By Nadine Abou Zaki
“Are you available Wednesday at one? We’re organizing a luncheon with Emmanuel Macron at Tawlet (Mar Mikhael) during his visit to Lebanon as presidential candidate”. I was surprised to receive this message from Aurélien Lechevallier, who oversaw Macron’s electoral campaign. Do I cancel my philosophy class at University, do I RSVP positively? Ah well, my students will have the day off! The tempting offer to have lunch with Macron overcame everything else.
Emmanuel Macron… I wanted to know more about the man who, a mere three months ago, was still a candidate for the French presidency –before his recent victory. I do a quick research, my mind snagging on a tidbit of information towards which I cannot be indifferent: he studied philosophy. Philosophy and politics… What is philosophy worth without a real-life confrontation? What is real life without its relation to concepts? Is the role of philosophy limited to pronouncing discourse on a more or less abstract and metaphysical elsewhere? Doesn’t philosophy draw its meaning, its sense in relation to society, experience of the most daily, elementary, rudimentary things? What about Emmanuel Macron? Is he a philosopher in power?
How good it is to be reborn!
In all cases, he is a nonconforming candidate, at least from what I first saw, especially when it comes to his marriage to Brigitte, a woman 24 years his senior. Brigitte, his impossible love. Brigitte, the transgression of the impossible; this is the story of a 15 year old school student and his literature teacher. “Oh, how good it is to be reborn!” Macron cried out in the end-of-year drama performance Brigitte was staging. The meeting with Brigitte was the beginning of the teacher-student relationship whose philosophical initiation is the best illustration of such. Is it a coincidence that Macron fell in love with a woman of letters, since he had written an unpublished novel titled “Babylon, Babylon”? Did he not dream of becoming a writer when he escaped through the books of Gide or Cocteau, called to reading by his grandmother who introduced him to Molière, Racine, or Camus? Did Brigitte not guide his footsteps into the world of books that his grandmother had opened before him? Did she not stimulate his critical thinking?
Macron gets familiar with Lebanese cuisine
I arrived to the luncheon with the curiosity to meet someone original. We were about ten people, French and Lebanese. We chatted for quite a while, waiting for Macron. This meeting in Tawlet, in a traditional Lebanese restaurant, seemed to be informal. Macron eventually made it, greeting each of us by shaking our hand and holding our gaze. He was expecting us to introduce ourselves. Was this assertiveness in gesture, this presence in his stare, natural? Or were they the byproduct of this new style of media training given to politicians?
We sat at the table, then moved to the buffet to serve ourselves. There were male and female cooks standing there, offering us dishes from their regions. It was an opportunity for French television channels there to take pictures of Macron in an unusual place for him. The atmosphere was pleasant and filled with laughter and smiles. In this warm, spontaneous, friendly atmosphere, we had lunch.
The people surrounding Macron were relating their activities to him one by one. This smiling young man was attentively listening. He was fully present, his mind sharp. The conversations he held with the guests reflected his political orientations, especially those stemming from his moderation and his respect of other people’s opinions. This is a man with flair, a man who knows how to be generous, how to be present, how to be attentive. One of the cooks, a veiled woman, came towards Macron to offer him olives from her region. This representative of the French elite manifested a particular attention to this woman and exhibited a heightened sense of human relations. The image Macron gave off was that of a man open to otherness, that of a man who was heralding a promising future with Lebanon and the region as a whole.
As I looked at him, I could not help but think that running for the President of France at 39 years of age requires daring and an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s daring, risky, it requires flair, and above all, the courage to hope. This is what he has manifested since his youth, not afraid to turn his dreams into reality, with his tenacious will and sure-handed assertiveness.
Most of all, Macron realizes that we are witnessing the end of an old world, understanding that traditional political parties were regressing. He bet on that, and let’s go, “En Marche”! He decided to move forward, towards a new future.
The French have proven that they could vote for a young candidate able to raise challenges and bear the hopes and expectations of a new generation. In doing so, Macron embodies the new face of France.
The ambition of a young wolf
Macron is so attentive to all the details that was told he had to leave the restaurant for another appointment, he turns to me (we had no opportunity to talk). “What about you?”, he asked. I moved to sit by him, and having learned of Macron’s interest in startups, I asked to tell him about my work as founder and president of NAWF Women Entrepreneurs, organized by the magazine Al Hasnaa, about our will to play a role in the construction of new women’s reality through this forum; these women would create a new way to embrace her femininity in this era of globalization and new technologies, would resume dialogue with themselves and reinvent themselves, and would make free choices, no matter what they are, daring to express their opinions. I explained the aim that we set for the forum since its beginning, ten years ago: work on promoting a contemporary, and therefore positive and new, image of women as agents of social, economic, and political change. Macron expressed ardent interest in the issue of women’s entrepreneurship and the forum.
