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Guest Post: Hays on the French Election

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for french election

I’d like to welcome a new, occasional, guest-poster at zenpundit.com,  “Jack Hays“.  Mr. Hays has considerable experience in a number of political and policy positions inside government and out and shares with the ZP readership our appreciation for history, strategy and other things further afield.


by Jack Hays

The party system of the Fifth Republic is at last overturned and reconfigured almost exactly half a century after its creation, and the second round of the French presidential election now becomes the third big Western contest for the old and new dispensations: first Brexit, next HRC-Trump, and now Macron-Le Pen.
Each was and is a fight between the postwar managerial state on the one hand, and populist nationalism on the other. The shock has been the latter’s victory in the first two, but the conventional wisdom is that the streak ends here. Surely this new campaign will end for the younger Le Pen as it did for the elder, with the mass of the French electorate banding together to give a supermajority to the establishment. That’s a rational bet any other year, but not this one. There are the macro trends, and then there are the particular details. Marine Le Pen brings together powerful strands of French political history and identity, from the ridiculous to the pathetic to the glorious, from Pierre Poujade to Philippe Pétain to Charles De Gaulle. Emmanuel Macron does as well, although his are the rocks of the known and the institutional, France as governed in our lifetimes, the rule of les énarques. France as a whole has preferred the latter for so long, but their age of prosperity and competence has turned into an age of fear, of murder in the cities and disquiet in the homes. Now we learn what they fear more, because that fear — not hope, not aspiration — will drive the outcome. What is more intolerable: the status quo of En Marche, or the specter of the Front National?
We do not know. Neither does France. It is both an uncertainty we must endure, and a suspense we cannot afford.

5 Responses to “Guest Post: Hays on the French Election”

  1. Graham Says:

    Very interesting. But one of my sporadic interests is the convergence of the frameworks analysts use and the models along which society is actually organized.

    Put this way, as the ‘postwar managerial state versus populist nationalism’, one has a particular set of ideas in mind, and an idea of which current players represent continuity and which change.

    On the other hand, the postwar managerial state has denationalized its self-presentation, identity and goals quite a bit in just my lifetime. One can easily frame Trump or LePen as more consistent with America’s or France’s self-understanding through much of the postwar era, albeit with the harder edge consistent with an era of doubt rather than one of robust confidence. There can have been few in America or France as late as the early 1980s who conceived of their identities in the ways that are now normalized under globalization. In this framework, Trump and LePen, though they would have been outré circa 1975, are more like Ike, JFK, LBJ or De Gaulle than would be Clinton or Macron. I’m hard pressed to see Macron even as a lineal heir of Mitterrand.

    On some level, I see neither of these as quite accurate. Trump is turning out to be the vaguely centre-right figure he has always actually presented himself to be. LePen, I can’t say. Probably she is more ideological and will hew to some version of her current line in the event she were to take office.

    So for argument’s sake I can see them as representing a ‘nationalist’ turn. I just note how far we had moved in a post-nationalist direction, and how recently.

    But the doubling down on a post-national future offered by self-identified progressives and loosely represented by Hillary and by Macron also represents a choice, not pure continuity of the whole postwar era. It only gets to carry the banner of continuity because it is a choice some of which had been made over the past couple of decades.

    FWIW. I have seen Trump’s model of political economy, to the extent he can be said to have one, as the last gap of the postwar decades’ idea of the state, of trade, of civic nationalism, and of an idea of industrial growth and employment that characterized those times, versus the ‘globalization’ model in which the state is instrumental, national identity is fungible, and maintaining national employment levels is not a basic goal of economics. In a similar vein, LePen’s idea of what French policy should be does not look so different from the line of economic policy that runs from De Gaulle through Mitterrand.

  2. Graham Says:

    Separately, as it’s a separate point but also because I have no wish to have my earlier point be as combative- I’m less and less convinced by the “fear” versus “hope” mode of analysis. It is omnipresent but simplifying.

    The politics of Brexit were cast in a similar vein, which struck me as obtuse. Both sides in that debate offered hope as part of their message for their particular vision of the future, and both played on fears to discredit their opponents’ message.

    So it has been in the US and French cases. Plenty of hope and fear have been on offer from both sides in both situations.

    The application of the terms has become entirely subjective.

  3. Grurray Says:

    It depends on what you mean by Managerial State. If it’s the classic Burnham definition of corporate/bureaucratic separation of ownership and control, then Trump is a change from that. He’s a hand’s-on entrepreneur who is bypassing the Administrative Class.
    On the other hand, you aren’t the first person I’ve seen who characterizes Trump as managerial in terms of the Francoist/Peronist National Syndicalism of the early to mid 20th century. That’s why many are so frightened and on hair trigger alert waiting for Trump’s ‘night of the long knives’ moment.
    I don’t believe either one of those applies. I see Trump in the American Jacksonian tradition proposing a sort of latter-day Marcher law. It seems to me to place him in a uniquely effective position to be responsive to minority issues because he can find solutions through the prism of hierarchical tribalism, which, let’s face it, can’t do much worse than multi-culturalism.
    Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that Trump has surrounded himself with people adhering to varying degrees of all those beliefs (and probably more I’m not thinking of).

  4. Graham Says:

    Yes, I see what you mean by analogizing the current order to Burnham and casting Trump as a change form that. I’ll buy that.

    While I could see the partial utility of alternatively putting Trump in that Peronist etc tradition, as some have, I wasn’t quite going that far. I wish I could recall what article or column put me in mind of this. It was more like Trump representing a loose idea that that, looser even than the notion of the progressive postwar consensus that is often spoken of in the political science of Europe but which could also apply to the New Deal consensus. That latter is something of what was meant but it was more like: free trade is a goal but its aim is to prosper the country as a discrete thing, the government has obligations first to its citizens and one of those is to keep free trade from becoming wholly detached from those goals, and that employment to the max level possible is a policy goal. Politically, that the state is more about its citizens than only an instrument for administering whoever lives in the territory and/or passes through.

    I may not be explain this very well but I’m not the originator.

    One may think I exaggerate. But when I listen to some associates, my country’s prime minister, or read the Economist, my impression is that they are past all that.

    For all that the market, trade and political freedom were the challenges of their times, I’m not so convinced that this path is what Reagan and Thatcher had in mind. I have started to think of where we are now as already a successor international order/intellectual regime to where we were in 1989.

    Your whole segment on where you would situate Trump is quite interesting. Into my list of comments to return to someday it shall go, with the this whole post.

    I hadn’t expected to spend my mid-40s doing quite this much conceptual reframing of the world. But there you go.

  5. Graham Says:

    I have a sideline in trying to characterize favourite sci-fi properties into all this.

    On occasion, I comment that JK Rowling doesn’t seem to understand all the reactionary tropes of her own series. On others, that Joss Whedon doesn’t seem to understand the message of his movie “Serenity”. And that the Hunger Games series can be cast as an analogy for a nationalist message…

    All of which explode heads in some quarters.

    On this topic, I note that an obscure 90s series called “Space: Above and Beyond” is noteworthy. Earth is fighting an interstellar war under the umbrella of a UN like organization, but the various nations still exist and have considerable power, including the US still on top.

    In just two episodes the politics of Earth were discussed- the dominant coalitions seemed to be the “Technological Superpowers” which were the usual suspects having the most advanced economies and financialized systems, or so it seemed, and something like the “Industrialized Nations” which were the second tier manufacturers led by the odd man out of Europe, France. France seemed none the worse for wear, and I could hear De Gaulle’s ghost laughing at this role France would have carved out.

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