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Mathieu Lefèvre: “France needs a new dream”

France is a country that runs on big ideals. Other countries seem to do fairly well without a grandiose national narrative but not France and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Whether having Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and Laicité loom large in policy discussions on issues like school lunches or whether appropriate beachwear is a good way to run a country is certainly up for discussion. But the reality is that France thinks of itself in those terms, right down to the café counter conversation. General de Gaulle captured this when he said in 1941 that “there is a twenty centuries’ old pact between the greatness of France and the freedom of the world.”

One consequence is that the state of the “French dream” dictates the state of the country itself. So when France stops working well, as it largely has for the past 30 years, one should look first under the hood of the French dream machine. This is certainly true today. Terrorism, immigration or France’s ossified elites are not the problem. I also don’t subscribe to the arguments that France is systemically unable to reform itself or by some historical force inclined to authoritarian xenophobes and populists. I just think people stopped believing in the French dream, and everything else got rusty.

So if the dream is the problem, how do we get to work on a new one, perhaps more 2016 than 1789 or 1958 (date of the current fifth Republic)? What’s certain is that there is a market for it. Grassroots movements like #Nuit Debout or the popularity of Emmanuel Macron are signs of a hunger for something new. Unfortunately, so is the National Front.

The starting point I’d like to offer is the way we tell our story. What if we created a meeting place – both online and offline – where people of all creeds and colors want to come tell their personal story, share their own identity and their version of the dream? In other words, can we crowd-source a new national narrative that describes a positive view of France as an open multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country? Elites seem to have run out of ideas, maybe ordinary people, in France, in Europe and beyond have a way out.

That is what I am working on and I am calling it Plus 1. It will look like a digital quilt where everyone contributes one piece of fabric. I look forward to discussing this at 6 Degrees and learning from the great group that will gather in a few days in Toronto.


Mathieu Lefèvre is currently starting a new venture called Plus 1, with a mission to reinvent the French and European dreams. See Mathieu at 360: Inclusion at the inaugural 6 Degrees.