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The Age of Macron

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 13:  French President Emmanuel Macron   (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

PARIS, FRANCE – JULY 13: French President Emmanuel Macron (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

French citizens are not familiar with long electoral campaigns—the Fifth Republic’s first presidential contest, which was in 1965, lasted less than a month! This time, an entire year elapsed between the beginning of the primaries and the legislative elections, held in two stages a month after Emmanuel Macron won the presidency. The dominant feeling among the French people is weariness.

Weariness about the campaign, but also weariness of veteran politicians. Several, of the Right and Left alike, were summarily fired during this long campaign: two former Presidents (Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande) and three former Prime Ministers (Alain Juppé, Manuel Valls, and François Fillon). The political year was marked by what we called in French slang “dégagisme.” Dégagé  means disengage or untether, so it’s basically, in American political parlance, “throwing the bums out.”

Macron succeeded mainly because he was considered “new”: young, without any political experience, without any electoral mandate. Of course, one could recall that he was in charge of economic policy during the Hollande presidency—a policy that was not exactly successful. For that matter, he was a strong supporter of the policies that have been applied for decades. But he was “new” and it was enough!

The supplanting of the old with Macron makes it something of a “populist” victory—a  victory of the people against the political elites. The only strange point is that this populism was not against, but strongly in favor of, the “neoliberal consensus.” To speak in the manner of the French political philosopher Pierre Manent, this populism was linked to the “fanaticism of the center” and against “demagogy”—though “populism” is usually the modern way of saying “demagogy.” Populism in the usual sense is the people retaking control of their political destiny; the paradoxical French populism of 2017 was a way to promote the idea that “there is no alternative” (as Margaret Thatcher once said in a very different context) to opening borders, to increasing the powers of the European Commission, or to reducing middle class purchasing power.

As is normal in France, the June parliamentary elections confirmed the May presidential election. A majority was received by Macron’s new political movement, “La République en marche,” LREM, “The moving Republic” (but moving to where, we don’t yet know . . . ).

On the other hand it was not a large majority of French citizens, as more than the half of the electorate did not show up for the parliamentary vote. This is apathy on a huge scale, in the  French political context. Nor was it a very large majority of those who did show up. Only 27.6 percent of the voters chose LREM candidates in the legislative election’s first round. But it won a large majority of the seats in the National Assembly: 308 seats out of 577—over 400, if we included seats won by LREM’s allies.

It’s important to note that many of these members of Parliament are even newer than Macron. Many of them have never held office before. And many know little of public finance, foreign affairs issues, or even the rules of the National Assembly. So, a large contingent of MPs don’t have any political identity save the “label” LREM and the support of Emmanuel Macron, and have rudimentary, if any, political skills. One assumes that they will vote the way President Macron will ask them to vote, and espouse policies that government ministers tell them are good.

This means that, besides the triumph of populism, of a sort, we have also a triumph of technocracy. The members of parliament won’t be able to play a political role by themselves. They will only be able to register and applaud the decisions of the President.

Compare this situation to the noncompliance, so far, of many in the U.S. Congress, including many Republicans, with the program of President Trump, and you can see that Macron enjoys much more latitude to pursue his agenda—an agenda that is, by the way, still very obscure to  observers.

Some in the French media speak of a government by “pronunciamento.” That’s not completely off the mark, for one sees no real checks and balances, now, to the presidential will. No political power can resist his decisions at this point. But it could instead be considered a return to the “Gaullist” conception of the chief of state: the only one chosen by the French people, independent of the parties and the lobbies, like a king. Just as Macron could be seen as a populist with an anti-populist roadmap, he could also be considered a “Gaullist” with an anti-Gaullist roadmap. This would mean a President independent of the parties, not to promote France’s independence but, on the contrary, to promote a better European integration or a wider opening of the borders.

This paradoxical situation would be fascinating to observe if it were not so dangerous. According to police and security officials, thousands of armed jihadists live in France (and many “French” jihadists will come back “home” after the ISIS defeat in the Middle East), residing openly in the suburbs of the big cities, where neither police nor any other representatives of the collective, such as doctors, firemen, or nurses, may enter. And we have also hundreds of leftwing activists (who injured hundreds of policemen last year and even attacked a children’s hospital in Paris), supported by millions of communist voters. Very few observers noticed that, of 11 candidates for President, three were officially communist and two were sympathizers. In the newly constituted National Assembly, the most consistent opposition is the extreme Left, led by a very effective tub-thumper, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Conditions right now are explosive, and the first question we will face is that of the rights of workers. This issue, peculiarly combustable in France, will be even more so this time, because the government decided to proceed with the use of a sort of executive order, without a parliamentary debate.

The success of Emmanuel Macron, as exciting to many as it was unforeseen, could lead in short order to disillusionment if his reform agenda sparks opposition as uncompromising as has been his new political movement, which took enhanced state powers unto itself very quickly.

Reader Discussion

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on July 19, 2017 at 11:07:22 am

[A]n entire year elapsed between the beginning of the primaries and the legislative elections, held in two stages a month after Emmanuel Macron won the presidency.

After the first stage, who was wearing the yellow jersey?

