After completing his degree at Sciences Po, a term at Harvard University, and the École nationale d'administration, Chirac began his career as a high-level civil servant, and entered politics shortly after. Chirac occupied various senior positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Minister of the Interior. Chirac's internal policies initially included lower tax rates, the removal of price controls, strong punishment for crime and terrorism, and business privatisation. After pursuing these policies in his second term as Prime Minister, he changed his views. He argued for more socially responsible economic policies, and was elected President in the 1995 presidential election with 52.6% of the vote in the second round, beating Socialist Lionel Jospin, after campaigning on a platform of healing the "social rift" (fracture sociale). Then, Chirac's economic policies, based on dirigisme, allowing for state-directed investment, stood in opposition to the laissez-faire policies of the United Kingdom, which Chirac famously described as "Anglo-Saxon ultraliberalism".
He is also known for his stand against the American-led assault on Iraq, his recognition of the collaborationist French Government's role in deporting Jews, and his reduction of the presidential term from 7 years to 5 through a referendum in 2000. At the 2002 French presidential election, he won 82.2% of the vote in the second round against the far-right candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen. During his second term, he gradually saw his approval rating drop, and he decided not to seek re-election.
On 15 December 2011, the Paris court declared Chirac guilty of diverting public funds and abusing public confidence, and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Chirac, born in the Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire clinic (Paris Ve), is the son of Abel François Marie Chirac (1898–1968), a successful executive for an aircraft company, and Marie-Louise Valette (1902–1973), a housewife. His great grandparents on both sides were peasants, but his two grandfathers were teachers from Sainte-Féréole in Corrèze. According to Chirac, his name "originates from the langue d'oc, that of the troubadours, therefore that of poetry". He is a Roman Catholic.
Chirac was an only child (his elder sister, Jacqueline, died in infancy before his birth). He was educated in Paris at the Cours Hattemer, a private school. He then attended the Lycée Carnot and at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. After his baccalauréat, he served for three months as a sailor on a coal-transporter.