Most Americans have not heard the name Benalla, and if they have, they haven’t a clue why it should concern them. How could they? The White House is a region of spacetime exerting such a strong pull on our attention that no one can escape; a scandal in France that sounds inscrutable and insignificant will not be the exception to the rule, even if it is neither.
The manifest content of this scandal, as thus far reported in the highbrow press, is indeed a scandal. But as French scandals go, it is a tremblor on the French Presidential Scandal scale. The latent content is what matters—and it matters because of the larger geopolitical context.
France will soon be the only nuclear power in the European Union. The U.S. commitment to Article V of the NATO treaty is widely in doubt. Macron’s lucky streak has allowed some in Europe to envision the germ of a solution to the massive security and economic dilemmas it confronts: an intimate Franco-German economic and security entente, one that would use Germany’s wealth and France’s military to forge a stable, liberal, and democratic power center at the heart of Europe.
Given this context, it is hard to understand why the French would allow themselves to become consumed by a scandal that on its face is a scandal, yes, but no earth-shattering one. Nonetheless, Macron’s popularity has plummeted. Since Le Monde broke the story on July 18, he has tumbled in the polls by some ten percentage points, leaving a number of observers reaching for elaborate explanations: “The Benalla Affair,” writes Alexandra Schwartz in the New Yorker, “is not about Alexandre Benalla. It is about the French President, and the brash, self-confident manner with which he has blasted through his first year in office.” The story runs the “Culture Desk” section, which is usually reserved for “conversations about movies, television, theatre, music, and other cultural events.”
Not about Benalla? Perhaps it is true that had Macron not been so brash and self-confident, no one in France would have found the news that his intimate friend and adviser likes to dress up like one of the Village People and beat the snot out of anyone in his path especially notable. But this seems a tortured explanation.
The affair takes place against a restive backdrop. On May Day 2018, a year after Macron’s election and half a century after May ’68, the unions took to the street to protest Macron’s economic reforms. These included loosening France’s growth-strangling labor regulations, so rigid that desperate companies with an incompetent employee were known to hire a second one without firing the incompetent one, for it would be so expensive, time-consuming, and bureaucratically arduous to get rid the incompetent that it was easier to keep him on the payroll.
In September last year, Macron pushed through a package of labor law reforms, then turned his attention to the debt-ridden state railways.His proposal to end the guarantee of jobs for life—not, note, for those already employed, but for new recruits—prompted crippling, rolling strikes meant to galvanize France with the rejuvenating spirit of ’68. In reality the strikes just irritated the hell out of us, so much so that, for once, people on the street told me, “I’ve had it with these spoiled little shits. Just fire them all.”
You may remember “May Day in Paris Marred by Violence” headlines, accompanied by the clichéd stock photo of a burning car in Paris. The malefactors were the Black Bloc, a kin to Antifa. Some 1,200 Black Bloc thugs infiltrated an otherwise peaceful march of leftists and trade unionists and went wilding, throwing Molotov Cocktails, smashing windows, torching cars, ransacking shops, brandishing Soviet flags (seriously), tearing up pavement stones, and desecrating the holy symbol of capitalism (a McDonald’s). This happened near the Gare d’Austerlitz, in central southeast Paris. The news made it sound more dramatic than it was: I live about ten blocks away but had no idea it was happening until I received e-mails from concerned Americans telling me to flee for my life.
That evening, another scrap broke out at the Place de la Contrescarpe, which guidebooks describe as “a small, intimate, and pleasantly shaded square, lined by lively cafés, one of the most attractive in Paris.” The cops were in a crappy mood after dealing with 1,200 ravening anarchists, and another passel of drunken reds was the last thing they wanted to see. But with one notable exception, the cops were perfectly professional, if, obviously, not a bit in the mood.
