France stands ready to reinvent liberty in our world with America

France stands ready to reinvent liberty in our world with America
© Getty Images

This month, France is reflecting on the one-year anniversary of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. We should not miss the open invitation he extended to us during the joint session of Congress when he recently visited the United States. Macron’s speech was a rendezvous with history for the American people as much as it was for him and for France. For those of us who witnessed the electric energy in the room and the standing ovations from both sides of the aisle, it is clear that the French president is tapping into a very deep part of the American spirit.

The focus of Macron’s speech was the shared insight of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and that of Pericles’s funeral oration: We the living owe an existential debt to those who have sacrificed their lives to advance universal liberty and to us falls the responsibility, in Lincoln’s words, of the “unfinished business” of democracy. One of the most moving moments of the speech was when Macron paid homage to Alan Seeger, the American poet turned soldier who fell in World War I close to Amiens, the hometown of the French president. Seeger declared that he had a “rendezvous with death” in a poem that would become a favorite of John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE.

After Macron returned home after his visit to the United States, commentators across the political spectrum debated the relevance of his message to the challenges of our time. While many were enthusiastic about the French president’s proposed policy solutions, his appeal to the higher common ground of our shared values profoundly resonated. Macron won the respect of Americans by showing all of us respect for our higher purpose.

The United States and France collectively have a population of 400 million in a sea of seven billion globally. By 2050, these numbers are forecasted to be 460 million and nine billion, respectively. Macron’s question to us is this: Who will be the architects of the 21st century global order that will enable future generations to stay the course of peace, equal opportunity, and preservation of the earth? To this end, Macron extended his hand to offer a renewed partnership between the French and American people to join together in advancing the universal values of human liberty, a mission set forth by our forebears on both sides of the Atlantic.

What we cherish is at risk from a multitude of global threats. While Macron has led France for just one year, it is not unlike that narrow span of time where the genius of classical Athens was at its apex. We should avoid the course of Athens, which did not heed Pericles’s warning, and due to its internal division, ultimately fell to Sparta. Let us not miss this existential call to our highest and deepest values. Together, we must rapidly advance the perpetually unfinished business of democracy and combine forces to help America, France and Europe succeed together to fulfill this mission with the international community. A joint effort on assuring that technology remains in the service of liberty would be an obvious start.

The French and American people have yet to tap fully the depth of our common bond in advancing our shared and higher purpose. Sometimes sentiment and thought are lost in translation. The more that we have a new generation of French and American youth who are grounded in the historical friendship between our two nations, the more we can flourish together. Indeed, much of the unfinished business of democracy should be advanced well outside of Washington. We needed a new effort at the citizen level, not unlike that of those 19th century citizens on both sides of the Atlantic who raised pennies to give birth to the Statue of Liberty.

Americans need to awaken to the genuine affection that the French people have for us. Americans living in France often experience it every day. Macron’s message to the United States was sincere. The French people love Americans for all that we have inspired in the world since we declared independence in 1776. The French people believe authentic friendship requires engagement and feedback. This may have been the most important message of the French president. I hope that we hear it, absorb it, and act on it. We cannot afford to miss this rendezvous.

Lawrence Yanovitch was nominated by President Emmanuel Macron as an American citizen to the French Legion of Honor in 2017. He is the cofounder of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and has testified regularly on international development assistance before Congress.