The French Election Is All About Imperialism. Here’s Why

Yves here. Yours truly is not in a position to say much about the coming French elections, except to make a few pedestrian observations: Macron’s reelection bid look hopeless until the Ukraine war rescued him. The left goes from bad to worse for reasons I cannot fathom, except from afar that it seems as if there are strong enough doctrinal splits to prevent them from coalescing around a single candidate. Plus social democrats across Europe, and those even further left, have been struggling for a while to come up with compelling messages. Which seems really odd, given how ordinary workers have been taking it on the chin.

And the big story is that Marine Le Pen is actually within striking distance of winning the elections, even though Macron is still ahead and the favorite.

That’s a long-winded way of saying I find it odd that this piece makes no mention whatsoever of economic issues. How can those be totally absent in the election calculus? Let’s start with the fact the political scientists have documented that voters move to the right in the wake of financial crises (with America in the New Deal a noteworthy exception, due mainly to muscular labor unions flanked by a rising Communist movement). So it’s powerful secretive billionaires that are the cause of France’s move to the right, as opposed to them being able to take advantage of the response to the crisis clearly favoring banks and the wealthy, leaving plenty of resentment among the lower orders?

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s main site editor, a member of the Scottish Green Party, a board member of Voices for Scotland and an advisory committee member for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Originally published at openDemocracy

To understand the coming French election, we need to start not with the incumbent president Emmanuel Macron, nor with any of his rival candidates, but with a billionaire called Vincent Bolloré.

Like many oligarchs, he started out by inheriting a family business founded by his ancestors – in this case, in the 1820s. These days, the eponymous Bolloré is one of the 500 biggest companies in the world, and has a stranglehold on West African trade, controlling 16 major ports down the coast from Mauritania to Congo-Brazzaville.

The firm doesn’t just have its claws in France’s old colonies. In 2015, Bolloré took control of the French media giant Canal Plus, with Vincent himself taking over as chair. In 2017, the company relaunched its 24-hour news channel as a sort of French equivalent of Fox News, now called C+.

Often leading its headlines with law and order stories and moral panics about migrants, it became famous for its raging debates between far-Right regulars. With its new, controversialist format, it doubled its audience, and it is now the second most watched news channel in the country.

Its star commentator, editing and appearing on its daily panel show France à l’Info, was the writer and now presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, who became prominent through his column in the tabloid Le Figaro. Which connects him to a second oligarch.

Le Figaro is owned by the Dassault group, plaything of the billionaireLaurent Dassault, who inherited it from his grandfather. The main thing the Dassault Group does is manufacture military jets, selling them around the world.

Historically, these oligarch families have been linked to the traditional Right-wing party Les Républicains – Laurent Dassault’s brother Olivier was a Republicans MP until he died in a helicopter crash last year. Vincent Bolloré is good friends with the disgraced former Republicans president Nicholas Sarkozy, who was sentenced to jail late last year for illegal campaign financing.

But with France’s old parties floundering, there is space for political entrepreneurs – as Emmanuel Macron demonstrated last time round.

Now Zemmour has stepped into that space, announcing his candidacy last year.

Zemmour is famous for pushing the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which claims that France’s elite is trying to replace the white population with people of colour, and which has motivated white nationalist terrorism in New Zealand and the US. He has also argued that women’s and LGBTQ rights have ‘feminised’ France, leading to its decline; and been convicted of incitement to racial or religious hatred three times.

But Zemmour is merely a product of his patrons – without them, he would just be another angry bigot raving in some bar. And they are merely products of their ancestors – with success built on wealth inherited from a previous era of French history.

As with Britain, mountains of capital left lying around from the age of empire gravitationally warp French politics. Zemmour won’t win the election. But he – and, more significantly, the oligarch-owned networks that promoted him and his ideas – have already dragged France into their poisonous wasteland. They have conjured a sense of French decline, the memory of a time when the country got rich from the plunder of its colonies, to sell a retrograde vision of a more racist, chauvinist, and bigoted age. And those ideas are like noxious fumes.

In the first round of their candidate selection, members of Les Républicains put Éric Ciotti at the top of their ballot. Ciotti is from the far Right of the party, and is described by academic Philippe Marlière as a ‘carbon copy’ of Zemmour on immigration and Islam. Ultimately, the party selected former minister Valérie Pécresse as its candidate. Supposedly more reasonable, even she has used the words ‘Great Replacement’, and has attacked migrants and Muslims in her speeches. She has criticised those who are French ‘on paper’ but not ‘in their hearts’ – following the billionaires’ bully boy down the path of bigotry.

The biggest beneficiary of France’s rush to the Right, though, has been the royal family of French fascism, represented for the last decade by Marine Le Pen. With the debate tipping onto her turf – she has vilified Muslims, called for a ban on the veil, and pushed for a referendum on migration – she has thrived. When Russia invaded Ukraine, she had to quickly shred a million leaflets showing a photo of her with Putin calling her “a woman of conviction”, but she’s managed to benefit from the war and its impact on the French economy. Mixing her hardline xenophobia with a gentler note of economic nationalism at a time when energy costs are rising, she has soared in the polls.

