The geopolitics of France and the French empire: analysis and historical notes


In the panorama of global geopolitics today, the French nation still represents a leading geopolitical entity. The role of France has actually been very important in Europe and in the world starting from the medieval age when the kingdom of the Franks took shape (which then split, during the 9th century AD, into the kingdom of France and in what would later be the Holy Roman Empire or the geopolitical entity at the present time in the area of present-day Germany). This geopolitical entity has been of vital importance in the European geopolitical framework and has always been present as a great power on the geopolitical chessboard of the old continent. Its geopolitical weight continued to grow after the year 1000. This is because the figure of the King (very weak in the early Middle Ages due to the feudal structure of the French society and economy which made the King of France, de facto, weaker than many of his vassals) was able to enjoy the recovery of trade and “pecuniary” economic activity in general and was able to impose taxes that allowed the formation of a modern bureaucratic apparatus (one in which, to be clear, the Sovereign pays his officials or subordinates and therefore binds them to his own will, unlike what happened in the early Middle Ages, a period in which the lack of pecuniary resources in the royal coffers had meant that the relationship of subordination of the King’s officials occurred through the practice of vassalage with all the consequences, in terms of political-administrative decentralization, which this entailed) and therefore the establishment of a caste of state officials (the bailiffs) directly dependent on the crown. The formation of a class of merchants (bourgeoisie) then allowed the King to find a social counterweight to the nobility (largely composed of those who were formally his vassals) who limited his power and faculties. The contrast between the King and the nobility would last for centuries and represent a constant in the French political dynamics of the medieval period and modern history. In many respects, therefore, France had an inverse political evolution compared to that of England where the figure of the sovereign, in the person of William the Conqueror, imposed an almost autocratic political model. This explains why the French monarchy was weaker than the English one and why France had, during the Middle Ages, a lower geopolitical weight than that of Great Britain. The latter, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), even attempted to unite the crown of France with that of England (in the person of the English sovereign, obviously) and invaded French territory to the point of occupying three-quarters of it. own surface. The popular outburst and the general mobilization that followed these events allowed a large part of the territories occupied by the English to be liberated but left a country devastated by a war that was one of the most terrible and ferocious ever fought on European soil.


Immediately after the end of the Hundred Years’ War, the birth of the Spanish nation (which occurred in 1469 following the union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon) created another great antagonist of the French monarchy on the European geopolitical stage. The newborn Spanish nation, although not economically flourishing (the profound religious fervor that characterized Spain in this first phase of its history led to the expulsion of the Jews from the country, which weakened the economic fabric of the Spanish nation and consequently the entire economy of the country) was able to enjoy during the 16th century the influx of enormous quantities of gold and silver from the Latin American colonies which allowed it to launch two hegemonic attempts (that of Charles V and that of Philip II) in Europe which however did not end well. The first of these two was directed mainly against France while the second against England and was shattered against the superiority of the English fleet which showed all its power on that occasion (in 1588 the English fleet defeated the invincible Spanish army or a powerful fleet of 130 ships set up with the task of annihilating the English fleet and piracy but which instead was largely destroyed in the clash). The transalpine country was shaken at this historical juncture by the religious wars resulting from the confessional split following the Protestant reform.This significantly weakened the French monarchy which however found valid allies in the French Protestant princes (and in the Turkish empire) against the Spain of Charles V who was unable to impose itself decisively on Europe and on France itself. The latter managed to extend its influence over the northern part of the Italian peninsula (at the time the most economically and culturally advanced area in Europe) and to lay the foundations of that “Mediterranean geopolitics” which will have much weight in Paris in the following centuries. Also as a consequence of the frustrations of the overseas colonial ambitions that the French monarchy had to suffer following the clash with England for the control of the overseas territories conquered during the 16th and 17th centuries

