Three Lessons From The French Presidential Election
For those following, the results of the first round of this year’s French presidential election have been rather unsurprising. The incumbent Emmanuel Macron garnered the plurality of votes (27.8 percent) while his now longtime rival Marine Le Pen was second (23.2 percent). Coming in a close third was the socialist candidate Jean-Luc Melanchon (22 percent). Like last time, Macron and Le Pen will face one another in a runoff. And like last time, Macron will probably win despite his mediocre leadership and his country’s ongoing decline.
It would have been nice to witness an upset by the conservative populist Eric Zemmour, who captured the hopes and dreams of traditional conservatives around the world when he announced his presidential run a few months ago. For once, it looked like France would have its very own Donald Trump, an outsider who could make France great again. He was unapologetically patriotic and recognized the deleterious effects of globalism, mass immigration, and E.U. elitism.
Unfortunately, Zemmour was less a Trump and more Ross Perot, collecting 7.1 percent of the vote, many of whom would have otherwise voted for Le Pen. Although many American leftist writers agonized over Zemmour’s apparent right-wing extremism and his impact on the public discourse in France, nothing like this happened. The public conversation in France is still very much the same, with the same types of candidates running for office and the same concerns preoccupying French voters.
Nevertheless, even if the French decided to blow off Zemmour’s candidacy and learn nothing from it, American conservatives would do well to analyze it in light of their own situation. There were three key factors that led to Zemmour’s loss, and could also lead to Republicans losing their races in the near future: (1) Big Tech/big government censorship, (2) an obsession over the culture to the exclusion of all other issues, and (3) an uncharismatic, visually unappealing intellectual being the face of the party.
As David Harsanyi argues in depth in his book Eurotrash, the French and other Western Europeans do not enjoy the same free speech protections as Americans. The French governments, in combination with the Big Tech platforms, enforce several hate speech laws, effectively putting certain topics out of bounds of public discourse, most notably immigration.
This poses actual legal problems for conservative candidates like Zemmour and Le Pen who point out the obvious challenges associated with a large influx of Muslim immigrants who struggle with assimilation. All their concerns are immediately classified as hate speech and removed from all social media platforms.
So while Trump could hold rallies with crowds chanting “Build the Wall!” with little consequence, Zemmour and Le Pen were silenced on multiple fronts. Much like the American media but with more influence and even less accountability, the French media continued to gaslight their audiences, assuring them that Zemmour was a kook, that “diversity is their strength,” and that mass immigration has nothing to do with the country’s high taxes, massive national debt, the deteriorating school system, or the rise in crime.
It also doesn’t help that Zemmour fixated on the culture while often ignoring other key issues, like the economy and foreign policy. While my family members and others appreciated Zemmour’s moving speech about restoring French greatness, this didn’t really address the nuts and bolts of policies that could remedy the situation. Zemmour wanted to restore French industry and innovation, but, aside from driving out immigrants and teaching Latin in public schools, what else would he do?
This question is decisive. The French are an understandably proud people with a cultural legacy that attracts millions of tourists and admirers every year. But, as my French father can attest, they also have a long history of bureaucratization, centralization, and corporatism. Much of their national pride now hinges on how much their government will give them. Le Pen understood this and promised not to touch entitlements, thus growing her support. Zemmour, however, hints at the truly radical notion of national excellence without direct government payouts and makes himself unelectable.
Besides missing the bigger issues concerning voters, discussing immigration while emphasizing a more cohesive national culture can quickly sound intolerant to a culturally illiterate Western society. Zemmour’s argument against immigration was that French culture and civilization was generally superior to the culture of immigrants coming in.
Most immigrants (which includes Zemmour’s parents, who immigrated from Algeria) would actually agree with this, which is why they move to France in the first place. For native-born French people who take their cultural blessings for granted, this just sounds racist and xenophobic.
Rather, Zemmour should have followed the example of Le Pen and stressed the economic and social costs of immigration. Relatively few French citizens care if their culture is undermined and replaced by something that is largely incompatible with their values. A great many French citizens do care if their precious welfare is diminished by unproductive moochers coming into the country. And, if all goes well for Le Pen and both Zemmour and Melanchon’s voters pick her over Macron, this self-interested argument will be the thing that wins her the presidency.
Finally, in addition to being censored and focusing too much on culture, Zemmour’s failure to gain traction in this year’s election can also be attributed to his image as a public intellectual—that is, a nerd. There is a reason why men like Steve Bannon, Karl Rove, or pundits like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson don’t run for office. As bright and attuned as they are to what the public wants, they are not politicians.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, a politician’s main job is being popular and attracting the support of people from all walks of life, a job that favors jocks over nerds. Men like Zemmour, who drop literary references and praise conservative writers like “Doooglas Murray,” will fail to win the support of the working class that they ostensibly advocate for. By contrast, jocks like Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis convey an authenticity and strength that makes them more likable to blue collar voters.
Zemmour likely knew this already, which is why he delayed his announcement to run until late November last year. If there’s any hope for his movement, he will need to recruit some jocks to run for office. The same goes for the populist conservative movement here in America. There are plenty of great thinkers advocating for a New Right, but they will need some charismatic personalities with a common touch to replace the establishment GOP incumbents and contend with today’s progressives.
Whatever the corporate media and today’s leftist regimes may proclaim, this fight is not over. Even if he didn’t win, Zemmour’s run illuminated some of the ways for non-elites to combat a system that’s rigged against them. True, the change to a more accountable democratic government that serves the people won’t come from elections alone, but neither will it come from stirring polemics alone. One must lead to the other for change to happen, and that applies to France as much as it does to the United States.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in Humanities and an MEd in Educational Leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for the Federalist, the American Thinker, Crisis Magazine, The American Conservative, the Imaginative Conservative, and the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.