Not only is she currently looking like she’ll easily make it to the second round, but some have her running Macron close when she gets there.

Macron Too

Just as a leech’s veins are filled with the blood of whatever species it suckles, this is the era of French politics on which Emmanuel Macron has come to parasite.

In 2018, he sought to placate France’s fascists by praising the First World War bravery of Philippe Pétain, the leader of the Nazi-collaborating regime during the Second World War. In 2019, he gave an interview to the far-Right magazine Valeurs Actuelle.

Along with his ministers, M. Le President has spent much of this presidency giving speeches and making public statements denouncing Islam and trying to attack the French Left for not being anti-Muslim enough. Last year, Macron’s higher education minister demanded an investigation into so-called ‘Islamo-Leftists’ at French universities, a direct threat to academic freedom and an assault on the world’s second-biggest religion.

After French teacher Samuel Petty was murdered by a Chechen Muslim for showing his class cartoon images of the prophet Mohammed, the French president went further, reaching out to Vladimir Putin in an attempt to build an Islamophobic alliance with the Kremlin.

In an election debate last year, Macron’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin even accused far-Right leader Le Pen of being ‘too soft’ on Muslims.

These capitulations to the far Right have only aided Macron’s opponents. After all, if he means what he says about Islam, why not support mass deportations of Muslims, with a candidate like Zemmour? When politics becomes an argument about the boundaries of national identity rather than a discussion about how to live together, the far-Right always thrives.

But Macron has also suckled from the Left. Most of his vote in the 2017 election came because the traditional social-democratic party, the Parti Socialiste, collapsed – going from winning the 2012 election with François Hollande to coming fifth, with just over 6% of the votes.

“We had a [Parti Socialiste] government from 2012 to 2017 and it was pathetic,” says French activist Arthur Vincent, who organises in migrant communities in the northern suburbs of Paris. “It was a social democrat lie of pretending they’re Left-wing during the campaign and basically having Right-wing policies all along. It was totally pathetic – it destroyed the Left.

“[Parti Socialiste’s] lead on the Left was made a thing of the past, and the centre-Left all went for Macron,” he adds.

The citing of a poisonous anti-Muslim conspiracy theory has infected France’s political discourse

Last month, Macron tried to shore up this vote and confront soaring energy bills by proposing nationalisation of many of France’s power companies, including the giant EDF.

In June last year, he announced a significant draw-down of France’s military presence in the Sahel region of Africa, after his forces were criticised by the UN for bombing a wedding party in Mali, and under pressure from the socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came a close fourth in the 2017 presidential election, and is aiming to improve on that this time.

While campaigning for president in 2017, Macron called France’s colonial history in Algeria a ‘crime against humanity’ and, as president, launched a ‘memories and truth’ commission into it. Around five million French people have connections to Algeria, and the traditional far-Right was built byorganising returning colonists after the country secured independence in 1962 – Jean-Marie Le Pen was a paratrooper in the France/Algeria war. So this was a brave step indeed.

In the end, too brave – Macron ended up apologising to the families of Algerians who fought alongside French troops, and were defeated, but not to the Algerians against whom France committed those war crimes.

Instead, Macron has tried to reach out to the Left by promoting himself as a leader on climate change. “He wants to please everyone,” says Arthur.

The Climate Movement

“The climate movement has grown a lot,” says Arthur. “People are aware of what’s going on. Macron has presented himself as being concerned about these issues.”

My wife is half-French and, ahead of those elections, we visited family friends in the rural south of the country. There, activists for Macron’s En Marche were distributing leaflets about their party’s environmental policies – protecting their Left flank from a Green surge. Last summer, Macron called for a referendum to enshrine emission reductions in the French constitution – a move blocked by the Senate.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands marched through Paris in an attempt to push the issue into the centre of an election that much of the media has insisted is about race. Another march is planned for Saturday, the day before the election, says Arthur.

The battle over these votes is a “rivalry between Greens and [Left candidate Jean-Luc] Mélenchon,” says Arthur. There is a possibility of Green MPs being elected in metropolitan constituencies such as Lyon and Bordeaux, but – since the start of March – Mélenchon has risen from around 10% to 15% in the polls, and from fifth to third place, overtaking both Zemmour and the Republicans’ Valérie Pécresse.

At around 5%, inflation isn’t as high in France as it is in the UK. But for people who were already on the edge, this rise in the cost of living is another shove into poverty – and for Macron, a reminder of the yellow vest movement, which rocked the early years of his presidency.

In March, Mélenchon threw his support behind a policy that’s been pushed by numerous candidates over the years – replacing France’s whole political system, the ‘Fifth Republic’ founded after the war by Charles De Gaulle, with a Sixth Republic, whose constitution would be drafted by a jury of citizens. This might sound extreme to outsiders, but in fact it has pretty broad appeal.