After all, had he not integrated the idea developed by Paul Ricœur about “individuals’ capacity to free potential”? He rejected sociological determinism, believes in the freedoms of individuals, and is an entrepreneur that knew how to seize opportunities to trace his own fate. He grants particular importance to initiative, to individuals’ responsibility, and personal inventiveness. This is how he has described himself, “carried by the ambition of the young wolves of Balzac”.
Macron was urged to leave the restaurant to make another appointment. He stands up, and at that moment, I take my recorder out and seize the opportunity to ask him quick, brief questions for the women’s social magazine, Al Hasnaa.
- What about entrepreneurship?
- For the men and women who are sometimes blocked in society, entrepreneurship is a means for emancipation. It applies well in France: women, minorities, all those disadvantaged men and women; women are not a minority in France – they make up 53% of voters. For all those blocked by the system, entrepreneurship is a means to freedom, to choosing one’s life. It is a true form of emancipation.
- 84% of candidates from both the Left and the Right are men. Do women have a spot in your electoral program?
- Political renewal is a transformation of work. I’ve already announced the conditions for En Marche legislative candidacy: 50% of new candidates who are not members of the current parliament, a condition for integrity, and political pluralism among the conditions to adhere to my program. There will be 50% women candidates everywhere, and 50% fairly distributed for districts to be won over. Therefore, this is not a program, but an action.
- Based on your program, what do you have to say about philosophy and politics?
- Philosophy has always fed my practices, because it made me think about political and public affairs. I practiced political philosophy for many years.
This philosophical work is exactly what feeds me daily, given that political practice is the art of working every moment, and working the long-term as well.
Macron was inspired by Etienne Balibar, following his teachings for several years and writing about Machiavelli under his direction. It was at that moment that he abandoned metaphysics and embraced political philosophy instead.
A centrist candidate
The victory of France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is not a commonplace event on both the French and European levels. He received 66% of the French people’s votes, which bears many connotations and possibilities at the same time.
Some go even further in their assessment of Macron’s triumph, considering it a turning point and the establishment of the sixth republic. It is also a turning point for the fate of the European Union.
What is new about Macron’s victory does not only stem from his age as France’s youngest President ever, but also from the fact that he penetrated the bipartisan system that has been ruling France for decades.
Analysts may agree on the fact that the French elections were heavily based on two diametrically opposed programs, but some have tried to insinuate that President Emmanuel Macron had no program, only ideas that were merely a “blend” of Leftist and Rightist elements. In fact, the President’s program is based on a philosophical idea known as “egalitarian liberalism”. Before he started his banking career, and before he shouldered the responsibilities of the Ministry of Economy, Macron worked for a long time in the field of philosophy, extracting from it the concept of “egalitarian liberalism”. This earned him the gratitude of Paul Ricœur in the introduction to his book, “Memory, History, Forgetting”. Macron’s electoral program and philosophical thought are inspired by two other philosophers: John Rawls (1921 – 2000), and Amartya Sen (1933). The former is considered to be the twentieth century’s greatest philosopher, while the second has won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics.
Macron, assistant to Paul Ricoeur?
Macron states that Paul Ricœur (1913-2005) reeducated him on a philosophical level. He’s often portrayed as Ricœur’s assistant. However, does Macron really fall under Paul Ricœur’s philosophical thought? Some intellectuals are bothered by this image of a philosopher-turned-banker, especially Michel Onfray, who says he only must have “corrected the tests in one of his books”. Philosopher Myriam Revault d’Allonnes, former student and friend of Paul Ricœur, saw little rapport between Ricœur, a thinker about conflicts, and Macron, a man of synthesis. Emmanuel Macron was probably only an editorial assistant on the book Memory, History, Forgetting (Seuil, 2000), not the Ricœur’s assistant at university.
Opposed to those criticizing the image of a philosopher in power, Olivier Mongin, who was the director of the Esprit magazine between 1988 and 2012, heaps praise on this brilliant former student who was part of his writing committee for years. According to him, Macron has “incontestable philosophical solidity”. Furthermore, Marc-Olivier Padis, director of Terra Nova, a leftist think-thank, commends Macron’s “intellectual agility” and confirms the veracity of his relationship with Ricœur.