xv Introduction General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of France’s government-in-exile during the Ger- man occupation of France and later the first president of the French Fifth Republic, was famously possessed of a “certain idea of France” that included the conviction that “France cannot be France without greatness.” The statesman’s declaration can be interpreted as expressing three notions that still resonate among the French: first, the certitude that France was indeed a great nation in the past—a military, diplomatic, and colonizing power that often stood at the forefront of modern western civilization second, the sobering realization that it was a diminished nation in the shifting geopo- litical order of the latter half of the twentieth century—a middling power shorn of its empire and more reliant than it would care to admit on the United States and on its own European partners for the peace and prosperity that it craved and third, a deep- seated dissatisfaction with this more modest station and a preternatural aspiration to be something more. Much nostalgic longing lurked below the surface of de Gaulle’s proud statement. In recent years, this nostalgia has morphed into gloom in the face of the major challenges that France faces as a nation: 1. An eroded industrial base coupled with chronically high unemployment, which have led to a widening gap between its haves and have-nots, often raucous social and political unrest (e.g., the Yellow Vest protests of 2018–2020), and fertile ground for populist ideologies with a strong undercurrent of xenophobic nationalism 2. The stubborn difficulty France has had trying to reconcile the real multicultural diversity of French society with a venerable yet dated “republican ideal” of the French nation that places considerable emphasis on “indivisibility” and Laïcité, or strict secularism 3. The acute socioeconomic disenfranchisement of minority youths from the sprawl- ing suburbs (banlieues)—a situation that has produced its own spectacular instances of unrest (e.g., the riots/uprising of November 2005) 4. A presidential system of government that proved itself adept at ushering the nation through the period of unprecedented economic growth and social modernization known as the Thirty Glorious Years (1945–1975) and is still capable of churning out major structural reforms that experts deem necessary, yet that finds its
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