“We have a presidential regime – some would say a monarchic regime – where there is so much power in one person,” says Arthur. “Everyone is so obsessed with that single guy.

“We really need to change this system. So many things are wrong – we need to have a proportional system to elect MPs; we need less powers in the hands of the president; we need a parliament with real powers, not just a rubber stamp.”

In its response to the pandemic, he points to the fact that France’s COVOD rules were set by the Public Health Defence Council, part of the national security infrastructure that is attached to the president’s palace. “Parliament didn’t do anything. There was no transparency,” he says.

“France [was] in Mali for nine years; there was just one vote in Parliament. Essential parts of national policy have never been discussed by Parliament.”

Whoever wins this election, the calls for a Sixth Republic are likely to get louder.

The Fifth Republic was built on the assumption that France had a two-party system. In this election, those parties – Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains – will only get around 10% between them. Leading ex-politicians are being locked up for corruption and the billionaire-owned media is promoting actual fascists.

This doesn’t look like a healthy political system, but a country that’s got caught up in its own lies about its past. Much like Britain, its current political era has been a march out of empire into nation state. But that period must be brought to a close, and a new one opened. It’s time for France to accept it’s just another country.

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  1. voteforno6

    From conversations with family in France, their view regarding the leftists is that Hollande was a terrible President, Mélenchon has an unappealing personality, and the mayor of Paris isn’t well-known enough. The issue I keep hearing about regarding Macron, though, is his push to “reform” the retirement system, by essentially raising the retirement age. That idea isn’t very popular, it seems.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Forgive me for being so not on top of details. I should have found this France24 article, What economic policies are France’s presidential candidates proposing?, before posting and hoisted some quotes from it.

      France24 contends that the election is more about cultural and identity issues than economic ones, but your family members’ comments about retirement reform suggest otherwise. Do you think that the pols are underestimating the importance of pocketbook issues? If so, are Le Pen’s plans as redistributive as they sound? This is not what you’d see from a right winger in the US, unless there is a lot of clever bait and switch in the details:

      Targeting a working-class core vote, nationalist-populist Rassemblement National (National Rally) leader Marine Le Pen has a more statist economic platform than her far-right rival. She wants to intervene to set prices, give out subsidies to prop up faltering sectors of the economy and set up a French sovereign wealth fund to invest in strategic sectors.

      Le Pen also favours replacing the current property tax with a wealth tax directed at the rich, totally exempting primary residences. Keen to attract the youth vote, Le Pen wants to get rid of income tax for workers aged under 30 “so that they stay in France and start families here”.

      Or does this amount to a variant of the right wing tax cuts play, to be matched by spending cuts on social programs, so the net effect is regressive despite looking progressive on the taxation side?

      1. voteforno6

        My family did say that Le Pen is against raising the retirement age, but that she did so in more of a pro forma matter. The Le Pen name carries a lot of baggage in France, I think, so I’m not sure how much weight people put in her positions on the economy. I think here she’s being more opportunistic than anything. My family members there are all either immigrants or the children of immigrants, so under no circumstances would they vote for Le Pen. Her attitudes towards immigrants are probably much more set in stone, I’m guessing. They weren’t sure who they would vote for in the first round, but they’ll probably hold their noses and vote for Macron in the second round.

        As I understand it, there have already been some protests regarding the proposal to change the retirement age, going back to before COVID hit. That goes on top of the protests that broke out over the gas tax. So, it seems kind of odd that an article wouldn’t put more weight to economic issues, especially when it concerns some seemingly unpopular positions taken by the incumbent. At this point, people probably already have an opinion about Le Pen (and many probably heard of her before they heard of Macron), so I think it would be worth asking what is it about the incumbent that seems to be driving so many people to consider Le Pen.

  2. David

    It’s hard to know where to start with this load of garbage. What about the author?

    “Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s main site editor, a member of the Scottish Green Party, a board member of Voices for Scotland and an advisory committee member for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. You can follow him at @adamramsay.” No thanks, actually. Now, where’s the article I was writing on the Scottish Green Party’s links with extremists in Ukraine ….

    Actually providing enough context would mean a comment as long as the article, and I don’t want to inflict that on the readership. But here are a few pointers. You find this sort of approach in the eyes-closed, fingers-in-ears parts of the French media and political system which has done well out of Macron, and which is wholly the creature of identity politics and fashionable hand-waving. With the prospective annihilation of the traditional parties of Left and Right, and the disunity on the Right itself, some people are looking around for an explanation, any explanation, of the current political disorder, which doesn’t suggest that it’s actually their fault. The elites in France over the last generation have moved seamlessly into an Atlanticist, globalist, European neoliberal mind-set, which has removed them from virtually all contact with ordinary people. At the same time, living standards have fallen, education and health services have gone into a steep decline, and life has become more precarious for ordinary people. The elite response to this is that the people have got it wrong, they are stupid and have been misled by the media, and that they are the victims of conspiracies like the one described here. France is not moving to the Right: ordinary people are now further and further away from political elites, and so far only politicians of the Right have been prepared to talk about the problems that ordinary people experience in real life. Those include economic security, education and healthcare: they also include crime and immigration. Establishment politicians and the media scarcely dare mention any of these subjects for fear of reprisals, so the field is left clear for those who do. And it’s notable that Mélenchon (the “extreme Left”) candidate has seen a big increase in support since he stopped being an IdPol flunky and started talking about economic issues. And Fabien Roussel, the Communist candidate, also majoring on economic issues, looks likely to come out ahead of Hidalgo, the hand-waving Socialist.

