IT IS close to a year now since Emmanuel Macron was re-elected President of France by default, and you may have noticed that the crisis of legitimacy I flagged near the start of his 2022 mandate (exacerbated by the hung parliament returned the following June) has become somewhat acute in the last few weeks. The form this has taken is an astonishing level of mobilisation against a relatively minor adjustment to the retirement age, which, as I have also pointed out, reveals a great deal about the ambivalent attitude of state employees and left-wing activists to the question of a fair day’s work. The real content, though, is a long-fomented, widespread and widening anger against a state seen as ruthlessly eager to protect its own privileges at the expense of those it holds in contempt, once described by a Macronian minister as the ‘blokes who smoke fags and drive diesel cars’.
The postponement of King Charles and Camilla’s state visit is a powerful symbol of how bad this legitimacy crisis has now become. If the putative leader of a nation cannot guarantee the security of a visiting foreign head of state, he can hardly be described as being ‘in charge’. A small but not insignificant change to Macron’s personal agenda meant that his informal plan last Friday to attend in Paris France’s first international football match since the World Cup was abandoned lest home supporters booed him. Like Louis XVI at Versailles in 1789, Emmanuel II can’t even safely step outside his own palace for fear of his own people.
Revolutionary as the juvenile insurrectionist rhetoric of Plastic Robespierre Jean-Luc Mélenchon may sound, and dramatic as the fires outside residential buildings across French cities might appear, we mustn’t let the smoke in the streets of Paris, and the burning entrance to the Bordeaux mayoral palace, overly cloud our view of what’s going on at the moment. There are a lot of mirrors in there too. This is a simulacrum of a revolution, led by well-heeled ‘Black Bloc’ agitators (who the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wittily called ‘Black Bourgeois’), akin to those who set Portland alight in 2020 in those ‘mainly peaceful’ BLM protests. These young French ‘rebels’ are literally playing with fire.
Live news streams last Thursday evening showed well-dressed Parisiennes grabbing rubbish bags to throw on existing dumpster fires before whipping out their iPhone for a selfie. One TV camera caught an improvised fashion shoot in front of another burning bin bag, as a half-undressed model reclined in the street in her Prada top while a photographer took snaps.
There is a strong element of revolutionary cosplay going on, as the children of the upper middle classes light fires they can simply walk away from, having done their good radical deed for the day, letting the working families in the adjacent buildings deal with the chaos they have created.
That said, there is no mistaking that tens of millions of working people are deeply unhappy with how their country is being run and, specifically, the man running it. There is a lot of empathy even for the brainless acts of grown-up spoiled teenagers ‘concerned’ about their pensions before ever having done a decent day’s work. The question which has haunted French protest movements for several years is best summarised by the viral video addressed to Macron that launched the Yellow Vest movement in 2018: ‘What are you doing with the money apart from buying new dishes at the Élysée Palace and building yourself swimming pools?’
Not so much protesting against taxation without representation, the French have lost all patience with their elected elite who rob them blind, leave them struggling to pay their household bills each month, then come back for more, demanding they extend their working lives so the state can keep paying its own bills. Macron’s decision to force the retirement age reform through without the planned parliamentary vote was just the sour cherry on the stale cake for the majority of public opinion. With the level of fury towards the president in the general population so high, the fires now being lit by anti-capitalist airheads could easily kindle something bigger, more serious and more dangerous in the not-too-distant future.
Many like me are trying to work out what exactly Macron is playing at as he seems so happy to continue to pour oil on the fire. Last week he suggested that the millions of protesters were against democracy, and compared them to the pro-Trump twerps who ‘stormed’ the US Capitol building in 2020. Is he intent on causing things to degenerate so far that he can play the ‘law and order’ tough-man card later to reboot his legitimacy amongst middle-of-the-road voters? Is his ‘there is no alternative’ posturing an attempt to become France’s Margaret Thatcher in her confrontations with the unions in the 1980s, in order to make ‘essential’ reforms for the future of the nation? Surely he must have some consciousness of his illegitimacy, this man who, it must be admitted, is an astute political manipulator, and has shown himself to be a greasier pig than even Boris Johnson these last few years?
I have a feeling he has not lost his political marbles, but instead understands perfectly what is going on in this crisis. We are in Technocracy’s Last Stand, and France is now its front line. Do the elite have the right to rule through their rigged electoral system regardless of the wishes of the governed? If they want people to fund their Net Zero lunacy, or their proxy war in Ukraine, or take their central bank digital currencies, they can’t back down now or they’re doomed. Macron knows he has to hold the line on behalf of the whole of the Western power class because, as he sees it, no one else is quite as ruthlessly committed to preserving their technocratic rule as he is.
De Gaulle conceived the Fifth Republic at its birth in 1962 as ‘the encounter between one man and one people’. Macron appears to see it as ‘the battle between one man and the people’. The stakes for the whole Western elite are high. As in 1940, if France falls, everything changes. What happens next may not be pretty, but it’s certainly going to prove interesting.