“La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur”
Le Général always held the greatness of France in high esteem. He was driven by the idea that “France cannot be France without the greatness”. LA grandeur. THE greatness, not just greatness. A very defined and specific greatness, one without which his France would not be.
It was so central to the character that it gave him the means and will to transform an improbable gathering of French men and women of good will fighting the Axis into the sole legal representative of France in the eyes of the free world and the governments of the Allied Forces. All this despite the fact that the French government had capitulated to Nazi Germany and had stripped the General from his possessions, his military ranks, his citizenship and sentenced him to death for treason.
He had the courage to stand by his idea of what France should be and his courage led France to victory against all odds. France emerged in the aftermath of World War 2 as a permanent member of the UN security council and would enter the very select club of military nuclear powers fifteen years later.
In 1958, the General was called back into the political arena, was elected president in December 1958, and again in 1965. He called in two referendums during his time as president and linked his political fate to their outcome. He took decisions which could (and would) alienate him the support of powerful allies and key voters. He withdrew France from the NATO military command and initiated the independence of the French nuclear program much to the dislike of the United States, ended the French colonization in Algeria to the great anger of the pied-noirs and the military and vetoed the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community. Twice. All for the greatness of France.
The General was a cunning politician who knew all the trick in the hat and then some and despite that, some of the decisions he took proved later to have been less than effective. But he had the courage to do what he believed had to be done for the sake of his country and countrymen, even if the decisions came at a great personal and political cost. A school case of political courage.
But political courage alone is not enough, and I like to think that the General would have not disagreed. Remember, the man was driven by a certain idea of France.
You need an idea. One you have thought inside out, upside down and backward, for long enough to possess it. To be inhabited by it. You need to write it down over and over again, proof read it against the opposing tide, criticize it and let your peers take a stab at it, fight it with everything you have until the day where in your mind, it provides an answer to any question, a solution to any problem and only then can it be put to trial in the political arena. Your idea will be challenged, tested further than it has ever been and part of the political courage is to stand by it even when everything seems lost.
Political courage and an idea, that is what it takes. And this is where most leaders fall short, and even the very few who happen to take courageous decisions beyond electoral concerns often lack an Idea to drive them.
In the end, I would like to make a case. Not for politics with courage neither for politicians with ideas but for citizens who have ideas.
Embrace your ideas, test them, throw them a thousand times at the sounding board and refine them with every echo you get back. Listen to people who share your ideas and even more to those who don’t.
And when you are ready, face the world and lead with courage. Political courage.
Let the board sound