    People are fed up: with corruption, nepotism, unemployment, poverty, precocity, crime, terrorism, social problems resulting from immigration, the decline of industry, the threat to the countryside, the catastrophic education system, the parts of the country where effectively no health-care is available, and, most of all, a President from the elite of the elite who has made it clear that he despises the country that elected him. People are now thinking seriously of voting, in the second round, for whoever opposes Macron, just to get him out. Ironically, Bolloré’s initiative, mentioned here, has weakened the traditional Right, which otherwise probably have won, and effectively restored Le Pen’s credibility. If it was a plot, it was a very stupid one, and failed badly. And Zemmour will not be President, and it’s not even clear that he wants to be. He’s a media personality with delusions of being a Man of Destiny.

    That’s all for now.

    1. Jack

      Gosh David, I thought you were writing about the US for a second, not France; “People are fed up: with corruption, nepotism, unemployment, poverty, precocity, crime, terrorism, social problems resulting from immigration, the decline of industry, the threat to the countryside, the catastrophic education system, the parts of the country where effectively no health-care is available, and, most of all, a President from the elite of the elite who has made it clear that he despises the country that elected him.”
      Thank you for your comment. As always, I learn as much if not more from the commentary here at NC.

      1. Bugs

        Biden is not the elite of the elite like Macron. That would be Obama. Someone who is just as disdainful of his fellow citizens as Macron. One thing we are lucky to have here is an actual choice of candidates. Not that any of these are going to win, but I have the tracts from Mélenchon, Roussel, Artaud and Poutou sitting on my dining room table, allowing me to at least dream that the election Sunday might have been a contest between them rather than the others. I think we’re going to see the end of the Parti Socialiste next week, thanks to the absolute disaster of the Annie Hidalgo candidacy. She’s done nothing but beg the other left candidates to rally to her but with no change in positions to bring anyone abord. Good riddance. Too bad Paris will be stuck with her for mayor through the Olympics.

        1. YassineA

          I agree wholeheartedly with what you said except on the Hidalgo responsibility. Yes, her campaign was a disaster but she merely wrote the death certificate of the Parti Socialiste. The main culprits in my opinion : Hollande, Valls and Macron with a DSK shadow looming behind them.

      2. pjay

        I was getting ready to make an almost identical comment, using the same quote. Indeed, this description seems to apply to most Western “democracies” today.

        In that vein, this quote from the article stood out for me:

        “We had a [Parti Socialiste] government from 2012 to 2017 and it was pathetic,” says French activist Arthur Vincent, who organises in migrant communities in the northern suburbs of Paris. “It was a social democrat lie of pretending they’re Left-wing during the campaign and basically having Right-wing policies all along. It was totally pathetic – it destroyed the Left.”

        At one level I would agree totally with this statement. Yet it is clear that for the author, the answer is *not* to address the pressing economic concerns of the people, but rather emphasize climate policy and support for immigrant communities.

        I’ve been hearing how Le Pen could never actually win for a long time. I remember hearing the same about Trump. David also comments that “France is not moving to the Right: ordinary people are now further and further away from political elites, and so far only politicians of the Right have been prepared to talk about the problems that ordinary people experience in real life.” This certainly applies to the US and other Western nations as well. Without a real “left,” there is only one direction to go.

        1. digi_owl

          Basically this was in the cards ever since WW2.

          But the threat of a USSR backed “communist” left kept it at bay.

          After the wall came down and USSR dismantled, they have slowly been boiling the frog. Usually by using EU as their scapegoat, claiming that their hands are tied as they need to follow EU directives, even though it is their own people in Brussels that are writing said directives.

          All in order to claw back and privatize the welfare allowances that was introduced after WW2 in order to avoid a massive leftward swing.

          1. BillC

            I have long contended that the Soviet Union’s breakup was the worst thing to happen to the western European working class since WW II. Thanks for implicitly backing me up.

            When I first lived in northern Italy (1980) there was a vibrant, regionally powerful, and effective Italian Communist Party — and a happier and more cohesive society. Now, since my third relocation here in 2010, there’s been no left party of any weight. The Italian Democratic Party is about as much “left” as its US namesake, and — at best — only slightly more effective as a truly representative political force. Our current political climate is in broad strokes much as France’s, described above, and I’m not aware of any large EU member with a healthier body politic.

            Western “democracy” is truly moribund on both sides of the Atlantic. As Michael Hudson writes, neoliberalism is truly killing the host.

