01 October 2016

Paris chose to be self-centred

Writer Vincent Cronin, on pre-World War 2 Paris' predisposition to misread the diplomatic climate of Europe:

'Parisians occupied themselves fully with their own concerns, notably the production of beauty, art, wit and entertainment. The energy that might have been directed abroad was turned inwards. Paris, in short, chose to be self-centred. And this apparently succeeded, for why else would many of the discerning from all over Europe come to live and work in the city of light?

So absorbed were they by their own dazzling achievements that Parisians rarely travelled abroad. According to a shrewd Belgian observer, Charles d'Ydewalle, 'they treat all Europe other than Germany as part of France': an attitude that becomes less puzzling when we recall that in many countries the intelligentsia spoke French.

'We must learn to escape from ourselves,' Pierre Vienot had pleaded in 1931, 'understand things that are different from us.' His plea fell on deaf ears. Everything was referred to France, even at the expense of the facts: the Joliot-Curies were given sole credit for having unveiled the atom's secret, no mention being made of the great pioneer Rutherford, while in a very different field Josephine Baker of St Louis had been accorded a new birthplace, the French West Indies, and French parents. Even those shaping foreign policy, such as Herriot, Leger and Blum, clung to a static, French-centred concept of this or that foreign country, instead of revising their attitudes in face of a dynamic, fast-changing reality that took less and less account of France'.

- Vincent Cronin, Paris: City of Light, London, 1994, p.302

See also:
BlogGondry at the Pompidou, 22 March 2011
Blog: Le Bourget Air & Space Museum, 18 March 2011
BlogCity of lights, 20 April 2009

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