Après moi …

22 March 2023

As he has done in previous regime crises, Emmanuel Macron is again promising a “new method” of governing. Unfortunately, nobody is listening, and a new “listening tour” is not likely to engage much of an audience.

But in the world of the political parties, as opposed to political power, the original “méthode Macron” is functioning perfectly: witness the fractiousness of the LR deputies Aurélien Pradié and Pierre-Henri Dumont. Like Macron, they recognize that national power is no longer conquered by way of the long march through the ranks of a political party. No, the way to the top is to resist the will of those who are already there, to establish oneself as a dynamic young rebel willing to stand up for “principle” (which can vary conveniently according to circumstances), as Macron did when he rebelled against Hollande. The parties are nothing–except, of course, for the Rassemblement National, which may soon be everything.

The government survived the censure motion filed by the LIOT, but it wasn’t pretty. The fronde in the LR was more potent than it would have been if the party faithful hadn’t sensed blood in the water. Even some deputies close to Laurent Wauquiez, allegedly the anointed favorite of party leader Eric Ciotti, voted with the frondeurs (and the NUPES and the RN!) to topple the government. An earthquake? A revolution? Well, let’s not get hyperbolic: a calculated, limited-risk maneuver rather, a cost-free declaration of independence–and ambition–for those who put Ciotti on notice that he is party leader on sufferance only, that the future is uncharted, that no one is the designated kingmaker, and that after Macron there is going to be a war of all against all to define the new alternative(s) to the RN.

If the once-respectable right is in total disarray, things on the left look even bleaker. As Michel Wieviorka opines in today’s Le Monde, the only figure to emerge from this episode enhanced is Laurent Berger, leader of the CFDT. Some are even calling for him to run for president, but I agree with Wieviorka that this is not where Berger’s talents lie. What is clear is that Mélenchon badly misplayed his hand in the pension fight, hence the NUPES is now a spent force, and Olivier Faure along with it. The left’s equivalent of Aurélien Pradié has yet to emerge, but someone is no doubt already rehearsing his or her lines.

Macron is meanwhile biding his time, waiting to see if the demonstrations subside. If they don’t, or perhaps even if they do, Elisabeth Borne will be the next sacrifice, although even Macron must find it difficult to relish the prospect of a Darmanin at Matignon. If a tout répressif PM is the response to continuing violence, things could get ugly.

Meanwhile, if the LR is no longer a disciplined political formation but merely a collection of ambitions looking out for themselves, it’s hard to see how any new government accomplishes anything of substance. The “presidential majority,” which is not in fact a majority and no longer united, needs outside support but has little to offer in return. The knives are drawn and will remain so for the next four years.


  • Macron’s strategy has consistently been to posit that there is only a choice between him and the scary RN. Which of course is echoed in this post. But why one would think that the conflicts in France should benefit the RN are never really spelled out – perhaps it is because the Macronists are going to the extent of trying to make being a leftist illegal, as in recent speeches by Gérald Darmanin, Macron’s Id. Macron has held up Valerie D’estaing as his belle ideal of a president, and to an extent, that is very right: Darmanin’s BRAV police are visibly the reincarnation of the Gaullist barbouzes, SAC. However, your post, in line with all your posts about NUPES, underestimates Melenchon’s creation. One could as well as: forcing Macron to impale himself on his most unpopular policy. The party clings to Macron because, well, they want to stay in the Assemblee for as long as possible. Cause I hear you get an excellent pension. Funny, that.

  • Anonymous says:

    When various LR deputies vote with the “frondeurs” against the pension reform, we are living in an alternative universe. To wit “the LR is no longer a disciplined political formation but merely a collection of ambitions looking out for themselves.” However, how is that different from the leaders on the Left? The crisis of principles is at the heart of the problem in France, as it is in the U.S..

  • C. Jon Delogu says:

    Thank you Mr. Goldhammer – better commentary at Tocqueville 21 than with Roger Cohen & Co over at the NYT (18 March 2023) who indulge in all kinds of hyperbolic silliness so long as they’re throwing stones at someone else’s glass house; or with Agnes Poirier at the Guardian who indulges in the worst sort of fatalism/determinism, essentially telling her readers (25 March 2023) that “Confrontation is what we [French] seem to be born for”; i.e., 1789 made me do it, “c’est plus fort que moi.”

    It may be time to remind readers of the Tocqueville paradox (Ancien Regime and the Revolution, Book 3 Chapter 4); i.e., that revolutions start not when things are at their worst but when conditions are marginally better than in the recent past (such as during the Covid lock downs of spring and fall 2020 ; – )

    I’m not currently worried about things going too far – whatever that means – for two reasons: 1) the sacrosanct French holidays of May 1 and May 8 fall on Mondays this year and many unionized refinery workers and other hardliners will also want to drive somewhere over those long weekends; and 2) the nurses and other hospital workers have been noticeably absent from the “corteges” – probably because they don’t want their pockets picked in their sector to pay for saving the whole security system in general.

    If more press coverage were paid to the multiplicity of “regimes speciaux” when it comes to retirement ages and benefits, foreign observers – and the French themselves – would wake up to how their “valeur republicaine” of “Fraternite” often means “brothers versus others” rather than “solidarity.”

    For example – and it shocks me to this day – my “Normaliens” colleagues at university, I learned over 20 years ago now, received generous retirement annuities for every year they spent AS STUDENTS at the Ecole normale superieure, long before they actually began teaching, which means that it is way easier for them to be fully vested by age 62 or 64 – peu importe ! – than for normal non-Normaliens university teaching staff.

    This and other details of “special regimes” are very hush hush, by tacit agreement, across the entire political spectrum from what I observe.

    C. Jon Delogu, Professeur des universites, Universite Jean Moulin-Lyon 3
    author: Fascism, Vulnerability, and the Escape from Freedom: Readings to Repair Democracy (2022)

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