        2. Rolf

          This certainly applies to the US and other Western nations as well. Without a real “left,” there is only one direction to go.

          Agree. IMO there can be no real political choices in the US until the Democratic Party “leadership” is removed, and a progressive non-IDpol wing that really asserts itself, is unafraid to confront the opposition within and without — in the style of LBJ or similar — can take its place. But it seems doubtful this will happen.

          But the largest political “party/not a party” in the US is the independent voter.

          Perhaps it will take a calamity — some sort of trifecta of economic stress, food and water shortage, and environmental Miami-under-water disaster (only a matter of time) — a collision of miseries sufficiently painful, rapid, and horrific to make it clear that we are all, in the end, in the same sinking boat, to foment a real mutiny.

          I don’t know.

        3. sadie the cat

          Good points. That quote you quoted

          “We had a [Parti Socialiste] government from 2012 to 2017 and it was pathetic,” says French activist Arthur Vincent, who organises in migrant communities in the northern suburbs of Paris. “It was a social democrat lie of pretending they’re Left-wing during the campaign and basically having Right-wing policies all along. It was totally pathetic – it destroyed the Left.” reminds me of the Obama years. Talk Left, but rule Right.

    2. The Rev Kev

      If you do not mind me asking, do you think that all those people that donned Yellow Vests and turned out to protest back in 2018-2019 be a factor in this election? Are they still organized at all?

      1. David

        They were never really organised at all – that was part of their strength but also their greatest weakness. Some of the individuals who participated in the GJ demonstrations were also protesting against vaccine passes (I saw a few yellow vests myself) but there doesn’t seem to be any permanent structure. Exhaustion and Covid put a stop to the protests for a while, but the underlying issues are still there. What they require is an incident, however small, that will set them off. The public mood now is considerably worse than it was in 2018, and this is reflected in the Anybody But Macron move I referred to. Even if Macron wins, then as I have been saying for some time the unpredictable parliamentary elections later this year could bring everything down, with completely unforeseeable results. Much depends on what a new Macron presidency would try to do: he’s very unlikely to have a working majority in Parliament in my view, so the answer may be not a lot.

        A couple of other points. I agree with Bugs that this is probably the end of the PS, and it couldn’t happen to a dumber and more unworthy bunch of people, who have run a once-great political party into the ground in less than a decade. I hope it will lead to a realignment on the Left like the one that happened after 1958, but at the moment there’s no Mitterrand around to do it.

        Whether immigrants might vote for Le Pen … I think the wholesale answer if “probably not”, but at retail level, perhaps. I certainly know of cases where that happened in 2017, and the reason was essentially the conservatism of many immigrant communities in France, who often vote on social issues above all. In addition, the “immigrant” community contains a lot of professionals (every dentist I had when I lived in Paris was of Algerian extraction) and they are probably over-represented in medicine, for example, in demographic terms. Many also run shops and businesses, so they are the traditional right-wing constituency. That’s why they have been increasingly voting for the Right in recent years. Moreover, many of them came here to better themselves, and are proud of being French. Macron on the other hand is totally identified with raving IdPol. This is particularly true in education, where there are major problems with Muslim families, even over the teaching of things like Evolution. After a series of bruising confrontations over “gender” issues in recent years for example, the last policy initiative in education was a new policy in support of transexual rights and consciousness-raising in schools. It’s not hard to see how a working-class couple from Tunisia, come to France to have a better life for their children, and worried that their children can’t read or write properly, might react to that.

        1. digi_owl

          Sound painfully similar to say Occupy. Thanks to the loss of a relevant alternative after the dismantling of the USSR, people complain but can’t put forward a practical alternative. End result is that they will vote for anything that is not the status quo ante, in the hopes of jostling the leadership.

    3. Ignacio

      I was wondering if hesitance to introduce restrictions to oil consumption etc. and measures to subsidize gasoline or diesel (don’t know if these are being taken in France or to what extent) have been respectively avoided or pushed in part because French elections. Macron seems like the preferred EU establishment candidate and biggest fears would be Le Pen defeating him as well as the rise of Melenchon and/or communists as symptoms.
      I haven’t been paying enough attention and these questions might look naive.

      1. David

        No, they are very reasonable questions. The short answer is, everything is on hold until after the elections, even a sensible response to the rising number of Covid cases.

    4. sadie the cat

      Excellent commentary which correlates with what friends in France are saying.

      Neoliberalism, which destroys the working class economically, and elitism, which kicks them when they’re down, both push voters to the right. As you say:

      “France is not moving to the Right: ordinary people are now further and further away from political elites, and so far only politicians of the Right have been prepared to talk about the problems that ordinary people experience in real life.”

      Voila! Enter LePen. The US has the same problem. It’s understandable why people (who had twice voted for Obama, an elitist in populist clothing) voted for Trump.

