When Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen in the French election on May 7th, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Macron was not the best candidate, but the danger of Marine Le Pen’s fear-mongering, hard-right politics was the overriding priority. The Economist, a prestigious magazine which leans towards right-of-centre political narratives, tweeted an article about the French election to the effect that Macron’s success proved that pro-European, centrist, ‘reasonable’ politics was still capable of challenging and defeating the troubling phenomenon of nationalist populism. The mainstream Left, as well as the centre, took heart from this in their own way – in the era of Trump and Brexit, a victory for ‘reason’ and ‘moderation’ is something positive.
To me, such thinking is dangerous. It is a matter of course that Marine Le Pen’s brand of neofascism must be opposed – the glorification of an abstract concept of French national identity, often drawing on narratives of an idealised past which never existed for the majority of French, can only lead to the effective criminalisation of ‘difference’, not to mention the dehumanisation of large sections of France’s own population (migrant workers, people of colour, political progressives, etc.). It ends up tearing families apart, boosting the legitimacy of belligerent racism, and providing both a shield and a sword for the very cold, impersonal financial institutions it claims to oppose.
However, rallying around Macron’s style of politics is not the answer. Macron’s ‘pro-European centrism’ is not the heartening response to far-right populism that The Economist would like it to be. On the contrary, it is the very same neoliberalism whose failure to adequately manage the social tensions & polarisation generated by de-industrialisation, sweeping privatisation and the swollen importance of the speculative and unpredictable financial sector produced Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage & Donald Trump in the first place. In other words, Macron is not the response to Le Pen – Le Pen is the response to decades of ‘Macron’, or of Macron’s economic politics.
You cannot cure the symptoms of a disease by perpetuating its cause. Today’s neofascism and neoliberal centrism are not the polar opposites which the prevalent political & media narratives make them out to be. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. If we continue with the already tired narrative that the only alternative to the ‘ultra-ideological’, populist zealotry of the far-right is the apolitical and technocratic centre, then that is what we will be reduced to in every election – we will not be able, we will not even allow ourselves to think about politics as an exercise in questioning society or mass participation (whether belligerent, as in the case of social movements, or tacit as in the case of voting) in leading society in a certain direction. Politics will become a bland matter of fear and hysteria – fear of immigrants, of finance, of difference represented by the Marine Le Pens of our respective countries, and fear of fear, fear of ideology, fear of fascism, represented by our Macrons. As far as I am concerned, this is a bleak prospect. It is neither politics nor democracy, but spectacle, and as a spectacle is how it should be treated.
Throwing our support behind the Macrons of this world is no way to put the Le Pens in their graves and bury their threat. Many have already said, “Macron 2017 = Le Pen 2022”. Even if a Le Pen doesn’t win in 2022, we will again be faced with the false choice, a neoliberal technocrat or a neofascist. My view is that we should be brave enough to refuse to participate in this spectacle, which does not empower people, which does not “grant people a voice through their vote” but, on the contrary, exerts the moral and political pressure of fear and hysteria on them – which makes it very easy for the supposedly democratic institution of universal suffrage to become the plaything of obscure and dubious forces in the realms of ‘high politics’ that most people (no matter the ‘respectable’ newspapers they read) neither see nor understand.
To reject this false choice, this false ‘politics’ and refuse to legitimate it by casting a vote is not laziness or apathy, but an act of courage, the only truly political act within the limits of electoral politics one can make these days. What is needed is not to champion the neoliberal, whether Macron or Hillary, whose platform (we are seeing in the United States) is often adopted in large part by the ‘hideous’ neofascist candidate anyway – what is needed is a popular, strong, viable left-wing alternative capable of overturning politics as we know it. This might sound grandiose, idealistic, even naïve, but sometimes, the ‘big’ and ‘radical’ solutions really are the only ‘realistic’ ones.