The day after the elections in France, a traveller has no response but to be joyful. The European Union is a wonderful experiment in removing borders, as much as the experiments with building the unions which today go by the names of India and China. One hopes that the experience of living with people whom our grandparents considered different will be of help in an increasingly difficult world. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the man who thought that states should wither away, said, "You forget that the fruits belong to all and the land belongs to no one." That is a good way of looking at unions.
He is one amongst the many famous French thinkers who remain relevant today. In this post I just use their words. After all, Michel de Montaigne said it better than I can, "I quote others only to express myself better.". But you may ask, why do I look at the French elections and comment on the results? Rousseau provides an answer, "I may be no better, but at least I’m different."
The inward turn, and the increased popularity of bigots, in various countries in the last decade came as economic prospects stagnated. The reason was addressed centuries ago by Rousseau, "It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of making a living." Again, in the last century, Jean-Paul Sartre said substantially the same thing, "One cannot become a saint when one works sixteen hours a day." But the past was not utopia, and turning the clock back is therefore no solution. We need to examine a different future, not the fearful one imagined by bigots in every part of the world. Montaigne said "One who fears that he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears." Sartre, who spent a life examining these things, agreed when he said "Life begins on the other side of despair." Jean de la Bruyere gives one route out of the present stagnation, "The regeneration of society is by individual education." Another, more subtle, idea comes from Simone de Beauvoire, "One’s life has value as long as one attributes value to the life of others."
We only have one world to live in, and we have to live in it together. It is difficult to say this better than Albert Camus, "Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Just walk next to me and be my friend."
Many years ago, John F. Kennedy expressed his solidarity with the idea of freedom by saying that he was a cake, a Berliner. Today, we can express our fraternite with France by saying that we are bread, that wonderful crusty thing called the Parisienne.