By many measures, it would seem that conservatism in France is as unheard of as French support of U.S. foreign policy. Alexandre Pesey and Flavien Bonneville, two Frenchmen involved with the Tocqueville Fellowship (La Bourse Tocqueville), an organization founded on the basis of classical liberal and traditional conservative ideas, met with HUMAN EVENTS to dispel this myth.
Pesey, 30, established the Tocqueville Fellowship three years ago to provide young French men and women with an opportunity to better understand American conservatism. “The goal is to bring young conservatives from France to the United States to show how the conservatives are organized here, how they win and how they were victorious in the battle of ideas and politics,” Pesey said.
The “battle” Pesey is referring to is the everyday fight against the left, and how Republicans gained the majority of power within the U.S. system of government. Pesey said that politically, he believes in free market, traditional values, individual freedom and patriotism. But regardless of Pesey’s personal values, Bonneville, 21, a past student of the fellowship, said the program is politically independent.
Admission to the program is very competitive and qualifications are strict. Those involved are a mixture of students and young professionals, and their ages range from 20 to 28. Students involved must be philosophically sound—either classically liberal or conservative. They must also be active in public in France to show they don’t just have ideas, but they also try to implement them. Adding to the competitiveness, the chosen groups consist of only five or six individuals.
“We want to keep the program small so that we have personal contact with the people we meet,” Pesey said. “We want to have a good relationship together so we can spend enough time building a relationship to bring together classical liberal and conservative [ideas].” While there is an organization called the Contribuables Associes that pays for plane tickets, lodging and seminars, students are required to pay for personal expenses.
“There is personal expenditure and they are not paid,” Pesey said. “Those who work usually book all of their vacation days for that time period and some have even taken the program so seriously that they have quit their job.”
Once accepted, participants come to the United States for a month, meeting with various prominent U.S. citizens, including politicians and Nobel Prize winners. They visit private think tanks and organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the National Rifle Association. They also attend seminars at the Leadership Institute, where they learn various skills, such as campaign tips and television techniques.
Bonneville applied through the Institut de Formation Politique (IFP), a non-partisan training institute in France that was also founded by Pesey and is associated with the Tocqueville Fellowship.
The fellowship is not heavily advertised in France. “Both the Tocqueville Fellowship and IFP are not looking for the media because they are not really in favor [in France]. We try to do training underground,” Pesey told HUMAN EVENTS. However, those involved in the program are well received in America. “We are very welcome, even if we are French,” he said. “They are very nice and very open, and that is impressive.”
Pesey wants those involved with the fellowship to “get the optimism of the spirit that is in the conservative movement, because we’re often pessimistic.” This pessimism, in conjunction with a lack of organization, is part of why conservatism is not the admired in France.
When the month-long program is completed, participants typically stay politically active when they return to France, Pesey said. In fact, during the two years since it began, everyone has remained involved. “I think it’s really a boost and catalyst for action.”
Pesey cited the Institut Turgot—a conservative think tank, as something that students established and remain active with, as well as helping to create newspapers and magazines to spread their cause.