Thursday, May 03, 2007
Nicolas Sarkozy, the Center-Right candidate, will face Socialist Segolene Royal in the run-off of France’s presidential election on May 6. In the first round last Sunday M. Sarkozy had 31 percent of the vote, Mlle Royal just under 26 percent, “extreme-centrist” Francois Bayrou 18 percent, and nationalist conservative Jean-Marie Le Pen almost 11 percent.
Voting reached near-record levels at 85 percent, the highest since 1965. Disillusionment with politicians and distrust of their promises—endemic in France since De Gaulle’s second term—did not translate into apathy on this particular occasion for three main reasons.
First of all, millions of Frenchmen feel that the country is not on the right course. They had felt that before, of course (notably in 1968) but this time the Angst is real. Change is in the air. After decades of establishmentarian consensus, it is clear that de facto open-door Third World immigration, 35-hour working week (for two-fifths of the population who do work, that is), and generous welfare benefits for the rest cannot continue indefinitely.
Among the main candidates only Nicolas Sarkozy, former interior minister, promised a “rupture” with the past and meaningful economic reform coupled with the renewed insistence on national identity and values. Unlike his predecessor Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy is not visibly corrupt or intellectually sluggish. He can be rough around the edges, and—being a politician—prone to unprincipled opportunism. Unlike his Socialist opponent Ségolène Royal, however, “Sarko” has a coherent world outlook, some good ideas coupled with the ability to articulate them, and government experience that breeds self-confidence essential for the job. To his credit, and unlike most members of France’s ruling political elite, he is not a graduate of the elite National Administration School whose alumni have presided over decades of France’s decline.
While other E.U. countries have lowered taxation rates and reduced the burden of bureaucratic controls since Maastricht, France remains stuck in the sixties. Her per capita GDP was eighth in the world a generation ago; today it is 19th. In the early 1990s GDP was 83% of that of the U.S.; now it is 71 percent. Three decades ago France had a bigger economy than Britain, but not any more. For a generation, under the tepid Francois Mitterrand and slimy Chirac—the immobile “Mitterand by other means,” in the words of a disgruntled former aide—hard economic and social decisions necessary to reform the country’s dirigiste welfarism had been avoided.
Sarkozy may not be able to make the clean break—he’d be well advised to study the causes of Thatcher’s ultimate failure in the 1980s—but at least he will try, unlike the hapless “Ségo,” whose fiscal program was a head-in-the-sand rehash of failed orthodoxies. His 2005 statement that “success and social promotion are not some right that anybody can claim [at a welfare office] but a right that one can deserve because of one’s sweat” reflects a promising mindset for an “Old European.” In addition he had warned French voters for weeks that the nation was undergoing a “national identity crisis,” cultural as well as managerial, that sapped its political and economic vitality. When the Left accused him of being too “Anglo-Saxon” in his proposed remedy, Sarkozy responded that he was “proud” to be called more American than French, and that there “are many good lessons that we must learn from America.”
Sarkozy’s Socialist opponent Ségolène Royal has pledged a “fairer society” (i.e., more of the same), and she could count on the support of all those who benefit from France’s old status quo—sinecured loafers, Muslim invaders, Rive Gauche “intellectuals” and their provincial emulators, state-sector union members, central and local government salariat. Even to them she appealed faute de mieux. She was weakened by the vanishing influence of the gauche de la gauche: keeping the Socialists and the far left united while wooing centrists under the banner of a modern social democracy proved to be way beyond her limited powers. Ignorant of the world (she thinks the Taliban still rules Afghanistan), unwilling or (more likely) unable to spell out a coherent position on many key economic and social issues (“I’ll consult my advisors,” “I’ll let the people decide”), she is the least impressive second-round candidate in the history of the Fifth Republic.
Secondly, the huge campaign by the Left and by immigrant activists of different hues—from doctrinaire Maoists to doctrinaire Jihadists—to register millions of non-French citizens of France who are legally eligible to vote, has been successful in bringing to the polls some two million new voters who want to turn Marseilles into Mogadishu and Arles into Algiers. More than three million new voters, at least half of them Third World immigrants, have been added to the electoral roll following the Muslim riots of October-November 2005; another two million will follow suit before the next election. They are voting, as their counterparts in America vote, for the parties reconciled to or actively supportive of the nation’s eventual self-liquidation. A mere one percent of eligible Muslim voters cast their ballot for Sarkozy, compared with 64 percent for Royal and one-fifth for the centrist Francois Bayrou. They are the unnatural allies of that half of the French electorate which is dependent on the state for wages, benefits or pensions. In 2012 they will present a formidable force in favor of reestablishing the long road to extinction. At the same time, immigrants’ evident success in getting the vote has prompted millions of real Frenchmen, who may have abstained otherwise, to go to the polls.
Thirdly, after Le Pen’s second-round debacle in 2002 they knew that the only viable option for them is Sarkozy, and their choice was facilitated by his embrace of much of Le Pen’s rhetoric and specific policy proposals. This has enabled “Sarko” to produce the French variety of Reagan’s 1980 strategy, and appeal to many elderly, blue-collar and traditionally centrist voters who would not have been his natural constituency five, let alone ten years ago.
To a woman asking him, in October 2005, if he would “get rid of this scum”—referring to North African Muslims causing havoc in predominantly immigrant suburbs—Sarkozy the Interior Minister replied with the words unutterable by any American politician: “Enough of this scum? Well, we’re going to get rid of them for you!” Around the same time he told Le Parisien, “When you fire bullets at police, you’re not a ‘youth,’ you’re a thug.” In a similar spirit he told Charlie Rose last January that “if you don’t want your wife to be examined by a male doctor, then you’re not welcome here.” On the eve of the first round of voting on April 22 he reiterated, “If living in France bothers some people, they should feel free to leave the country.”
Such sanguineness was decisive in reducing Jean-Marie Le Pen’s share of the vote to only 11 percent in the first round, prompting Le Pen’s complaint that Sarkozy had stolen his platform—including the demand for the creation of a new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity—and his voters. The old paratrooper is not any less impressive today than he was in 2002 when he went into the run-off with Chirac, but many of his supporters evidently decided that, on this occasion, lesser-evilism was the sound strategy to preserve what is left of their idea of France. This was 79-year-old Le Pen’s last election, but the issue of succession and policy articulation on the nationalist right remains unresolved.
Europe is under demographic siege, and France is the keystone of Europe. Sarkozy appears to understand the problem. When he told Le Monde two years ago that “we live in a world where people don’t all have the same scruples,” he was restating a view deeply odious to the Kantian-liberal mindset: that it is impossible for all cultures and creeds to subscribe to a one-world, “universal morality,” and that those groups that embrace it will inevitably be displaced by those that do not. Jean Raspail said the same thing when he warned that Westerners are doomed irretrievably to extinction in the century to come, if they hold fast to their utopian delusions: “No other race subscribes to these moral principles — if that is really what they are — because they are weapons of self-annihilation.” This key insight is essential in a Western leader, especially one who leads a country with a higher percentage of Muslim immigrants and their offspring than any other developed country in the world. Sarkozy is unlikely to reiterate this insight so openly any time soon, but it is comforting to know that this is what he thinks.
The choice facing France on May 6 is clear. Her foreign friends, who appreciate her culture and civilization and many fruits (even if they draw the line at une certaine idée de la France) should pray that it is the right one.
Srdja Trifkovic is the foreign-affairs editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and director of The Rockford Institute's Center for International Affairs.