The supplanting of the old with Macron makes it something of a “populist” victory—a victory of the people against the political elites. The only strange point is that this populism was not against, but strongly in favor of, the “neoliberal consensus.” To speak in the manner of the French political philosopher Pierre Manent, this populism was linked to the “fanaticism of the center” and against “demagogy”—though “populism” is usually the modern way of saying “demagogy.” Populism in the usual sense is the people retaking control of their political destiny; the paradoxical French populism of 2017 was a way to promote the idea that “there is no alternative” (as Margaret Thatcher once said in a very different context) to opening borders, to increasing the powers of the European Commission, or to reducing middle class purchasing power.

Yeah … I’m not getting this.

1. I think of populism as reactionary, rebelling against a prior regime. What, exactly, were the French rebelling against, that would lead them to choose Macron? The English-speaking world had just engaged in their own populist rebellions, with Brexit and Trump. And the French are rather reflexively anti-American, if not anti-British. So, at the risk of seeming egocentric, maybe the French wanted to stick it to the English-speakers by adopting radical centrism and integration. “So THERE—you silly English-types! We fart in your general direction!”

2. “[R]educing middle class purchasing power.” As I understand it, Macron is proposing fewer labor restrictions. I’d expect our author Guillaume de Thieulloy, (“publisher of a group of French conservative media properties” and “former staffer of the [UMP/Republican] vice president of the French Senate, Jean-Claude Gaudin”) to embrace such policies. But perhaps I’m mistaken?

[Macron could become] a President independent of the parties, not to promote France’s independence but, on the contrary, to promote a better European integration or a wider opening of the borders.

This paradoxical situation would be fascinating to observe if it were not so dangerous. According to police and security officials, thousands of armed jihadists live in France (and many “French” jihadists will come back “home” after the ISIS defeat in the Middle East), residing openly in the suburbs of the big cities, where neither police nor any other representatives of the collective, such as doctors, firemen, or nurses, may enter. And we have also hundreds of leftwing activists (who injured hundreds of policemen last year and even attacked a children’s hospital in Paris), supported by millions of communist voters. Very few observers noticed that, of 11 candidates for President, three were officially communist and two were sympathizers. In the newly constituted National Assembly, the most consistent opposition is the extreme Left, led by a very effective tub-thumper, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Eh. We in the US are policing our borders mightily, yet enjoy a homicide rate that is roughly 250% of France’s. So I’m not so anxious about the safety threat posed by immigrants.

(An aside: I don’t mean to minimize the recent attacks in the UK, but in the US we don’t call it terrorism when someone runs people down in a car and then stabs them. We call it a Tuesday. A slow Tuesday. No guns? No bombs? No anthrax? Then we wouldn’t charge the perpetrator with terrorism. We’d charge him with a Class D Aggravated Misdemeanor: Impersonating a Drunk Driver with Cutlery.)

Moreover, do immigrants really pose a threat of promoting communist terrorism? I’m skeptical that France’s communists are imported.

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nobody.really
on July 19, 2017 at 12:35:20 pm

“So THERE—you silly English-types! We fart in your general direction!” - Conventional wisdom mindful of the typical west to east direction of prevailing winds would suggest that this tactic would likely back-fire (pun intended) on France, for the same reason Iran is unlikely to risk the threat of nuclear fall-out associated with the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Israel...

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Paul Binotto
on July 19, 2017 at 12:45:21 pm

Ha!

(And I hadn't really considered the Iran thing; interesting thought....)

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nobody.really
on July 19, 2017 at 23:58:35 pm

"Eh. We in the US are policing our borders mightily, yet enjoy a homicide rate that is roughly 250% of France’s. So I’m not so anxious about the safety threat posed by immigrants. "

Geez, Louise or in this guillame, nobody. The one has nothing to do with the other. If statistics mean anything, AND one parses the statistics a certain way, it may be shown that exluding certain sub-categories of citizens / residents in the USA, we actually have a LOWER homicide rate than most western states. Attribute it to the usual suspect causes - poverty, ignorance (gee, the scene from A Christmas Carol pops to mind-ha!) - but our hiogher homicide rater has nothing to do with "closed" borders (which are actually NOT so-closed as you would imagine) but more to do with the behavior of certain underclass types.

Now, everybody THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP starts this evening (Pacific time). Enjoy - forget about solving all the world's problems and watch these poor duffers struggle against, and be humbled by, the elements of nature _ Oops, time for some enviro-wack job to exclaim "it's all global warming."

Enjoy the OPEN Championship - sort of like LLB - Open to all knuckleheads such as I.

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gabe
on July 20, 2017 at 19:40:49 pm

Ahh! - Good Ole Nobody! Playing around with railroad *switches* again and sending the train (deThieulloy's essay) down a different *SPUR* (otherwise known as a spurious argument). see below:

"Moreover, do immigrants really pose a threat of promoting communist terrorism? I’m skeptical that France’s communists are imported."

The essayist makes mention of communists only fleetingly AND clearly not in connection with immigrant terrorism. Does one REALLY (that's you brudda) need to have it spelled out that the concern with immigration is not communism but Islamist terrorism?

But you are right, the French do not appear to have a need for importing *commies* - they have survived since the French Revolution. i mean Ole Maxie Robespierre was a homegrown crypto-commie! He simply lacked the *dialectic.*

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gabe

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