The French school of geopolitics refers to a distinctive national tradition of geopolitical thinking that emerged in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Geopolitics is the study of the relationship between geography, politics and power. The French school emphasizes the role of consistent geographical features in influencing the foreign policy of states. It argues that factors like geography, climate, and access to natural resources fundamentally shape the power and behavior of nations. The French tradition is often contrasted with the Anglo-Saxon school of geopolitics associated with scholars like Halford Mackinder in Britain.
The roots of the French school can be traced back to thinkers such as Jean Brunhes, Vidal de la Blache and Élisée Reclus in the late 19th century. But its major development came in the interwar period, when leading French intellectuals like Albert Demangeon and Jacques Ancel articulated its core ideas. The main architects and exponents of the school were the geographers Paul Vidal de la Blache, who is considered the founder of French geography, and his student Lucien Febvre, the historian Fernand Braudel, the political geographer Yves Lacoste, the Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, the ethnologist and sociologist Jacques Lévy-Strauss, and the archaeologist and historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.
The French approach differed from the German school of geopolitics associated with thinkers like Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Haushofer by focusing less on the state. It emphasized historical and geographical influences on national identity and culture rather than power politics. The French school was marginalized after World War II because of the association of geopolitics with Nazism. But since the 1970s, there has been a revival of French geopolitical thinking, incorporating new influences like critical theory and postmodernism. Prominent contemporary exponents include Michel Foucher, Aymeric Chauprade and François Thual.
This article provides an overview of the origins, major thinkers, core concepts and evolution of the French school of geopolitics over more than a century. It analyzes the intellectual sources, geographic and cultural influences, contributions to academia and policy, and criticisms of this distinctive national tradition. The key ideas, models and methodologies of leading French geopolitical thinkers are explored. The article also examines the contemporary relevance and standing of French geopolitics.
The French school of geopolitics has its roots in the end of the 19th century, associated with the development of geography as an academic discipline in France.
French geopolitical thinking was shaped by diverse intellectual currents like positivism, racialism, Social Darwinism, historicism, and sociological theory. The geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache incorporated ideas from thinkers like Fustel de Coulanges, Taine and Ritter into his regionalist approach. Lucien Febvre was influenced by Marc Bloch’s historical geography and Fernand Braudel by the Annales school of socio-economic history. The sociologist Emile Durkheim’s distinction between organic and mechanical solidarity influenced the ethnologist Jacques Lévy-Strauss. The philosopher Gaston Bouthoul applied Vilfredo Pareto’s sociological theory to human conflicts and wars. The psychologist and sociologist Gustave Le Bon’s racialist theorization of the contrast between static and dynamic peoples shaped the colonial geography of Jean Brunhes.
The emergence of French geopolitics was also shaped by the cultural and intellectual climate of late 19th and early 20th century France. This included the Third Republic’s progressive secularization campaign against Catholicism, the legacy of the 1789 Revolution and its ideals of progress and the Enlightenment, as well as the ethos of French universalism. The French civilizing mission to uplift allegedly backward peoples influenced colonial geopolitics. Regionalism and the legacy of monarchy enriched perspectives on cultural pluralism. The philosophies of Henri Bergson and Gabriel Tarde privileged dynamic evolution over static states. And convergence between the right-wing nationalist Action française movement and some geopolitical scholars around the theme of the nation’s decline reflected pessimism after the losses of World War I.
French geopolitics emerged through the work of pioneering late 19th century geographers like Jean Brunhes and Élisée Reclus who broke away from environmental determinism and emphasized human agency. Reclus’ extensive terrestrial documentation project La Nouvelle Géographic Universelle (1875–94) systematized geographical knowledge. It highlighted the relationships between human societies and their ambient milieu amidst a dynamism produced by factors like transportation routes.
Vidal de la Blache’s Regional Geography
But the key early influence was the geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache. Vidal conceived of the Eternal France of varied pays (regions) with distinct genres de vie (lifestyles). Against Reclus and German thinkers like Ratzel, he asserted that static geographic features mattered less than human perceptions and values in defining regions. Vidal argued against environmental determinism, stressing regional cultural particularities shaped by the longue durée. His Tableau de la géographie de la France (1903) defined the field and methodology of regional geography.
