On May 10, 1981, François Mitterrand was elected president of France. It was the first time in the twenty-three-year history of the Fifth Republic that a Socialist had wrested power from the Gaullist center-right, and his victory set off raucous waves of drunken celebration, as well as shivers of fear among business leaders who worried about the new president’s pledge to nationalize banks and other major industries. “Whoever does not accept rupture with the established order, with capitalist society, cannot belong to the Socialist Party,” Mitterrand had said in a rousing speech at Épinay ten years before. Now he planned to make good on his promise of rupture.
On May 7, 2017, Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister who just months earlier had founded his own centrist political party, La République en Marche, won the Élysée Palace in a landslide. Although Macron’s program appealed to many Socialist voters, for many on the left the election had echoes of the catastrophe of April 2002, when the convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front made it to the second round of voting, edging out Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister then governing in “cohabitation” with the conservative president Jacques Chirac. In 2017 as in 2002, there was no Socialist candidate in the final round, and Macron, who had cannibalized what remained of the Socialist Party, faced off against Le Pen’s daughter, Marine. Her positions were extreme—she advocated nativist immigration policies, economic protectionism, and withdrawal from the European Union—but with nearly 34 percent of the vote, she did better than her father, who won less than 18 percent against Chirac.
François Hollande, Macron’s Socialist predecessor and former boss, had declined to run for a second term. After skyrocketing unemployment and a devastating series of Islamist terror attacks, Hollande at one point had approval ratings of only 4 percent, making him the most unpopular political figure in the history of contemporary France. In a symbolic end of an era, the Socialist Party sold its historic headquarters on Paris’s rue de Solférino in December 2017 because it needed the cash.
This April, France will choose its next president. Macron, who has become Europe’s interlocutor between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, will almost certainly be reelected; at least at the national level, the transformation of the French political scene that began with his election in 2017 has only solidified in the five years since. So certain is Macron—and at this point, virtually everyone else—of his second victory that he has refused to participate in any of the presidential debates.
And once again, Macron’s only serious challengers, to the extent he has any, are from the right: Marine Le Pen (who has renamed her party Rassemblement National, or National Rally); the conservative Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains, the latest iteration of the party of Charles de Gaulle; and the openly racist Éric Zemmour, a former Figaro columnist who has been convicted twice of hate speech against Muslims and who styles himself a crusader against the so-called Great Replacement, the conspiracy theory claiming that the white Christian majority of France is being “replaced” by nonwhite, mostly Muslim immigrants.1 According to the latest polls, this year’s election is shaping up to be another face-off between Macron and an even stronger Le Pen.
Perhaps the most important plotline of the 2022 French presidential election is not the rise of the right or Macron’s grip on national politics but the failure of the left once again to be competitive in a country widely understood to be the epitome of the welfare state. The Socialist Party candidate is Anne Hidalgo, the deeply unpopular mayor of Paris, whose campaign has never taken off beyond the adulatory coverage she has received in foreign newspapers for installing bike lanes in the gridlocked capital.2 There is also Yannick Jadot, the environmentalist candidate from France’s Green Party, who, like Hidalgo, is seemingly stuck at around 5 percent in the polls. Most importantly, there is the firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon from La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), the far-left party he started in 2016, now in his third presidential bid at the age of seventy. As of this writing, he has risen in the polls to a projected third place, but he has advocated Russophile positions in the past and, most recently, a withdrawal from NATO, which he has called a “useless organization.” Since the war started, he has also opposed providing any weapons to Ukraine at a moment when the French public overwhelmingly supports doing so. But he has an enduring popularity for a reason.
Mélenchon’s poll numbers spiked at the same point in the 2017 campaign, and his momentary resurgences are proof that there is at least one lesson he never forgot. “The fact that I could reach the second round changes the political discourse,” he told reporters recently. “It’s a more classic left-right debate, instead of this incredible situation where you have people arguing about Muslims.”
In a sense, Mélenchon is right, not so much about his own significance but about the reality that even on what remains of the French left, the “conversation,” insofar as there is one, has relatively little to say about the economic issues that still motivate most voters. Before the war in Ukraine changed the emphasis of the campaign to European affairs and Macron’s push for what he has long called Europe’s “strategic autonomy” in economic and defense matters, voters in France were largely treated to a bonfire of inanities about Islam and identity politics, topics that predictably arouse passionate diatribes on the right but also among the social democrats in Macron’s camp and on the center-left.
