A Few Words from Anatole France


Anatol France, born François-Anatole Thibault. Photo 1921

Anatol France, born François-Anatole Thibault. Photo 1921

WC isn’t really much of a fan of things French. Some might blame the dislike on the shabby treatment WC got on a trip down the Rhine in 1972.

But WC has always made an exception for Anatole France, the Nobel Prize-winning author, poet, playwright and philosopher who brightened French literature from 1844 to 1924.

Quotations out of context are always suspect, but here are a few of the reasons WC admires the writings of Anatole France, all of which seem to comment on current events.

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

WC doesn’t know of an aphorism that better states the fundamental hypocrisy of the law. And WC says that as a persn who has spent more than 40 years practicing law.

If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

If millions of people cast a foolish vote, it is still a foolish vote. Again, France manages to encapsulate a fundamental flaw of democracy in a single sentence.

It is better to understand little than to misunderstand a lot.

France was not particularly humble. Neither was Sir Issac Newton, who is supposed to have said, “To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” But still.

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.

Critical thinking is absolutely essential to living in America today, yet it is the skill that seems to be in shortest supply. Truthiness – what WC was taught to call verisimilitude – is a woefully inadequate tool.

So long as society is founded on injustice, the function of the laws will be to defend injustice. And the more unjust they are the more respectable they will seem.

The thought is better and more dramatically captured in the first quote above, but this is the general principle. Andrespectable laws are the very hardest kind to overturn.

When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it.

WC doubts very much that Melanie Trump knows who Anatole France is, let alone had read him. But her plagiarism of Michelle Obama would be an insincere hat tip to France’s aphorism.

Add to this list that the Roman Catholic Church banned all of Anatole France’s writings, placing him on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. And he bragged about it. Sure, France was a communist and an atheist, and likely a misogynist as well. It’s a mistake to judge a writer outside of his time. He was brilliant, and the better translations of his works are still highly readable, and highly thought-proviking, today. You can find them at Project Guttenberg

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One thought on “A Few Words from Anatole France

  1. At least in my city, the rich have been known to beg. We have beggars that like to use the medians on major streets as their bases. Apparently someone from the local newspaper followed one of them home one day, and found out that he actually lived in a nice house with a two-car garage, with two cars. I can’t fathom choosing to stand on a street corner all day conning people as a way to make a living.

    Thank you for reminding me of the word “verisimilitude”. We should be using that word more widely as a part of our vocabulary, because that’s a lot of what we get these days, from places where real truth should be coming…

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