Grasshoppers and Ants

Letter From Paris

Many American children who are brought up on Mother Goose stories, as well as other fairy tales, may not know that their author was a 17th-century Frenchman, Charles Perrault. They may also not realize that the fable of the melodious grasshopper (in actual fact a cicada) who whiles away the warm summer months in full-throated song, while the busy ant stocks up provisions for the bitter winter—so charmingly illustrated years ago by Walt Disney in one of his first "Silly Symphonies"—was the brainchild of another 17th-century Frenchman, Jean de La Fontaine.

This might seem a roundabout way of leading up to Edith Cresson—who was appointed French prime minister in May 1991 and then resigned after the Socialists' big defeat last March—but for the fact that it was she herself, an outspoken defender of French industrial interests, who used the famous simile to warn her overly nonchalant compatriots—implicitly likened to easygoing grasshoppers—about the looming threat posed, not only to France but to Western Europe as a whole, by the ant-like industriousness of the Japanese.

Many attempts have been made by commentators to explain why President Mitterrand ever chose in the first place a woman deputy to replace his enemy, Michel Rocard—an enemy because he long ago founded a Socialist Party splinter-group, dared prematurely to stake out his own presidential ambitions, and managed...

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