The tragic events of the past couple of days have led me to think about my favourite old world city. Paris – with her many charms – has long been a beacon of progressive thought in her myriad alleys, side-streets, and cafes.
Great minds – Voltaire, Rousseau, Comte, and Bergson, among many others – helped shaped our last couple of centuries with their liberal, progressive visions of what the world should be. Many of their thoughts would have been formulated sitting in unnamed cafes in quiet side streets in one of the great arrondissements.
Free speech was what the foundation of much of these great mens’ thoughts rested on. The freedom to gather (or the desire to be free and gather) fuelled true revolutions and revolutions of thought. Many publishing houses and ‘free’ bookstores still thrive in the City of Lights, sharing bold vision and thought with perhaps the most cosmopolitan centre in our world. The cafe culture is still strong – although you will not likely find Hemingway or Picasso, you will meet equally unique and engaging patrons.
A bold, progressive, liberal centre, Paris has always attracted the ire of the right wing and extremists: Childish jokes by an American right with no understanding of the city (or the fact that most of America’s early political mythology – right down to the buildings and physical and political structure of DC itself – is built on a vague copy of post-revolution France). Criticisms of Parisienne culture from French Nationalists and EU Neo-Nazis have been growing over the past decade. Religious extremists and fundamentalists have also made Parisian culture and her exports targets of their derision.
Through all the attacks, criticism, and even occupations this great city has thrived, and within her walls progressive culture has lived on. One only needs to walk about an area such as the 9th Arrondissement and duck into the centuries-old ‘Passages’ to see what I mean. Ancient bookshops flaunt controversial books and images, while locals stand and discuss their charms. Shop owners openly discuss politics – and welcome you to the conversation.
Critics and attackers of Paris and Parisienne culture have always missed the key point: You can’t kill an idea. The City of Light still shines brightly, and her great ideas continue to shed intellectual ‘light’ on some of the darkest corners of humanity.
Herman Thind, BSc., OOST, Certified Social Media Strategist.
Herman is a community advocate, consultant, and a student of all things political. He was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and grew up across Western Canada.