In one month from now, France will elect its new head of state while the rest of the world becomes nervous bystanders to what is arguably a globalists’ greatest challenge to date. France’s constitution stipulates that a presidential election is to be held every five years, allowing for the possibility of a runoff if no candidate secures a popular majority in the first round. Presently, the election appears to be a two-horse race between Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, a Eurosceptic, anti-immigration party, and Emmanuel Macron, who’s heading En Marche!, a Eurocentric party with a socially liberal platform.
With candidates of such polar opposites, it became fairly evident from early on that the French election results would have far-reaching implications, perhaps surpassing Brexit by magnitude of global impact. This conjecture only strengthened upon the shocking decision made this January by outgoing president Francois Hollande to not seek reelection. His decision came in the wake of an international survey conducted last year that branded the French as the most pessimistic people in the world, with nearly 90% of its citizens believing the country is heading in the wrong direction. Given the general economic malaise which has troubled a country that has ostensibly lost its footing in the age of globalization, the French are now hoping to energize a decaying national ethos. Disenchanted by the carnage from massive job outsourcing, stultifying regulations imposed by the EU, and unbridled immigration that has thrown their society into tumult, it is small wonder huge swaths of French people are feeling nothing but doom and gloom.
The incredible transformation of Le Pen’s National Front from, just a short time ago, a party on the fringes of society into a legitimate contender is outstanding in its own right and underscores the lingering resentment in France that is now finally boiling to the surface. This sentiment is not mere hyperbole: a recent article from The Economist described the mood in France today similar to the mood of the mid-1930s as Europe was quickly spiraling toward world war, or, going back even further, in the 1790s on the brink of the French Revolution. In other words, France has once more tapped into its revolutionary impetus — and again, as before, there are potentially astronomical consequences on the table.
In its present state, Europe is at a crossroads with the European Union experiment on trial. If Le Pen were to prevail, a renewed reign of terror would be launched against the liberal global order, given her pledge to introduce a Brexit-like referendum to France to decide on whether to reject the EU in the first months of her presidency. It is no long shot that the French will likewise follow their British compatriots in rejecting the European Union, especially if they manage to elect Le Pen as president. This would arguably be the greatest challenge to the liberal world order to date as it would almost certainly precipitate the end of its crowning achievement, the European Union. Moreover, it would cast serious doubt over globalization’s previously divine mandate to consolidate global markets and force its multicultural dogma on all of western civilization.
Given that Le Pen would undeniably expedite this course of action, westerners everywhere should welcome her presidency with open arms. There still remains, however, a high mountain to climb before this summit is reached. Le Pen’s only legitimate competitor, Emmanuel Macron, is a young, charismatic leader resembling the style of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Macron has combined social liberalism with an amenable attitude toward the EU, which starkly contrasts with the platform on which Le Pen campaigns.
Oddly enough, however, whereas disaffected, older white voters have thus far energized international populist movements, Le Pen has incredible support among a base of people under the age of 25. Her platform is fusionist, and despite the parallels drawn between her and Trump, Le Pen is by no means a carbon copy him. She is a career politician who was bequeathed the baton of the National Front from her rabble-rousing father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. His daughter rightly kicked him out of the party for good back in 2015 due to his inflammatory remarks and seedy history of anti-Semitism. This was all part of an effort to clean up the party’s image, making it into something more palatable for a broader audience.
This exercise has proven to be a remarkable success. Depending on the constituency, Le Pen has pulled off the impressive feat of marrying the disparate interests of the rustbelt of the north and east of France with the anti-immigration proclivities of the south. This countrywide appeal, united by a sort of deep-seated nostalgia for what made France great in years past, is proving to be a formidable support network. In pithier terms, Le Pen simply wants to make France great again.
Given France’s penchant for voting to remove the current party in power, Le Pen has a lot going for her. However, the populist zeitgeist that has recently made waves across Europe is not without its limits, as proven by the less-than-spectacular showing of Geert Wilder’s Eurosceptic party in the recent Dutch elections. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that even though Wilders did not secure a majority in the Dutch parliament, his right-wing “Party for Freedom” still made significant inroads by picking up 20 seats in the House of Representatives and is now better positioned than at any point in its history.
Many also credit Wilders’ disappointing showing to his party’s extremist platform, which has yet to undergo a facelift akin to what Le Pen did just a few years ago with the National Front. There is evidence for this in the fact that his losses were not reaped by other left wing parties, but instead by more moderate, right-wing ones. Thus, in many ways, the Dutch result could be just an anomaly instead of a genuine indictment of the populist movement. Still yet, even if it were indeed the latter, experts have analogized the spread of European populism to a giant wave hitting sand castles on a beach. Although a few will survive, many more will fall asunder. We wrongly tend to think of the spread of populism like the spread of communism during the 1950s; but in reality, what happens in one country should not be expected to spread like wildfire to the next, like a domino effect. In fact, populism is less of a contagion, and more mutually exclusive, warranting precaution for those who like to make sweeping generalizations about some foreboding outcome in one particular country.
If Marine Le Pen ultimately does prevail, it will be a fantastic victory for those who still believe in the merits of national sovereignty. There’s certainly hope that she will, but like her forbearers — Brexit and Trump — it’s undoubtedly going to be a very tall order.