One of the glaring ironies of French political life is that although France lacks a muscular left, it ranks among the most robust and successful welfare states in the world—a fact that far too few French citizens seem to appreciate, especially Mélenchon’s supporters. In 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the French government spent a staggering 62 percent of GDP, 27.3 percent of which went toward funding social protections. Both figures were the highest of any European country, according to the official statistics office of the European Union. But the same was true even before the pandemic: France takes care of its citizens, perhaps not as much as some might like, but more than most other countries in the Western world.
There is also no French right-wing movement that has ever come close to implementing free-market reforms that resemble Reaganism or Thatcherism. Nevertheless, some of the most important achievements of the Socialist Party have been reversed since the 1980s. To give just one example, France’s storied revenu minimum d’insertion, a welfare program instituted under Mitterrand in 1988 to assist those without income or rights to unemployment benefits, was scrapped by the conservative government of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009. It was replaced with the revenu de solidarité active, which much more strictly obliges claimants to find work. In France as elsewhere in the West, there has been a shift from “welfare to workfare,” which has continued under Macron.
As left-wing parties triumph across the continent—notably in Spain, Scandinavia, and Germany, where, in 2021, after sixteen years of Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic Union, voters opted for Olaf Scholz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party—the French left seems a relic of the past. But political authority and cultural authority are, of course, different sources of power. In the latter category, too, the French left has forfeited the hegemony it once held in the realm of intellectual life. In a moment of rising anxiety about national identity, especially in the aftermath of the Islamist terror attacks, the left simply has no vision. It merely seems to respond to grievances from the right, allowing its opponents to dictate the terms of a discussion that it might take in a different direction. This is perhaps the French left’s greatest failure: its failure, and even its fear, of imagination.
Within a few months of Mitterrand’s election in May 1981, it seemed that a new French revolution was underway. Parliamentary elections after the presidential vote that year gave him the mandate he needed to enact his leftist agenda. Mitterrand’s prime minister was Pierre Mauroy, the hard-line Socialist mayor of Lille, and there were no fewer than four Communists in Mauroy’s cabinet—a striking change for a Western democracy in cold war Europe. The Communist Party had been a powerful force in French politics for decades, but it had never reached the corridors of power in this way.
Mitterrand and Mauroy enacted a sweeping series of reforms. The minimum wage rose by 11 percent between May 1981 and September 1982. Between Mitterrand’s election and June 1983, the government significantly expanded family benefits, which increased the purchasing power of families with two or more children, and the tax burden was shifted away from the lowest-income households. These measures led to a palpable increase in living standards. Unemployment benefits were expanded, and so was the period during which one could reasonably claim them. The retirement age was lowered to sixty, and the workweek was shortened. There were also the nationalizations that Mitterrand had promised: the government took over major industrial groups, defense manufacturers, and some of the country’s largest banks. Although critics often say that these reforms caused the French economy to stagnate in the 1980s, another result was that both poverty and social inequality noticeably decreased.
But about a year into this new revolution, the president who had promised a rupture with capitalism was forced to change course and to adopt the tournant de la rigueur—the turn to austerity.3 The franc was struggling to remain competitive in the European Monetary System, and Mitterrand decided that the government’s top priority had to be fighting inflation. In June 1982, he ordered a devaluation of the franc and a halt to government spending. Price stability became the government’s main priority, and both monetary and fiscal restraint remained the dominant economic approach for the rest of Mitterrand’s presidency, which ended in 1995. Largely because of the turn to austerity, the Socialists lost badly in legislative elections in 1986 and again in 1993, which forced Mitterrand into cohabitation with the right, undermining his mandate—and some of the promises he had made.
In the 1990s the French left never accepted the neoliberal “Third Way” adopted by the governments of Bill Clinton in the United States and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom, which advocated a synthesis of center-right economic policies and center-left social policies. And although Mitterrand reneged on his earlier call for “rupture,” France remained, in government spending, far more expansionary than most of its European neighbors. But the French left began to distance itself from its proclaimed values by the early 1990s, when its grip on public policy seemed strong: its leaders stopped prioritizing their promises to the working class, whose support was taken for granted. The goal was to remain competitive in the neoliberal world order of increasingly globalized economies. Even Mitterrand’s acolytes espoused some of these platitudes: Lionel Jospin—borrowing the language of German Ordoliberalismus—began to speak of the “social market economy”—a market economy that was committed to significant social protections. The idea was to show that liberalizing market reforms did not necessarily entail the elimination of postwar social welfare programs. The left has continued on this path ever since.