Vidal’s student Lucien Febvre broke with the latter’s genre de vie theory. Febvre instead saw regions as fragments of the nation’s historical evolution. But Febvre retained the concept of regionalism, influenced by Marc Bloch’s geographical vision of the past. The Annales historians like Fernand Braudel fused geography with socio-economic history against short-term event analysis. Their geohistoire examined how regional material constraints and human environmental modifications dialectically interact over milieu.
Interwar Period: Nationalist Turn
The interwar years saw the rise of more nationalist and politically conservative strains of French geopolitics. Demangeon and Ancel gave geopolitics its nationalist turn. Demangeon’s Le Déclin de l’Europe (1920) linked geographic and economic factors to European power shifts after World War I. His student Ancel combined geography and strategy, developing the organicist concept of the geostrategic region as an integrated geographic, economic and human entity.
Thinkers like Albert Demangeon and Jacques Ancel revived what they saw as certain enduring laws of political geography, like France’s continental destiny and its interests in the Rhine border. They argued for reconciling Germany and French-led European integration against Anglo-Saxon thalassocratic powers. Some geopoliticians aligned with the far-right, anti-modernist Action Française like Pierre Gaxotte who condemned foreign ethnic dilutions of an eternal Hexagonal France. Others like Emmanuel de Martonne and Max Sorre interpreted geopolitics in a more ethnographic, relativist vein.
Braudel and the Annales School
Fernand Braudel revolutionized analysis of geographical constraints over the long term through his vast geo-historical study La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (1949). Braudel conceived of time in multiple scales rather than as a single continuity- disrupting the event-focused histoire événementielle. His three-tiered structure examined geo-history through the longue durée of climate, soil conditions, sea routes and other geographical realities that conditioned human action. His contribution enriched historical geography and Annales school thinking with a geopolitical dimension.
The Vichy association severely discredited classical geopolitics after World War II, although Demangeon was active in the Resistance. But French geography retained its humanist currents. The ethnologist and sociologist Jacques Lévy-Strauss broke with racialist theories, developing the method of structural anthropology to analyze cultural systems. The ethnographic approach influenced the geographers Pierre Gourou and Paul Pélissier. With decolonization, Gourou adapted Vidalian regionalism to analyze tropical territories as pluralistic cultural entities grounded in their specific geographical constraints. The Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre conceived of space itself as an evolving social product and framework shaping human perception and possibilities.
By the 1970s, the French school revived to incorporate new influences. The political geographer Yves Lacoste challenged the field’s perceived apathy towards real-world problems. Lacoste founded the activist journal Hérodote, creating revolutionary geography through concepts like geographical violence and the geography of conflicts. The archaeologist and historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie pioneered the microhistorical approach, using anthropological and quantitative methods to reconstruct everyday experiences of historical inhabitants of particular villages and regions.
Contemporary French Geopolitics
Since the 1980s, French geopolitical thinking has adapted to contemporary concerns like technology, nationalism, terrorism and post-colonial identities. The works of Michel Foucher, Aymeric Chauprade and François Thual have reinterpreted French geopolitical thought in innovative ways, combining multiple perspectives.
Foucher’s L’invention des frontières (1986) examined the contingent factors behind the socio-political process of border formation, emphasizing human agency rather than natural features as deciding geopolitical boundaries. His subsequent works like La Bataille des Cartes (2007) provide updated geopolitical analyses of France’s position within Western power systems and alliances.
Chauprade’s geopolitique.com project has aimed to create an independent center of French geopolitical thinking incorporating diverse influences from journalism, academia, activism and the internet. Chauprade has analyzed contemporary dynamics like techno-globalism and ethno-religious conflict within a realist but multidimensional geopolitical perspective.
François Thual’s works have developed Braudelian geo-historical analysis along constructivist and critical theory lines influenced by Foucault and Derrida. Thual conceives geopolitics as multiple competing representations grounded in complex discursive formations, ideas and unconscious motivations. His examinations of themes like identities, borders, territorialities and the Other have contributed to postmodern French geopolitical theory.