    5. lance ringquist

      this reminds me of all of the hand waving over orbans solid win. when orban first came into power the dim wits running hungary had turned it over to the IMF, and they were being asset stripped and reduced to a begging colony.

      orban threw the IMF out, and hungarians remember the taste they got from free trade and have rewarded orban.

      and the what passes for the left these days opposition in just about any western country, the hungarian left partnered up with a nazi like party, and GASP, they lost.

      corbyn in the u.k. had the election clinched, they he embraced free trade when its become apparent, the world has had enough. talk about STUPID!

      dim wit nafta democrats still cannot figure why trump won, and almost won.

      “Perhaps one of the most interesting, if not frustrating parts of the rise of Trump is the inability to get Democrats to accept the idea that the economic policies of Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama set the stage for a man like Trump. I think that among the Clinton Liberals, the madness has reached the stage the Tea Party reached with its “Birther” conspiracies around Obama.”

  3. disc_writes

    >It’s time for France to accept it’s just another country.

    The time where countries could think of themselves as “just another country” was only possible during the US unipolar period. That is coming to an end, and France never bought into the idea anyway.

    Russia has given up on the idea, Japan is rearming, Germany is rearming, Turkey is expanding, Egypt is getting more aggressive. India is charting its own course, and China started doing it long ago.

    Only the weaker countries within the US sphere of influence can afford to think of themselves as “just another country”, hoping, that is, that the US will come to their rescue if needed.

    That is not to say that the politics at play in France are healthy, or that the remains of colonialism are justified. But I think we will see more of both, and not less, as the world becomes a more dangerous place.

  4. Wales

    Le Pen has improved so much as a candidate that even a friend of mine who is the daughter of a socialist French government minister was impressed.
    Everyone I know is concerned by the issue of the pouvoir d’achat. The government was saying that in fact under their rule one’s salary goes further than before.
    I heard from a friend yesterday that he has put his diesel powered van up for sale (he bought it last summer), another won’t be making hay for his horses because of the price of diesel. I overheard a grocer say that prices change every two days. The cost of lamb and pork goes up and up. Bird flu is rampant.
    So no one is interested in Hidalgo and her plans to transform Paris into an eco paradise. Melanchon is tiresome and pompous.
    Zemmour was popular in private conversations, but in public everyone denounces him as an extremist so as not to be accused of criminal thinking.
    Salaries in France are tiny so people are very sensitive to even small changes in their budget. Nothing else matters.

    I’m listening to an advertisement for a candidate of the left and he speaks of the rights of the trans sexuals.

    The question to ask is where are the gilets jaunes.

    What is Macron going to do? Give everyone a hundred euros for Christmas again?

  5. Abdullah Ibrahim

    People who attack capitalism praise socialism, and vice versa. So one would expect people who attack Islamophobia to praise Islam. But they don’t. They say nothing at all about Islam. I wonder why that is.

    1. Grebo

      ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ — (not really) Voltaire

    2. David

      A proper answer to that would take pages But here is a very very compressed summary.

      Over the last generation or so, millions of immigrants, mostly from North Africa, have been brought to France as cheap labour, and dumped down in the poor suburbs of major cities. Many of them come from the Tunisian countryside, from extremely conservative and highly religious societies. They arrive in a very modern country which, after a bitter, century-long battle, eventually broke the political power of the Church, and separated Church and State. But they bring with them a culture in which religion has the last word over politics. The problems that resulted could have been avoided if any measures had been taken to deal with them, especially through education and assimilation. But this did not happen, because any such attempts were instantly dismissed as “racism”. Thus, France is now scattered with small colonies of communities living in a different century, many of whom do not speak French, and living according to their own social and religious norms. Just to make things worse, the explosion in the numbers of Muslims means a corresponding demand for mosques and imams, which is being supplied by those nice people from Turkey and the Gulf States, who send, for political reasons, fundamentalist Sunni imams with their own YouTube channels, who preach that the mere existence of the secular French state is a sin against God. This impacts on the daily life of non-Muslims (and assimilated Muslims) all the time. Your children come home and tell you that there will be no more swimming lessons because Muslim parents object to boys and girls swimming together. At your office canteen there’s an increasingly powerful tendency for men and women not to sit at the same table, and suddenly alcohol and pork are no longer on the menu. And so on.

      But where is the Left in all this? Well, the Tendency Formerly Known as the Left (TFKL), having abandoned any economic agenda, is doing its usual thing of looking around for groups that it can patronise and claim to defend. Having no positive ideas of its own, it is simply “anti” what it doesn’t like, or at least what it can find to unite against. The TFKL doesn’t understand religion, and sees Islam as essentially a racial identity marker (so it can’t cope with France’s large Christian Arab community, for example). So “Islamophobia” has been invented as a threat (it appears to mean anything that could be interpreted as potential criticism of anyone from a culturally Muslim background). This enables the TFKL to pose as heroic defenders of an oppressed minority. It also caters to the historical tendency on the Left in France to worship political and economic ideas from abroad. For a long time this was the Soviet Union, the China, then Cuba, then Iran. More recently it has swallowed American IdPol whole. Of course this doesn’t mean that the TFKL knows anything about Islam or wants to. Islam is just a cultural and social marker. This has an actively bad effect, including on Muslim communities, who are increasingly voting for Right-Wing parties as a result. For example, violence against women and sexual harassment are much more prevalent in immigrant societies, but it is forbidden to discuss such things, and so nothing is done. Homosexuals have a much harder time in Muslim communities than in France as a whole, but the TFKL goes on anti-“Islamophobia” marches side by side with fundamentalists who think that homosexuals should be put to death.