The disaster of “le 21 avril” 2002—when Jospin lost what had seemed a guaranteed place in the final round of the presidential election—was a blow from which the Socialists never quite recovered. A journalist asked him, five days before the first-round vote, if he could imagine a scenario in which he did not qualify. He laughed. “I have a normal imagination, but tempered by reason,” Jospin said. It was a seismic shock that remade French politics: among other things, it was the first time Socialist voters were induced to support a center-right candidate to keep the far right—in this case, Jean-Marie Le Pen—out of the Élysée. The Socialist Party seemed incapable of fending off an existential threat to the republic.
France’s next left-wing president, Hollande, who was elected in 2012—four years after the global economic crisis of 2008—said during his campaign, “My true adversary is the world of finance.” At the beginning, he seemed true to his word. In September 2012 he instituted a wealth tax of 75 percent on earnings of over €1 million. Leading French industrialists panicked, with many taking foreign citizenship—Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH and France’s richest man, submitted an application to take Belgian citizenship but later withdrew it. Many others simply moved abroad—to southwest London or the Upper East Side of New York City. But eventually, following an outcry from the wealthy and even from within Hollande’s government, the so-called supertax was withdrawn. Its most influential critic was Macron, then Hollande’s economy minister, who called it “Cuba without the sun.”
The backtracking only continued from there. In the spring of 2016 the Hollande government began a series of ambitious labor reforms, which were meant to liberalize the country’s strict labor code and, among other things, make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. The El Khomri law, named after Myriam El Khomri, Hollande’s labor minister, was passed later that year; it loosened restrictions on the thirty-five-hour workweek, reduced overtime payments, and slashed severance payments for workers made redundant.
The law sparked Nuit Debout, a mass movement that lasted throughout 2016 and was akin to Occupy Wall Street. I spent many days that spring at various Nuit Debout rallies, and the overwhelming sense I got from the protesters, regardless of their age, was one of betrayal. Almost all of them had voted for Hollande, but his government was enacting precisely the kind of neoliberal reforms they had put him in power to halt. “It’s a leftist government that was elected,” one young man told me then. “But they’re sort of traitors, as far to the right as they’ve moved.” The government ignored this reaction. Manuel Valls, Hollande’s prime minister, said in the National Assembly, “This reform has to go through. The country must move forward.” The question, of course, was in which direction.
By 2017 the left was a shadow of its former self, largely because of these missteps. Macron undermined Hollande, his old boss, by declaring his own candidacy, offering elites in both traditional parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, the closest thing France has ever had to a Third Way. His new party, La République en Marche—at the time just En Marche, which bore Macron’s initials—was billed as a radical intervention, ni gauche ni droite, in a system that had only known the exchange of power between the left and right since 1958. For the first time in the Fifth Republic, the far right was a serious contender for the Élysée, but the most revealing thing was that many of Marine Le Pen’s supporters had previously been left-wing constituents who felt ignored by the Socialists.
Former Communist strongholds, such as the heavily working-class industrial northeast of France, have now become solid Le Pen country. The writer Édouard Louis, who grew up in poverty in Picardie, described his father’s journey from left-wing working-class voter to vocal supporter of the far right:
My father had felt abandoned by the political left since the 1980s, when it began adopting the language and thinking of the free market. By contrast, the National Front railed against poor working conditions and unemployment, laying all the blame on immigration or the European Union. In the absence of any attempt by the left to discuss his suffering, my father latched on to the false explanations offered by the far right.4
The Socialists allowed themselves to become an elite establishment party, run by graduates of France’s famous École nationale d’administration and plagued by the petty infighting seen in the popular television series Baron Noir. Meanwhile, both major extremist parties—the National Front on the right, Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise on the left—managed to create the impression, however false, that they were focusing on issues important to the working class and lower-middle class, two groups that feel increasingly forgotten even though they remain better off than their counterparts in other countries. If Mélenchon has risen in the polls in advance of the first round of the 2022 election on April 10, this is why: he is the new face of what remains of the left in France.
The establishment French left has not only ignored the concerns of its traditional constituents; it has also struggled to find its way in the war of ideas that is being waged in a more diverse society. If its stumbles at the ballot box mirror the recent struggles of left-wing parties elsewhere in Europe or even in North America, a particular failure of the French left is that, at a time when cultural anxieties over immigration have reached a fever pitch, it seems to have no response to them.