Core Concepts and Ideas
The French school developed some distinctive concepts, methodologies and core claims about the relationship between geography and politics. These included ideas like:
- L’hexagone: The ideal of a coherent French nation geographically unified around Bassin parisien and the challenged Rhineland borders constitutes a central theme.
- Continental destiny: France’s geopolitical identity is fundamentally continental European rather than Atlanticist, shaped by its relative isolation and centrality amidst rival powers like Britain, Germany and Spain.
- Pays: France’s regions with specific genres de vie, later reimagined as fragments of national geo-history.
- Longue durée: Fundamental geographical realities like mountains, rivers and coasts shape national histories over the long run.
- Centre/periphery: Paris is the political, economic and cultural center of gravity radiating civilization. Overseas France is the peripheral domain of influence.
- Thalassocracy vs tellurocracy: Maritime and land-based powers follow contrasting geopolitical imperatives. Britain and France exemplify this difference.
- Organic region: Geopolitical units integrate land, peoples and resources into holistic entities pursuing self-realization.
- Sociological borders: Frontiers reflect contingent political processes rather than innate divides between peoples.
- Raison cartographique: Maps inherently serve power’s ideological agendas rather than neutrally representing reality.
- Mediterranean unity: France belongs to the Mediterranean historical community rather than the West per se.
- Eurafrica: France’s colonial empire integrated it with Africa geopolitically. Decolonization did not fully sever this link.
- Atlanticism vs continentalism: France is pulled between its continental destiny and maritime expansion abroad.
Geopolitics of Decline vs Emergence
A core theoretical tension exists between interpreting France as a declining power clinging to past imperial glory versus as an emerging leader of European independence and Mediterranean unity. Demangeon and Braudel’s pessimism about provincial France’s decay contrasts with visions of its pivotal geopolitical role on diverse fronts. Chauprade encompasses both perspectives on France’s complex positioning within an emerging multipolar order.
The French school pioneered diverse methodological innovations in geography, history and the social sciences:
- Regional monographs: Detailed ethnographic studies of local regions revealing cultural wholes.
- Historical geography: Studying geography in its historical development rather than as static states.
- Historical cartography: Mapping history spatially and temporally instead of narratively.
- Structural anthropology: Studying culture as synchronic webs of interrelated social codes.
- Longue durée: Examining continuities and ruptures over centuries and epochs.
- Geo-history: Integrating geographic and economic factors with socio-historical trends.
- Microhistory: Zooming in on particular locales and basing broader conclusions on their reconstruction.
- Discourse analysis: Interpreting geopolitical claims as constructed representations of power/knowledge.
Through institutions like the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, Corporation des Géographes, Institut de Relations Internationales and Collège Interarmées de Défense, the French school informed the strategic vision of leaders like De Gaulle. Foucher has participated in the Minster of Foreign Affairs’ policy planning team. Chauprade has taught at military academies like the École de Guerre. But French geopolitical thinking has arguably had more academic than direct policy influence since decolonization.
Criticisms and Responses
The French school has been criticized on many grounds. The association with Vichy discredited earlier thinkers like Demangeon. Structural Marxists like Althusser accused it of idealism unintegrated with political economy. Anglo-American academics attacked it as speculative theoretical abstraction irrelevant to concrete policy. Poststructuralists like Foucault challenged its positivism and naturalization of power. Critical geographers contest its state-centric focus.
In response, later French geopolitics has diversified to incorporate structuralist, Marxist, poststructuralist and other perspectives. Chauprade argues the need for methodological pluralism – from mathematical modeling to cultural particularism – based on each situation’s distinct challenges. Foucher spurns abstract universalism in favor of pragmatic geopolitical reasoning targeting concrete strategic and policy issues. And Le Roy Ladurie’s microhistories exemplify a shift from speculative theories about eternal France to constructing geosocial knowledge from the ground up.
