I don’t know, any more than you do, who will finish first and second in the first round of France’s presidential election next Sunday. The candidates, far right, center right, center left and far left are Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon, Emanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon.
My friends in Paris prefer Fillon—a French Margaret Thatcher-- but he has been hit with a scandal and investigation because he hired his wife for a make-work job that paid her handsomely for doing nothing. My friends tell me it was all perfectly legal. Were it not for the scandal Fillon would probably have won. Now, he is unlikely to make it through the first round.
For the record, leading French psychoanalysts, who are mostly concerned with exercising political influence, support the far left candidate: Melenchon. After all, he is a great admirer of Hugo Chavez. No kidding. The wet dream of French Lacanians, in particular, is to turn France into Venezuela or at least Argentina. My French feminist friends deplore Melenchon.
I am not going to regale you with statistics about the horse race, but I do want to draw attention to some interesting commentary from The New York Times and the Nation. The Times has run a long piece by Roger Cohen. The Nation has offered some analysis by Cécile Alduy. Both articles are worth your attention.
Cohen attempts a task that one should normally avoid. He tries to capture the French national mood, that is, the French malaise. To be fair, the French have a right to malaise; it's their word:
For some time France has been a country that does not like itself. Somewhere on the road from its humiliation in World War II to its disappointment with European integration to its discomfort with globalization, France slid into moroseness. High-speed trains purred; France pouted. Grumbling became a way of life, the response to lost grandeur. Now France seems ready to vent this slow-ripening anger in an election that could see the extreme right return to power for the first time since the 1940s and Europe revert to a turbulence not seen since that epoch.
Not liking itself is certainly a misstatement. The country that gave us a movie called, in English: The Sorrow and the Pity is not dealing with a garden variety dislike. Of course, the correct translation of the title should have been: The Chagrin and the Pity. Clearly, the anguish and the shame associated with chagrin have nothing to do with sorrow.
Historical events, especially the humiliation of World War II, have certainly contributed mightily to producing this mood. But, so too has Freudian psychoanalysis, a pestilence that risks turning France into Argentina. Or, should I say, Venezuela.
If anyone is going you to think the worst about yourself and your country, it is psychoanalysis. After all, as I have occasionally noted, the French embraced an especially French version of psychoanalysis because they did not want to be infected with the pestilential culture coming from England and America. They were so terrified of emulating the Anglosphere that they even supported Communism in the postwar period. Given the choice between America and the Soviet Union… they opted for the latter. To their great chagrin.
If you learn anything from psychoanalysis, it is to focus on failure. Cohen lists a few:
Instead the French are focused on their country’s failures: its dispatch under Vichy of Jews to their deaths, its painful colonial past in Algeria, its faltering attempts to integrate one of Europe’s largest Muslim communities, its vulnerability to terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, its expensive and sometimes rigid welfare state, its ambiguous relationship to global capitalism, its fraying model of “laïcité” (or secularism) designed to subsume religious difference in the values of the French republic — all are endlessly agonized over.
For the record, Cohen supports all manner of illegal immigration. Like a good liberal he imagines that millions of Muslim immigrants can be assimilated. He does not mention that most of the Muslim immigrants in France have been there for decades and do not want to assimilate. In Germany where jobs are on offer, the immigrants do not do them. Second generation Turkish immigrants have an unemployment rate of around 80%. Let’s not blame it on France.
Obviously, Muslim immigration is the problem. Many gay Frenchmen and women are supporting Marine Le Pen, despite her apparent associations with right wing extremists. They have recognized that Muslims want to kill gays… ergo…. they are defending themselves by supporting the candidate who wants to make France French again.
Cécile Alduy offers a picture of what the French have been seeing on their television screens and often encountering in the streets:
Some 240 citizens have died in terrorist attacks in the country since 2015, the highest number since the Algerian War. During that same period, prime-time television has shown lines of destitute migrants in Europe marching through fields, forests, snow, and mud, and makeshift boats packed to the brim with desperate families. Such images were once merely the rhetorical flourishes of fearmongers who warned of an “invasion” of Europe by legions of foreigners. If you add to this the country’s soaring income-inequality problem, the frustration with a European Union bent on austerity measures, the bloody confrontations between police and young people or union members during the many demonstrations in the last two years, and an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck around 10 percent, then the National Front’s incendiary rhetoric might just ignite the fires of electoral rebellion this time around.
The polls suggest that Marine Le Pen will make it into the second round and will lose decisively. Yet, Alduy notes that if French politicians do not solve the nation’s problems, the next time she might well win.