I thought the time would never come.
Pasted all over my Burgundian village are posters demanding Frexit as a way of re-establishing France’s democracy. Another poster claims that a return to the franc would create 1.2 million jobs.
I’m not sure how they put an exact number on this, but there’s no doubt that the euro hurts France economically.
By adopting a currency that’s the Deutschmark in all but name, the French lost the ability to devalue their own currency and therefore compete with German manufacturers on unit price. That means they lost the ability to compete tout court because German cars and fridges are of higher quality.
The posters confirm what I’ve been noticing for quite some time now: the French have problems not just with Manny Macron, but also with the EU – and they correctly detect the umbilical link between the two.
By ‘the French’, I don’t mean my friends educated at the kind of top schools Manny wants to abolish as a sop to the mob: they all worship the EU the way they no longer worship God. The French who detest the EU are mostly regular folk: shop owners, barbers, plumbers, electricians, nurses.
This is where France is different from Britain: we don’t have such a clear-cut class divide between the Leavers and the Remainers.
Our watershed isn’t social but political. Right-leaning people are Leavers almost to a man, whereas the lefties, with some exceptions, tend to be Remainers. Age could also play a role, with a propensity to support Brexit more noticeable among the older, and therefore wiser, people.
But neither class nor education seems to have a big role to play. For example, my educated British friends are almost all Leavers – but then they neither work for the BBC nor frequent fashionable parties.
Perhaps a wider polling sweep than my own observation would show a certain Brexit bias among the B-, C social groups, but, if so, I’m sure the watershed would be nowhere near as wide as in France.
The reason is simple: though all modern states seek to make themselves more centralised and consequently less accountable, they do so to varying degrees in different countries. Thus Anglophone countries retain vestiges of their ancient traditions of localism, with some of the power exerted from bottom to top.
France has never had such traditions, or certainly not since her absolute monarchy came in to suppress feudal liberties. Both her quasi-monarchic state and her positive law tend to operate from top to bottom, which widens the distance between the state and its subjects.
Even local government exists mainly to convey and enforce central diktats, not to enable small communities to govern themselves as they see fit. That makes local government unwieldy and therefore big.
One can see this simply by looking at the size of the mairies in French towns and villages relative to their population. For example, the mairie of my local village in the picture below could probably accommodate all its 1,500 inhabitants.
All this promotes ‘us vs. them’ sentiments, which are more prevalent than in Britain and especially the US.
When things are going swimmingly, the French don’t resent that state of affairs very much, with their latent resentment seething without bursting out. But when the economy is stagnant, as it is now, the situation changes.
France being France, people take to the streets. That explains the increased popularity of that new fashion accessory, the yellow vest. It also explains the growing resentment of the EU that removes government even farther away from the people. More and more Macron and his jolly friends are seen as little more than EU quislings, out of touch with the French.
Yesterday Manny tried to diffuse the situation by tossing some bones off his royal table towards the masses hungry for his demise. He’s going to reverse, he declared, France’s inherent dirigisme, with much of life directed from central Paris.
Manny clearly felt like saying he’d do so by personal edict, but then became aware of the inherent paradox and checked himself just in time. Instead he promised to make it easier to hold referendums, which promise, if acted upon, is guaranteed to make mob rule irreversible.
There has never existed a major country successfully governed by direct democracy. People elect their representatives and then trust them to govern on their behalf through institutions.
It’s only when the institutions fail to govern wisely and equitably that referendums are waved before the people. A referendum is a government’s tacit admission of its own ineptitude.
A bit of histrionic demagoguery followed, as it always does when modern politicians talk. Help me, pleaded Manny, to “rebuild the art of being French”.
But that art has never been lost, which is precisely the problem here. The art has been pushed underground by France’s rampant statism and its extreme manifestation in EU membership.
The whole point of the EU is to toss dozens of diverse cultures into a cauldron and boil them into a homogeneous mass devoid of any particular flavour and texture. The French don’t need lessons in being French. Many of them simply realise that it’s difficult under the EU aegis.
Sensing that his presidency is hanging by a thread, Manny then tried to mollify the restless populace with a few mea culpas.
“In a way,” he said, “I imposed on the French the impatience and the demands that I have for myself and members of the government… I regret it. First of all because that is not who I deeply am and because I think that that did not help my cause.”
But that’s exactly what he deeply is, precisely the type of apparatchik produced by modern politics, especially in France. A small group of supposedly clever people imposing their demands on everybody else is the essence of French politics, which just might work after a fashion if those people are indeed genuinely clever – not when they are Manny.
“I must be more human,” added Manny, implicitly admitting that so far he has been rather less than human. For once, I agree.