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posted on 19 December 2018

What is France, Anyway?

Written by Frank Li

France is in turmoil ('Yellow Jacket' protests paralyze Paris and threatens Macron's government and Christmas market attack: France declares Strasbourg shooting an act of terrorism). What's really going on over there? More profoundly, what is France, anyway?

It's time to truly understand France, especially after having studied Germany (What is Germany, Anyway?) and the U.K. (What is the U.K., Anyway?).


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Let's try to understand France from eight perspectives as follows:

  1. France: an overview
  2. Charlemagne.
  3. King Louis XVI.
  4. The French Revolution.
  5. Napoleon.
  6. France and America from 1776 to 1899.
  7. Modern France.
  8. France and America today.

1. France: an overview

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - France.

France, officially the French Republic, is a sovereign state whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories.[XIII] The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions (five of which are situated overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.25 million (as of June 2018).[10] France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

The video below highlights France's geographical expansion from year 481 to 870.

animated gif showing expansion of Franks across Europe
By No machine-readable author provided. Roke~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

2. Charlemagne

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - Charlemagne.

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great[a] (German: Karl der Grose, Italian: Carlo Magno/Carlomagno; 2 April 742[1][b] - 28 January 814), numbered Charles I, was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and Holy Roman Emperor from 800. He united much of western and central Europe during the Early Middle Ages. He was the first recognised emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier.[2] The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded is called the Carolingian Empire. He was later canonized by Antipope Paschal III.

Charlemagne has been called the "Father of Europe" (Pater Europae),[c] as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the classical era of the Roman Empire and united parts of Europe that had never been under Frankish rule. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Western Church. All Holy Roman Emperors considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne's empire, as did the French and German monarchies.

3. King Louis XVI

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - Louis XVI of France.

Louis XVI (23 August 1754 - 21 January 1793), born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as Citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.

4. The French Revolution

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - French Revolution.

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies that lasted from 1789 until 1799. It was partially carried forward by Napoleon during the later expansion of the French Empire. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies.[1] Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.[2][3][4]

5. Napoleon

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia - Napoleon.

Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 - 5 May 1821) was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.[1][2]

Napoleon was very right about China.

In contrast, today, more than 200 years later, many American elites still do not get it. For more on China, read: The U.S. vs. China: A Great Experiment vs. A Great Civilization!

For more on Napoleon, watch the video below.

6. France and America from 1776 to 1899

America has been tightly linked with France since its first days! Two examples:

  1. The French were America's allies in the American Revolution (1775-1783), which America might well have lost without strong French support.
  2. Even the treaty to conclude the American Revolution War was signed in Paris (Treaty of Paris - 1783)!

What happened to America after the American Revolution? A republic was born, and a revolution leader named George Washington who, after refusing to be named king, was elected as its first President. America thrived ...

What happened to France after the French Revolution? An emperor replaced her king! Napoleon, a revolution leader, not only named himself the emperor, but also acted like one by waging wars against her many neighbors, only to be totally defeated in the end (Battle of Waterloo). After that, it was France in the long 19th century (1815-1914).

Two highlights:

  1. Alexis de Tocqueville.
  2. The Statue of Liberty.

Let me elaborate on each.

6.1 Alexis de Tocqueville

In 1831, a 26-year-old Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville visited America. He traveled widely throughout the country, taking extensive notes about his observations and reflections. He returned to France in less than two years, and published a book entitled De la democratie en Amerique, as a summary of his American tour. The book was translated into English entitled Democracy in America (appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840). Today, it is considered an early work, and a must-read, on democracy, sociology, and political science.

Read the image below.

What a generous assessment of America by a young Frenchman at that time!

While Tocqueville was obviously impressed with America, especially its tremendous potential, he was oblivious to the plight of America's many problems at that time (e.g. slavery and the notion of "We, the People"), to the point that I doubt whether he truly understood America and democracy.

It was during the first quarter of France's long 19th century (1815-1914) that Tocqueville published his famous book. No wonder he was so impressed with America, in stark contrast with France at that time!

Unfortunately for the world, Tocqueville mistakenly confused democracy with America's newfound success, hyping democracy, a tried but failed doctrine throughout human history, as a new and valid form of government.

In short, it's time to replace Tocqueville's book with mine!

6.2 The statue of Liberty

Tocqueville was not the only Frenchman who adored America during their "long 19th century". Here is a grander example: the French gave us the Statue of Liberty (dedicated on October 28, 1886)! It has been the most recognized symbol of freedom throughout the world ever since!

7. France today

Like Germany and the U.K., France is deeply in trouble today. Two examples:

  1. Diversity.
  2. Democracy.

Let me briefly elaborate on each.

7.1 Diversity

Unlike the U.S., whose diversity is mostly "natural" after the indigenous people (i.e. Native Americans) were almost wiped out, the diversity in France is mostly artificial, thanks to two main factors:

  1. The French Empire, which allowed most, if not all, citizens of its colonies freely immigrating to the mother country.
  2. The E.U., which has resulted in an influx of eastern Europeans to France.

Like in the U.S., the white majority in France blames migrants (and immigrants) for most of their misfortune, resulting in the rise of popularism. For more, read: Steve Bannon Is a Fraud, Totally!

7.2 Democracy

France, like the U.S., is paralyzed by democracy, in capable of making any significant change in accordance with time. For more, read: End of Democracy?

Here is a latest video from France ...

8. France and America today

Both countries are deeply in trouble. So, it's time for both to go as far back as necessary, in order to truly understand themselves, before a real cure is possible. Two informative readings:

  1. History 2.0.
  2. The French Revolution vs. the American Revolution.

9. Closing

Among the major economies in Europe, France not only is the oldest republic that has endured to date, but also has proven to be a uniquely great country, quite different from its great neighbors, such as the U.K. and Germany, especially in terms of independence and alliance.

Vive la France!

Now, please sit back and enjoy the video below.

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