President Macron’s Armistice Day speech was predictably fêted by liberal commentators in the UK and the US.

Jeremy Cliffe of the Economist tweeted: “It’s deeply unfashionable to say so, of course, but Macron is really good on the fundamentals.”

Luke Baker of Reuters: “’Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism’ says Emmanuel Macron, speaking during his Armistice centenary address. Was Donald Trump listening to the translation?”

And Lionel Barber, editor of the FT: “Macron’s assault on nationalism will be lost on Trump who despises the notion that EU represents the triumph over nationalism and Peace on the continent.”

Macron’s speech was indeed an eloquent attack on Trumpian-style politics, with its not-so-coded references to ‘America First’ (“the selfishness of a people which only looks to its own interests”), but those assessments are wrong. His speech was not so much an argument for pluralist liberalism in the Anglo-Saxon style, but a classic statement of French republicanism, too confident in its unique status, too confident in its universal appeal.

Here is an excerpt from the speech:

“Let us remember this: we must not lose anything of the pure ideals and superior principles that nourished the patriotism of our predecessors. This vision of France as a generous nation, of France as a great endeavour, of France as the bearer of universal values, has stood – in these sombre times – as the polar opposite of the selfishness of a people which only looks to its own interests.”

He went on:

“For patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: indeed, nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying ‘Our interests first: never mind the others!’, you erase the most precious thing a nation can have – that which brings it to life, that which spurs it on to greatness, and that which is most important: its moral values.”

It’s important, first of all, to stress just how very far Macron is from our own conception of the value of remembrance. For all the naffness of some of our remembrance rituals (do we really need a hundred square foot poppy draped over the Twickenham turf? Or an enormous sand drawing of Wilfred Owen’s face washed away by the tide?), our ethic of commemoration gets a lot right. In the UK, we see war as irredeemable, its cost immeasurable, but we also see meaning in the stories of individual soldiers – how they lived and how they died.

We tend to shy away from making judgements about war’s moral dimension, leaving that to priggish types obsessed either with the poppy’s “militaristic” appeal, or vice versa, and intolerant of quietist forms of remembrance. But Macron has no such compunction. It was for “pure ideals and superior principles” that French soldiers died. They served the great endeavour that is France. They died for universal values.

Now, it’s only the second half of that assessment has been widely reported on: its emotive appeal rooted in the soft language of global liberalism – blandly anti-populist and cosmopolitan. But when Macron talks of the moral values that bind a nation together, we should remind ourselves that he is drawing on a constellation of ideals, rooted in a story of supposed French exceptionalism.

Elsewhere in the speech, Macron reminds us of the contribution of France’s imperial dominions to the war effort:

“We should take a moment to recall that immense procession of combatants, in which soldiers from Metropolitan France and the French Empire, from the Foreign Legion, the Garibaldi Legion, and foreigners who had come from all over the world to fight for France – simply because France represented, for them, all that was beautiful in the world.”

Hold on. No mention here of the exploitation of subject peoples to fire the war machine – the contribution of France’s Empire was supposedly simply a result of a spontaneous desire to serve the Republic in its “beauty”, with its “universal values”. That mirrors the character of the French imperial project: Saigon was redesigned around a network of Parisian boulevards; Algerian children were taught the geography of the Massif Central; and the Lebanese middle class was taught to recite Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

Throughout his Presidency, Macron has endorsed a form of Republicanism that endorses a vicious intolerance of minorities at home. Earlier this year, he refused to recognise Corsican as the official language of Corsica alongside French. To do so would, he said, recognise the legitimacy of an “enemy of the Republic”.

That replays the culture wars of the French nineteenth century in which Breton culture, with its own language and distinctive heritage, was progressively cleansed by the French speaking majority. A French hegemony was reinforced by a highly centralised school curriculum which did not allow for bilingual schooling. To be Breton was to be backward; to be French civilised and Republican.

This explains why Macron sees absolutely no intellectual validity in British Euroscepticism. Brexit was, he said at Salzburg, “a choice pushed by those who predicted easy solutions”. He added bluntly: “They are liars.” His is a world view that treats legitimate expressions of cultural difference as atavistic forces to be defeated. Populism is not taken as a legitimate, if flawed, form of political expression; it is an obscurantist world view that has to be beaten off. Fine, but it is naive to see Macron purely as an anti-nationalist. He’s a French cultural imperialist.