France: Shield Against Insult

Charles de Gaulle is extremely thin-skinned about criticism or ridicule from his fellow Frenchmen. Unlike such helpless victims of the public and press as Lyndon Johnson or Harold Wilson, however, he has found a way to intimidate and punish his critics. In 1881, when the President of France was a powerless and nonpolitical figurehead, the National Assembly passed a law against insulting him "by speeches, cries, threats uttered in public places, or by writings, posters or notices exhibited to the public." In its first 77 years on the books, the law was invoked only nine times. Then,...