The Evolution of French Geopolitics
From its late 19th century origins, French school geopolitics has undergone several phases reflecting France’s national vicissitudes:
- Formative period: Vidal de la Blache’s humanist regional geography, Febvre’s geo-history
- Interwar revival: Demangeon’s post-WWI pessimism, Ancel’s organicist geostrategy
- Marginalization under Vichy: Discrediting and decline of overt geopolitics
- Braudel’s innovative geo-history: Longue durée, Annales school influences
- Post-decolonization renewal: Incorporating structuralism, Marxism, ethnography
- Contemporary plurality: Foucher’s policy pragmatism, Chauprade’s multipolarism, Thual’s postmodernism
While adapting to new influences, French geopolitical thinking retains an distinctive persistence shaped by the nation’s unique geographic position and long-standing contexts like regionalism, Mediterranean identity and the ambiguous Atlanticist/Europeanist dual orientation. Core concepts like the Hexagon, pays, longue durée and thalassocracy vs tellurocracy continue providing underlying frameworks. The French school’s flexible renewal demonstrates the field’s ongoing relevance amidst fluctuating power realities.
Major Figures of the French School
The French tradition of geopolitics owes much to the innovative contributions of leading thinkers spanning over a century:
Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918): Launched modern French geography. Developed the influential genre de vie concept and methodological focus on regional monographs.
Élisée Reclus (1820-1905): Foremost geographer of his era. Advanced humanist themes such as the social nature of space. Influenced French and Russian schools of anarchist geopolitics.
Jean Brunhes (1869-1930): Vidal’s student who pioneered French anthropogeographie combining environment and culture. Analyzed technology’s impact on geo-human relations.
Lucien Febvre (1878-1956): Critiqued Vidal’s genre de vie theory via shifting regiones. Shaped historical geography with Marc Bloch. Co-founded the longue durée approach.
Jacques Ancel (1879-1943): Seminal interwar thinker. Developed influential organicist analogy of geostrategic regions as integrated wholes competing for self-realization.
Albert Demangeon (1872-1940): Demonstrated geography’s import for strategy and policy post-WWI. Pioneered multipolar analysis of declining Europe amidst Anglo-American thalassocracy.
Fernand Braudel (1902-1985): Conceived a layered geo-historical methodology examining human agency through the longue durée of underlying environmental constraints.
Yves Lacoste (b. 1929): Revolutionary geography challenging the ideology of placelessness. Analyzed imperialism and conflicts through rival geographical imaginaries and practices.
Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991): Marxist philosopher who turned space itself into an object and framework of dynamic social theorization.
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (b. 1929): Co-founder of the Annales school. Deployed ethnographic methods at micro level to reconstruct peasant life within regions.
Michel Foucher (b. 1938): Revived classical French geopolitics for post-Cold War context. Developed constructivist analysis of borders as socio-political artifacts.
Aymeric Chauprade (b. 1969): Contemporary exponent who has aimed to create an independent French school adapted to 21st century multipolarity and techno-cultural globalization.
François Thual (b. 1961): Advances a postmodern geopolitics interrogating representations of space, borders and identities as contingent discursive constructions of power/knowledge.
These and other leading thinkers have made the French tradition one of the most sophisticated approaches to conceptualizing geo-history and providing geopolitical insight into policy issues. They turned geographical analysis into a key mode of long-term social science explanation.
French Geopolitics of European Spaces
A core application of French geopolitics has been analyzing France’s place and role relative to its diverse surrounding regions and key neighboring powers in Europe.
A core application of French geopolitics has been analyzing France’s place and role relative to its diverse surrounding regions and key neighboring powers in Europe.
- French geopolitics sees Northern Europe as a maritime region distinct from France’s tellurocratic identity. Britain exemplifies thalassocratic power.
- France has competed with Britain for colonial possessions and European hegemony while cooperating against common rivals like Spain or Germany.
- British geopolitics is perceived as fundamentally Atlanticist and extra-European focused on the Royal Navy and overseas trade and empire.
- But French thinkers like Ancel also saw potential Anglo-French partnership securing maritime zones against the German continental threat.
- France has a strong Channel coast maritime interface with Northern Europe. But its different developmental trajectory makes it an ambivalent participant in Northern regional identity.
- Atlantic Europe overlaps with Northern but extends down the Atlantic coastline. It is a zone of Anglo-Saxon maritime orientation.
- For geopoliticians like Lacoste, Atlantic Europe is the geostrategic appendage of American imperialism, the western territorial base of NATO projecting power into Eurasia.
- But others like Foucher stress positive Franco-American ties as liberal democracies checking German ambitions and securing Europe.
