Fragile Glory, by Richard Bernstein
Richard Bernstein, formerly the Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, where he is now national cultural correspondent, attempts in this book to get a fix on France. Why is that country, once so indispensable an element in what used to be called Western civilization, acquiescing in its own quite obvious decline? Why are the French, still perceived by others and by themselves as somehow unique, becoming indistinguishable from other denizens of an increasingly amorphous “West”? These are interesting and important questions, and in his diligent pursuit of them Bernstein turns up interesting and important insights.
Bernstein divides his book into three sections. The first treats of the putative opposition between Paris and “la France profonde,” a term for the French provincial countryside which the author renders as “the sticks.” In the second section he goes in search of the French themselves, offering brief dissertations on their sense of identity; the way they drive; their attitudes toward foreigners, Jews, Arabs, and Americans; their sense of play and their sense of seriousness; the triumph of the French middle class (the bourgeoisie in its original version); the eclipse of the aristocracy, French taste, and the sense of fraternité. Finally, there is a section on the political elite and its peculiar ways of acceding to and staying in power.
About the Author
Roger Kaplan has written widely on French politics and on Algeria’s Islamist insurgency of the 1990’s.