      1. KerSer

        I wholeheartedly agree with this comment, especially regarding the concept of assimilation.

        This holds true for most European countries, but is especially strange in the French case as the French nation was built on assimilation of peripheral populations by a central, Parisian basin-centered state. This practice was dropped for the most part around the sixties. The question is, why? Perhaps the French no longer wanted to bear the costs of assimilation (investment in education, the fear of having one’s children compete with those of immigrants for increasingly rare prospects of social advancement, etc.).

        Critics of the politics of assimilation may find it overly-oppressive, but they forget that one of its main benefits is that it creates the conditions for national solidarity, and tends to level to an extent the cultural capital playing field, thus providing greater opportunity for immigrants and their offspring themselves.

        To tie this to the topic at hand, Eric Zemmour, himself of immigrant origin, is one of the rare politicians actively putting forth assimilation as a model to be followed. Evidently, though, the capacity of a society to assimilate its newcomers is directly related to the relative size of the immigrant population, cultural proximity, job prospects, the willingess of the host society to bear the various costs (a couple of which have been mentioned above), and a whole host of other factors. None of these factors are really in France’s favor at the moment, which is why I would find it reasonable to severely limit further immigration for the time being.

        Finally, I cannot understand why people such as the author of this article insist on attributing Zemmour’s media success uniquely to his wealthy donors. Zemmour’s success in my opinion is due mainly to his penchant for saying outloud what’s on the mind of many, for better or for worse, and that includes his stance on immigration.

  6. fjallstrom

    I think an essential context is that Macron was Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in the Hollande government that ran as left and ruled as economic right. So first he was part of the governent that ruined Parti Socialiste, then he was launched as the opposition to it, young and full of energy!

    Think if Biden’s poll numbers are in the crapper in 2024, and Buttigieg is launched and heralded by the media as an outside candidate, the opposition to the system!

    1. elissa3

      A nightmare that I can’t imagine happening in the USA. Macron had a once in a century opening because of the pathetic Hollande regime.

  7. Sontagsghost

    “dragged France into their poisonous wasteland. They have conjured a sense of French decline, the memory of a time when the country got rich from the plunder of its colonies, to sell a retrograde vision of a more racist, chauvinist, and bigoted age. And those ideas are like noxious fumes.”

    Objective much? Stuff like that makes this a definite opinion piece with no journalistic credibility.

  8. Ram

    Identity based politics seems to be the norm. Anti Islam conspiracy theory, immigrants, veil, university infiltration by left wing extremist , billionaires owned media spewing hatred are exactly stuff which makes up indian election. Right wing parties have standardized election rhetoric around the world.

  9. orlbucfan

    Merci beaucoup, Monsieur David! I’m on an old desktop so not bothering with accents. As an American World History nut, I can’t believe what I’m reading! The crooked, stupid United States, yeah; but this country is a babe compared to nations like the UK and France. Is there some sort of bad news/craporate (corporate) cosmic mindset Bubonic Plague infecting the entire world? Color me naive but I don’t get it?!

    1. Susan the other

      I’d just say that politics is the ethereal art of avoidance no matter where it happens. Politics should never be confused with governance. The rubber only ever meets the road because of gravity. If I could draft a constitution for a 6th republic, or here in the USA a 2nd republic, I’d make that clear distinction in order to create language that forces governance and politics to actually work together toward meaningful progress. So, for instance, working backward from clear goals (clear being the key word), a series of steps to achieve them could probably be construed. Why is all this so impossible?

      1. Susan the other

        I keep remembering what Putin said, iirc a Valdai speech, (paraphrasing) – ‘Which do you prefer – A freedom for chaotic rules-based politics or legislated human rights laws?’

  10. David

    By chance, there’s an article in Unherd today on Le Pen which is remarkably balanced and well-informed. I hadn’t heard of the author before, but, apart from some ritual hand-waving on Ukraine, it gives a very fair picture of the situation.

    1. elissa3

      Thank you David for an interesting piece. Two questions for you from your well-informed perch: 1) do you believe that MLP has the tactical and strategic political acumen to actually win in the second round, minus a media-exploited gaffe, of course; and 2) how well are her economic policies received by the French public, and are they well-articulated by her campaign? (Correct me if I’m mistaken, but wouldn’t some of her policies put her on the “radical” left in the US?).

