practical” and worldly turn.

      In fact, I am told that Nietzsche is not taught in the “philosophy” department at Oxford at all; and I know that continental philosophers more or less look down on Hume and Berkeley and those types.

      Shakespeare does strike me as a great through-muddler. Perhaps that is why we still love him: he is so modern in embracing the asymmetries and non-linearities of actual life. Very English.

    • Yes, we absolutely adore Shakespeare (and the English too, how could we live withouth them???) I have 2 cousins who spent many years teaching in Cambridge and now teach in Rome’s La Sapienza university. They were only complaining about some flatness in philosophy there, but absolutely adored everything else. But I wouldn’t call it flatness. It is just … a different approach to things. As you said, it is like a sort of reciprocal …looking down upon. I have written a post on the difference between the English and the German mind.

      Actually the post is on the Germans. Only, in case you go there, do not read the debate. It belongs to the wild phase of my blog.

    • This was either foolhardy or very shrewd of you, Roma. I will now click straight through to the wild-phase-of-your-blog debate.

      You’ve made us all jealous by having had a wild phase on your blog. 😉

    • Framing the difference between France and the Anglo-Saxons in terms of Plato v Aristotle is very neat.

      i think since starting to read the hannibal blog almost everything can be traced back to the influence of the greek 🙂

    • Dafna, almost all that is Western can be traced back to the Greeks. Only, I suspect there is a Big Lie in many Western texts (of history of science & philosophy etc.). Where the hell did the Greeks took their ideas from? The Greek themselves – I am reading a lot of Greek texts these days – never say they invented all from scratch, they instead say they were strongly influenced by Egypt, Middle and Far East. At the times of the Greeks the ‘Grand Tour’ occurred in Egypt and EuroAsia. [I’m going out, so I’ll write the names in Italian to br quicker]

      Lino, Orfeo, Licurgo, Solone, Talete, Pitagora, Ecateo, Democrito, Erodoto etc., they all seem to have gone along the path of the Egyptian and eastern ‘Grand Tour’.

      Why this Big Lie? Well, when Europe was conquering the world, it was important to say: “There are the lower races that need us the super races …”.

      Just a stab. All the Best

  8. Wow! Wonderful post indeed. Man of Roma’s comments as well. Thanks.
    Reason versus intuition, symmetry versus asymmetry, order versus freedom… at least of thought .
    Socrates versus Aristoteles?
    Wouldn’t it be nice to interlace them, wouldn’t it be graceful lo let the heart walk ahead?
    Wishful thinking?
    I’m afraid so.
    But it is certainly refreshing to read you both… warms my humble Mexican heart.

    • Wow Mexican! Why humble? You’ve got to have the pride of a great country, issued by marvellous American civilizations plus Spain. I wish I had more lives to get into all this. But maybe we have lol 🙂

    • @man of Roma
      Humble, yes, in the sense of a bow to the knowledge and wisdom I usually find here.
      And yes, maybe we have more lives to get into to do whatever we want to.
      But. One at a time seems more than enough, don’t you?

    • An irony of this Arizona law is that were I, as a mere visitor from another country entirely, to visit Arizona, there would be well-nigh no chance of my being stopped by the police under this law, and asked for identity because……how can I put it………I look like the majority of native-born Arizonans.

      So my sympathies go out to those native-born Arizonans who, because of how they look, can expect regularly to be stopped by the police and asked for their ID.

      But, what about Europe’s Schengen Agreement? Can not the police in any Schengen country capriciously stop anyone and ask them for their ID?

      In the interests of getting all viewpoints on this Arizona immigration law, here’s a link to what former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan wrote about it.

  9. @Andreas

    This was either foolhardy or very shrewd of you, Roma. I will now click straight through to the wild-phase-of-your-blog debate.

    Uoaaahh, you CAUGHT me, but I was darn sure I could count on your bad bad boy side ..


    My understanding is that Aristotle was considered “the philosopher” (ie, the only one) ALL over Europe in the middle ages. But continental philosophy later became more Platonic (deductive) again, whereas British philosophy …

    Of course you are right. I was imprecise, I’m more into ancient history. Possibly it was the Italian humanists who brought back both the knowledge of Greek & the love of Plato (with a little language help by the Calabrians and a bigger one by the Greeks fleeing from Byzantium besieged by the Turks).

    Earlier, as you say, it was mostly Aristotle.