- France has a strong Atlantic maritime periphery. But its core identity remains continental oriented towards the Rhine and Rhone basins and the Mediterranean.
- So while tied to Atlantic Europe, France is torn between its Atlantic vocation and destiny as a Mediterranean-continental power.
- French thinkers see Central Europe as the continental heartland dominated by German power. It is the geostrategic center of gravity of European politics.
- German tellurocracy threatens the balance of power and French interests in supremacy west of the Rhine. But Germany is also an economic partner.
- Demangeon warned of American exploitation of the Rhine basin’s industrial-resource wealth against a divided Europe.
- For Lacoste, Central Europe was NATO’s essential glacis or staging ground for projecting force eastwards during the Cold War.
- France conceives itself as an integral part of Central Europe but opposes German hegemony of it. Rhineland stability remains a core French interest.
- Ancel saw Eastern Europe as semi-Asiatic with ambiguous Western identity. Russia threatens Central Europe through this conduit.
- Fourier saw Poland as a geopolitical contrast representing orientalized Western Slavicism against rationalized Germany.
- Demangeon viewed an independent Poland as indispensable to balance German power and protect France.
- Le Roy Ladurie adopted Braudel’s concept of a fluid transitional zone between Europe and Asia rather than a strict boundary.
- France supports Eastern European states against Russian dominance. But their integration into the EU and NATO is controversial within French geopolitics.
- Southern Europe centered on the Mediterranean holds a strong place in French strategic culture as its geo-cultural point of origin.
- Braudel traced how Mediterranean unity and economic connectivity historically shaped a shared regional identity within diversity.
- The Mediterranean is seen as a French Inner Sea and crucial zone of influence counterbalancing Atlantic orientation.
- French thinkers argue Mediterranean littoral unity can contain divisive forces like political Islam or Mideast conflicts.
- Chauprade prioritizes a return to France’s Mediterranean vocation against Atlanticism to pursue multi-vector policies in a multipolar world.
This geopolitical outlook on France’s regional place and priorities continues to shape its strategic vision despite economic globalization. France remains in tension between its Northern, Southern and Eastern orientations within Europe.
French Perspectives on European Integration
A major theme in French geopolitics has been analyzing the opportunities and challenges of European integration centered on the EU and its precursors. French thinkers offer diverse perspectives on this project.
- Some like Ancel envisioned European unity against Anglo-Saxon thalassocracy, with France and Germany reconciled as the ‘motors’ of confederation.
- But Demangeon critiqued Brussels as dominated by British commerce and unable to resist American economic encroachment in Central Europe.
- Braudel conceived pan-European unity as a virtual inevitability due to shared historical geo-economic forces like coal-steel integration.
- Foucher deconstructs Europe as a complex economic, institutional, cultural and emotional reality with fuzzy borders.
- Chauprade argues the EU is structurally skewed to serve Franco-German proto-hegemony rather than equitable multipolarity.
- French geopolitics generally supports an autonomous EU balancing NATO, provided it preserves French political-military autonomy and advances French interests.
- But there are enduring tensions over Atlanticism, German preponderance, Mediterranean cohesion, integrating Muslim migrants, and expanding eastward.
- Le Pen’s ‘Frexit’ argument claims only nationalist devolution can revive French grandeur amidst EU dysfunction.
- But most French geopolitical thinkers advocate unity within diversity to achieve a geostrategic equilibrium between continental tellurocracy and Atlanticist thalassocracy.
Despite ongoing disputes, French schools generally favor European confederation under balanced Franco-German condominium as a geopolitical counterweight aligned with France’s interests. But they remain alert to potential threats to French power.
Geopolitics of French Overseas Territories
As a former vast colonial empire, analyzing French interests in its remaining overseas territories and former colonies has been a core concern of the French school.
- France retains small Caribbean islands like Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. They extend France’s maritime presence and resources into the Americas.
- But French thinkers focus more on relations with major American powers and former colonies, especially Quebecois Canada.
- Quebec represents a direct extension of francophone civilization abroad. Its cultural bonds with France persist despite Anglo-Saxon ascendancy in North America.
- Demangeon saw maritime Canada as crucial to containing Anglo-American power over the Atlantic. Ancel argued for a Paris-Ottawa geostrategic axis against Washinton.
