Those mountaineous French

Thomas Friedman’s latest book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, tells us that the defining characteristic of the new millennium is the flattening consequence of the digital revolution.

Friedman’s history is, indeed, brief. And it is wrong. Flat wrong.

The New York Times columnist travelled to India, Silicon Valley and China to research his book. But he forgot to go to France – where the mutinously mountainous auguries of the 21st century would have stared him in the face.

Big mistake, Tom. Instead of schlepping all the way to Bangalore, you should have reversed de Tocqueville’s journey. You could have worn Thomas Jefferson’s cloak, hung around Paris for a while, then come back to America with a more mountainous history of the 21st century.

Had Friedman gone to France he would have found a revolutionary nation united by its hostility to the cultural and economic consequences of globalization. Friedman would have observed a political class united in its hostility to American cultural power. Most of all, Friedman would have seen the French State – the symbolic fruit of the revolution of 1789 – shaping up to confront Apple Computer, which is fast acquiring the real economic power of the traditional European state.

In the 1789 French upheaval, the Montagnards were the radical Jacobins who sat in the so-called "Mountain" in the revolutionary assembly. Today’s copy of the Montagnards are those French lawmakers who, according to Apple Computer, are a peddling a “state-sponsored piracy.”

These lawmakers are threatening to essentially legalize digital piracy in France by making the punishment for illegal downloads a flat 38 euros (around $50). Thus, in exchange for the risk of paying a parking ticket fine, the French will be able to download Hollywood movies and music to their hearts content. So much for the traditional French respect for the “droit d’auteur.”

This could be the cultural variant of 9/11. This official state policy will be potentially more damaging to long-term US interests and culture than the destructive actions of a few crazy terrorists.

The same French lawmakers are also threatening to force Apple to open up their proprietary  iTunes store to other digital music players . The hilarious May 12 BusinessWeek headline “APPLE TO FRANCE: DROP DEAD” sums this one up perfectly.

New York Times Paris correspondent Thomas Crampton quotes one European software lobbyist who says this is: “clearly the worst software law in Europe.”

But this is more than just a bad law. It is an opening shot in the coming world war between localizing Montagnards and globalizing flatteners. And Thomas Friedman is missing it -- just like he missed Iraq and the original 9/11.