Some Reflections on That Uselessly Unpleasant Franco-American Relationship

This podcast is an edited recording of an October 6, 2004 lecture by the former French Prime Minister (1988-1991), European Parliament member, and Socialist Party leader Michel Rocard entitled “Some Reflections on That Uselessly Unpleasant Franco-American Relationship.” Rocard is introduced by Krzysztof Michalski, Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Institute for Human Sciences at Boston University. The comments of Marc Lilla, Professor in the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago, are not heard. Rocard’s lecture was broadcast on WBUR on October 10, 2004. We are grateful to WBUR for making the recording available to EU for You.

Michel Rocard’s lecture was an attempt to place the irritation between the United States and France, “two friendly nations, sharing largely the same ideals and values, who in 230 years have never been at war with each other,” in historical perspective. His “reflections” chronicled the “difficult cohabitation” between the United States and France since 1919. On the French side, he said, there is jealousy of America’s huge success at nation building, and regret over lost empire and the replacement by English of their language as the world language of diplomacy. Tensions are exacerbated by each country’s pride and insularism. “France is affected with what I would call provincialism with universal pretension,” Rocard commented. He went on: “Within Europe, France has the fewest citizens who speak more than one foreign language. The French people do not travel enough, or know the world enough” while the United States, for its part, is “drunk with power” and this “enormous, un-equilibrated, un-counterweighted power with weak experience of history” is one of the great problems of the contemporary period. Rocard recounted the vicissitudes in the Franco-American relationship, but underscored that ever since America’s war for independence from Great Britain – won with the help of France – the two countries have, when it has mattered, been allied. In spite of his “great fear that this rift between France and the United States could be deepened,” he expressed his hope for reconciliation. “That’s one of the challenges that could be addressed in your upcoming presidential election,” he said.

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