Paris Syndrome — with Nabila Ramdani

Paris Syndrome — with Nabila Ramdani
A protester holds up a placard reading “I’m afraid, Marianne” while demonstrating against security legislation at Paris’s Place de la Republique. Marianne is often depicted as a symbol for the French nation. (Photo by Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images)

Can France be fixed? The beleaguered nation faces crumbling institutions, civil strife and economic stagnation. But despite deep political divisions, the French public still seem to agree on one thing at least: something has gone very wrong. In her new book, “Fixing France: How to Repair a Broken Republic,” French journalist Nabila Ramdani digs deep into the nation’s history in search of the answers. 

“There is this great dichotomy at the heart of the French Republic that stems from its very constitution,” she tells New Lines magazine’s Faisal Al Yafai. “France is built on impossible idealism, born out of revolutions, and this is why myths are so important for holding it together.”

Of course, there’s nothing unique about having a national mythology. All nations do, to some extent. But France stands out for its persistent consecration of those ideals in public life— “a glorious republic, built on high ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity for all,” as Ramdani puts it — even as those promises seem increasingly thin and misguided to many of its people. 

“As De Gaulle himself said, France is a perpetual illusion and it’s very hard to reform.”

“That’s why the country is in such a crisis, because millions of French citizens are far more pragmatic than that,” she explains. “There’s a massive gulf between France, the myth, and France, reality. And they are very different worlds indeed.”

Though Ramdani’s critique is broad, drawing on a wide range of political, historical and cultural factors — an all-powerful president, paramilitary policing, postcolonial anxiety and anti-immigrant xenophobia all among them — that gulf, she believes, may lie at the heart of all of them. Yet the country’s elite still cling to the myth, even as increasing numbers of French citizens conclude that the system is no longer working for them.

“That’s really what my book is about. It’s about state institutions that are outdated. It’s about the Paris establishment that is looking after its own interests,” she says. “As former president Charles de Gaulle himself said, France is a perpetual illusion and it’s very hard to reform.”

Produced by Joshua Martin

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