I have several times lumped French president Emmanuel Macron in as part of a “Golden Trio” of progressive idols, along with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. It seemed a natural enough assessment: after all, Macron, the ex-Goldman Sachs banker who talked of “struggle against this mechanism of capitalism” and defeated Marine Le Pen, seemed every inch the arch-globalist. Certainly, he was perceived by a giddy left-elite as the third head of a kind of anti-Trump Cerberus.
In many ways, this is still true: Macron continues to defend the EU and to peddle a kind of wishy-washy Green New Deal thinking. But, suddenly, Macron is no longer quite the golden idol of the media-left he once was.
Because Macron’s globalist idealism has crashed very hard into globalism’s other great fetish: Islam.
Following a wave of brutal jihadist murders targeting innocent French civilians, it is Macron who is the villain in [the American media’s] eyes, for launching a counterattack against the Islamist insurgency within France. There is only one permissible response to jihadist terrorism for European leaders, it seems, which is to light some candles and resolutely ignore the situation until the next attack: to take any meaningful action to prevent future violence is to find yourself accused of Nazism by the American press which idealised you just a few short years ago.
Once lauded as the liberal bulwark against Europe’s nativist far-right, Macron is now morally suspect for tackling the continent’s Islamist far-right; Europe’s “anti-Trump” is now only comprehensible as a Trumpian figure in the eyes of the New York and Washington press, but there is increasingly little value in paying attention to the hysterical wailing of American commentators.
Well, that goes without saying. But how should we assess Macron’s apparent Damascus moment?
By cutting through the lofty generalities to examine the specifics of how Macron now views the world, we see him as he sees himself, a liberal of the right, and a defender of the French and European Enlightenment against Chinese totalitarianism, the seductive lures of Europe’s radical right, and the counter-Enlightenment obscurantism of both jihadists and Americans.
Macron begins by asserting that the multilateral framework of what is still nostalgically termed the liberal international order no longer functions. “The UN Security Council no longer produces useful solutions today,” he declares, and “some, such as the WHO, find themselves hostages of the crises of multilateralism,” the latter diagnosis surely being derived from the COVID experience. Indeed, he notes, “we have a crisis with the multilateral framework of 1945: a crisis in terms of its effectiveness, but, and it is even more serious in my opinion, a crisis in terms of the universality of the values upheld by its structures.”
This is frankly astonishing stuff. Criticising the UN? He might as well put on a blonde wig and an orange tan.
Certainly, Macron is clear-eyed about the real threat to liberal democracy. Contrary to the triumphalist fantasies of the likes of Fukuyama, Macron has realised that the price of liberalism is eternal vigilance against the onslaught of totalitarianism.
On the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring, Macron observes that what was birthed by the crisis of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa was not the expansion of liberalism on which his predecessor Sarkozy gambled so much, but instead “the return of the mindset of certain peoples and of religion in politics,” and “an extraordinary acceleration of a return of religion on the political scene in a number of these countries[…]authoritarian regional powers are re-emerging, theocracies are re-emerging”.
Liberalism is no longer in expansive mode, then, but is instead fighting a defence for its own survival, even in its core European territories: “the fight against terrorism and radical Islamism is a European struggle, a struggle about values,” he declares, where our “struggle today is against barbarity and obscurantism.” The forces of jihadism and autocracy that defeated the Arab Spring abroad now threaten Europe itself even in our own heartlands. Indeed, he continues, “the combat of our generation in Europe will be a combat for our freedoms. Because they are being overturned. And so it will not be the reinvention of the Enlightenment, but we will have to defend the Enlightenment against obscurantism.”
Macron even dares criticise globalism itself. Or, at least, the crony brand of capitalism that globalism so favours.
Whatever the benefits for the workers of China and the CEOs of the United States, the result for the middle class across the Western world was disaster: “it has reduced part of our population to a feeling of uselessness, with deep economic and social, but also mental tragedies: our middle classes in particular, and part of our working classes have been the adjustment variable of this globalisation; and that is intolerable.”
Macron certainly isn’t about to give up on the EU. Instead, he asserts the strategic necessity of a muscular European commonwealth against not just the “Chinese-American duopoly”, but against the demographic tide which threatens to overwhelm it from the south. Faintly echoing Douglas Murray, Macron is starting to push back against the Strange Death of Europe.
A geostrategic Europe, with a sphere of influence in Africa which he terms a partnership, is at the heart of his vision: chiding Africa once again for its excessive birth rates (and for the first time linking it to Europe’s demographic decline, a dynamic where “for one European country demographically disappearing, in the same period, one African country appears”) and for the abuse of Europe’s asylum system by African economic migrants, Macron posits a Euro-African relationship where France’s post-colonial interests and those of Europe as a whole are perhaps uncomfortably elided.UnHerd
Or perhaps he recognises that today’s Europeans must cease allowing themselves to be cynically guilt-tripped by African nations which have, frankly, stuffed up their own independence and now seek a free ride on the coat-tails of European industriousness and inventiveness.
It seems too early to suddenly embrace Macron as the saviour of the West, but clearly, dismissing him as some kind of third wheel of Justindamania was misplaced. Macron is not exactly going to start peddling MEGA (Make Europe Great Again) baseball caps, but neither is he clearly about to don a hijab and take a deferential knee.
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