Wednesday, March 22, 2006

SUPERB WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL (unfortunately a subscription link) about the trouble in the streets of France:
The right to assemble is a pillar of free society. But in France it's the only pillar its citizens seem to take seriously. So much so that any public debate of import gets conducted in the streets rather than through the ballot box or institutions of a purportedly mature democracy.

In less enlightened societies, as opposed to the birthplace of the Enlightenment, that's usually called mob rule. But the violent street demonstrations roiling France's cities today, and the unhappy career prospects of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, are the latest symptoms of an ailing democracy.

[...] How instructive it would be to send Alexis de Tocqueville through France today. He'd find dependence on the state and the absence of individualism, symbolized by the low levels of private charity and civic engagement. He would not find the bounty of groups and lobbies of healthier democracies. "In every case, at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government," Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" asserts, "in the United States you are sure to find an association."

Yes, the banners of student groups add color to the street demonstrations. But look closer. The force with real bite is the public-sector employee unions. Blue-collar workers long ago abandoned the union movement, leaving civil servants who, like Charles de Gaulle once said of France's cosseted farmers, are desperate to hold on to their "mediocre but secure" posts.

The government workforce -- one-quarter of the population -- can terrorize the majority by stopping the trains or turning off the electricity. In other words, the state funds its own opposition, which torpedoes even modest efforts to modernize France. By marching with the public-sector unions to defend this status quo, the boys and girls of the Sorbonne are saying they want to be "mediocre but secure," too. What a dream for a 20-year-old. And a useful warning to Americans about the danger of giving public-sector unions too much power as well.
Read the whole thing, if you have a chance.

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