Une certaine idée de la France, pt. 2

History is an important participant in French politics. As, for example, François Hincker, notes, the lasting impact of the French Revolution on the contemporary French polity can never be underestimated – „[c]ertes, […] que l’essentiel de la France con¬tem¬poraine sortit d’elle est une idée dont la banalité n’efface pas la vérité.“ (François Hincker, La Révolution française et l’économie – Décollage ou catastrophe?, p 5)

The Revolution forged a nation based on Ernest Renan’s universalist “plébiscite de tous les jours” and introduced the French notion of the Republic, which is, according to the political scientist Michael Leruth “… all at once a form of government, a collection of venerable lieux de mémoire and familiar symbols, a political philosophy, and a secular substitute for religious faith.” (1998: p 60) Moreover, it is an ideology built on inherently conflicting, sometimes contra1dictory, concepts – liberté, égalité and fraternité – leading to a normative aim of active statism that is markedly different from the liberal political philosophy of other Western democracies. While French Republicanism is founded upon the rejection of all kinds of privileges and expects the state to intervene and protect the rights of the individual, other philosophical traditions are far more critical of the state, regarding it as one major source of arbitrariness.
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Une certaine idée de la France ?

It’s interesting that Emmanuel’s remarks about biased statistics about the French economy in Anglophone publications led to some comments trying to asses the extent to which France is perceived as “the other”, at least as far as “the West” is concerned. There have always been claims about a natural rivalry of the two main “universalist” western polities, France and the US, but there was, in my opinion, never too much hard evidence for such a claim. Still, intellectual traditions as well as institutionalised myths are often a very powerful element of public discourse, and sometimes even assume a certain life of their own if there are enough believers. In this case, there certainly are.

Since France will begin the process of electing a new President this Sunday, and since “Europe” wasn’t exactly a prominent subject on any candidate’s campaign agenda, I thought I share thoughts I once compiled with respect to the Europeanization of the French “other”, some parts of which have already been included in my guest post (in French) at publius.fr a couple of days before the now notorious French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005.
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