Depending upon what happens in two weeks time, Yesterday could prove to have been a turning point in the history of Europe, even of the world. Yesterday, in an unexpected electoral stunt, Marine Le Pen seriously wrong-footed Emmanuel Macron by turning up unannounced at a factory in the town where he was speaking. She spent her time mostly taking selfies with workers on the picket line. She did not have to make a speech. The image which caught all the media was of her as a "woman of the ordinary people" in contrast to him as a member of an out of touch, privileged political class. At a stroke she pretty much neutralised all the endorsements he has received in the past week from "the great and the good" who all got tarred with the same brush.

Left or right, to be an effective populist you need stunts. It is the art of catching attention. Think of Donald Trump. Think of Boris Johnson. Here in France Melenchon nearly made it the same way. The ancient Greeks thought that democracy inevitably paved the way to populism and populism to dictatorship. Were they right? The election of La Pen to the presidency would certainly change the game. The European Union would be plunged into severe crisis and if she survived, it might not. The full consequences are difficult to predict - Russian expansion in the east? A short-lived Franco-UK alliance against Germany (haven't we been there before?)? A greatly enhanced likelihood of conflict between and within West European countries?

I am not saying anything new in underlining that democracy is in trouble in several part of the world. Has it over-reached itself? Has the arrogance of thinking that our system is right for everybody led us into an untenable position? The assumption that everybody wants "freedom and democracy" is probably false. Certainly they want bread more. The post-war settlement has been sustained by many factors, but one of the most important has been its ability to deliver ever increasing living standards to ordinary people. Right now, undemocratic China appears to be doing that while the economic engine of the West seems to have spluttered to a halt. It seems that there is no automatic connection between political system and prosperity after all and the loss of that certainty is making many things possible (not all of them good) that were unthinkable ten (or even three) years ago.

There is a great deal hanging on this French election. Hold your breath until 7 May.

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Replies to This Discussion

I missed that particular twist, thank you.

After the tumultuous past year, it feels like one dare rule nothing out.

This French Election is not only important for France and Europe but for the world as it is determinant to have to ideological shift of people. Very good analysis from you as always :)

Liberalism has only been in the ascendancy, albeit meteorically, since the USSR collapse just over a generation ago.  It has held power with reliance on empty slogans that have somehow and to me very oddly captivated bourgeois sentiment- democracy, rights, free will, liberty.  Egalitarianism, one of the pillars of French statehood, does not sit well with liberalism at all. Of course the actual system of  hegemony behind liberalism, capitalism, will have none of those fluffy sort of qualities, it only requires ones acquiescence to work bureaucratically without dissent.

As social systems collapse and liberalism starts to get very much on the nose to those who benefit less from it we get the fascists ascending in power. The modern breed have educated themselves in bourgeois sentiment and in useful technology and it seems likely liberalism has died and is being replaced by fascism globally. Yes, hold your breath.

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