France is the epicenter of today’s fearsome battle between Western elites bent on protecting and expanding the well-entrenched policy of mass immigration and those who see this spreading influx as an ultimate threat to the West’s cultural heritage, not to mention its internal tranquility.
Scott McConell, American Conservative April 20, 2017
A Macron victory will be a disaster for Brexit and for Mrs May, the Telegraph’s Europe editor asserted. The question is whether his presidency rather than Marine Le Pen’s would also be a disaster for democracy and Western civilisation.
France is on the front line of the culture wars. After years in which most us had little or no idea who the French Prime Minister even was and cared less, French politics are suddenly compelling. What we once blithely disregarded as of no interest, France, with its impotence in the face of terror, now commands our attention.
Can the French Republic restore its authority over fanaticism and fundamentalism? Can it do it if it stays part of the EU? This is what is at the heart of the French presidential election.
It is not, as Europe’s establishment elite would have us believe, a battle in defence of European liberalism against the rising tide of populism, the mis-characterisation which we, on both sides of the Channel, have been shamed and bullied into accepting. On the contrary, what threatens the liberty and equality grounded in democracy that we cherish are the establishment elites themselves: their determination to shore up Europe’s faltering political institutions despite their lack of democratic legitimacy, at all costs.
This is not, I fear, how Emmanuel Macron views the problem. He is no anti-establishment icon, no outsider. This would-be latter-day Napoleon is the insider par excellence. He is a standard bearer for open borders, for the so called ‘liberal’ economic order that the EU stands for and, of course, for the virtues of supranational co-operation. Like the EU’s apostles before him, he is blind equally to the EU’s constitutional errors and to the social and economic collapse the euro has catalysed. For a young man Macron is already a dinosaur, if not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. His Tony Blair style turns of phrase and manner suggest a similar narcissism. Economic liberals should be sceptical of his sound right promises. How can he slim down the welfare state and deregulate while France remains under the jurisdiction of the EU?
Some say his grooming has been years in the making. His background certainly could not be more elite and the question of how exactly this political novice launched a political party from scratch in a year deserves further investigation.
The bottom line is that Macron represents the very elites responsible for the moral and institutional crisis that France finds itself in today. France like the United States and the UK is a society that has fallen apart. Its problems, however, are of a more dramatic and immediate order.
Its Muslim community of five to six million and the largest in Europe has grown by 500-600 per cent in the last 50 years compared with the population as a whole which grew by just 34 per cent.
The impact of Muslim immigration is even bigger in generational terms. Over the last four years more than 2,000 French Muslims have joined Islamic State and 200 people have been killed and 300 maimed by French jihadist attacks. Not to associate this with the parallel growth in the proportion of French Muslims who define themselves as strictly religious and view Sharia as more important than the law of the land is to be in denial.
French intellectuals are not. On the left and the right they have come out. They see Islamism as the biggest threat to France’s tradition of secular democracy. They are in no doubt that France has a Muslim problem and are prepared to run the gauntlet of racism accusations to articulate it. Eric Zemour, a right wing intellectual, has prophesied a coming civil war in his essay Le Suicide Francaise. It sold more than 200,000 copies in 2014. Pascal Bruckner – a left wing intellectual – also at the centre of the debate about Islam in France has called multiculturalism the racism of anti-racists.
On HARDtalk last week the programme’s leftist presenter Stephen Sackur accused Bruckner of Islamophobia, of being provocative, of being at the root of the problem himself. Defining a ‘Muslim problem’ was an incitement in itself, he said.
Bruckner stuck to his guns and denied this slander vigorously. We should not put everything upside down, he retorted. The terrorists have generated a hatred of Islam such as it is, for even after the Hebdo attack the French have behaved with dignity he explained: attacks on Muslims have decreased not increased. Undeterred Sackur persisted with his bullying and shaming technique. “It strikes me right now with your focus on the illusion of Islamaphobia you are on the same platform as Marine Le Pen.” “Yes” Bruckner replied, “me, Le Pen and a list of progressive French and Muslim intellectuals who refuse to be directed by fundamentalists”.
And it is the much-reviled Marine Le Pen who like Horatio is left standing on the bridge in the defence of France, of its culture and identity.
It is not what Bruckner wants. She is not the champion France’s intellectuals would have chosen. But she is who they have got.
They face a a zero sum game. For those on the left her defence of democracy and French Republican identity comes at the price of exiting the EU. For those on the right saving of France’s cultural identity and democracy comes at the price of Le Pen’s state socialism. But Macron is not the answer to either conundrum. He cannot square either circle.
They have to risk Le Pen. Like Trump she may prove less obdurate in office. And she cannot ignore France’s small and rural business people who Tom Gallagher, in his acutely observed post for TCW yesterday, suggests are lining up behind her and defining a new constituency for her.
If the choice is between state socialism and corporate global capitalism, I suspect those who think democracy,the defence of western civilisation and the nation state is paramount will vote for her on Sunday May 7th. They have no other choice.
(Image: Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay)