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The presidential elections have come and gone in France. Legislative elections will come soon. I’ve made some dark remarks on events, but sparsely — I think it’s too early to talk about it in detail. Few now speaking seem to take the situation in France seriously enough. To me, it seems obvious that suffering and humiliations will multiply in France. I have seen much excellent coverage of the elections; I recommend John O’Sullivan in National Review. For people less concerned with the elections and more concerned with what’s happening in France, I recommend an essay by Chris Caldwell on French critics of the French governing classes. The best author to read is the wise Pierre Manent in a journal I recommend, American Affairs.
But our own @Claire Berlinski, whom I admire so much, said “Macron vanquished Le Pen.” The depth of futility in that statement — the desperate fantasy of that sentiment — the unbending silence it invokes — was too much for me. I decided to write against everything that stands for, what Manent calls “the fanaticism of the center.” I will warn of the coming disaster like the prophets did in previous ages.
The facts of the election
Let me begin in the American way, by stating the facts of the matter. Emmanuel Macron won some 20.7 million votes and defeated Marine Le Pen, who won 10.6 million. It was a 66-34 election. The LePen name, as well as the Front National party, are poisoned in France. To round out the voting, I’ll add that 4 million votes were blank or null. Add up the tallies, and that’s about 35.5 million votes total, or a turnout of 74.5%, in a country with a population of about 65 million.
Here’s what these numbers mean. First, turnout was remarkably low for France (6-10% below recent elections); a more conventional turnout would be around 80%. Further, turnout was lower than in the first round of balloting, which was 77.7%. This is unheard of in a generation at least. Wasted votes should be accounted for as well: There were less than a million wasted votes in the first round of balloting, at a higher turnout. There were more than four times more protest votes in the second round of balloting, making up 11.5% of the votes cast That lowers turnout significantly — and uniquely.
In 2012, there were only half that number (2.1 million) of protest votes. In 2002, when the previous Le Pen had to be exorcised from the body politic, only 1.7 million. A quarter of the electorate disliked the election, even more on the second round than the first. A ninth of the voting electorate couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate. The party politics of the Fifth Republic is losing a significant part of its democratic consent.
Second, let’s talk about the Le Pen curse. Nobody in this world or the next believes that Macron could have won 66% of votes against anybody but a Le Pen. So let’s recall the previous Le Pen election in 2002. Back then Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of the current nightmare of all respectable people, won 4.8 million votes in the first round and 5.7 million in the second (going from 16.8% to 17.7%). His opponent, Jacques Chirac, went from 5.6 million to 25.5 million (going from 19.8% to 82.2%). Already you could see the fracture of the parties and the democratic incompetence of the oligarchic politicians of France. Nevertheless, that year, France rallied. Respectable people wanted to exorcise the specter of fascism. Turnout also leapt that year, from 71.6% to 79.7%. (Wasted votes that year were under a million in the first round, same as now — but they almost doubled in the second round then, whereas they more than quadrupled now.)
If you wanted to talk about vanquishing the far right, that was the moment to do it, not in 2017. If you wanted to gloat about how respectability outperformed the polls, that was the moment — not this. These days, comparatively, things are miserable. France cannot summon the numbers — people do not care. And there are twice as many voters willing to associate with the specter of fascism haunting France. They don’t care about the press or public opinion either. The Le Pen name has risen from the grave once and it might do it again.
Perhaps the respectable people believe they have duped democracy and things will be as they want them now, because Macron has been elected. This 30-something president, the youngest ever, does worst with French 30-somethings, where Mme. Le Pen won more than 40% of them. Old people love him or at least loathe her. How about the young? In the first round of balloting, the candidates running against the two major parties of France won a majority of the youth vote, although Le Pen has only won a third of them. There is reason to worry there, too. But the oligarchs of France may not care — perhaps the political collapse of the last 15 years means nothing to them. The failure of the parties and the party leaders, the failure of the presidents in both respectable parties, the failure of the electoral system in 2017 — the political system that produced Macron.
The last Paladin of the oligarchy
Perhaps people think this man is a new hope, but he is the dying gasp of the Fifth Republic. On Ricochet’s own GLoP podcast, some of the insanely funny guys were saying Macron is anti-establishment, or an outsider at any rate. You must understand that to be a hilariously funny remark. An irony. A witticism. The ugly truth, of course, is that he is a creature of the governing classes.
