French told: work more and think less
FRANCE is the country that produced Descartes and his one-liner, "I think therefore I am," as well as the solemn pontifications of Jean-Paul Sartre and other celebrity philosophers.
But in the government of president Nicolas Sarkozy, thinking has lost its cachet.
In proposing a tax-cut law earlier this month, finance minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their "old national habit".
"France is a country that thinks," she told the National Assembly. "There is hardly an ideology that we haven't turned into a theory. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves."
Citing Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.
Lagarde herself looked west to make her fortune, spending much of her career as a lawyer at the firm of Baker & McKenzie in Chicago. She rose to become the first woman to head the firm's executive committee and was named one of the world's most powerful women by Forbes magazine.
So now, two years back in France, she is a natural to promote the programme of Sarkozy, whose driving force is doing rather than musing, and whose mantra is "work more to earn more."
But the disdain for reflection may be going a bit too far. It has certainly set the French intellectual class on edge.
"This is the sort of thing you can hear in cafe conversations from morons who drink too much," said Bernard-Henri Levy, the philosopher-journalist. "I'm pro-American and pro-market, so I could have voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, but this anti-intellectual tendency is one of the reasons I did not."
The government's call to work is key to its ambitious campaign to revitalise the French economy, abandoning what some commentators call a nationwide "laziness". France's legally mandated 35-hour week gives workers a lot of leisure time but not necessarily the means to enjoy it.
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