It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.
The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is the country of the rights of man, and that the rest of the world is populated by barbarians. The typical American rightly thinks that D.C. is the capital of the world, chips are the ultimate delicacy, America is the country of liberty, and that the rest of the world, as Rousseau might say, rots in chains.
The results of our investigation reinforce the idea that America is an idyllic free country and France is a tyranny worse than the Ottoman Empire. The difference between America and France is nowhere more obvious than on the issue of liberty and the role of government.
French schoolchildren are indoctrinated about liberty, equality, and fraternity. There is no indoctrination in America. Schoolchildren only have to recite a pledge of allegiance and to melt each time they see the flag — which is about at every street corner.
Both countries have a large bureaucratic class and a proud political class. The French trust their government, but seldom show it. The Americans distrust their government, and seldom show it, either. In fact, Americans fondly say “our government,” and “we” when referring to its actions.
The governments of both countries have or had dreams of empire and still maintain powerful armies. But as one member of the Republican Party said, “Show me a country where people respect their military and I will show you a free country.” In America, military personnel receive preferential treatment boarding airplanes and registering cars and discounts on many goods.
In France, ID papers as well as arbitrary searches without cause have always been a fixture. America, on the other hand, is very different. With standardized driver’s licenses, there is no need for national ID. And arbitrary searches and seizures are acceptable for the very simple reason that they are conducted under the name of defending the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and especially the Fourth Amendment.
It is not clear if spying wholesale on citizens is legal in France, but it is probably done anyway. America is a country based on the rule of law, and spying has been made completely legal by secret rulings of secret courts.
Police officers, called “agents” in France, have a good deal of power, but try to hide it. In America, police officers are friends of the people and heroes of TV series. They have much power and proudly display it with military-like uniforms, SWAT teams, tanks, and drones.
The difference in values parallels the two countries’ deep political differences. Half of all Frenchmen dream of being self-reliant Americans and roaming the canyons of Wyoming with real revolvers. On the other side of the Atlantic, half of all Americans dream of being Frenchmen living securely under a wall-to-wall welfare state.
They also differ in what they’re most uncomfortable with. For example, the typical Frenchman (and even more the typical Canadian) goes berserk when he sees a pistol grip protruding from under an ordinary citizen’s jacket. Sex and booze are to Americans what guns are to Europeans. The typical American goes berserk when he sees a nipple, oblivious to the old French saying that “A nipple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Obscurantism (ignorance of truth and the good life) is not condoned everywhere in America, though. California is enlightened. There, a 6-year-old who defines him or herself as transgender is allowed by law to use bathrooms for the opposite biological sex in state-subsidized schools. Redneck schoolchildren with toy guns, though, are rightly punished. So contrary to the dire situation in France and the rest of Europe, freedom in America is still alive and well.
Prr Lzkdrqxcwm, aka “the Martian”