GARLINGTON: French Culture and Resistance to Change

Louisiana’s French heritage is a blessing in many ways, giving a unique quality to her culture – to the way her people speak, to her music, to her calendar, and so on with the rest.  But it also has its downsides, one of them being a resistance to necessary political reform.

A review of French history reveals why this is the case:  The higher economic classes in French society have always been extremely jealous of the fiefs they control and are loathe to relinquish any of the influence and power they wield.  In older times, this class was the feudal nobility, whose vast land holdings and numerous clients dependent on them gave them tremendous power in French politics.  Today in la Louisiane we would recognize them as special interests – local governments and organizations, universities, trial lawyers, and the like.  They have a different name than their medieval French counterparts, but their function in Louisiana politics is the same:  The large amount of financial resources they control and the crowds of people who depend on them in some way give them a lot of sway in Louisiana politics.

The selfish oligarchy have been content at times to allow the common good and even the unity of the French country itself decay and crumble to allow them to retain and/or enhance their own status.  An identifiable French country has come close to dying out on a number of occasions, only to be saved by a Providentially sent ‘revivalist’ (to use Scott McKay’s term again).  The latter years of the Merovingian dynasty was one of those times, when the central power grew weak and some of the nobility rose up against the kings, but France was united again and the uprisings quelled by Pippin III (8th century), who began the energetic Carolingian dynasty.

Another episode occurred in the 15th century during the Hundred Years’ War with England.  This time, much of the nobility had defected from the rightful heir to the French throne, Charles VII, and allied themselves with the English who occupied large swaths of France at the time.  But the sudden appearance of Joan of Arc reversed the fortunes of the French, King Charles was able to be properly anointed and coronated, and France was restored as a nation in Western Europe.

The worst showing of the French oligarchs came in WWII when the French government under Marshal Petain capitulated to the German Nazis and became their puppets.  Charles de Gaulle emerged at this time, who, with God’s help and few others’, slowly built up a resistance force that saved France from extinction.

Louisiana has faced moments like these.  Bienville kept the Louisiana colony afloat during its turbulent early years, when missteps by others with the Native Americans and with finances put her young life in peril.  The carpetbaggers and scalawags had turned Louisiana into a sewer of corruption during Reconstruction; Francis Nichols as governor cleaned much of that out.  And while his socialism and corruption are repugnant, Huey Long is also one of those leaders who was able to overcome powerful entrenched interests for the sake of (his distorted vision of) the common good.

A major complication in efforts to rein in the oligarchy in countries descended from France is the arrogance of the French upper classes, who see themselves as a chosen, privileged group of people.  The lower classes therefore have difficulty in finding champions to help them in resolving their legitimate grievances against any of the upper classes’ members.  This smug attitude was on clear display during the Hundred Years’ War, when some of the crossbowmen hired as mercenaries from Genoa to fight alongside the French knights were literally trampled down by the latter because of some casual remarks of King Philip VI on their way to a battle.  About six decades later, 6,000 volunteer crossbowmen from Paris were not taken into battle and were belittled by the French nobles who wondered ‘what they needed “these shopkeepers” for’ (Henry Myers, Medieval Kingship, Nelson-Hall, Chicago, 1982, pgs. 324-5).

However, though the French character is a powerful and defining factor in Louisiana politics, it is not the only one.  There is also the English heritage to consider, and it is nearly the opposite of the French.  For while the French are hampered by class divisiveness, the English are not.  There has been rancor between the two at times, but the upper and lower classes of England have been able to form a closer, friendlier bond.  This is expressed quite beautifully in the life of St. Edmund, King of East Anglia (martyred by the Viking Danes in 869 A.D.), who was the original patron saint of England prior to the Norman invasion in 1066 that overturned so much of Orthodox English life:

Edmund was tall, with fair hair, well-built and with a particular majesty of bearing. He was a wise and honest man, pious and chaste in all his deeds. In all things he always strove to please God and by his pure life and glorious works he won the respect of all his subjects. Edmund was very meek and humble: he knew that, becoming a king, he could never be conceited with his countrymen, but should only be on a par with everybody in the kingdom. Edmund was protector of the Church and a shelter for orphans, was generous to the poor and cared for widows like a loving father. All who pleaded to him for justice received help. It was said that even children could walk alone great distances in the kingdom without any fear for themselves under St. Edmund. The holy king corrected the stubborn and impious and led his country to repentance. He served his nation so selflessly that he even refused marriage, laboring wholeheartedly for the good of the people.

Later, in contrast to the French in the Hundred Years’ War, the cooperation of the high and low classes in the English army during battle with the French allowed them to be victorious over the larger armies of France, who, because of class antagonism, failed to coordinate effectively with one another (Myers, p. 324).  And still later, during Benjamin Disraeli’s years as Prime Minister in the 19th century, the Parliament of England (i.e., the House of Commons and the House of Lords) voted to give voting privileges to working classes that had never had them before.  The inter-class solidarity of the English makes beneficial reforms of this kind much easier to enact.


In Louisiana in 2024, we are facing another typically French descent into degeneration.  The special interest oligarchy has made life nearly unbearable for the millions of lower and middle class folks living here.  The voters hoped that, in electing Jeff Landry and a conservative Legislature, they would break the power of the oligarchs and improve conditions across all of Louisiana through a combination of executive and legislative actions.  They are disappointing the people:  first by carving out a federal congressional district for Leftists, then by keeping the same self-centered, status-quo elites on the LSU Board of Directors, by vetoing a much-needed piece of tort reform, HB423, by watering down the school choice voucher program, and by not approving of a constitutional convention recommended by the governor.

The danger is not simply that Louisiana will continue to deteriorate and depopulate.  There is also the threat of an explosion of anger from the hard-pressed lower classes.  The most well-known example in French history is the French Revolution beginning in 1789, a catastrophe that still reverberates with consequences in France today (strict secularism, socialism, etc.).

We need Gov. Landry and the legislators to act on the best examples of both French and English history, our unique inheritance here in Louisiana:  From the French side, revivalist actions by figures at the highest levels that will neuter the powers of the special interest oligarchs who are impeding necessary reforms for the sake of holding on to the perks they think they are entitled to, actions that will improve the lives of everyone in the State; from the English side, more humility from the upper classes toward the lower working classes, and a real effort to cooperate with the latter in building up Louisiana into a Christian community that is flourishing spiritually and physically.

To their credit, Gov. Landry and the Legislature did enact several laws that will benefit us spiritually.  There is more to do in that regard, and, unfortunately, the economic side (tax reform, budget reform, etc.) was hardly addressed at all (though, again, it was not a total disaster on the physical side as, for example, gold and silver were affirmed as legal tender and raw milk, a highly nutritious food, can now be legally sold; more accomplishments listed here).

Both the governor and the legislators have shown a lot of promise.  It will be a tragedy on a number of levels, for this generation and for future ones, if they are unable to fulfill the expectations that their fellow Louisianans see in them, as Louisiana risks either falling into a terminal decline of despair or experiencing a violent counter-reaction by the working class to accomplish the reforms their political leaders refuse to enact.



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