There is a phrase in French, “C’est normale”. What it means – if you say thank you for a kindness when shown – is “It’s only natural”.
There are lots of things that infuriate me about France, but the French sense of communal neighbourliness (beyond the worst of the banlieues) isn’t one of them. Today is my 67th birthday, and the Polish blokes with whom I’ve been working found out about it. Tonight I opened the front door to find Polish beer, Vodka and farm-made brandy there to greet me. When I rang Mikal up to say thanks, he just said “C’est normale”.
My nearest neighbours are Jean-Pierre and Yvette. They have a small mountain retreat in Portugal, and every time they leave to spend a few weeks there, I’m always rung with the command “Il faut profiter” – that is, the lettuces and tomatoes will only shrivel, so take whatever you want. Another local farmer who grows on the field next to my place is mad about quince jelly. My trees here grow enough quinces to start a war with them as deadly weapons, so I always use the “il faut profiter” line with her too. She in turn gives me two large pots of the gelee afterwards.
Now this may all read like the worst kind of noble savage vie-en-rose life in France bollocks; and I must admit that more than its fair share of that clichéd drivel has been pumped out by the genre-seeking publishing sector over the last forty years. But the uncomfortable fact for supranational globalists is that it’s not a myth: it exists. It even exists in huge cities: in London, I’ve always found it interesting to note that there is Bedford Park, Telford Park, Brixton Village, Clapham Old Town, Chelsea Harbour, Canada Water, Camden Lock, and dozens of other geographical descriptions. It reflects, I think, the infinite human need to identify with a manageable size of tribe.
This might be an interesting thought: do you know anyone who would don a uniform and fight to defend the European Union? No, neither do I. This is partly because it stands for nothing of any worth to the ordinary citizen: it has no consistent moral outlook, let alone compass. It controls and demands without any reward for the individual. It lies with consummate ease, bullies with apparent pleasure, flaunts both cultural and natural laws, and stumbles from one self-inflicted crisis to the next. But the ultimate reason why nobody loves the European Union is because it is an oversized £9 note. Just as with every description about the size of the Universe, it simply cannot be computed by the human brain to add up to anything beyond dense impossibility.
This is why the future is not neoliberal globalism. The future is small, entrepreneurial, mutualist and communitarian. This is a sound socially anthropological conclusion, because Man’s success is based on invention, competition, cooperation and benign tribalism. Whenever we move beyond those boundaries we fail – and we fight.