      1. David

        Difficult questions because of two other factors. The first is the turnout, since opinion polls don’t necessarily reflect the way that different candidates manage to get their people to vote. The other is that the political hysteria machinery will be ramped up to 11 if it looks as though Le Pen is in with a real chance in the second round. If Le Pen doesn’t make too many mistakes, if Macron is as dull and boring a campaigner as he was last time, if people just get fed up with being told how to vote, then she would have a reasonable crack. But almost all of the answer depends on things that nobody knows for the moment. The tea-leaves will probably be a lot more informative on Sunday night.
        For the second question, Le Pen, like the whole French political system, has been shaken by the Covid experience. Intervention, made in France etc. is now on everybody’s lips. But again, her appeal is less on detailed policies, than it will be on a general sense of frustration and anger with the present system. In any case, she’s most unlikely to have a decent parliamentary majority: the RN is not strong on the ground, and probably won’t get that many seats.

  11. Revenant

    Precocity? Les enfants terribles?

    Did you mean precarity? :-)

    But otherwise, I agree….

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Hmm, how about…, paying little heed to verbosity, and having nothing to do with David’s ortography, voting habits suggest a notable precarity of precocity.


  12. RobertC

    Adam Ramsay underscores my thesis that French politics are entertainment signifying:

    This doesn’t look like a healthy political system, but a country that’s got caught up in its own lies about its past. Much like Britain, its current political era has been a march out of empire into nation state. But that period must be brought to a close, and a new one opened. It’s time for France to accept it’s just another country.

    An accurate assessment by Nicolas Hausdorf, a German writer safely living in Melbourne, Victoria, of Europe’s potential future and France’s role is Finis Europa Stuck between the U.S. and Russia, Europe is the loser of the Ukraine conflict.

    All those political and sociological divisions prevent bolder moves towards closer unification, which can be the only possible European response to its challenges today. In return, a break-up of the E.U. amidst neo-nationalist tendencies, while perhaps desirable on the cultural front, would constitute strategic suicide for the continental powers. Already, Chinese, Americans, and Russians are known for refusing to speak to E.U. representatives—preferring bilateral agreements with European states to divide the continent against itself.

    PS Thanks to Lambert for for the link.

  13. Jonathan Brown

    The view that ethnic substitution is occurring in Europe was asserted unequivocally in 2006 by David Coleman, a professor of demography at Oxford University, in an article called “Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries”, in which he wrote:
    “This article explores the implications of the recent trends and projections of the ethnic or foreign-origin populations of selected European countries. It suggests that if the composition of these European populations continues to change as projected, the resulting ethnic and social transformation should be regarded as a “third demographic transition.” On conservative assumptions, the foreign-origin proportions of these populations are projected to rise to between 15 percent and over 30 percent by mid-century with almost linear rates of change.”
    Source: Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries: A Third Demographic Transition, by David Coleman, in Population and Development Review, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Sep., 2006), pp. 401-446 (46 pages), published by the Population Council

  14. YassineA

    Re: Macron’s reelection bid look hopeless until the Ukraine war rescued him

    I think the story is quite different. Until very recently, everything was going according to plan for Macron, as he was ensuring himself a second round against Le Pen that he would comfortably win due to ‘le Front Républicain’ (the idea that the Left and the Right have to unite to prevent the Far Right from taking power).
    The margin of victory was projected to be lower than in 2017, but still around 10% from last October to the end of February, when he got a ‘war bump’ that quickly turned into an ominous slide : link

    What we may be seeing is the chicken coming home to roost from Macron’s cynical two-pronged electoral strategy to ensure a second round against Le Pen. The first prong was shore up his base (white high-income urban liberals) by taking the most hardline stance at any sign of opposition to his policies (GJ, “j’emmerde les non-vaccinés”, refusal to negotiate pension reform with unions, etc.). This worked but at the cost of creating very high levels of resentment across many segments of the electorate. The second prong was to prop up the Far Right as the legitimate opposition party by making their favorite campaign themes (immigration, security and everything muslim-related) front and center. This also worked but at the cost of de-demonizing (“dédiaboliser”) the Far Right’s ideas. These two tendencies have the potential to undermine ‘le Front Républicain’ from both sides and are what makes this election much closer than it should be.

    But if Macron ultimately loses, the last straw that breaks the camel’s back will probably be a combination of campaign blunders (refusing to debate, announcing very late, shoving his right-wing economics program into everybody’s face, the articifially protracted Sarkozy ‘surrender’, etc.) and an avalanche of on-going corruption scandals.

    Interesting times !

    1. Icecube12

      I was listening to a zoom lecture on the French election yesterday morning, from one of the teachers that I had in France many years ago. He’s been teaching French politics to American high school students for the last 25-30 years or so, and I think he has always been to the left of le parti socialiste. I asked what role he thought the Ukraine war was going to play, and he said up until a couple weeks ago he thought it was going to get Macron reelected, but then a scandal involving the consulting firm McKinsey broke. I haven’t been up on French politics in years, but the SFGate had an article about it a few days ago. I don’t know where this scandal might figure into the others you allude to.

      He also said he believes that France, like the United States, is at the end of a system, and made reference to the prospect of a sixth republic, as mentioned in the piece above.

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