It happened today - May 19, 2016
Can I be given the “Legion d’Honneur”, formally “Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur” for persistently annoying the French? I suppose not. But it does underline the problems that exist in taking pride in one’s heritage in most of the world that the highest French award for civilian and military merit, won by a great many thoroughly deserving recipients, should have been initiated on May 19, 1802 by Napoleon, from whose hands I would be most reluctant to accept an award.
I reflect on this problem when depressed by the state of things in “the West” and particularly in the Anglosphere, the first and last bastion of genuine liberty, whose various societies seem to me to be in serious danger of disintegrating politically, culturally and economically. It is hard work rallying people, battling through vested interests and lethargy to reclaim our heritage. But at least we have a heritage that is, at bottom, worth reclaiming.
Imagine you lived in, say, Russia, where great valour has been exhibited by tenacious people in defence of a country horribly misruled since the Mongols. Suppose you rose in the Russian parliament today to denounce Putin’s thuggish tyranny, and called on Russians to remember… remember… well, about 68 times freedom was brutally suppressed and the no times at all that it prevailed.
Likewise in France, for all its magnificent cultural achievements from agriculture to food, there aren’t a lot of really inspiring political moments of lasting importance. France is a lot better off than most of the world. But it has no Magna Carta, no Glorious Revolution, no Queen Victoria. They have to settle for Louis XIV for magnificence that squandered the nation’s wealth, Robespierre for proclaiming liberty that resulted in mass murder and terror, and Napoleon for victory that ended in defeat… and awards worthy of a better leader. They’re even stuck with Charles de Gaulle instead of Churchill.
As for Napoleon, I just don’t like him. I don’t admire him and I don’t want anyone to try to imitate him. I don’t want him shaking my hand or pinning anything on me. He was a dictator, an aggressor and a failure.
Don’t get me wrong. I like France. My trip there in 2014 was a great experience and the people were welcoming and helpful. I’d love to go back. But even if I were offered a medal, I’d be uneasy about where it originally came from.