In September 1989 three young Muslim women were suspended from a high school in Creil, a small city north of Paris, because they wore the traditional headscarf to class. This provoked l’affaire des foulards, a conflict between French republicanism and changing French society that has raged ever since in endless permutations. Although the left was in power at the time and returned to power with Hollande in 2012, the affair can be seen as one of the early turning points in the slow transformation of French republicanism—beloved by both progressives and leftists alike because of its commitment to “universal” values such as liberty, equality, and fraternity—into the creed of reactionary intolerance it can so easily become. In hindsight, the left was wholly unprepared to meet the challenge of an increasingly diverse society after the 1970s, and its willingness to sacrifice the question of national identity, perhaps the cultural essence of French politics, to its opponents was among its fatal flaws.
Without question, the left has lost the so-called battle of ideas in France, where a troubling consensus has taken root that the nation has somehow fallen into terminal decline.5 With a few commendable exceptions, such as the historian Patrick Boucheron, the left’s leading public intellectuals, writers, and representatives offer no substantive rejoinder to the unfounded right-wing claim that the country is in free fall. Worse, they often seem to agree with it, and they are unwilling to embrace the mounting evidence that would, to any rational observer, depict France as more of a success story than anything else. The French economy expanded by 6 percent in 2021, and the country’s perennially high unemployment rate, currently 7.6 percent, has fallen to below its pre-Covid level. The state offers for free some of the highest-quality education and medical care in the world, workers are guaranteed lengthy holidays every year, and the average retirement age is sixty-one. But none of these hard-won achievements seems to matter to the left. What does matter is taking a stance on the identity question.
It is not only Éric Zemmour, after all, who laments that France’s cherished values are under an apparently existential siege by alleged hordes of North African and specifically Muslim immigrants who seek “ethnic substitution” from within. The great lie of the Great Replacement would not be so resonant were it merely an anxiety that animated one side of the political spectrum. In the realm of ideas, the left, unwilling to promote and defend the successes of the welfare state, has occasionally become a meeker proponent of the same toxicity its opponents sell in a more aggressive and emotional package. As a result, it inevitably seems weak and impotent by comparison.
L’affaire des foulards was only the beginning of a long string of left-wing failures to express and defend a positive, inclusive vision of the multicultural society that France has become. This lack is most acute when it comes to the public visibility of Islam in French society, but the left has also fallen into the trap of accepting, regardless of the evidence to the contrary, that “waves” of immigrants threaten social cohesion. The reality is that over the last ten years, immigration in France has increased at a slower pace than in other European countries, even after the 2015 migrant crisis. But the illusion of mass immigration remains largely undisputed.6
The French republican model is strongly assimilationist: newcomers and immigrants are supposed to integrate themselves into a “universalist” construct of citizenship. The state is meant to be neutral, and all citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, religious affiliation, or race, are equal in its eyes. As with all social models, there is an often unacknowledged ideology at work, which in this case is the widespread belief that in France minorities—and especially minority groups as distinct communities—simply do not exist. Since 1978 it has been illegal to collect statistics on race, religion, or ethnicity in France; the only identity that counts for the French state is that of the citizen, a highly prescriptive interpretation often at odds with how real human beings, pushed and pulled by concentric circles of affiliations, see themselves and live their lives.
In any case, the truth is that France’s very particular version of universalism was conceived in and for a society that has not existed for quite some time: the relatively homogeneous France of the pre-war period—predominately white and Catholic, but home to small populations of Protestants, Jews, and foreigners, including many refugees. Decolonization changed everything. After the devastation of World War II, France had a drastically reduced labor pool and desperately needed foreign workers. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from former colonies, especially from Algeria after it won its independence in 1962, began to arrive. Many of these newcomers, from North Africa but also from West Africa, were Muslim, but because a fair number of them were also initially considered temporary laborers, their integration was not a priority.
By the time labor shortages ended and the French government restricted legal immigration from its former colonies in 1974, there was a sizable group of people who, by then joined by their families, made claims on the state while maintaining either citizenship in or cultural ties with their home countries. This became especially pronounced after the Marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme in the autumn of 1983, an uprising against racist violence experienced by Muslim and Arab immigrants, and the first major civil unrest of this kind. Although the marches helped transform Jean-Marie Le Pen into a political force, they were also a moment when the left abandoned a constituent community with legitimate grievances. This was in the early Mitterrand years, during the Mauroy government. When Renault workers went on strike earlier in the year, protesting Mitterrand’s embrace of austerity, the presence of many Algerians in their ranks led Mauroy to dismiss them outright, insisting that they were merely following “radical” Islamist doctrine and that their concerns had “little to do with social realities.” Their children and now their grandchildren have increasingly pushed for the right to be different: to enjoy the full spectrum of political rights afforded to all French citizens, but to maintain other identities that remind them of their origins.
