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More than a beautiful city, Paris is one of the world’s great nodes. The French core territory — known locally as the Beauce (pronounced buuse) — is a low saddle of land between the Loire and Seine rivers, with Paris perched on the region’s northern edge. That dual-river characteristic allowed the early French to lay cultural claim to a much larger territory than any other European ethnicity.

The consolidation laid the foundation for a truly unitary government in which local identity and even governance deferred to glittering Paris. As the centuries ticked by, that Paris-first mentality led the grinding down of regional identities, up to and including in regions where the French were not the dominant ethnicity. Contemporary France remains the European country with the strongest sense of self, and one where any hint of non-Frenchness is purposefully marginalized and, when possible, extinguished.

This is but one of the characteristics that makes France the country to watch as the era of European unity comes to an unceremonious end.

For more on the future of Europe, see Chapter 11 of The Accidental Superpower.