Manny’s Napoleon complex

Manny Macron has always identified with Napoleon Bonaparte, but until recently he indulged that aspirational self-image only in the privacy of his palace. Lately, however, he has become more open about it, clearly wishing his electorate to see the similarities.

Judging by the ‘Macron out’ demonstrations spreading all over France, the electorate fails to discern any. That’s not fair because similarities do exist, two of them: Boney and Manny share a fondness for older wives (much older, in Manny’s case, so he outdid his role model there) and a hatred of Britain.

C’est, as they say in France, tout. Yet Manny is using every trick of both direct and subliminal communication to help voters see him as today’s Napoleon. If Boney were alive today, he’d be just like Manny, goes the encoded message.

It’s tempting to accuse Macron of megalomania, and perhaps that’s part of it. But most of it is politicking.

The presidential election is coming, and Manny is neck and neck with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, a right-wing (as discrete from conservative) group. Since Manny’s tenure has been rather the opposite of a rip-roaring success, and his handling of Covid downright disastrous, there’s every possibility he may lose.

His core support is more or less secure, if only because they’d as soon vote for Le Pen as they would for syphilis. But the periphery around the core looks shaky. Hence Manny must seduce enough right-wingers to siphon some votes from Marine. This need explains all his recent posturing.

For example, he has done an about-face on Putin – from fierce critic to effusive admirer. Why? Because French right-wingers are Putinistas to a man. The Kremlin is openly financing the National Rally, and no bad word about the KGB colonel is tolerated in those circles.

(I found it out the hard way the summer before last, when I recorded a 90-minute interview with the right-wing radio station Radio Courtoisie – in French too, which taxed my modest linguistic ability no end. Then, 10 minutes before air time, the station manager spiked the broadcast, explaining that it would upset the Russian embassy. No one was left in doubt as to who called the shots in right-wing circles.)

Napoleon is another holy relic with Marine’s voters. Left-wingers tend to be uncomfortable with some of Napoleon’s bellicose peccadillos, especially his attempts to secure new colonies for France at the expense of the kind of people who are now in fashion, and also his tendency to have POWs shot out of hand.

But Napoleon’s muscular patriotism appeals to the Right, as does his commitment to making France great by controlling Europe and keeping la perfide Albion out. Marine’s voters tend to equate goodness with greatness, greatness with size, and they are smarting from the realisation that, in that sense, France is no longer great. (They can’t appreciate the senses in which she still is.)

That’s why Manny felt duty-bound to deliver a rousing oration at the celebration of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death the other day. “We love Napoleon,” declared Manny, “because his life gives us a taste of what is possible if we accept the invitation to take risks.”

Actually, the taste is quite acrid. When Napoleon accepted “the invitation to take risks”, he twice abandoned his army to its fate, first in Egypt, then in Russia; led over a million young Frenchmen to their deaths; had his navy routed by Nelson at Trafalgar; lost every battle his troops fought against Wellington, including the ultimate one at Waterloo; ended his life as a British captive on a godforsaken island.

True, in between those debacles he did conquer most of Europe, and the Right are still dining on that legacy. Napoleon’s hatred of the British also appeals to them, which is why Manny has to demonstrate that little predilection too.

Alas, he falls short of his hero’s scope, quite pathetically. If Napoleon managed to blockade all of Britain, Manny merely tried to do that to the Channel island of Jersey, a British dependency. And even in that modest undertaking he failed, when his flotilla of fishing boats escorted by a warship was chased away by the Royal Navy.

But Manny didn’t really want to blockade Jersey. He just wanted to take a bow to Marine’s voters, and especially those Gaullists who can’t decide whom they despise more, Manny or Marine.

Macron has also sharpened his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric, without giving any tangible indication of what, if anything, he is going to do about it. But Manny isn’t about doing. He is about sending appropriate signals to appropriate groups.

If his most serious opposition came from the communist party, he’d be quoting Marx, Lenin and Gramsci in every speech. He’d also be photographed having a meaningful dialogue with a bust of Maurice Thorez, as he was snapped talking to a marble Napoleon the other day.

