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Why We Should Envy France

Trump v. Harris compared to Macron v. Zemmour? No contest.

Emmanuel Macron and Éric Zemmour (Wikimedia Commons)

Éric Zemmour confirmed his status as a nationalist this week. 

The British press are ever-licking their chops to take it to the French, and the Times of London delivered over the weekend: “Éric Zemmour, the hard-right pundit who has broken into the French presidential race, was facing scandal yesterday with a report that his campaign director, who is 35 years his junior, is expecting his child.” The Brits drew on reporting from Parisian periodical Closer: “He is going to be a daddy in 2022”, “The happy event is expected in May 2022, just after the second round of the presidential election.”  

Sacré bleu.

Given the central European country’s stemwinder style of presidential campaign—a two-round, run-off system evocative of California, but with weaker parties—it’s not at all clear whether Zemmour’s Don Juan proclivities are the end of the road or the very path to power. Indeed the Times speculated as much: “Sex scandal or stunt to prove Éric Zemmour’s virility? France agog at antics of far-right hopeful.”

The man Zemmour would defrock, the wunderkind, 43-year-old incumbent Emmanuel Macron, is likewise always in the crosshairs of the rival British: “Power hungry Macron muscles [UK Prime Minister] Boris Johnson out of the way for leaders’ snap at G20,” the Sun regaled last month

Other critics, of course, characterize Macron as not so much Napoleonic as Freudian. The plausibly upcoming duel is a presidential election between Macron, who is married to his school-teacher, with whom he began a romance in his teens, and Zemmour, who has evidently impregnated a woman who was once a teenage fan of his, if reports are to be believed (and they haven’t been refuted).

The French, as the kids say, are staying on brand. 

But disguised by the tawdry, if amusing, is France’s pronounced lurch to the right. Or, perhaps, France is merely alone on this side of the Rhine in defending a semblance of its former self, or taking any stock of How It Got Here. … Macron and Zemmour’s peccadillos might not be the stuff that gets them toasted on the Integralist right, but it’s hard to argue with results. A recent report on the upcoming election, slated for spring next year describes the plight of non-nationalists: “at the bottom of the barrel with left-wingers.” 

The New York Times is on the case. 

“Perhaps France was always going to have a hard time with nonbinary pronouns,” the paper of record reported Sunday. “Its language is intensely gender-specific and fiercely protected by august authorities.” 

So, France under Macron has frankly, consistently surprised since the former Socialist minister dispatched with his Front National rival, Marine Le Pen, in the last election in 2017. Macron ran a centrist campaign that was seen at the time as a neoliberal Empire Strikes Back moment after the elections of Trump and the Brexit shockwave. 

But perhaps Le Pen’s problems were basically local, as in, familial. As Francophile TAC founding editor Scott McConnell summarized five springs ago: “Marine Le Pen Tries To Shake Off The Burden Of Her Father,” the gadfly, fash-posing would-not-be president.

But since then Macron has more or less staked out a consistent ground, one that has horrified his old Socialist allies and the elite track bureaucrats he went to university with. The president who once tediously tried to draw a meaningful contrast between “patriotism” and “nationalism” now has interior ministers who go on television arguing Le Pen doesn’t take seriously enough the problems of assimilation of Islamic immigrants. 

“There are between 60 and 70 per cent of French people who say there is too much immigration in France, that Islam is not compatible with the republic, that there could be civil war,” said Macron’s man, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin this spring. “When 47 per cent of people are ready to vote for [Le Pen], you have two solutions. Either you call them all idiots — but if you insult people, it’s rare they end up voting for you — or you try to understand what they’re going through.” 

“The people who vote Front National [the former name of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National] . . . may think Madame Le Pen is right about immigration, but they say to themselves that she is useless on the economy,” France’s home secretary said. 

And there it is. Contrasted with America (at present)… This is France’s establishment

The place dumped on by “Freedom Fries” Iraq invaders got a last laugh of sorts. “And when I see certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States, with their problems, which I respect and which exist, but which are just added to ours, I say to myself that it is reasonable to make this choice,” Macron, hardly a self-identified conservative, explained recently. “And so we must, very clearly, re-invest, on a massive scale, in the field of social sciences, history, understanding of civilizations.”  

Zemmour has been of a piece in his thinking, which makes his frustrations valid but Macron a potentially unappealing opponent, because they’re secretly too similar.

“If Zemmour stands for anything,” the eminent Christopher Caldwell summarized in the Claremont Review of Books this month. “It is re-connecting the French public to big decisions over the future of France.” 

This all sounds frankly charming compared to the present reality on the American scene. 

Democrats are presently weighing whether to stick to the impressive-in-a-way (see: actually leaving Afghanistan, becoming president) but nonetheless oldest president ever, who stands at 40 percent approval, or swapping him for the most ineffective vice president since Dan Quayle, or a transportation secretary (yes) folks have serious doubts is a real person. 

But contrast that with the Republicans, who have a front-runner manifestly uninterested in the future, to use Zemmour-speak, of America. We must be borne back ceaselessly into 2020, commands the man at Mar-A-Lago. Serious challengers may emerge, and my lifebloodis in believing that they will, but taking a look at France is enough to take stock of what matters: a journalist’s (Zemmour), a young person’s (Macron’s) or an upstart’s (Zemmour and Macron) shine for the plain truth, and not so much who’s in the sheets, but the streets. There’s a lesson in that. 

about the author

Curt Mills is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, where he previously served as senior reporter. He specializes in foreign policy and campaign coverage and has worked at The National Interest, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Examiner, and the Spectator, and his work has appeared in UnHerd and Newsweek. He was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism fellow.

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