The French have been told in no uncertain terms to stop thinking. After all those epithets hurled at them post-Iraq from les États-Unis d’Amérique — nasty ones that included ‘Cheese-eating surrender monkeys!’ — one would think that the cerebralophobe, George W. Bush, was the one advising them to “roll up their sleeves” instead. But it turns out that the Left Bank has let out a collective Munchian scream in response to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde’s blunt advice to ‘do’ rather than to theorise.
Giving Madame Lagarde the courage to say such a thing stands the arch-Practical Man, President Nicolas Sarkozy. No mulling over the tale of Sisyphus rolling up a boulder only to see it roll down again and rolling it up again for eternity. Monsieur Sarkozy would rather order a crane and erect a giant coop around the boulder at the top and get busy with the next job at hand. While the ‘Think Less, Work More’ approach has a certain Indira Gandhi-ness about it, this is the French people one is talking to and about. We could discount the fact that Blaise Pascal may now have a problem selling his Penseés (Thoughts). But we must consider the serious possibility of non-thinking driving home the final nail in the coffin of existentialism (that heavy albatross the French are made to wear by foreigners). The Thoughtless Police led by Monsieur Sarkozy and Madame Lagarde wants people to stop muttering ‘To be or not to be’ into their Montparnasse carafes and want them simply ‘to be’ — one way or another.
Funnily, it all comes back to the grand pére of Existentialism, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who celebrated the Man of Action rather than the Man of Thought. The French are subtly being told by their new leaders to celebrate Auguste Rodin the sculptor who created masterpieces, rather than his celebrated work, Le Penseur.