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Nations in crisis: France
Articles on France published before 2022

  • (january 2022) Nations in crisis: France

    France goes to the polls in 2022 to reelect Macron or elect his successor. Germany has just bid farewell to Angela Merkel, the longest serving chancellor, replaced by the leader of the center-left. What a contrast with France, which has been rapidly sliding to the right.

    In 2017 Macron faced Marine LePen, who at the time was considered the representative of the far right. LePen is still around, and will run again, and her party National Front ("Rassemblement National") has not changed at all, but, within the political scenario of 2022, LePen does not look like a radical right-wing figure anymore: the center has moved to the right (including Macron himself), and the right has moved further to the right. LePen has been outflanked by Eric Zemmour, who is more xenophobic than her. He is the main politician in Europe who promotes the conspiracy theory of the "great replacement" according to which there is a plot to marginalize France's white Christian population and replace it with the black Muslim population.

    The shift to the right is well symbolized by the influential novelist Michel Houellebecq, who started out as a leftist intellectual and now sides with Zemmour's and LePen's views on immigrants (his novel "Submission" imagines France run by a Muslim president) and says that Donald Trump was a "good president" (Harper's Magazine, 2019). He is an effective thermometer of the French public opinion that seems to be more concerned with issues of national identity than with the covid pandemic or with France's public debt (116% of GDP), and still reeling from the Islamist terrorist attacks of recent years. Security, immigration and national identity are issues that conflate in a vision of the nation as slipping away from white Christians and in fact creating a threatening condition for the white Christian majority.

    Macron's rival in the center of France's politics is Valerie Pecresse, the leader of the conservative Republican Party. She too has been moving to the right, frequently borrowing the xenophobic, nationalistic and "tough on crime" vocabulary of the far right. Pecresse sees herself as a mixture of Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher, but she also has something of Marine LePen.

    That leaves only the left to confront the far right, but the left is fragmented, with at least seven candidates running for president and polling (all together) about 20 points lower than ten years ago. The left caters to the militant part of the public opinion that wants to fight against economic inequality, racism and climate change. The likely leader of the left is Christiane Taubira, a black woman from France's colony Guiana, who was justice minister in Francois Hollande's socialist government a few years ago. She has the charisma to unite the left, at least the moderate left. The far left remains firmly controlled by the communist Jean-Luc Melenchon. Other leftist candidates include the leader of the Green Party, Yannick Jadot, and the leader of the Socialist Party, Anne Hidalgo, who is also the mayor of Paris. Both the communists and the socialists, which together at one point ruled France, are fast shrinking parties. Christiane Taubira must get all of these leftists to support her if she wants to have a chance to unseat Macron. She would become the first black person to lead a European nation.

    Right-wing xenophobe Eric Zemmour poses a serious challenge to Macron. He doesn't have much of a political or economic agenda, but he is strongly anti-Islamic, and that has been enough to catapult him to the forefront of the race. For non-French (and especially non-European) citizens, it is difficult to identify with France's tragedies of recent years. Over the last seven years, France has been the victim of the most brutal terrorist attacks outside the Islamic worlds: the massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in January 2015 (See We are Charlie Hebdo, or The Globalization of Blasphemy), the massacre of the Bataclan club in November 2015, the killing of 85-year old priest Jacques Hamel in July 2016, the massacre of Nice in July 2016, and the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020. Many French feel that they live in a de-facto Islamic cultural dictatorship: say anything about Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Shakespeare, Einstein, Moliere, Balzac, Valery, and nothing will happen to you, but say something against Islam, or simply practice your own religion like you've done all your life, and there's a good chance that a Muslim will come and behead you. Whether justified by the facts of not, de facto this mood has created an atmosphere of self-censorship, and not only in France. (For example, an incredible number of Western publications refer to the founder of Islam as "the prophet").

    Note that, out of these tectonic shift towards the center and the right, the two parties that traditionally vied for power, the Republicans and Socialists, are becoming less and less relevant.

    It is impressive how little the 2022 election is about the economy. Or Russia. Or the various undeclared wars that France is fighting in West Africa (French maintains troops in Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, ostensibly to fight Islamist movements, and France is presiding over the ceasefire in Libya's civil war as well as leading the international effort to rescue Lebanon's economy). France is not so much a nation in crisis as it is a nation that feels it has an identity crisis. This is not new. Former president Sarkozy addressed would-be immigrants like this: "If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French and you don't try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years"

    Ironically, the identity crisis is largely caused by France's proud secularism. The French Revolution destroyed the power of the church and established a staunch anti-religious sentiment in the nation. Two hundred years later, that anti-religious sentiment has largely dissolved Catholic France, while it has done nothing to weaken the religion of the immigrants, which is mostly Islam. France is a secular nation that doesn't want to be Catholic but regrets that Muslim immigrants are making France less and less Catholic. There is an obvious contradiction in this logic.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on France published before 2022

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