French Twist. How Marine Le Pen quietly became the left-wing candidate in the French elections. By Fred Siegel
The new political climate generated by breakneck globalization, aggressive political correctness, and elite arrogance is so turbulent that pollsters have repeatedly failed to see what’s coming. They got last year’s Israeli elections wrong. Same with the Colombian referendum on peace negotiations with the narcoguerillas. They missed the boat on Brexit and the American presidential elections. In France, they failed to see that former prime minister François Fillon would win the race to become the conservative party’s candidate in April’s presidential election. A social conservative with liberal economic views, Fillon scrambles our notions of Left and Right. He represents an alignment unseen since the 1840s.
But it’s not just the pollsters who’ve missed the changing tides. The largely unknown Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, who became a figure of fun during the run up to the Brexit vote, is the president of the European Commission—the bureaucratic body that largely governs Europe on behalf of its elites. Like Nancy Pelosi and the shrinking band of House Democrats, the aptly named Juncker is doubling down on policies that have produced failure. Juncker told an Austrian newspaper that there would be no letup on federalizing Europe; there will be no national opt-outs from the stagnation economics administered from Brussels.
The common thread of all these electoral “upsets” is that the voters seem to have tilted rightward. But that assumes that the mental geography mapping Left and Right still makes sense. The very terms “left” and “right” derive from the early stages of the French Revolution. The seating in the first National Assembly as viewed from the speaker’s podium placed the proponents of a new, supposedly more rational France to the left of the podium. On the right were those—often Catholics—who wanted, it was claimed, to cling to aristocratic tradition. It was a passing moment of political and ideological clarity. By the time the enlightened despot Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself king in 1804, the terms had become, as they continue to be today, hopelessly confused. The great Catholic liberal Chateaubriand was forced to align himself with the Bourbon monarchy because he saw it, compared with Napoleon, as the lesser threat to liberty.
Fillon has had neither predecessor nor precursor in the resolutely etatist France of the last 168 years. The last major figure with Fillon’s combination of liberal and conservative characteristics was the Anglophile François Guizot, who was prime minister when the revolution of 1848 ended the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Phillipe. Until now, Guizot, a great historian whose The History of Civilization in Europe sits a few feet from where I write, has had no heir. Fillon tells the French that he wants “to give the country its liberty back.” He promises to cut a half-million public-sector jobs, end the 35-hour work week, and reduce France’s corpulent 3,000 pages of labor regulations to a svelte 150. This would be a revolution, of sorts. Modern France has never gone through the free-market reforms that revived the British, Canadian, Swedish, and German economies. Government spending in France now represents 57 percent of the economy, and as in the U.S.—only worse—the free market has been strangled by out-of-control statism.