- The independence of Haiti, once France’s most profitable New World colony, largely ended its geopolitical presence in the Americas. But ideas of Francophonie persist.
- Sub-Saharan Africa was the heart of France’s colonial empire. Decolonization did not sever enduring economic and cultural ties.
- France retains small island holdings like Mayotte and Reunion off the African coast. But its broader African presence depends on neo-colonial Françafrique networks.
- Chauprade contends sub-Saharan Africa remains France’s most dependent sphere of influence where it balances against Anglophone interests and China’s growing presence.
- France maintains close economic and military relations with former colonies like Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire. Its firms exploit African resources and markets.
- Lévy-Strauss’ structural anthropology aimed to systematically analyze African societies against racialist narratives of primitivism. His ambivalence reflects post-colonial identities.
- France conceives Francophone Africa as a distinct French-cultured region amidst Anglo-American dominance elsewhere in Africa. Mali exemplifies this dynamic.
- France argues its Mediterranean identity justifies retaining strong ties to North Africa.
- Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are part of France’s southern security perimeter against instability in the Mideast and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Algeria was the centerpiece of colonial France. Decolonization caused enduring tensions. But its Francophone identity still matters.
- Chauprade advocates dividing Anglophone Africa from a Francophone Mediterranean bloc including the Maghreb allied with France.
- By stressing Maghrebian cultural bonds, France maintains influence in this region central to the geopolitics of immigration and Islamism.
- France has lost most Asian colonies. But it retains small Pacific territories like New Caledonia. And it cooperates with former colonies like Vietnam.
- France is deepening economic and strategic ties with rising powers like India and Australia to sustain regional influence amidst China’s rise.
- It cooperates with Britain to keep America engaged in containing China’s ambitions in the South China Sea and across the Indo-Pacific.
- Despite its decline, France argues its overseas territories, regional bases, and economic-cultural connections sustain its great power status in a multipolar world.
This overseas presence represents France’s last vestiges of world power against Anglo dominance. French thinkers argue these nodes sustain its strategic autonomy and global role.
Contemporary Themes in French Geopolitics
French geopolitical thinking continues to evolve in response to 21st century shifts like multipolarization, renewed great power rivalry, globalization, migration, populism and technological disruption:
- Chauprade contends the unipolar American moment is giving way to a new unstable multipolar system of competing geo-economic regions.
- This will revive French autonomy and grandeur. By diversifying ties, France can triangulate between Anglo-American Atlanticism, German Europe, and Russia to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy.
- France must balance cooperation and competition with rising poles like China’s Pacific world, India’s Indic civilization, and resurgent Russia to flourish in this new competitive order.
Borders and Migrants
- Foucher explains renewed nationalism through the psychological shock over the perception of rapidly shifting borders due to globalization. Open borders imperil national identities.
- The influx of Muslim migrants has challenged France’s post-colonial identity. Chauprade links immigration to terrorism and social fragmentation.
- But for more liberal thinkers, flexible borders enrich national culture. And migration diversifies French geo-historical identity beyond its Hexagonal core.
- There is concern about preserving strategic borders. But new cultural and economic borders also shape the contested future of French geopolitics.
- Chauprade argues absolute US dominance of the internet enables it to shape global discourse and wield unparalleled influence over European populations.
- France must therefore cultivate digital sovereignty by nurturing nationally controlled technologies, internet infrastructure and platforms to evade dependence on US Big Tech.
- Building a society less permeated by Anglophone digital culture will help revive France’s strategic capacities and cultural-linguistic identity.
- Greater Franco-German-EU collaboration is essential to developing autonomous tech capacities enabling independent geopolitical policies.
- Climate change, resource conflicts and inequality shape coming decades. Environmental geography intersects with strategy.
- France has cultivated green technology industries that boost its economic and moral leadership. Its nuclear power reliance gives it energy autonomy.
- France can lead Europe’s environmental turn towards sustainability through its national capacities and preferences for collective solutions.
- Its dirigiste economic model is apt for industrial policy driving the environmental transition in contrast to laissez-faire Atlanticist economies.
By flexibly adapting classical French tenets to new challenges, contemporary geopolitical thinkers aim to guide France’s strategy in an uncertain century rife with turbulence.
