Men squabble as much over symbols as over more tangible realities, and this in itself is a reality of the human condition. It is not surprising, then, that an amendment to the French constitution precipitately proposed by President Hollande in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November should have caused controversy, all the more so as it is admitted on all sides that the amendment is of symbolic rather than of practical significance. The question, then, is what does it symbolize?
Truth is universal but error is international. Living as I do between Britain and France, I am often surprised to see the same mistakes being made on both sides of the Channel with the same results, without any awareness on the part of either country of the other’s experience; the same bad arguments are made, the same false conclusions drawn.
I was on my way a few days ago to France via the Eurostar, the train that goes from the center of London to the center of Paris via the Channel Tunnel, and bought Le Figaro, the French newspaper of conservative posture, to read on the way. Its lead story was about the plans of the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, to suppress short prison sentences in favor of such penalties as probation, community service and the wearing of electronic bracelets, to release substantial numbers of prisoners before their prison sentences were completed, to give future prisoners the automatic right of release after serving two thirds of their prison sentences, and to remove certain crimes (unspecified) from the penal code. My heart sank; we’ve tried all that in Britain, with results that only an intellectual with years of training to prevent him from being able to see what is in front of his nose would or could find surprising.