This general sentiment was the background for l’affaire des foulards in 1989, already a fraught moment: it was the bicentennial of the French Revolution, and a fatwa had been announced in February against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. Mitterrand was still in power in 1989; a left-wing government and a robust intellectual establishment might have seen in three young women asserting their identities in public a cause for celebration, or at least defense: these, after all, were Muslim women participating in the life of the republic, not withdrawing from it.
But the opposite occurred. Jospin, then Mitterrand’s education minister, was forced to enter the fray, and he sent the case to the Conseil d’État, France’s highest court, a month later. It ruled that wearing a headscarf alone could not be seen as an act of proselytism or propaganda in a public school setting, and only teachers could determine if students who did so crossed those lines. But despite this temporary accommodation from state institutions, left-wing intellectuals—more than their right-wing counterparts—went to battle against what they saw as an affront to France’s conception of state secularism, or laïcité.
A number of these thinkers, including the former Marxist and Mitterrand adviser Régis Debray and the prominent feminist Élisabeth Badinter, signed an open letter in Le Nouvel Observateur against what they called “the Munich of the Republican school.” These ahistorical histrionics regarding Islam have been the dominant line on the French left ever since. In fact, France’s crackdown on Islam in public life has been as much a project of the establishment French left as it was of the French right. In 2003, following the provocations of France’s then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who demanded that all Muslim women pose without veils for government-issued IDs, the Socialist parliamentary representative Jack Lang—Mitterrand’s former culture minister—proposed a law that would ban any overt signs of religious affiliation from public schools. Lang’s insistence was ultimately what prompted the conservative government of Jacques Chirac to launch the so-called Stasi Commission, which laid the groundwork for the 2004 law that did finally ban the headscarf (along with other religious garb) from French public schools.7
The leftist argument against the headscarf sees itself as a good-faith defense of citizens against religious pressures that restrict their individual liberties: proponents would insist that the enemy is not Islam per se, but religious fundamentalism in general. The argument does not come from nowhere, as the findings of the Stasi Commission made clear. In certain French Muslim communities, men exert considerable pressure on women to wear the headscarf, as is regularly documented by French journalists and social scientists.8 But on the whole, the leftist critique comes from a quasi-religious attachment to the belief that French universalism is truly universal, which of course it is not.
Many feminists of Badinter’s generation claim that prohibiting the veil is ultimately a matter of women’s rights, because women can never freely choose whether or not to wear it: the leftist universalists, in other words, are the arbiters of Muslim women’s freedom, not Muslim women themselves. The parallel is still often made to Iran, where the obligation to wear the veil is legally enforced; giving one inch is said to be tantamount to sacrificing the entire edifice of republican neutrality. But this kind of secularism is often selective: in a culturally Catholic country, there is almost never any comparable outrage over the nativity scenes that adorn town halls at Christmas or the fact that state institutions still often close for business on many Catholic holidays, including some of the more obscure ones, like Pentecost Monday.
The left’s rhetoric on Islam has only hardened following a gruesome string of Islamist terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, in which more than 230 people were killed—in the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo, in cafés across Paris, in village churches, and on a seaside promenade in Nice, among other places. These atrocities are lingering traumas, and they warranted the strongest national security response, which Hollande’s Socialist government was unable to provide. Instead, it followed the lead of the political right. Three days after the November 2015 assault on the Bataclan theater and other sites in Paris, Hollande proposed a law, the déchéance de nationalité, that would have denationalized dual French nationals convicted of terrorism.
Although largely a symbolic gesture, the proposal was applauded by the right and abhorred by the left. Christiane Taubira, Hollande’s justice minister and arguably the most progressive member of his cabinet, publicly resigned over it, and Hollande ultimately withdrew it, later saying that the déchéance de nationalité was the only regret of his presidency. At the same time, many left-wing representatives and intellectuals spun the terror attacks into culture wars that could vindicate their prior positions. Even now, the landscape somewhat resembles the US in the aftermath of September 11 and the beginning of the war in Iraq: thinkers who should know better either feel mounting pressure to parrot falsehoods they do not believe or have no qualms about giving in to the emotion and, indeed, the hatred of the moment.
