Macron Mimics Houellebecq, Pécresse Performs Merkel

14 February 2022

Emmanuel Macron has been accused of being the “president of the rich,” but he has his ways of reaching out to “la France qui se lève tôt.” One of them, apparently, is to honor Michel Houellebecq sous les ors de l’Élysée, with the editor of the right-wing rag Valeurs actuelles as an honored guest. Indeed, it was apparently at the suggestion of this editor that the medal was awarded. Macron’s speech made a point of Houellebecq’s supposed “ambiguities,” noting that while many regarded the writer as a reactionary and Islamophobe, there were intimations in his “complex” prose that in fact he was sending up these attitudes and adhered to the contrary positions, if not to both sides at once–en même temps, as it were.

No less astonishing was the report in the Financial Times that Houellebecq was a “friend” of finance minister Bruno Le Maire (himself a novelist à ses heures) who had “shadowed” the minister for a year in preparation for writing his latest novel, Anéantir, which imagines a president who retreats from his initial vision of transforming France into a “start-up nation” and, with the aid of a finance minister named Bruno, restores the dirigiste state and, with it, raises France to a level of prosperity exceeding that of Germany.

Macron and Houellebecq have thus teamed up to turn France into a hall of mirrors as dazzling as Versailles’s Galerie des Glaces and as mind-bending as a Philip Roth novel standing reality on its head while turning it inside out. One may doubt that these official homages to the gloomy, nicotine-stained writer will actually endear the president to la France populaire, as Macron’s team allegedly hoped when it leaked his ostensibly private remarks on the writer, but no one can say he isn’t trying.

His relationship with Philippe de Villiers having cooled since 2017, he probably won’t be invited back to Puy de Fou, Villier’s jingoist version of Disneyland, which Macron visited with great fanfare in 2017. But he no longer needs such tacky props: back then he was an upstart challenger; today he is the president of the Republic negotiating eye-to-eye with Vladimir Putin–eye-to-eye, that is, across the length of a splendid twenty-foot white-lacquered table.

Meanwhile, Valérie Pécresse attempted to revive her candidacy with a splashy grand meeting at the Zenith, a rock-concert venue in northeastern Paris, which she managed to fill with an expectant crowd of 7,500. She hoped that this would galvanize her candidacy, much as François Hollande’s declaration at Le Bourget that his “true enemy” was “le monde de la finance” galvanized his candidacy in 2012. Anyone who doubted that Hollande was a true socialist was supposed to have been awakened to the truth by this ringing declaration. And anyone who doubted that Pécresse was merely a slickly polished and well-educated clone of the president she aspired to replace was supposed to have been assured of her authentic credentials as a nationalist xenophobe by her invocation of Renaud Camus’s theory of “the great replacement,” a phrase she had previously claimed to detest.

Alas, peine perdue. The rally was more or less universally declared a failure, with the candidate herself admitting that she was not at her best in such a setting. The best defense that party stalwart Bruno Retailleau could mount of her performance was to ask if doubting journalists had ever listened to a speech by Angela Merkel. “You could die of boredom,” he said. With such friends …

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  • Anonymous says:

    It’s funny, when I read Houellebecq in French for the first time, I was repelled. Then I read
    “Soumission” and was struck by the references to Huysmans and the sketching out of the protagonist’s gradual capitulation to France’s new Islamic masters.. Reading the story of the tragic fate of “petit aristo”
    turned dairy farmer, Aymeric d’Harcourt, “Sérotonine” moved me deeply. Time wlll tell whether Macron’s hommage to the writer is a misplaced attempt at glory or a perceptive foresight.

  • bernard says:

    This is unfair to Angela Merkel who never compromised on her values to run after an imagined electorate. Valérie Pécresse on the other hand is gradually sinking in popularity as she sinks her values running after the far right electorate. Further, anyone could have told her that in a country where redistribution – government is 57% of GDP – and public employment are as high as they are in France, running successfully on a “shrink-the-government” platform requires a majority of masochists in the electorate. In fact, I mentioned this point a few months ago when she won her party’s primary.

  • Alexandra Marshall says:

    Only in France would you try to make a populist appeal “to the masses” via a difficult and complex literary figure. I do love this country.

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