Emmanuel Macron’s Ethics of Responsibility

Iam often asked what I think of the “philosophical” proximity of Emmanuel Macron with Paul Ricoeur, and the question embarrasses me. I only met him about ten times, since the time around 1999 when he came to Ricoeur’s home to assist him in the editing of Memory, History, Forgetting. On the other hand, the thought of Ricoeur is ample, various lines of valid interpretations can be drawn from it. Let us try to assess it, however briefly, and non-decisively.

The suggestion of his close relation to Ricoeur can be summed up in the famous formula “and at the same time”. Let us take, for example, his intent to liberalize labor laws and at the same time to protect the most vulnerable. This way of introducing a sustainable tension between two apparently incompatible statements is really very Ricœur.

I will assess in the same way the antimachiavelism of Macron, his refusal to play on fears and resentments, his wish to orient governance from within to the common good.

Macron is antimachiavelist who refuses to play on fears and resentments

A third element that connects Macron to Ricoeur is a conception of laicism that is not identical but strictly legal, liberal, and it allows for pluralism of our societies and traditions.

A final point would be the priority given to an ethics of responsibility, the refusal of false promises, a kind of “practical wisdom” that is constantly seeking to integrate the thought of consequences and the sense of the initiative.

The reading of Ricœur could provide a counterpoint by refusing an apotheosis of work: humans also need words, to redo the circle around every question, to compose a chorus to marvel at living together in this world.

In the same way, Ricoeur would resist the apotheosis of the economic questions which today seem to be, as in Marxism, the sphere of the spheres, the “total” sphere: we must think of the institution of the plurality of spheres.

Finally, and above all, there is in Ricœur a thought of the instituting imagination, or of the imaginative institution, which takes the form of a moderate but resolute praise of utopia, both as a critique of the dominant reality and an exploration of the possible, which means that the world is not finished and that the radical plurality of life forms is desirable.


Olivier Abel is professor of ethical philosophy at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of Paris.

French Réforme journal published this article on May 7th, 2017