Diary of a Peripheral Male, Part Three of Three


I boarded the plane in Pisa and joined the flight full of North Africans going home to Paris.  It is hard to get a waitress--I mean, professional flight attendant on board for the passengers’ safety--because one Moroccan mother seems completely unable to deal with the logistics of traveling with a baby.  It is a nice enough baby, and the mother is sweet, though her French is even less comprehensible than my own.  Not so long ago, a man’s level civilization could be measured, almost literally, by the size of his French vocabulary (never by his accent, since a good accent, I remind myself, is always in bad taste: It puts one one the same level with the Frogs.)  French is now about as much used in American schools as ancient Greek, and even when there are courses, the students learn little or no French except for schoolboy slang.  It was my son’s 3rd year French book that taught me “dingue,” and I am delighted when the wife of a French economist corrects her 7-year old son, telling him to say “fou” instead.

On Sunday I went to Notre Dame Despite the signs warning tourists to stay out--warnings enforced by rather stern ushers--the American and Japanese tourists are forever wandering in and out.  The older American women are the worst: Bursting out of their jeans and jogging suits, they look like overfed seals wearing fanny packs, barking and gabbling about their shopping. They long ago jettisoned any evidence of femininity without ever acquiring the small virtues of the American male--a kind of shy inoffensiveness that some foreigners continue to find endearing.  America will be ready for civilization when our men act on the old woman’s advice to Zarathustra. “Goest thou to women?  Do not forget to take thy whip.”

In several days of meetings with French conservatives, pagan as well as Catholic, the inevitable topic--approached as delicately as the rumor that one has cancer--is America’s role in the world.  With a kindness and delicacy I had not expected, they ruefully explain that they cannot help regarding the United States as the enemy both of European civilization and of world peace. Many French conservatives believe that Clinton will seize any pretext, no matter how slim, for bombing Iraq, and over dinner with the leader of the Nouvelle Droite, we agree that the bombs will probably fall before Christmas. I wonder, vaguely, the next day (14 December) if the very tight security at Charles de Gaulle is an indication that something is up.


I was happy to board the flight to Chicago, not only because the United stewardesses were pretty and gracious French girls, who made my free seat in steerage seem like first class.  As much as I admire French and Italian conservatives, they (like everyone in Europe) are the subjects of the imperium americanum, and even though we here in the states are as much victims of this regime as anyone, it is comforting to think that the evil empire is, at least our evil empire. I’m back, back, back in the USSA.

Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina