Before American readers embark on this inquiry into the particular democracy that was born in France with the French Revolution, I should warn them that they had better be prepared to enter a world of ideas so removed from reality as to make it almost impossible to believe there were people who actually took those ideas as principles for action.
I fail to see the reasons for the special prestige that the French system has enjoyed over the past two centuries—unless it is that, being derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s oneiric vaticinations, it happens at the same time to embody the pure essence of democracy, what democracy is when taken to its logical extremes. In which case, what follows may be understood as a warning to reflective—and pragmatic—minds and to other nations.
There are two entirely different types of Frenchmen. There are still a few descendants of the generally civilized people that one could not infrequently meet in most places, before the great leveling was finally completed. These people used to know how to read and write, speak proper French; have elementary manners, reverence for learning; and were still capable of ideas and beliefs.
And then there are the French this article is about, the sons of the French Revolution, heirs to the frenzied levelers who went hammering at the past of France and the sculptures of her churches, much as the saintly Taliban...