Having failed to make it into one of the prestigious schools of France, where the ruling classes learn how to be ruling classes, he made it into another one. That’s how he got to work for the government in a fairly prestigious administrative position, until his patrons got him a banking job — he left that to go back into government soon enough, but now a millionaire. Like in America, in France politics and finance meet at the top and the privileges a few insanely rich people bestow on each other are adorned with the self-righteousness of meritocracy. They are just better than people like you — they deserve their wealth because they shoulder the awesome responsibility of running the country while the likes of you get in the way.
Soon enough, he went back into politics, as his patrons acquired for him more prestige and then a job as an economics minister. Always, new and old patrons, businessmen and politicians and political advisors, made his way for him. None of his jobs ever lasted long because they didn’t matter in any sense except increasing prestige without involving much real work. He’s not trying to do anything, other than be the person in the position that will get him the next position. Never has he achieved anything even at the level of someone like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
We’re not talking about the ancient aristocracies that could promote young men of genius into positions of rule: Think about the indomitable opponent of Napoleon, the brilliant UK Tory William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister at 24. Think about America’s own Founders — men making the greatest republic known to human history in their 20s and 30s. This no longer seems possible in our time.
The French case is merely a show of the ugly self-flattery of the very oligarchies that have failed France. They flatter themselves that by deceiving the democracy, they will save their unearned privileges, unaware of how they have become mutilated because of them. Macron constantly talks about the failures of the previous 30 years, never mentioning that he will not change them, much less that he himself has been made by the very people responsible for those failures at every institutional level. But in this youngish man the corruption of those institutions is revealed — they only serve to create the men the oligarchs want.
This goes far beyond the state and the financiers that hired him. This goes beyond the government. The press loved Macron, and almost nobody cared to think of the ugly truth about this shameful creature of the oligarchy. He has refused, to my knowledge, to say how he got the money to fund his new party. The party, such as it is, will be the socialist party among whose ranks he ascended so quickly. Nobody has succeeded as fast as him within the system — never has the press fawned over so unknown a man. Thus, France has elected as president an unknown man of no ability for governing and without a party, except whatever the old parties he supposedly opposes can offer him.
In a month, legislative elections will happen. In the foolishness that will follow, a mindless coalition government will form, with neither mandate nor hierarchy. Then the suffering will turn to humiliation for France and the humiliation to despair; the supposed new dawn will be merely a glimmer of dusk. There are dark days coming, and who among the respectable or those who believe the respectable will be able to say he acted in good faith?
Finally, let us condemn the respectable people out of their own mouths. We are told that the Front National is somehow haunted by fascism. They are for that reason intolerable. One does not know exactly what to believe. Do the respectable say on their moral authority that the people would taint themselves with blood by such a vote? Or that fascism would come to France with the FN? If the latter, then the institutions of the state are worthless. If the former, then the political parties are worthless.
Further, Mme. Le Pen has been humiliated publicly again for defending the official position of France until the last two decades or so: Blaming the Vichy government for anti-Semitic slaughters and the French participation in the Holocaust. That is a historical fiction — the French could not bear the thought of their crimes in the dawn of Liberation. The people hysterical about her statements and enthusiastic about her defeat apparently believe only other Frenchmen might bear the taint of fascism through Vichy. They themselves are pure souls — only the potential or actual FN voters could be evil.
But who has been governing France in these recent decades? Le Pen and her father and their crazy party? Or the respectable people? What life do Jews live in respectable France? The holy anti-fascists run a country from which many thousands of Jews flee every year. A country where vast majorities of Jewish children are kept out of public schools for their safety. A country where crimes against Jews are increasing and fortified synagogues adorned with French law-enforcement prepared for war no longer shock.
What, but their own sickening failure to protect Jews, drives these respectable people to become hysterical at the supposed anti-Semites who do not actually harm Jews? What drives the enthusiasm for the Macron victory, but a desire to go back to running France as they have before, in a way that makes Jews want to run away?
Look at the Fifth Republic. It started with the last great Frenchman, General de Gaulle, and it ends with a puppet, Macron. At 59 years, this is the second longest-lived French regime since the Revolution (the Third Republic made it to 70) and it does not look like it will last. The problems France faces politically get to the core of its organization. The separation between the governed and the governing classes is turning toward oligarchy. The great successes of French administration and the reputation — damn near incorruptibility — of its administrative classes are real assets. But the old weakness of French politics — parties that can neither legislate nor earn the loyalty of the democratic electorate — is coming back. And there is no one to save the parties this time.