The race for the presidency of France seems to have been scripted by our television news channels—which is bad news for democracy, whose natural ground is common sense. Every week gives us a mass of news, reversing that of the week before. This is by way of telling readers that what I write today could easily be wrong tomorrow. And as I’ve mentioned before on this site, a variety of outcomes are still possible, even as the first round of the election approaches in April.
The French presidential election is almost upon us. The first round will take place in mid-April and the second in early May. Usually, such campaigns unfold in a way that is more or less predictable. Not this year.
Something strange has been happening all year in Western politics. Both in the United States and Europe, events dismissed as unthinkable have occurred again and again. In June, Britons voted to leave the European Union. In November, Americans elected Donald Trump to be President. In opinion polls throughout 2016, Euroskeptic parties like Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy and the National Front in France, once derided as fringe movements, have shown continuing appeal. In fact, in Italy, Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement just combined to defeat a constitutional referendum championed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading Renzi to resign.
Britain Makes History
By Richard Samuelson
So yet another effort to put all of Europe under one government seems to be failing. From Caesar to Charlemagne to Charles V to Louis XIV to Napoleon and beyond the vision of unity has been a recurring theme in European politics. The latest effort, a union forged in the wake of two destructive and nearly universal wars, is different in some ways—although not democratic, there have been democratic elements in the EU. Moreover, and most importantly, expansion has been peaceful, featuring conquest by referendum.
All that notwithstanding, one can, quite accurately see the Brexit as the latest in a long series of rejections of a universal European empire, with Eurocrats in the place of previous would-be emperors. As in previous centuries, Cambridge and Oxford dons are more comfortable conferencing with their peers at the Sorbonne than with their fellow subjects, and once again the would-be coutiers they train look to the Continent for moral guidance. And, as before, many of Her Majesty’s common subjects resent it.
In the month after the November terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, the French government launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Middle East—responding with all the ferocity of an irritated sleeper slapping at the alarm clock to get it to shut up.
The alarm had rung before: in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people; in the July 2005 London attack that killed 56; in the January 2015 assault on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed 17. Europe has swiped at the snooze button several times in recent years—but why, really, should the Continent wake up? Why should the Island of the Lotus-Eaters ever rouse itself from dreams?