Already Francis I, under whom the first phase of the Franco-Spanish war of the first half of the 16th century was conducted, France began the exploration and colonization of the Americas. The French colonized much of the Caribbean and much of North America. They laid the foundations for a truly immense colonial empire that extended over almost all of North America (where even today we find traces, almost everywhere, of French names such as Baton Rouge, Detroit, New Orleans etc.). The mercantilist imprint of Colbert (French finance minister in the period of Louis XIV) whose geopolitical vision aimed at strengthening France’s economic position in the world contributed decisively to the development of French colonial expansion during the 17th century. as well as the formation of trading companies on the Dutch model to encourage exports of French manufacturing (which was given great impetus in that period by the virtuous minister) and the consequent production of currency wealth resulting from the strong commercial surplus produced. This policy was very prosperous for the transalpine country (even if the resources produced were partly burned by the enormous costs that Louis XIV’s wars required) which enjoyed great economic and geopolitical dynamism in this historical phase to the point of attempting a real own assault on Anglo-Saxon power which however was shattered with the defeat in the Seven Years’ War (fought between 1756-1763 and which many consider the first world war in history as it was fought on several continents) and with the loss, to the advantage of the English, of most of the American and Indian colonies. The Seven Years’ War put a brake on French geopolitical ambitions which showed that they could not compete with the power of the English on the seas (thalassocracy). In order to guarantee trade with the colonies, there is a need for a navy to monitor them, control the straits and be able to sustain a military confrontation with any enemies. And the French fleet, although increased and strengthened by Colbert, was not able to carry out these tasks and could not stand comparison with the English one which was, at the time, the most powerful fleet in the world. This deficiency is also clear during Napoleon’s hegemonic attempt who sought revenge against the perfidious Albion but who, in the end, was equally unsuccessful.
After the Seven Years’ War, France had to face all the economic consequences of defeat and the loss of a large part of the profits from trade with them. Which led the country into an economic crisis which then resulted in the French Revolution of 1789. The Revolution served to resolve social and economic contradictions which decreed the end of the Ancien regime and the feudal social order which still lasted and no longer had ‘relevance with the social reality that had developed in the country (with a productive bourgeoisie that was still partly excluded from political power). And if the Revolution served, from a social point of view, to favor the rise to the political summit of the bourgeoisie, so from a geopolitical point of view it served to fuel a hegemonic attempt in Europe after the French revolutionary troops were able to repel all the attacks of foreign powers on French soil in the post-revolutionary period. Napoleon, during the first decade of the 19th century, managed to impose the dominion of the French empire on the European continent and defeated all the coalitions formed by the English and moved against him. And if it is true that he was unable to impose himself at sea against the English, it is also true that the English were unable to prevent Paris’ domination over the entire European continent. However, this dominion was shattered in 1812 when the great French army invaded Russia only to be destroyed the following winter. And there was no way to “resuscitate” its potential. At Waterloo Napoleon tried everything but was unable to prevail over the armies from all over Europe who were moving against him. And he had to resign himself to defeat.
The defeat of the Napoleonic empire had the consequence of bringing French power “within” Anglo-Saxon geopolitics. From then on, France was included in the Anglo-Saxon power system and always acted in harmony with England. Which granted the old rival expansion into the Mediterranean and West Africa where the foundations for the French colonial empire were laid. An empire of over 10,000,000 square kilometers which had its maximum extension in Africa. An empire over which Paris still boasts neocolonial claims today and which contributes largely to the wealth of the country beyond the Alps. The geopolitical interests between the two countries became increasingly convergent following the birth of the German nation and the threat it represented to both nations. The two countries together faced the two terrible German hegemonic attempts which culminated in the two world wars of the 20th century and which were the harbinger of immense destruction. And together they faced the new post-war challenges posed by the Cold War. In the same way, today they face a new hegemonic attempt hatched by Russia and China against the Anglo-Saxon system of power over the world.
In this brief examination of French history we have tried to outline the characteristics and peculiarities of the social, political and geopolitical evolution of the French nation. All this in comparison with the other great geopolitical protagonist of European history of the last thousand years. Which is necessary to understand how Paris has achieved an “eternal second” fate compared to London. This is because the peculiarities of the English political model, from the conquest of Great Britain by William the Conqueror onwards, allowed the formation of a strong central power which was lacking in France. And because the French social evolution was slower than the English one (the rise of the bourgeoisie in England occurred a century before that in France) with all the consequences that this entailed. The causes of the French failure in challenging the perfidious Albion and in the impossibility of imposing effective dominion over the world must be sought in these circumstances and historical dynamics.

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