Amour sacré de la Patrie
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs
Liberté, Liberté chérie
Combats avec tes défenseurs!
Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire
Accoure à tes mâles accents
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire!
Drive on sacred patriotism
Support our avenging arms
Liberty, cherished liberty
Join the struggle with your defenders
Under our flags, let victory
Hurry to your manly tone
So that in death your enemies
See your triumph and our glory!
One looks at the attacks in Paris last Friday with horror and pain. Regrettably, it’s the kind of event that has become all too familiar in the world. It forced millions worldwide to stop and focus on the scene unraveling in the Parisian streets. Personally, I was writing Explore le Tour’s next post about the Tour de France’s Stage 2 in small-town Saint-Lô. Suddenly, my topic seemed immaterial. Was it simply the nature of the act? Perhaps yes. But in an instant, millions around the globe felt French. “Je suis Paris!” became the cry. This not only spoke to the importance of Paris as the world’s city, but of French culture and principles in general. You may think of cooking with butter and a glass of fine red wine as the definition of the latter. Non. I’m looking at three iconic words: liberté, égalité, fraternité.
I have spent nearly one year researching and sharing the wonders of this country through the experiences of the Tour de France. During this time I have learned that France is much more than any number of picturesque photos on our screensavers. It is a state of mind. Viewing the outpouring of support over the past few days, it became overly clear that this was an “attack on all of humanity,” speaking to the universal acceptance of liberté, égalité, fraternité as human principles. Together they are a national motto that has inspired generations. But what can we learn from them about France and ourselves even as the pain and memory of November 13 lingers.
Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. These are words to live by. They stem from the people’s revolt against tyranny in 1792. The wave of democracy finally washed up to the shores of France, bringing with it the inspiration “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Overall, the French Revolution sought to promote reason of authority and power. Believe me, the Revolution is much more complicated than this, but the principal thread was a constant re-examination of political thought to best achieve liberty. For more than a decade, the French fought amongst themselves about how to accomplish this end. Various interests utilized numerous and often competing Enlightenment ideologies promoted by philosophers like Montesquieu, Rousseau, and to a certain extent Voltaire.
In the end, the French Revolution transformed France, and Paris to be specific, into a home where ideas could flourish. It attracted thinkers who rallied for the cause of the proletariat, the every-day-man – people like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and others. It attracted artists and writers from around the world who could practice their form. It became the idyllic bohemian enclave to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. Paris is where France and the world flourished. Why? The French were, and are, devoted to a life of liberté, égalité, fraternité. These are ways to better the human condition. The attacks on Paris were inherently contrary to this spirit. That is to say they were patently inhuman.
All this is not to say that France is a perfect state where freedom and equality rises above all reality. There is certainly a minority racial issue in the Parisian suburbs and undoubtedly elsewhere in the country. It is very easy to see “la vie en rose,” especially as a traveler only taking in the sights and sounds presented as a utopian culture. Of course every country has its issues and a place like France is challenged by the romanticism it self-promotes. Let’s not forget that the French Revolution itself was one of the most heinous times in French history containing a period known as the “Reign of Terror.”
Yet watching the spontaneous break-out into La Marseillaise as spectators exited the Stade de France, the defiance of café patrons as they went about their normal customs the day after the attacks, or the simple sign that seemed to shout “Not Afraid” in a packed square all demonstrated the inspiration and meaning behind these terms. For all its controversies throughout history, even the Tour de France itself is built on principles of honor and courage. These principles, not hatred, is what defines France. No, it defines democracy. And it defines the kind of spirit we can all strive to achieve – that of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Vive le France!