A real special relationship -Dlight News

A real special relationship

Two men in suits stand under an umbrella
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March © Getty Images

He is the son of public sector professionals. He worked in finance before running the country. He was born around 1980s. (I think a bunch of men to be honored for their beautiful minds and striking looks.) He turned against his political patron on his way to the top. It “presents” as a metropolitan but has grown slightly from the capital. Their marriage attracts attention.

So look, sage Macron. and Emmanuel Sunak. No wonder they get on.

However, there must be more to Anglo-French relations than personal relations between two individuals from the meritocratic overclass. I’m sure there is.

Britain and France have more in common than third countries. You would cite Anglo-American or Franco-German counter-examples here. But it is well handled relationships. It does not mean that each side resembles the other in their internal characteristics. It often means the opposite.

The “special relationship” and the “motor of Europe” are so overworked, so muddled-over, precisely for fear that the natural state between the two parties is different (or worse). Britain remembers America’s abstention from the first stages of both world wars with a shudder. French fear of a very strong Germany goes back at least to the 1870s. Never again, etc.

It follows that the Anglo-French feud continues, in part, because both sides are relaxed about their underlying compatibility. To an eerie degree, France and Britain are similar in population (67 million) and output ($3tn). Manufacturing accounts for a similar 9 percent of their economy.

Their armed forces are comparable. Extra-European empires have been created and lost and now carry roughly equal weight in world affairs. One joined the European project from the start, one delayed and eventually abandoned it, but neither considered the nation state and hard power to be forms of Oldthink. (See their nuclear arsenal.)

The similarities multiply as you go back in time. England and France became the best part of a millennium, say Italy did. Even if the British emphasized empiricism and the French reason, each was at the center of the Enlightenment. Each had a more or less concurrent revolution: one literal, one industrial. Everyone developed a non-racial idea of ​​citizenship, so you could banavu British or French.

The British elite turned to France for cultural cues: in the visual arts, in manners. French elites, including Voltaire and Montesquieu, turned to Britain as a reprieve from autocracy.

And even this – their co-authorship of much of liberal modernism – fails to capture the practical fact that separates Britain and France from their peers.

Every nation has a formidable capital. Politics, media, finance and culture are concentrated in one city. No European nation of comparable size – not Spain, not Italy, not Germany – does that. Not even the US, Australia or Canada. Nor, indeed, does Japan see the cultural weight of Kyoto. Take out countries under 20 million, and France and Britain are exceptional in the rich world in their peak heaviness. (Seoul’s influence comes somewhere close in South Korea.) Île-de-France accounts for about 30 percent of the national product.

The result is two equally distorted countries. Many democracies have angry hinterlands, but democracy’s anger is concentrated in one place. The vastness of their capitals also gives Britain and France a false picture of their geopolitical art. Britain has about a fifth of America’s 330 million people, but the capital, home to its elite, has the population of the US’s largest city. As you struggle to explain the British illusion, remember that.

Last week, I spent an evening on American soil, in American, French and British company. Why, given the language factor, was it not harder to connect with the French than my fellow Anglophones? Football as a common point? Or self-selection? (It was a financial crowd, so almost post-national.) Or, given the French presence in London and British colonization of the south of France, a world of shared references?

All these things. But, I think, in an implicit sense we were in the same boat: citizens of moderate and perhaps fading powers based on the world colossus. That makes for a definite ryness. To be British or French is to hear too often that your best days are ahead of you, and to forgive a lie.

Email Janan janan.ganesh@ft.com

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