The French see René Descartes, a 17th century philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, as the truest expression of their national mind. I am afraid they are right.
Descartes rejected authority in intellectual life and insisted on reconstructing knowledge on plain sense and strict reasoning, hence his famous motto, cogito ergo sum (“I think and therefore I am”). However, he also disdained experience as long as it could not be boiled down into logical and mathematical terms. This approach, so much at odds with the empirical and pragmatic approach favored in the Anglo-Saxon world, is indeed a hallmark of French culture — including politics.
The French elites relish in abstract, “élégant,” symmetrically organized concepts; they have problems with hard, rough, irregular facts. And should it come to pass that facts do not fit with concepts, they would rather ignore the former than question the latter. Even if major aspects of reality are being denied in the process, and the concepts themselves turned into inert dogmas or voided of any meaning.
Such a tendency was worrisome enough in the past, as some of the greatest French authors or thinkers realized, from Alexis de Tocqueville to Hippolyte Taine to Marc Bloch. It grew into an intractable problem after 1945, when France was reorganized as a statist nation, and a new administrative elite, engineered and trained by meritocratic academic institutions like Sciences Po (Political Science Schools), Ecole Normale Superieure (the Higher School for Education), and above all, Ecole nationale d’Administration (National School of Administration) engulfed the political class. Admission to ENA — through competitive examination — and graduation from ENA depend largely on mastering the required conceptual framework and never departing from it.
As an average, meritocratic grand schools provide about 70% of the political parties leaders and members of cabinet.
One of the most striking cases of reality denial in contemporary France is demography: issues like birthrate, life expectancy, immigration, and emigration. On the face of it, you can hardly ignore such things, since they constantly reshape your environment and your way of life. Even without resorting to statistics, you are bound to perceive, out of day-to-day experience, what is the current balance between younger and older people, how many kids are to be found at an average home, the ethnicity or religion of your neighbors or the people you relate to at work or in business.
The French elites, however, either Right or Left, managed for five decades at least to dismiss the drastic demographic changes that had been taking place in their country, including the rise of Islam, since they clashed with too many political concepts — or fantasies — they had been brainwashed into.
The superiority of the “French social model” ; the unique assimilative capacity of French society; equality for equality’s sake; the primacy of individual values over family values; secularism; francophonie, or the assumption that all French-speaking nations in the world were a mere extension of France, and that all nations that defined themselves as“Francophone” did speak French or were subdued by French culture; and finally la politique arabe et islamique de la France, a supposed political and strategic affinity with the Arab and Muslim world….