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Tortoise Tuesday: Argument-making in President Macron’s Speech, 1/13/19

In response to the ongoing gilets jaunes protests in France, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed an open letter to the French people on January 13th, 2019. Macron’s letter is not only an indication of the severity of the situation but also exemplifies persuasive and effective writing.

Macron writes:

Dear Françaises, dear Français, my dear compatriots,

In a period of questionings and of uncertainties like the one we are experiencing, we must remember who we are.

France is not a country like others.

The sense of injustice is keener than elsewhere. The insistence on mutual aid and solidarity is stronger.

Chez nous, those who work finance retirement pensions. Chez nous, a large number of citizens pays a tax on their income, sometimes a heavy one, which reduces inequality. Chez nous, education, healthcare, security, justice are accessible to all independently of situation and fortune. The hazards of life, like unemployment, can be overcome, thanks to an effort shared by all.

This is why France is, of all the nations, one of the most fraternal and most equal. […]

In this opening passage, Macron alludes to the situation (“a period of questionings and uncertainties”), but before addressing the issue, he attempts to win over his audience and to define what could be called key terms. “France” itself is the most important definition Macron offers. By defining his country at the outset—and in his own terms—Macron creates an image that he will urge his addressees to live up to in the rest of the letter.

Macron’s stylistic choices add to the effectiveness of his writing. The repetition of “chez nous,” here meaning “in France” but often meaning simply “at home,” “at our house,” emphasizes the unity he tries to affirm still exists in France. The mention of brotherhood and equality hearkens back to the ideals of the French Revolution, an attempt to inspire national pride and recall previous political progress.

Macron continues later in the letter:

I know, certainly, that some among us today are unsatisfied or angry. Because, for them, taxes have been raised too much, public services are too distant, because salaries are too low for some to live with dignity on the fruit of their labor, because our country does not offer the same chances to succeed depending on the place or the family one is from. All would like a more prosperous county and a more just society.

This impatience—I share it. […] For me, there are no forbidden questions. We will not agree on everything; that is normal, that is democracy. But let us at least show that we are a people unafraid of speaking, of exchanging, of debating. And maybe we will discover that we can find agreement, by a majority, beyond our preferences, more often than we believe.

Now acknowledging the grievances of the protesters, reaching the motive of the text, Macron is careful to use the first-person plural throughout, referring to “some among us” and “we” to avoid alienating any readers. In his sudden transition to the singular (“I share it”), following “all” in the previous sentence, he places himself among the people before drawing all addressees together in the plural “let us show.” Framing the issue as one of fear or bravery (“unafraid of speaking”) and especially as one of national honor in the eyes of other countries (“let us show”), Macron appeals not only to the reason but also to the personal and national pride of the addressees.

Macron goes on to outline several policy issues on which he requests citizens’ opinions and participation in debate and to reiterate the importance of dialogue and mutual respect. He concludes with a recapitulation of his argument, a renewed appeal to national feeling, and finally an expression of vulnerability as he expresses hope for the future.

This is how I intend, with you, to transform anger into solutions. […] Françaises, Français, I hope that many of you will be able to participate in this great debate to do useful work for the future of our country.

In trust,

Emmanuel Macron

— Rosamond van Wingerden ’20


“Quatre grands themes et une trentaine de questions: la letter d’Emmanuel Macron aux Français,” https://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2019/01/13/document-la-lettre-d-emmanuel-macron-aux-francais_5408564_823448.html

(my translation)