Roger writing the LAWmag

The Return of the Bourgeois

At first, no pulse.

France, post-French revolution, under the imposing shadow of a 1,000 foot monument to it (the Eiffel Tower), it cannot be felt.

It is not in the scooters everywhere which, like in Mexico, are driven kamikaze style, even zigzagging through mobs of pedestrians on the sidewalk, gendarmes nowhere in sight.

The newspapers are of little assistance as France continues its centuries-old fascination with vegetarian political thought.

Even absent a heartbeat, or symptomatic of it, what we call "politics" is to them as mainstream as hockey might be to us.

They wear it on their sleeve.

As early as birth, the French are taught the virtues of the "gauche" or the "droite", as Americans, Democrats or Republicans or Canadians and British, Liberal or Labour and Conservative.

The old joke retains some semblance of truth:

Why can't France field a baseball team? Because they'd all stand in left field.

The first section of each paper, such as Le Monde, le Parisien or the Figaro, is devoted to the latest political intrigues, from the local councilor to President Sarkosy himself, who even fanned the excitement of the local group of moribund French law professors by marrying an international supermodel and singer wannabe, Carla Bruni.

A Qui La FauteFrance’s best selling book is A Qui la Faute (pictured), which purports to explain the alleged and self-described divorce which has occurred between the elite and the common people of France.


La revolution française has been cut apart and dissected hundreds of ways.

Purchasing a book on the Revolution at any French bookstore brings a ring of clarifications from the bookseller as different books are presented as "gauchist" (left-wing; socialist) or "de la droite" (right wing; conservative).

The Revolution itself happened quickly but in fact, the apératif was not an overnight affair.

It occurred on the brink of national bankruptcy, with a young, equivocating and immature king at the helm, and the intermeddling of his wife, a foreign, rude and haughty Queen, Marie Antoinette of Austria.

Louis XVI was an absolute monarch; aka absolute despot.

His numerous responses to the growing unrest included his famous statement "je suis la loi".

Even with Louis’ head separated from his body in 1793, at the age of 31 (after a swift and sensational trial, and a failed escape attempt), the French people suddenly found themselves at the helm, themselves, of a ... comment dirais-je ... une nation!

On all sides of France were past, present and future enemies of war, all growling.

Navigating a state is not the work of bakers and blacksmiths. The lawyers, the clergy and the bourgeois forged an uneasy truth born of necessity and grabbed on to the wheel.

It took years of sharpening political and legal skills, the law, and the guillotine’s axe, before democracy and a firm rule of law took hold and pushed out anarchy. By suddenly ousting a monarchy, France went where no nation had gone before it and had to develop a democracy from the ground up, with only the similar examples of the most recent United States of America to guide it.

In the battles, even the great lawyer Maximilien Robespierre got caught up in the accusatory mania and was summarily executed in 1794.

In modern France, as the left-right crevasse has been worked over for over two hundreds years, a new political beast has appeared.

Gentler and kinder, the French are tentative with it like a toddler approaching an animal for the first time.

Always present - even on July 14, 1789 – this new political option – hybrid politics - has been rushed onto the stage with the rise to power of an educated middle class and the integration of France within the European Union.

It is everywhere now, the hottest, sexiest political favourite for the "in" crowd, but still, mistrusted by the hardcore gauche and the droite.

Hybrid politics is now represented at all levels of government and is the whipping boy and accused, as is bonne guerre in politics, by the two traditional parties as being the other in disguise.

Louis XVI executionThe hybrid political parties have refreshed politics in France and is forcing professors and academia to contemplate the realignment of political forces – something they love to do.

Bourgeois is a dirty word in the English language, referring to hoity-toity upper class privileged citizens.

But in the history of the Revolution, the bourgeois was the middle class.

They were the shop owners, the lawyers and the doctors and they, too, rose in armed riot against Louis XVI and his crust of the "hereditary rich", the nobles and the decadent layers of his entourage called the "royal court" or, simply, "la cour".

Louis XVI was the king of the nobility. It was from within that protected culture that he was raised and took his guidance, with the occasional insertion, from time to time, of advisers (such as the son of a law professor, the Swiss Jacques Necker).

The king regularly favoured and rewarded his Court; for example, allowing many of them to cheat their debts by extending the royal prerogative of bankruptcy.

But the nobility, led by members of his extended family, had his ear always and managed to quickly end the career of any bourgeois adviser that the king employed from time to time. This included Necker who, if he had of been listened to on the many occasions of crisis that the king rushed to him for advice, might of averted the Revolution.

It was the backing of the bourgeois – the ultimate hybrid social class – that made the revolution not only possible. It was from their ranks that helmsmen of state were found lest the nation crash on the rocks of impetuous war, financial collapse or sustained anarchy.

The bourgeois were often hunted down and killed, taken for "rich persons", all in the name of the Revolution. But by the time the dust finally settled, in 1795, the new nation was ready to wheel out of the oven; the job was done.

The Bourgeois had recognized the urgency of establishing law, from which peace and order always flows. The law of the "ancien regime" was gone and a firm adherence on Roman law was in place, along with promises that Napoleon would keep a few years later; a civil code, where all the law would be held in a compact one-stop shop format.

And thus through it all, hybrid political thought should neither surprise or be distrusted by the French.

It is, after all, those of hybrid political thought that rescued the country from anarchy and created the conditions for Napoleon to come along and lift France to its highest international glory.

This augurs well for the next "revolution", fast upon us and which, as with all developed and industrial nations, will have to be flexible and adaptive to minimize pain and discomfort. As environmental concerns grow, the Eiffel Tower may then have another opportunity to spearhead a theme first heard in 1788 and 1789; that of political change for the good of all.

As a profound political change occurs in this country where the national sport is politics, maybe there is some meat to the vas et viens of daily life in France and a heartbeat after all. I was just looking in the wrong place.

Posted in International Law, Legal History