Élisabeth Badinter, for instance, declared after the 2015 terror attacks that “we must not be afraid of being called Islamophobic!” And there was Manuel Valls, France’s last Socialist prime minister, speaking at the party conference in 2016, shortly after crusading against the “burkini” swimsuit, which a tiny number of Muslim women wore to preserve their modesty on public beaches. He felt compelled to defend the image of Marianne, the avatar of the French Republic, as a sexualized white woman uncovered in public, a Brigitte Bardot in tricolor: “Marianne has bare breasts because she feeds the people, she does not wear a headscarf because she is free! That’s the Republic!”
This is, today, the tragic evolution of the great antimonarchical, anticlerical tradition of French republicanism. What for decades, and even centuries, were true left-wing causes—secularism, education, gender equality, the fight against anti-Semitism—have now become instruments in a larger cultural battle against a minority community a true left would defend, champion, and, at the very least, include. Muslims account for roughly 10 percent of the French population, and France is a multicultural society regardless of its universalist pretensions. The solution need not be American-style identity politics; it could be the durable vision of universalist multiculturalism advocated by Taubira and others, a universalism that is not the negation of differences but accepts plurality. Taubira, a black woman who was once the Socialists’ intellectual star, has since left the party hierarchy. Her bid as a “unity left” candidate in this year’s election went nowhere.
The Marxist philosopher Jacques Rancière evaluates the evolution of French republicanism in Les trente inglorieuses (2022), a bitter interpretation of the years 1991 to 2021, the thirty years that followed the so-called Trente Glorieuses, France’s three-decade postwar economic boom. Rancière’s arguments are deliberately radical and provocative, but he does have a point: “‘Republicanism’ has become an extreme-right of a new type, an extreme right ‘of the left,’” he writes.9 Indeed, in 2022, to be a vocal “republican” is often synonymous with being a reactionary, and a leftist alternative has yet to be formulated.
To Rancière’s point, I can think of no better illustration of the dire intellectual state of the left, and its reactionary turn, than the humiliating demise of Le Débat, the storied left-wing journal of ideas launched by the acclaimed historians Pierre Nora and Marcel Gauchet. Gauchet has recently come out in praise of Zemmour, whom he credited with speaking the truth on immigration, although Zemmour has propagated only an endless river of lies. Gauchet said in January that Zemmour “brings out the truth of the French situation.” In October he even said that Zemmour “speaks about what must be talked about and about which others do not speak.”10
France in 2022 is a diverse, multicultural society with so much promise and so much to be proud of. It deserves a strong political left unafraid to ignore right-wing identitarian shibboleths, brave enough to speak for an increasingly polyphonic national community, and free of reactionary nostalgia for a country that never quite existed.
—March 24, 2022
An earlier version of this essay incorrectly implied that Marcel Gauchet has endorsed Éric Zemmour for president. The date when the revenu minimum d’insertion was scrapped by the Sarkozy government has also been corrected, and a line about Bernard Arnault has been updated to clarify that he applied for but did not take Belgian citizenship.
See my “Who Does Éric Zemmour Speak For?,” The New York Review, January 13, 2022. ↩
See Madeleine Schwartz, “Bike Lane to the Élysée,” The New York Review, March 24, 2022. ↩
I am indebted here to the thoughtful essay by the sociologist Jonah Birch, “The Rise and Fall of the French Left,” Tribune, February 23, 2022. ↩
“Why My Father Votes for Le Pen,” The New York Times, March 4, 2017. ↩
A recent poll conducted by The Economist revealed that a staggering 75 percent of French voters agree that France is “in decline.” See “France Is Doing Well, But Feeling Miserable,” The Economist, November 20, 2021. ↩
See Norimitsu Onishi, “Migration Talking Points Surge in France, But Not Migration,” The New York Times, December 2, 2021. ↩
For the most thorough history of l’affaire des foulards, see Joan Wallach Scott, “Symptomatic Politics: The Banning of Islamic Headscarves in French Public Schools,” French Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter 2005). See also Scott, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton University Press, 2010). ↩
See, for instance, the excellent investigation by the French journalists Ariane Chemin and Raphaelle Bacqué into the Paris suburb of Trappes, which holds Europe’s record for the number of ISIS fighters who have left for Syria, La Communaute: Une banlieue au défi de l’Islam (Paris: Albin Michel, 2018). ↩
Interview with Rancière and the French anticapitalist magazine Frustration, available at frustrationmagazine.fr. ↩
I draw here on the insightful article by the French historian of immigration Patrick Weil in response to these falsehoods, “Why Does France Think Immigration Is Growing?,” Public Books, February 25, 2022. ↩