Critiques of French Geopolitics
Despite its pioneering academic contributions, the French school has attracted extensive criticisms:
- Anglocentrism dismisses it as abstract ‘cartoons’ lacking British and American pragmatism or quantitative rigor.
- German thinkers label it semi-mystical Gallic speculation, contrasting it with their systematic Kratropolitik (the politics of forces).
- Marxists critique its idealist focus on culture, identity and discourse without integrating class, capitalism or exploitation.
- Liberals see it as a reactionary pseudoscience prone to illiberal, xenophobic and nationalist narratives.
- Postmodernists like Jacques Derrida deconstruct its iconography as unstable, contested representations of power rather than objective truths.
- They also charge it with perpetuating instrumental, calculative reasoning serving state power rather than emancipatory goals.
- Feminist and minority scholars condemn its patriarchal, colonialist, Orientalist, and racialist overlays favoring white male Western perspectives.
- Green theorists argue it ignores environmental sustainability and perpetuates destructive anthropocentric developmentalism.
- And other schools like Anglo-American realism reject its sweeping civilizational frameworks as obfuscating the calculus of interest.
But the French school’s longevity demonstrates how geopolitical reasoning retains value for state strategy. And its methodological rigor and conceptual innovation leave lasting academic imprints.
Continuing Relevance of French Geopolitics
Despite recurring criticism, the French tradition retains relevance by:
- Addressing perennial issues like national power, identity, borders and interests shaped by geography.
- Providing an autonomous French strategic vision countering Anglo-American dominance.
- Conceptualizing long-term geo-historical structures over contingent politics.
- Focusing on enduring issues of land power, territorial control and rimlands that classical geopolitics illuminates.
- Incorporating postmodern critiques of positivism and power into new constructive interpretations.
- Exploring relationships between regional, national and global spatial scales.
- Analyzing the strategic implications of human mobility and migrations.
- Classifying states, regions and continents based on their distinct geographic orientations.
- Synthesizing diverse academic disciplines into a holistic interpretative approach.
- Checking excessively narrow specialist perspectives by linking the geopolitical past, present and future.
- Aiding grand strategy and foreign policy formulation via geohistorical insight.
Through its intellectual vitality, methodological rigor and policy relevance, French geopolitics continues making valuable scholarly contributions that both build on and reinterpret its legacy for new conditions.
The French school of geopolitics has crafted a sophisticated conceptual apparatus for understanding how geography shapes political behavior and national power over time. It emerged through the pioneering 19th century regional geography of Vidal de la Blache and humanist philosophy of Reclus. This laid the groundwork for later figures like Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman associated with Anglo-American navalism and theories of the EurasianHeartland. The French tradition achieved maturity through innovative interwar thinkers like Demangeon and Ancel who interpreted geostrategy through concepts of land power and tellurocracy. Braudel’s revolutionary longue durée methodology focused geography via the historical long term. This inspired contemporary scholars like Foucher and Chauprade to update French geopolitics for the 21st century contexts of technological disruption, migration pressures and American unipolarity transitioning towards a new complex multipolar system.
The French school has made enduring contributions like: stressing consistent geographic realities rather than environmental determinism; developing the concept of regions as integrated geographical-cultural areas; designing new methodologies like detailed monographs and geo-history; recognizing the significance of rimlands and spatial dyads like thalassocracy versus tellurocracy rather than simplistic East-West dichotomies; incorporating critical and postmodern perspectives sensitizing geopolitics to issues of identity and discourse; and crafting a multidisciplinary humanities-inflected approach incorporating history, culture, cartography, ethnology and other angles to enrich political-strategic analysis.
This tradition has limits like insufficient material factors, overly speculative historicism, Romantic tendencies and questionable universalist assumptions. It can benefit from integrating economic, environmental, technological viewpoints. But on balance, the French school provides a valuable alternative paradigm for strategy and an insightful worldview synthesizing diverse currents of social science into a holistic geopolitical approach that continues proving useful for statecraft and policy despite globalization. Its conceptual flexibility and methodological pluralism sustain the French school’s vitality as an independent centre of geopolitical thinking challenging Anglo-American dominance in this domain.
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