By Stephen Bruyant-Langer
How are things really going in France?
Having just returned from my beloved France, my second home country, I still wonder how the recent leadership changes will affect everyday life. Specifically, I wonder how Emmanuel Macron will execute his reform plans. How will he enact his manifesto with the power granted by an absolute majority in the National Assembly?
What are the differences between France and Denmark?
I enjoy double Danish/French citizenship, so I had the privilege of voting in the French Presidential and parliamentary elections. I consider the new French President a truly remarkable individual. I am impressed by his caliber and really admire his grit. His Hero’s Journey has clearly accentuated several differences between the Danish egalitarian and consensual society and the French top-down and hierarchical society. See some other characteristics in the box.
Denmark: Trust, Digitization, Happiness, Flexicurity and Hygge (coziness and well-being)
France: Grand Projects, Culture, Nature, Elitism and Style
What is behind both-and thinking?
One of the reasons for Macron’s success can be found in his classical philosophical training. As a young man, he worked as an amanuensis for the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur. Central to Ricoeur’s critical hermeneutics, is the ability to think at the same time two ideas, which are apparently opposites. In other words, to be able always to encompass antagonisms and consistently make theory and practice interact. Politically, this means for example accepting both the left and the right. Or both freeing up the labor market and protecting the unemployed. Or again both reducing the public sector and investing in growth industries.
This theme of Both-And is also central to my wife’s and my approach to life. When we met, more than 35 years ago, it was clear already at our first meeting that we shared a common life dream. An ambitious life dream. The dream of both having our own career and at the same time having a big family. Having succeeded in this, we now have built our own company. Both corporate and entrepreneurial. I sincerely believe that any dilemma can be resolved by going to a higher order of simplicity. What seems contradictory at one level, often seems similar at a higher abstraction level. For example, you may find many differences between Denmark and Sweden, but compared on a global scale they are nearly identical.
For France, Europe is existential
Back to Macron. For Germany and France, Europe is a prerequisite for their existence. These two countries were nearly destroyed by two world wars. For them, Europe is existential. Macron sees openness and globalization as prerequisites for success. In his book “Révolution” he clearly lays out his political agenda. Trust is an important theme. He keeps reiterating “en même temps” – at the same time. And he underlines the importance of choice. In this context, he becomes a true existentialist.
These thoughts resonate fully with me. Danish society is built on trust. Danish society is highly digitized and Denmark is consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world. A modern version of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité could be Digitization, Trust and Happiness. Macron clearly sees the advantages of a social order based on flexicurity: Being able to hire and fire, while at the same time ensuring social security.
A confrontation is inescapable
So, France is in for a major reshuffling. Some of the privileges of the élite will be taken away, and some of the unions will be confronted with tough demands. The most probable consequence is a wave of major strikes – nothing new here! But the major difference now is that not since General de Gaulle in 1958 has a French leader had such powerful majority in the Parliament and with the people. There is virtually no opposition left. So, who can the striking unions turn to for help and support?
This confrontation will hopefully lead to a more modern and vitalized version of France, where collaboration will be the word of the day – a society where the ability to think at the same time two ideas, which are apparently opposites, will dominate. A society finding back to its roots: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.