Louis XIV & Modern Day France

France & Louis XIV, who is credited with saying 'I am the state'. Given his monumental influence on France, his statement still rings true today.

To better appreciate France and her inhabitants one must understand French history - namely that of King Louis XIV. The influence of this king - who declared himself the Sun King (i.e., the center of the universe) - is not only reflected in the Palace of Versailles, but reaches deeper into the soul of France.

The burden of the monarchy was thrust upon Louis when he was only four years old. His young age made him a tool in the hands of his mentor, the Cardinal Jules Mazarin. Mazarin's forceful personality made Louis rather secretive and reserved. And Louis had quite a few secrets, one being the role he wished to play in France as her King. In Louis' personal memoirs he wrote: "In my heart I prefer fame above all else, even life itself". So, no one was prepared when upon the Cardinal's death, Louis declared that he would rule France as her absolute monarch.

The early years of Louis' reign found France in the middle of a few European skirmishes and Louis quickly turned to France's engineers to protect the country. When his engineers were not fortifying the frontiers with elaborate forts and walls, Louis put them to good use building the Palace of Versailles. The Palace was considered unnecessarily extravagant, but Versailles was more than just a fancy residence for Louis. The Palace served as a staging ground for great engineering feats. Engineers tinkered with fountains and canals within the Palace walls, and then applied those learned skills to France herself in the form of ports and aqueducts. Many of France's modern waterways derive from the basic principles of Louis' engineers. And those that have lived in France for some time will attest that engineering degrees from top French schools hold much prestige among the French to this day.

Louis' reign was responsible for several other improvements in French living during the 17th century. To improve the economy, a manufacturing sector was encouraged. The Navy, Merchant Marine and modern police were all conceived during Louis XIV's reign. The Champs Elysees was built with the patronage of the Sun King, as were many of the roads criss-crossing the country today.

But Louis' presence runs deeper than just structural edifices still standing across France. Louis' monarchial nature is reflected in the French family unit. As Polly Platt put it in her book titled French or Foe? "a French bourgeois family is run like a mini-kingdom, with a mini-Louis XIV in charge . . .". There is little question that the male is the authoritarian figure in the family, but wives are not denied their opinion. Much like the mistresses of Louis XIV, wives are considered important egeries, or counselors, and can have considerable influence upon their mates.

French families are also very secretive, much like the ancient king. Many French will not readily accept foreigners into the family fold no matter how long they've known them. Much like the court of Louis XIV, old French families spend much time courting other families with similar power and influence in the French government. Foreigners are perceived as outsiders that could negatively disrupt the delicate societal balance.

The bureaucracy of French society can also be attributed to the late King. Louis practically invented the French bureaucracy creating a complex pyramid of bureaucrats with varying degrees of power, all of which led directly to him. Just as Louis personally approved every expense at Versailles, so to do the modern day high-ranking bureaucrats hold onto the reigns of power, making even simple government exchanges a test of one's patience. Having friends in power is key to navigating French red tape, and French children are reared from birth to successfully work within the machinations of the State.

King Louis XIV has been dead for over two hundred years but his presence lives on in France. From his architectural feats and the omnipresent bureaucracy, to the structure of the French familial unit, the rays of the Sun King still burn bright. At the zenith of his power, Louis XIV is credited with saying 'L'etat c'est moi', or 'I am the state'. Given his monumental influence, his statement still rings true today.

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