The Future of France
A roundup of recent and noteworthy commentary
Two weeks ago, on April 23, the people of France narrowed the field of presidential hopefuls to two: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. This Sunday, May 7, they’ll once again go to the polls and vote to put either Macron or Le Pen in the Élysée Palace.
Here are 5 pieces to read to get acquainted with what is happening in Europe’s third largest economy.
Lauren Collins, writing in The New Yorker, has a phenomenal deep dive into France’s current moment. A new party will take control — either Macron’s En Marche! or Le Pen’s National Front, and future-shaping decisions of the highest magnitude will need to be made, making this one of the most important elections the country has ever held.
The Future of Europe Hinges on a Face-Off in France
On the evening of April 20th, nearly a quarter of France's television-watching public was tuned in to a special called…
The Economist has a good breakdown of what’s at stake, economically speaking.
France's next revolution: The vote that could wreck the European Union | The Economist
IT HAS been many years since France last had a revolution, or even a serious attempt at reform. Stagnation, both…
The piece also provides this wonderful data point:
One poll last year found that French people are the most pessimistic on Earth, with 81% grumbling that the world is getting worse and only 3% saying that it is getting better.
This Cato report, which is considerably more technical than the above two pieces, suggests that while the depth of French pessimism is perhaps overwrought, France really does seem to be in an economically low moment.
Simon Kuper, writing in The Financial Times — the publication that regularly produces the best analysis and commentary on European happenings — has a great piece on what Macron and Le Pen represent for the “idea of France” moving forward. The FT paywalls its content, but if you can get access, Kuper’s piece is an excellent read.
Finally, I’d like to point to a brief skirmish online between Ross Douthat, one of the great columnists of our time, and his detractors on whether a case can be made for Marine Le Pen.
Last Sunday, Douthat asked: “Is There A Case for Le Pen?”
Opinion | Is There a Case for Le Pen?
At the same time, individual personalities and their policies also matter - and there the case for #NeverLePen seems…
His case involves characterizing Le Pen as a politician in the mold of Charles de Gaulle, suggesting that many of her social and political diagnoses are correct, and expecting that her attempt to purge the truly beyond-the-pale elements of the National Front is decisive rather than temporary.
Yascha Mounk, writing in Slate, takes great issue with Douthat’s defense of Le Pen.
No, There Is No Case for Le Pen
Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, is a master in the art of getting his readers to give a fair…
There are two explanations for how Douthat could have gotten it so wrong on this occasion: Either he is genuinely ignorant about Marine Le Pen and the role she plays in French politics. Or his views are far closer to authoritarian enemies of liberal democracy, including Donald Trump, than he has so far let on. …
In one of the most telling moments in the column, for example, he argues that Le Pen’s “defense of a strict public secularism had been echoed by many mainstream French politicians,” like Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon. This is simply false. Sarkozy and Fillon defend a form of race-blind laïcité that seeks to keep all conspicuous religious displays out of the public sphere and rejects the idea that the state should accommodate the religious views of its citizens. …
Le Pen does not merely defend an outmoded conception of laïcité that can at times be discriminatory in practice. Rather, she uses the fig leaf of laïcité to advocate for a monocultural and monoreligious society in which total conformity to the preferences of the majority is the price of admission.
This becomes most apparent in Le Pen’s views on the headscarf and the yarmulke: While some of her rivals would outlaw these in public schools, Le Pen wants to ban them in all public places. In conjunction with her opposition to ritual slaughter and male circumcision, this would have a much more extreme outcome for religious freedom than anything the mainstream right has ever suggested. In effect, her policies would make it impossible for many French Jews and Muslims to carry out what they perceive as their basic religious duties.
I think the above is worth considering for those of us who find religious liberty deeply important. While I have my disagreements with other aspects of Mounk’s piece, it’s definitely worth reading in full.
The Week’s Daniel McCarthy also penned a response very much worth reading.
Why France's nationalists should oppose the National Front
Ross Douthat and Noah Millman are right: Marine Le Pen stands for several policies that France should take seriously…
Douthat wrote a follow-up to his earlier column, this time looking at the pathologies, and challenges, of European society more broadly.
Opinion | The European Crisis
In Guilluy's account, the tensions between Trumpland and liberal America find their mirror in the tensions between the…
The European Union has systemic problems that its existing leadership cannot or will not solve. Rebellion in such a context may not be wise; it will always risk worse evils. But it is understandable, and at some point it might become desirable as well.