The French Liberal Renaissance

François Hollande, while campaigning in 2012 Presidential Election in France, had proclaimed: “I, as a president of the Republic of France, will make sure that my behaviour is exemplary at every moment.” He had said this in context of the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose marriage to former supermodel Carla Bruni had made him tabloid fodder.
Hollande won the election in 2012 and then, he dumped his official partner Valerie Trierweiler for much younger Julie Gayet, an actress. He spent several nights with the actress without any security during his presidency.
France rejected Hollande’s Socialist Party in 2017 Presidential Election not because of his “loose behaviour”. Neither Hollande nor Sarkozy was judged by the French voters on the basis of their relationships with women. They were voted out of office for their non performance.
Had it not been the case, then Hollande’s successor Emmanuel Macron would not have gained the trust of the French public in such an overwhelming manner. Macron did not do any character assassination, he just promised to make France stronger and better. The voters trusted him and voted for him to do that. Macron’s victory is renaissance of liberal spirit in France, which for a while flirted with the ‘right’ leader Marine Le Pen.
France has always taken pride in being the land of liberals. Public figures have never been judged by their personal relationships in the European country.
Geneva-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778) reached the French village of Anos on one Sunday in March. Rousseau, who lost his mother just nine days after his birth, was just 16. His father settled in Switzerland after tying knot with one of his sisters. So, Rousseau had no other option, but to take shelter at his maternal uncle’s home.
The uncle sent young Rousseau to a mechanic to learn how to repair watches. Although Rousseau was technically sound, he didn’t like the job. As a result, he left Geneva and reached the French village near the Alps. Madame Françoise-Louise de Warens also lived in this village. In fact, a person from Savoy asked Rousseau to meet Madame de Warens. The two met for the first time on Palm Sunday in 1728. Later, Madame encouraged the great philosopher to read books and learn theology. She used to call her student “My Child”, while Rousseau called her “Mamon”.


(Rousseau and Madame de Warens)

Even in the 18th century, the mother-son or teacher-student relation was not restricted to traditional boundaries. Madame took Rousseau to her estate in Chambéry and started spending time with him. Madame de Warens, a controversial figure, was known to have led a liberal life for a woman of her time. She annulled her marriage to M de Warens in 1726 after failing in a clothing business. Though she was originally a teacher to Rousseau, they became sexually engaged after she openly initiated him in the matters of love and “intimacy”. She died in poverty in 1762 in Chambéry, of which Rousseau did not learn until six years afterwards.


(The house in Chambéry where Rousseau lived with de Warens in 1735-6. Now a museum dedicated to Rousseau)

Later, the great French philosopher and ‘father of the French Revolution’ described his first meeting with Madame in his autobiography ‘Confessions’. He wrote: “I run to follow her: I see her, I overtake her, I speak to her….I ought to remember the place; since that time, I have often watered it with my tears and covered it with my kisses. Why can I not surround that happy place with a golden railing! Why can I not attract the homage of the whole earth to it! Whoever loves to honour the monuments of men’s salvation ought to approach it only on his knees.”


(Brigitte and Macron)

Therefore, people, who are interested in gossips about 39-year-old Macron’s love affair with his 64-year-old wife Brigitte, are wasting their own time. She was a French and Latin language teacher in a school in Amiens, France. Macron, 25 years younger than her, was a student of that school. Macron proposed her and Brigitte accepted his proposal. Of course, it was a different love story.
Brigitte was a banker’s wife and they had three children. So, she took time, got separated from her first husband André-Louis Auzière and tied knot with her “cheerful” student in Paris only in 2006. And Macron happily adopted Brigitte’s three children – a lawyer, an engineer and a doctor. Interestingly, one of them is older than the French president.
Recently, Bridgett’s lawyer daughter Tiphaine Auzière made a wonderful comment. When the media criticised Macron because of his relationship with Brigitte, 32-year-old Tiphaine said: “These are ageist and sexist insults. I do not want to give any importance to people who convey this kind of stuff, because I find it totally outrageous in France in the 21st century to make such attacks. So, I think there’s a lot of jealousy, and that this is very inappropriate.”


(Ninon de l’Enclos and Voltaire)

Even noted French author, courtesan, freethinker and patron of the arts Ninon de l’Enclos (November 10, 1620 – October 17, 1705) was Voltaire’s teacher. She allowed General Louis de Bourbon, writer François de La Rochefoucauld, Molière and many others to spend nights with her. Even, she opened a ‘Love Making’ school in Paris. Saint-Simon wrote: “Ninon always had crowds of adorers, but never more than one lover at a time, and when she tired of the present occupier, she said so frankly and took another. Yet such was the authority of this wanton that no man dared fall out with his successful rival; he was only too happy to be allowed to visit as a familiar friend.” When Ninon died, she left money for the son of her accountant François, a nine-year-old named François Marie Arouet, later to become known as Voltaire, so that he could purchase books.
Ninon was 83 at that time and the little Voltaire almost ten. Fifty years later, Voltaire retained a vivid memory of his first meeting with the lady. “The abbé de Châteauneuf took me to see her when I was very young. I was about thirteen years old. I had written some verses which were worth nothing, but which seemed very good for my age. Mademoiselle de Lenclos had known my mother, who was a very good friend of the abbé de Châteauneuf. Finally, it pleased them that I should be taken to see her.” (Sur Madamoiselle de Lenclos (1751)) Elsewhere, Voltaire recalled that the old lady was shrivelled with black and yellow skin, “like a mummy”. Nobody knows how many nights Ninon spent with the young philosopher.


(Macron and Brigitte)

So, Macron is just a brave symbol of a different love story. Some female teachers attract some boy pupils who are in their adolescence period. It’s nothing new. But, these attractions are buried in dangerous icebergs of subconscious mind mainly because of social stigma. Macron’s case is different.
There is no straightforward formula of love. If two persons feel for each other from the core of their hearts, then they forget age-old social customs and move forward. We should not forget French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir’s story. She was Jean-Paul Sartre’s classmate and partner.
In their publication ‘Philosophers Behaving Badly’ (2005), Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson write that de Beauvoir had a very turbulent, often scandalous life. Although she had a long time relationship with Sartre, she was known to have a number of female lovers. De Beauvoir did not marry Sartre, but spent many years with him. They also took part in political campaigns to abolish a law regarding age of consent for sexual relationships in France.


(Claude Lanzman and De Beauvoir)

As a result, French journalist, political commentator and film director Claude Lanzman had no problem in entering De Beauvoir’s life. De Beauvoir, who was 17 years older than Lanzman, had spent many nights with him since their first meeting in July 1952.
If someone is a public figure, then he does not become a public property. Their emotional and moral values should not be guided or governed by public or the press. The French people have set a bar too high in allowing their public figures to have their personal space. No rule book can be applicable when it comes to emotions. The feelings of two consenting adults should be respected and over the years, the French people have shown the world how not to step onto someone’s personal space.

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