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What will be left of tonight’s debate in five years? How will it have guided the French in their choices? In what way will it have spoken about the essential issues that the next head of state will have to deal with? How will the way he/she will have been judged by the commentators at the end have reflected the reality of our country?
In fact, both candidates did not talk, and this is not their fault, about what they would do if Russia asked us to stop all aid to Ukraine or risk having a nuclear bomb dropped on our heads. Nor did they have to say what they would do if France was gradually drawn into this war on Ukrainian, then Polish, then German territory. Nor what they would do if the shortage of cereals meant that we had to choose to whom we exported our own, depending on price or the risk of famine? Or if some of our five largest so-called French companies were bought up on the stock exchange, which is perfectly possible, by Americans or Chinese? Nor if massive riots broke out in our countryside or suburbs?
More generally, they have not been put in the position of having to make it clear that they know that history is tragic and that they have to be prepared for it, which is the essential quality needed by the future head of state. It is not their fault: confronted mainly with yesterday’s issues, they were unable to talk about tomorrow’s.
But above all, it seems to me that, in five years’ time, an observer of this debate and of the comments that immediately followed it will see the mark of a very French flaw, which could become fatal: listening to the first analyses, we heard a refrain repeated everywhere (it was even one of the questions asked in the first poll that followed this debate): “Emmanuel Macron was arrogant.
This accusation is not new and is not only directed at him. It is aimed at anyone who shows knowledge or competence and who, sometimes clumsily, does not make the effort to hide it.
In fact, many people in France confuse competence with arrogance, excellence with privilege, elitism with favouritism. Should a musician apologise for his virtuosity? A scientist for his discoveries? A painter for his talent? When one knows, should one apologise?
This behaviour is not innocent, and is the source of what can destroy the soul of France. For we come to denounce any success, even if it comes from work, as being the translation of an undeserved privilege: as if any success were necessarily the translation of an undue privilege.
Some even go so far as to glorify ignorance and failure. This is nothing new: how many French ministers have I heard boasting to me about not having passed their baccalaureate!
Of course, it is more elegant to not humiliate the person who does not know. But in any case, it is better to know than to boast about not knowing.
This apology for mediocrity, this non-glorification of success, refers to very deep dimensions of French culture, for which the scandal is wealth and not poverty; unlike countries dominated by Protestantism or Judaism, for which it is exactly the opposite: the scandal is poverty.
France will not be able to complain about the poor quality of its education system or its health system as long as it does not value (in terms of social status and income) those who sacrifice nine or ten years of their life to difficult higher education.
In five years’ time, if we have not restored excellence at all levels, if our political class is not made up of highly competent people, if our doctors and teachers are not better regarded (if not paid) than our singers, footballers or influencers, the country will be in free fall.
This is undoubtedly one of the most important and difficult battles of the next few years: to stop denouncing as arrogance what is merely irritation at the statement of deadly untruths. And to revalue effort, work, success and excellence.