History played a funny hand in newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen last Sunday. Macron, of whom nobody knew before this presidentielles, is celebrated now not only as the savior of France but also of the whole of Europe. In his victory over Le Pen, the narrative tells us, Macron prevented the fascist anti-European National Front from seizing power, therefore preserving the existence of the European Union, giving it another chance to reform and reintegrate.
This narrative assumes that without Macron’s victory, the anti-globalist movements that got a swing in the past year–since Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency and Vladimir Putin’s plot to disintegrate the West through election interference–would’ve prevailed. The positive signals for Europe that arrived with the vote in Austria and Holland, and stopped short the nationalist and extreme right parties at the threshold of power, would have been lost with a Le Pen victory; the French election was a defining one. With Le Pen in authority, France would’ve reopened its gates to a flood of primitivism and backwardness that would lead to new dark ages. All this was prevented by the grace of Emmanuel Macron, we were told. Perhaps the most evident example of this kind of optimism is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. There is plenty of optimism to share in, but only to the point that a possible disaster was avoided for the time being. It’s no time for joy yet. We are walking a very thin, very dangerous line.
No matter how intellectually intriguing it might be to think that what we are witnessing is a rehearsal for a Great Game with new rules, I do not believe that the Trump-Putin alliance could bring anything good to Europe, nor to humanity. As much as we need new forms of political bodies and organizations–an update of the sclerotic models of our societies–, the present authoritarianism fills me with horror. Because we have recently become aware of the deep crises within existing political models, we remain in the transition period, where all solutions are still on the table. All detrimental risks too, including the darkest and reactionary ones. There are also ones coming from Silicon Valley, ones operating under the auspices of religion, and several drawn from history’s drawer; the one Le Pen was proposing is an ancient one. That is why she had to be, and apparently was, stopped. Le Pen-ism is just one of the forms of populism that have surfaced in reaction to the moment’s social sclerosis. From this point of view, Sanders, Trump, Le Pen and even Macron are the same.
But let’s return to Macron. Besides all the possible political implications, interpretations and historical ramifications of the Macron phenomena, there is something particular and paradoxical in his victory. A 39-year-old banker who enjoyed the best education France reserves for its political elite, he got into politics not to stop Le Pen but to kill the legacy of his political father. First, he betrayed the socialist party by founding his movement, En Marche!, and secondly, much more importantly, he liquidated the party that his maître ancient, Francois Mitterrand, unleashed three decades ago.
In fear that his socialist party would be crushed in parliamentary elections by the center-right coalition, President Mitterrand in 1986 re-introduced party-list proportional representation. He caused political outrage. By expanding the number of deputies in Assemblee Nationale, he managed to dilute the looming, crushing majority of the center-right. But the price France had to pay for the survival of the socialist party was the admission of the extreme right, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (father of Marine) to parliament. They got 35 seats. The center-right still won the legislative with a tiny majority, but Mitterrand managed the situation with an additional series of Machiavellian moves. So, by defeating Le Pen, Macron caged the 30-year-old beast unleashed by the socialist patriarch. Then, as the winner, Macron appeared in a beam of floodlights under the Pyramid Mitterrand, ordered to be built in 1989. The Pyramid is one of many cultural monuments the deceased socialist emperor left behind and is the most symbolic and important one. Macron came to claim it.
But who is Emmanuel Macron? Unknown to all of France two years ago, Macron founded the En Marche! movement in April last year for those who did not want the country to remain stuck, who have a taste for work, progress, and risk, and who value freedom, justice, and Europe. By September last year, the movement gathered 89,000 members, raised 2.3 million euros. It was the beginning of an avalanche.
According to data last March, the movement already counted 230,000 members, and whoever wanted to march with the future president needed to leave the Socialist party first. How did Macron do it? His friends and political travel mates explain that he owes his success to the fatigue of the system, to his intelligence, and his capacity to seduce the masses beyond their unimaginative norms. As described in L’Express:
In seduction, there is a virtue. The fascinating tales tell the same story: “We were to see each other for half an hour, we spent two hours together”; “At the end of five minutes, I had the impression that the whole of his life was dedicated to me”; “He does not pretend, he is passionate about people.”
In seduction, there is also poison. One of his relations at the time of the Attali commission testifies: “It is animated by an unlimited curiosity for human passions, it puts a form of gluttony to identify the weak signals of its interlocutors and knows immediately what people have a need.” Our speaker adds: “He feels a jubilation of flattery. He sends out forms of affection that do not cost him, arousing more appetite and love than he feels. Many were disappointed. “Francois Hollande is one of them. He, the hard-boiled, reputed to be unaffected, has let himself be marabout by this sympathetic counselor.”
With all of these characteristics, Macron is a modern politician. The populist, not a party ideologist; individual and charismatic, educated, and with vision. As such, he stands in total contrast to Donald Trump.
It seems the overall approach, though, is more or less continuity. He repackaged the Europeanism but also France’s reengagement with the U.S. and NATO in the fight against isolationism, conservatism and the racism of his opponent. On foreign policy, he represents continuity with the past decade, and with his two predecessors.
The measure of whether Macron means what he says will be his domestic policy and engagement in Brussels for the relaunch of a two-speed Europe. Regarding the discussion and reform of the changing of the ossified political guards, Marcon, according to his electoral promises, stands alone. One thing is sure, however: the victory of Macron means the death of the Mitterrand socialist party as much as the end of traditional Le Pen-ism. Perhaps it’s something both American political parties should take into consideration.