It appears that political cipher Emmanuel Macron is on his way to beating Marine Le Pen. While a Le Pen victory would have been a useful poke in the eye to assorted French and Euro elites, that poke would have come at a price. Namely Le Pen’s 50’s style dirigiste economic policies and, frankly, the wrong sort of nationalism.
France faces the necessity of untangling fifty years of statist economics. It also faces having to deal with 5 to 10 million unassimilated Muslims who are largely outside French society. And it faces waves of “refugees” pushing in from the Middle East and Africa. M. Le Pen’s economic positions would have simply re-enforced the anti-competitive labour, tax and pension laws which have hollowed out the French economy. And, while she was willing to talk a tough game on terrorism, her brand was so toxic that actually dealing with the combined Muslim and refugee crisis would likely be stillborn in a bureaucracy terrified of being associated with that brand.
I don’t hold out much hope for Macron. He seems stuck in the rut of claiming that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam and the happy fantasy that people who have little to do with French society will, somehow, soak up enough terrior to leave North Africa behind and become “French”. While, at the same time, saying “French culture doesn’t exist in and of itself; there is no such thing as a single French culture. There is culture in France and it is diverse.” (link) (I use the full quote lest I be accused of taking Macron out of context.) This is multi-kulti at its best and is essentially meaningless as a defence of France as a European nation.
Unfortunately, that is about the best that can be expected at this stage of re-alignment in French politics. Macron, without a political party behind him, is likely to preside over a do nothing, status quo ante government. The French economy, France’s role in Europe, its position in the Euro, its “community” relations and its refugee problem are all likely to get worse. Systematic corruption, the extension of the “no-go zones” and “youth” riots will likely increase. Which, realistically, is pretty much the outcome I would have predicted if Le Pen had won.
People have a natural inclination towards the status quo until, somehow, that inclination collapses. That collapse can be triggered by a crisis or by the promise of something better. This French election occurred in the midst of a slow moving economic and social disaster but, realistically, there was no sharp “crisis”. And M. Le Pen offered nothing “better”; just something different. That was not enough.
France’s mainline parties were knocked out of the race as was the hard left: in a battle between the status quo and a ideologically incoherent, semi-charismatic, leader with the press and the elites strongly on the side of the status quo, it is not surprising that the French chose a President with very little ideological baggage.
Macron might surprise and turn out to be the right combination of flexible and tough. He might create a government of all talents and begin the task of rebuilding France. I certainly hope he turns out to be a good choice for France. But I am not optimistic.
For a nation to abruptly change course things sometimes have to get worse, much worse, before they get better. The status quo, (as Trump is finding out), is deeply resilient. Real change, change which actually looks to solve problems rather than manage them, comes when the status quo actually begins to collapse and real change is the only alternative. However, as Adam Smith observed, “Be assured young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.”
Marine Le Pen wrapped herself in a populist mantle and suggested a return to pre-1968 France; that was not change, that was nostalgia. Le Pen was not of the Right, rather she seemed to want to substitute one status quo for another.
When and if France’s crisis comes nostalgia will not be a winning idea. Facing the future and deciding what that future means to France will require a radical, likely libertarian, re-allignment of French politics. Something which cannot be forced but will rather rise in answer to the challenge faced.