Weekend Roundup: In France, Reality Has Escaped Its Institutions


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

The first round of France’s presidential elections last weekend demonstrated that the clear-cut division of loyalties to the old mainstream parties ― the left and right political divide born during the French Revolution ― has collapsed in France. In the industrial era, the left always stood for social protection from the insecurities spawned by the market, while the right championed the blood, soil and tradition of “a certain idea of France,” as Charles de Gaulle once put it. All that has now been fatally disrupted by globalization and rapid technological change.

Alain Touraine, the country’s “dean” of sociology, captured the moment well at a Berggruen Institute meeting in Lisbon last week. “Reality has escaped its institutions,” he quipped. And not just in France.

As in the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in America and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, this partisan dissipation has been accompanied by the consolidation of a territorial rift between rural and deindustrialized zones of France on the one hand and the globally integrated, cosmopolitan coastal zones and cities on the other.  

The French elections, as Pascal Perrineau writes from Paris, pitted “patriots” against “globalists” worried about a Brexit-like split from Europe that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has promised. He also notes that Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-elite and anti-globalization narrative, which also embraces a strong welfare state, attracted significant numbers of working-class voters once faithful to the left.  

Surprisingly, Le Pen appealed widely to young voters as well in her campaign against the centrist “En Marche!” vision of Emmanuel Macron, who came out on top in the first round. Together, Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the opposite extreme of the spectrum, garnered more than 50 percent of the youth vote. Mélenchon attracted that support in part through cutting-edge social media and hologram appearances at rallies, as well as through his calls for a 100 percent marginal tax rate on the rich and the limiting of CEO pay to 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee. His campaign exploited longstanding fears over the “Uberization” of the economy by Macron’s pro-Europe, pro-market proposals for American-style deregulation and a “flexible” labor market that would only create a new “precariat class” of insecure, part-time, low-paid workers with few benefits. Unlike the other competing candidates and parties, Mélenchon has so far refused to support Macron against Le Pen in the final vote on May 7, throwing open a desperate contest to win over his constituency.

Anne Sinclair reacts to these results and lays out the new political landscape as it now stands as the country prepares for the runoff election. “One quarter of French people dream of a gentler and less precarious life,” she writes. “Another quarter prioritize taxes and debt reduction. A third quarter is seeking national security and a populist leader who doesn’t represent the elite. And finally, a fourth quarter, slightly more confident about the country’s future, is interested in profound modifications to governance and French politics.” 

Nicolas Tenzer writes from Paris that “whoever becomes the next president will have to cope with this divided France, large sections of which distrust open-society values, Europe and the free market.” If Macron, who is so far favored in polling, has a chance of obtaining a governing mandate, Tenzer continues, “he will have to demonstrate that Europe and globalization can bring justice and fairness and that France can mend its divided society.” But, “if Macron’s center can’t mend this divide,” he warns, “populists will be waiting in the wings.”

Other highlights this week include:



EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Suzanne Gaber is the Editorial Assistant of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is News Director at HuffPost, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s news coverage. Nick Robins-Early and Jesselyn Cook are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is World Social Media Editor.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar(First Look Media), Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as theAdvisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei KudrinPascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon MuskPierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel RoubiniNicolas SarkozyEric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter SchwartzAmartya SenJeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry SummersWu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony BlairJacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar IssingMario MontiRobert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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