The Latin Difference

French President François Hollande is constantly flirting with the idea of building a new Latin bloc in Europe, in which Spain and Italy would join France in the struggle against fiscal austerity. In fact, the view of debt that Hollande's vision assumes harks back to the French Revolution of 1789.

PRINCETON – It is increasingly popular to think of Europe in binary terms. French President François Hollande is constantly flirting with the idea of building a new Latin bloc, in which Spain and Italy would join France in the struggle against fiscal austerity. In this vision, Latin superiority consists in a more expansive view of the state’s capacity to secure incomes and create wealth, and less of the “Protestant” obsession with the individual’s work.

The proposal is not altogether new. As the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben recently emphasized, it appeared at the beginning of the postwar era. In August 1945, a French intellectual, Alexandre Kojève, submitted to General Charles de Gaulle a sketch for a new foreign policy, based on a Latin “third way” between Anglo-American capitalism and Soviet-Slavic Marxism.

But there are even older variants of the French vision of Europe. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the French Emperor Napoleon III actually created a Latin Monetary Union, which included Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. Napoleon saw the scheme as a potential basis for a single world currency.

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