The enduring myth of France, despite dark times

Citing immigration and terror attacks in his failed bid to run in the presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy asked: ‘What is French identity?’

Here, author and Académie Française member JEAN-MARIE ROUART looks at France’s history and says the attacks strengthened the sense of national identity

To the French, France remains a legend, a myth, a culture. Indeed, the way they see themselves is extremely surprising.

Relentless rehashing of the darkest moments in French history has left them sceptical, depressed, disaffected, paralysed by relativism [the idea that truth, knowledge, and morality are not absolute, but exist only in relation to the culture that gave them birth] and violently self-flagellating.

Despite all this, their pride in being French is unaffected, although for the last 50 years they have worn a hair shirt rather than kid gloves when reviewing the pivotal events of the contemporary era.

The first of these is Occupied France and Vichy, which was pushed into the background by the heroism of De Gaulle: a narrative that was adopted by all his successors until Chirac [who ...

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