As a francophile among libertarians, I get that I’m in the minority. For whatever reason, “red-blooded” Americans seem to get a kick out of mocking of our amis from across the pond. But did you know that there’s a lot for libertarians to love about France? Here’s just a few things of many!
1. The ancient French were the ultimate entrepreneurs
It has been over 2,000 years since ancient Gaul was assimilated into the Roman Empire, and we certainly inherited more of Rome’s politics and philosophy than Gaul’s. But you might be surprised to find that you look and act in many ways more like an ancient Gaulois than an ancient Roman. Just a few elements of Gallic society that you retain today are:
- Pants — The ancient French wore pants before pants were cool. And today, we don’t wear ancient Roman togas and robes — we wear ancient Gallic pants!
- Butter — The ancient Romans only used butter to heal wounds. It was the ancient French who first looked at this condensed dairy product and said, “Hey, I’ll eat it.” [Alternatively, does that mean I can put butter on my wounds?]
- Soap — The ancient Romans found soap to be disgusting, and instead bathed in oils. I don’t know about you, but when I shower in the morning I’m not dipping my body in oil — I’m scrubbing down with ancient French soap!
2. French cuisine is a lesson in innovation
Today we associate many French foods with fanciness and class — Dijon mustard, escargot, fine wine, cheese, etc. However, many of France’s finest modern foods are actually the result of historical adaptation rather than the pursuit of fanciness:
- The mustard for which Dijon is so famous was originally an attempt to cover the smell of old meat, allowing it to be consumed at a date further removed from the slaughter.
- The French first began to consume snails because, frankly, they were available and edible. It didn’t take long for eating creepy crawlies out of necessity to evolve into covering escargots in garlic and butter before eating them like the delicious little buggers that they are — even leading to its being considered an “elite” food by ancient Romans. (And if you think eating escargot is gross, consider the fact that we eat shrimp).
- The medieval French developed an entire system of land use based on growing wine called complant. Under this system, landowners who were sitting on land but not using it were incentivized — not forced — to allow farmers to grow grapes on their property for a temporary period of time, leading to a more valuable use of the land. The farmers got their grapes, and the landowners got a portion of the profits — gains from trade. The complant system is also a wonderful example of spontaneous order at work!
3. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin loved France, and Jefferson even helped write their first Constitution
Thomas Jefferson was a lover of France and everything French, so much so that he spent a great deal of time helping rebuild the nation’s political structure during the French Revolution.
Jefferson went so far as to write in his autobiography:
“So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live? Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest and sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.”
Benjamin Franklin also had a love for France, though it may have been for reasons that were not altogether — er — innocent.
4. Without France, we might still be British subjects
Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration. Had America not won the Revolutionary War, we probably would have still broken off from England at some later point in our history.
Even so, the fact notwithstanding that France’s support of the American Revolution was likely motivated more by their hatred of England than their love of America, an American victory would have been a tall task without French logistical and naval support.
And of course, had France not intervened we might not have discovered one of my favorite historical figures — the Marquis de Lafayette, who so wonderfully stated after the American/French victory at Yorktown:
Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.
Vercingetorix was an ancient warrior who united the tribes of Gaul against the advance of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire. He was kind of like Braveheart, but more, uh, French. Oh, and he really existed, unlike Mel Gibson’s characterization of William Wallace.
Vercingetorix was eventually defeated by the advancing Roman empire, but he didn’t go down without a fight. His resistance to the Romans was extremely impressive, especially given the massive disparity in military tactics and technology between the two peoples.
However, Vercingetorix eventually made a tactical mistake that led to his defeat. Basically, he retreated to the top of a hill, and the Romans just kind of…waited at the bottom of the hill.
Interestingly enough, the name “Vercingetorix” later became a sort of rallying cry against Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.
6. Frederic Bastiat
This just goes without saying. Frederic Bastiat is, in my opinion, the single greatest libertarian thinker of all time. Every word of Bastiat that you have read is a translation from the original French in which he wrote:
La loi pervertie! La loi — et à sa suite toutes les forces collectives de la nation, — la Loi, dis-je, non seulement détournée de son but, mais appliquée à poursuivre un but directement contraire! La Loi devenue l’instrument de toutes les cupidités, au lieu d’en être le frein! La Loi accomplissant elle-même l’iniquité qu’elle avait pour mission de punir! Certes, c’est là un fait grave, s’il existe, et sur lequel il doit m’être permis d’appeler l’attention de mes concitoyens.
Sorry to be an obnoxious hipster, but — it’s way better in the original French.
These are just a few of the many, many things that libertarians should love about La France!
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