    As a tribute to diverse today-not-much-loved-in-the-west cultures I guess it’d be fair to say some of Aristotle we learned from the immense Persian polymath Abū Alī Sīnā (Avicenna, who also was into Plato though) but most of all by the great Arab-Spanish Muḥammad Ibn Rushd (Averroes), if what Tommaso D’Aquino writes(Aquino, in South Latium) – that Aristotle was THE philosopher but Averroes was THE commenter of Aristotle – is any indication.

    Which is also confirmed by Dante in a great canto (Inferno, IV, 142-144) where in Limbo, in a noble castle, lived (‘lived’, well, as souls of course) those who were worthy but died before Christ (or were not baptised.) And we see the heroes, and we see the poets, and when it’s time for the scientist philosophers:

    Euclide geometra e Tolomeo,
    Ipocrate, Avicenna e Galeno,
    Averois, che ‘l gran comento feo.

    [Averois, who the great comment wrote]

    By googling ‘Dante Averroe’ I just now learn from that ‘De Anima’ by Aristotle (with a comment by Averroe) was translated into Latin in the 1220s. Dante seems to have read it, especially when Averroè comments that man can reach the vision of God (Dante’s vision of God is a mystical apex of the whole Commedia) during life after travelling a path of intellectual and moral perfection, and not in the after life as the Christians said.

    I have to reflect on that, but it seems like a good starting point for some intellectual (and religious, why not) fun!

    AND, by religious fun I don’t mean anything bad, I mean joy, in case someone gets offended.

    • I guess it’d be fair to say some of Aristotle we learned from the immense Persian polymath Abū Alī Sīnā i think i put a link to him on richard’s blog… no it was Omar Khayyam, another great persian mathematician – excuse me but i am partial to the persians.

      MOR, if you were my history teacher, i would not have taken all my history classeds in summer school!

      you reference Dante’s Inferno, perhaps it is basic knowledge for an italian, it is my Mount Everest. libraries in america have a strange habit of selling old books $5/box to make way for new. i have no less than four beautifully printed copies of dantes inferno and yet i have never been able to read it.

      before i am recycled on the great compost heap of the cosmos, it is my final challenge to read and understand this masterpiece.

    • Dear Dafna,

      I love to speak to you directly, it was high time. Let me say I admire your wide-ranging mind quite a lot (and I wish I had a small fraction of your mathematical capabilities!)

      I too am partial to the ancient cultures. Contemporary world is so flat at times we are darn fortunate to yet possess bits of the ancient wisdom to provide depth to every day routine. I hope the foolishness of the West will not bring us to destroy, after Mesopotamia, Persia as well. When I think about the immense damages to the Iraqi population and to the world heritage (as an example, 40,000 precious ancient manuscripts from the Saddam library were burnt!! What a loss for humankind!!)

      “Ah, these people are not democratic enough, we have to bring democracy to them!” Idiots! Greedy idiots! – my opinion of course – and Israel must be protected, no doubt, but, via mankind hara-kiri? Is that the ‘enlightened’ path?

      Thus said, Dante of course is a big mountain, and another treasure of poetry science religion that luckily doesn’t risk extinction. Italians are certainly favoured. But the effort to climb such mountain is definitely worth the pain.

  10. Thank you, but the pleasure is mine, believe me, one doesn’t meet each day a German with a shiny Anglo-Saxon icing on him.

    And more little than great, just onanism, – a life spent in front of a screen! -, music mattering more, with its harmonious vibrations, it’s got more flesh than ideas …. 😦

    And of course the beauty of women’s and children’s eyes, so much more important that is certain, but being a good fellow, the most important of ’em all.

    Yes. Being a good decent person counts the most my friends – from whatever place you are from, I love you all.

    And possibly, it is Mr Alzhe Imer knocking at my door. I had signals recently of a presence, like a breath or something, here in my study-room, so I said: “Who the hell are you?” (I thought: “God is finally sending me evidence of his existence”). I wonder if He read my mind, because he replied in a stifled voice: “I’m only Mr Alzhe. Sorry to disappoint you”.

  11. Outraged, of course. If being illegal is a crime I’m afraid Arizona’s xenophobia will wipe out from its land whatever trace of human rights is left. Glad you insisted.

  12. hahahahaha… dreamy?, how do you know?
    Une provocatrice, moi?
    Good night, it’s almost 1 o’clock here.
    Ah… and sweet dreams to you too.

    • Provocatrice? Toutes les femmes le sont un peu, et les latines en particulier. And, allow me, the dreamy women out there, I do know a bit. Mariza Rivas was her name. I was so young, she was older and much more cultured.

      From San Francisco, of one Mexican parent at least. This is *her story* if you will.

      Sweet dreams Mexico.

