We are just days from the runoff of the French presidential election, and Emmanuel Macron has not yet clinched the victory.
But his appearance on the ideological and political scene has already produced a benefit.
That of provoking, in a matter of weeks, the most astounding truth campaign that France has seen in decades.
On the right, take self-styled Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who, probably in order to clear his campaign accounts, has now come out as a Pétainist.
Take professional gray eminence Marie-France Garaud, long believed by her close associates to be the personification of what Free French legend Louis Vallon called the “anti–de Gaulle wing” of Chiracism, but who has cast aside the mask by backing Marine Le Pen, the successor to those who, decades ago, attempted to assassinate the general.
Or take certain prominent members of the former UMP, the party formed by Jacques Chirac and then led by Nicolas Sarkozy, individuals whom many already suspected (from Henri Guaino’s Dakar speech or Nadine Morano’s statement about “the white race”) were not thoroughly committed to republican virtues. But now, no longer inhibited by Mr. Sarkozy, they are dropping all pretense, as when Mr. Guaino wondered “whether the danger of Mr. Macron was not worse” than that posed by the National Front candidate.
On the left, take the decidedly strange Mr. Mélenchon, who, as I write, has not yet brought himself to utter the name Emmanuel Macron—let alone urge his supporters to give him their votes on Sunday.
Take the losers of the first round on April 23, many of whom, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, are no longer able to distinguish between a political adversary (behind whom one is expected to rally, however unenthusiastically and even if intending to start bickering again the morning after the election) and a more radical enemy who, if she were to pull off a win on Sunday, would in the process pull down some of the levees that allow democratic differences and dialogue—indeed democratic life itself—to thrive.
And take the rise, on all sides, of the attitude that “they’re all the same,” which everyone seems to see as a humorous reminder of a French Communist throwback who, in the 1969 election, expressed that sentiment about centrist Alain Poher and Gaullist Georges Pompidou. But in fact the genealogy of this view reaches farther back. The same rationale was used by German communists in the 1930s when they had to choose between National Socialists and Social Democrats, and just a few years later by the French when they had to make a choice between Nazis and de Gaulle. Farther back still, it is the same computation as that which led the rebellious followers of radical socialist Jules Guesde, and later of revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel, to stand on the sidelines as rival factions of the bourgeoisie tore themselves to bits over the Dreyfus Affair—and then to ally themselves with reactionary nationalist Charles Maurras.
And finally, among intellectuals, take historian Emmanuel Todd, who, on French television last week, insisted on making it clear that, just as he was not Charlie, he was not Macron; that he equated “liberal servitude” and “xenophobia”; and that he intended to abstain from voting against Le Pen, “happily … taking the risk” of neither-nor-ism.
Take Michel Onfray, who, on the French equivalent of C-Span, revived for us the Great Conspiracy. After already having settled scores with Freud-the-pervert, Pius XII-the-Nazi, and anti-ISIS activists who-would-do-better-to-bargain-with-jihadists-rather-than-fighting-them, Onfray is now going after the “synthetic” candidate of “the system,” a “detergent” who emerged from the “firms” in which the “capital” plans its intrigues.
Or, alas, take even Alain Finkielkraut, the son of a deportee from whom I would have liked to hear a howl of protest when the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen appointed as interim chairman of the National Front a Holocaust denier and follower of Robert Faurisson. No such luck. Finkielkraut’s howl, expressed on yet another French television program, was reserved for Macron. While acknowledging grudgingly that he will have to vote for Macron, what makes him howl is not that Macron is consorting with Holocaust deniers, as his opponent is doing, but that he saw fit to visit the Holocaust Memorial on April 21, the day set aside by the French Republic for remembrance of victims of the deportation campaign of the Vichy government.
As I said at the outset, there are reasons to be cheered by this set of symptoms triggered by Emmanuel Macron’s appearance.
If I were a party man—that is, if I were one of the latter-day successors to the great traditions that, over the centuries, have taken form in the language of French politics—I would probably now feel liberated, or, as we say today, disengaged from that part of the political spectrum that appears to be coalescing around what I have termed the persistent “French ideology” (nativist, organic, nationalist, reactionary).
But with two reservations. First, the sickening climate that enshrouds the last days of this campaign. The naively enthusiastic and festive tones of the crowds in 2002 who shouted “¡No pasaran!” when the father of the current National Front candidate reached the second round of the presidential election have been much mocked, but there was more dignity and integrity in the popular anger of that time than in the snide cynicism and, ultimately, the nihilism, that seem to prevail today.
Second, but most important, there is the danger that this flurry of irresponsible utterances may produce a wave of abstentions on Sunday. And because one particular segment of the electorate is not likely to abstain, that wave, if it materializes, will have two consequences, both undesirable: Either Marine Le Pen—like Donald Trump and Brexit before her—will surprise everyone by coming out on top, or, if she falls short, she will be raised to a level where, for a long time to come, she will represent the most substantial bloc of opposition to a president elected without a real mandate. And that, for her, would be another form of victory.
No abstentions !
Translated from french by Steven B. Kennedy