P.S. I’m happy to report that it’s not just oral but also written commentary on football matches that refines my knowledge of English. Thus The Telegraph: “Sergio Ramos… is, of course, not adverse to the dark arts himself.” One can only hope that those on the receiving end didn’t suffer any averse consequences. In the same paper: “Tuchel… scored any talk about… a goalless draw.” Good job then that his team scorned two goals.

6 thoughts on “Manny’s Napoleon complex”

  1. Golly, French politics sounds even more ghastly than what we have in Blighty!

    The level of nuance required to be conservative rather than right-wing is beyond most of us, the knee tends to jerk.

    I’ve also noticed that French people have a tendency to mouth pseudo-philosophical twaddle that would never even cross the mind of most Britons. Or is that a pan-continental thing?

  2. Hmm…Old argument, I know, but I wouldn’t put Rassemblement National in the category of ‘right wing’. They are just another big state, socialist tine of the political fork, with an economic agenda very close to Mélanchon’s La France Insoumise.

    The other end of the fork (if you imagine the tines to the left and the handle on the right) is the end of the handle – where we find anarchy! Moving leftwards up the handle, we find customs, mores and manners, morphing into culture and then common laws. Conservatism, for me, resides here and the boundaries are blurred between individual freedom/ anarchy and more and more statute law until we get to the tines, where we find all of the various totalitarianisms.

    Le Pen occupies one of them.

    1. But that’s a perfect definition of right wing: big state, socialist economics — plus jingoism. National socialism is just that, socialism with a nationalist dimension. And it’s right wing, with international socialism providing the other wing of the same bird.

      1. Well I would be hypocritical if I didn’t think that perceptions of the political spectrum weren’t subjective…

        ‘Jingoism’/ Nationalism, as opposed to patriotism is, to me, inherently left wing. It is yet another form of loud collectivism which, again to me, defines ‘left wing’ – we are not born as flawed individuals, but as ants in a colony called ‘humanity’.

        ‘Left wing’ is the individual being subsumed in a collective whole and being governed by an ‘enlightened’ class. Nazism and Communism were/ are extreme examples of this. A collective (class/ race/ sexuality/ nationality), a banner (the swastika, the hammer and sickle) and mass obedience to a cult leadership – both different tines on the left of the fork.

        ‘Right wing’ is a recognition of the sovereignty of the individual and the acceptance of government as a necessary evil – to be as limited as possible.

        The US constitution started life as inherently right wing in that it didn’t seek to guarantee the rights of the collective, rather it sought to restrict the power of government – ‘Congress shall make no law…’

        I think you were right, in your piece, to distinguish ‘conservatism’ from ‘right wing’ – one can, after all wish to conserve institutions like the church – which is inherently collectivist and therefore left wing – but I wouldn’t put Le Pen on the right of French politics. I think it is lazy journalism seeking an easy distinction – and you’re certainly not alone in that!

        1. Some sort of taxonomy is essential to communication. However, for communication to succeed, both parties have to agree on the terms. As you correctly point out, I distinguish ‘right wing’ from ‘conservatism’. However, if you start analysing such terms, they become meaningless, because at base they are. For example, since both Hitler and Thatcher are described in our ‘liberal’ press as ‘extreme right wing’, one has to assume they have much in common. In fact, they are polar opposites. Hitler had been considered a socialist, i.e. left wing, until 22 June, 1941, when he attacked Stalin, who definitely was left wing. Hence on that day Hitler became right wing. Since then, national socialists, such as Le Pen, are branded right wing. The only way out of this conundrum is to abandon the current terminology altogether and come up with a different one. I tried to do that in my book How the West Was Lost. As to conservatism, it doesn’t really exist in France as a political force. They have some Catholic monarchist groups, but they don’t fight elections. Political conservatism can’t exist in a polity constituted as a revolutionary republic (that goes for the US as well — their conservatives are just economic libertarians, not at all the same thing).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.