  13. Bonjour. Sounds like a good start. At that time I was struggling to learn the little french I know. In Paris.
    Á tout à l’heure, mor,

    • correct. Paris, while people were wishing to wear some flowers up above… Ana was thrilled walking along la Sèine… by herself for the first time ever, away from her very conservative familiy. Ahh… those were the days my friend we thought they’d never end we lived our lives… We still do, one way or the other. A toast for that. And a good laughter as well. But. Should go back to work, finish a novel geared towards its end. Wish me luck. I need it.

  14. Andreas, a belated comment from a newcomer to this blog (and a friend of old, old days in Munich, long gone by.). I am intrigued by your theory since I struggle with French thinking on a daily basis. Based on the bottom up-method, your theory is built on three excellent examples. To the experiences of French “top down” urbanism you could for example add the reconstruction of Le Havre after the war. Indeed, it appears to me that the Cartesian doctrine of mechanism necessarily has to rely on a top-down approach. (To be honest, I do not as much see the relation between French Thinking and Plato.)

    Yet, I somehow feel, that although intellectually appealing, the theory somehow falls a little short if you want to explain French thinking and decision making in practice. My theory (“theory” as used by the character Mark Renton in the movie Trainspotting – “So that’s your theory?”) is that (i) the French have adopted this way of thinking to get their Latin character under control (described as “homéostasie” by another comment) and that (ii) in practice the “top down” approach is balanced by very strong sense of the practical results that they get with it.

    Maybe an example for part (i) of my “theory” can be found in the field of constitutional law. Under German laws, any German citizen has the right to bring up a complaint against any act of the state (be it a law or a single act) on the basis of the claim that such act violates his or her fundamental rights. One could see a “bottom-up” aspect in that. Although strictly speaking it has nothing to do with the process of thinking per se, it does relate to the process of decision finding. In France, no such right exists. My explanation is: whereas you have to encourage the Germans to go bottom-up, going bottom-up is so much in the French nature, that they discipline themselves and try to keep themselves from doing it. I am rather sure that the French constitutional court would be totally overrun by complaints if the French had the same procedural right as the Germans. It appears that if the French would use a strict bottom up-approach, they occasionally get overwhelmed by the variety of things at the bottom to look at. To speak with Charles de Gaulle: “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage?”.

    For part (ii) of my outstanding theory, a couple of examples come to my mind. A good one may be the presidency of François Mitterrand. At the beginning of his first term in 1981, key sectors of the French economy were nationalized. When the negative consequences of that showed up, the economic policy immediately changed, as soon as 1983 that is, and the companies were re-privatized and the economic policy became much more liberal. You could call that “bottom up ex-post”.

    I hope that I did not make things overly complicated. But over the years, my impression is that – Attention! – the distinction between the French way of thinking and the Anglo-Saxon way of thinking is cultivated with an awkward eagerness by both sides. In practice, they often obtain similar results.

    • Well, first of all Welcome to The Hannibal Blog, Michael. A blast from a third of a century ago.

      Kudos for your precise and well-written English. The German-speaking commenters here seem to write English as well as the “Anglo-Saxons”.

      My post, you realize, was a blatantly outrageous exercise in shooting from the hip (thus also bottom-up in a sense). So you’re right to raise your eyebrows.

      But you seem to be saying that the French don’t allow a certain “bottom-up” legal-complaint procedure because they fear that everybody would use it, and that this shows that they do, in fact, think bottom-up (ie, by inference from particular to general)? That’s a complicated one. I have to ponder that.

      The second point is easier. You’re saying that the French can be practical, as can the English (and everybody else), and that they are therefore not very different from anybody else at all. This is true.

      I guess I was picturing an entirely intellectual context. A few posts ago, some French intellectuals responded to a post I had written about the media “crisis”, and my this post was my cheeky little way of priming everybody here for my response (which is to come). 😉

      Thrilled to see you here!

  15. @Michael Reich

    To be honest, I do not as much see the relation between French Thinking and Plato.

    Well, Plato is the father of rationalism – where ideas, reason, geometry etc. mould reality in a top-down way – , and the French are imbued with rationalism and play with ideas even today quite a lot (their obsession for the idea of a ‘structure’ underlying things, for example, is very Platonic and has plagued their philosophy, sociology, anthropology etc. for two decades.)

    In other words, what a rationalist does, it must correspond to the ideas he /she has in mind. Gardens must be symmetrical, geometrical etc., tragedies (Racine etc.) must follow the rational precepts of Aristotle and so forth.

    As Andreas well put it, a “top-down mastery” of things with an “imposition of order”.

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