Here is the video, recorded on May 1, that started it all.1 Look for the cop in the helmet who’s not like the others. He’s incompetent. He’s untrained. He’s neither in control of himself nor the suspect. He smashes him in the head in a way no professional ever would. You could give someone a concussion or brain damage that way. You could even hurt your hand. The video was released immediately, but only became a national scandal when the public learned that the cop in question was not a cop. He was 26-year-old Alexandre Benalla, a swarthy young man from the other side of the tracks, impersonating a police officer.
And who exactly is Benalla? On July 18, Le Monde identified him, triggering the firestorm. He is a man who has had seemingly unlimited access to the President of the Republic of France. But he shouldn’t have.
Other amateur videos of the May 1 incident have since surfaced. By now everyone in France has seen Benalla mashing his fist into a protestor and stomping on his stomach; they have watched him wrestle to the ground and drag off an unarmed woman; they have seen him flee the scene. We have seen the assault from every angle, in slow motion, captioned, illustrated with arrows and diagrams, or playing on a loop, in the background, as excited television presenters narrate the blow-by-blow.
We have since learned, too, that Benalla was granted gifts and favors exceedingly unsuited to his official role. And what was that role? It changes by the day, but in press accounts he has been described variously as “bodyguard,” “the President’s close collaborator,” “deputy chief of staff,” “assistant director of the cabinet of the President of the Republic,” “top aide,” and “adviser to the President.” One thing is perfectly clear: Nothing could keep them apart. France has seen photo after photo of Macron and Benalla skiing together in the Pyrénées and cycling in matching pastels at the seaside. Benalla had the keys to the presidential couple’s home. He was installed in a sumptuous apartment on the Quai Branly with a certain historic significance—it once housed President Mitterrand’s illegitimate family—and paid a salary grossly disproportionate to his role, whatever it was. He was given an official vehicle, with flashing lights and sirens, which perhaps a bodyguard might need, yes, but why then was he also given a chauffeur? He had no training as a bodyguard, but under Macron’s employ, in what Libération termed “the fastest promotion in French military history,” this retired former grunt in the gendarmerie became a five-bar lieutenant colonel with “expert” status. He had free range of the National Assembly, a diplomatic passport, and a security clearance.
This would all have escaped widespread notice if the far Left had not tipped off Le Monde. Note, though, that someone had to know Benalla was not who he appeared to be to grasp that the video would cripple President Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
Benalla’s nickname was “Rambo.” His intimates say he has hot blood, or sang chaud, the opposite of the quality usually ascribed to heroic Frenchmen—sangfroid. He was granted a license to carry, even though his earlier applications had repeatedly been denied by the Interior Ministry; police officers considered his dossier “dubious.” Sources tell journalists that the Elysée would have had to intervene directly to overrule that judgement.
He had been offering his services as a bodyguard to Socialist Party luminaries since 2008, but in 2012, only days into a new job as Arnaud Montebourg’s chauffeur, he was fired “with utmost force, for severe misconduct,” as Montebourg told Le Monde. “He caused a car accident, in my presence, and sought to flee the scene.” In 2015, a woman filed a complaint with the police accusing Benalla of “willingly and violently” assaulting her so seriously that she couldn’t work for more than eight days. In March 2016, shortly before Benalla entered Macron’s employ, these charges were dismissed. Unusually, no legal explanation for the verdict was offered.
Directly before the 2017 election, hackers broke into Macron’s campaign and dumped a massive trove of documents onto the internet. No one paid them much mind, assuming the Russians had mingled with the real documents so many fake and scurrilous ones that none could be trusted. The documents about Benalla, however, appear to have been real: They note his fondness for riot shields and non-lethal weapons. It does seem he had quite the collection: When he wanted to play policeman, he had all the gear—the helmet, the armband, the walkie-talkie. But how could he have assumed he would get away with that in the era of the smartphone? Impersonating a police officer is, needless to say, illegal as hell. Clearly, he felt he was immune—and indeed, members of police unions have since testified under oath that Benalla “terrified” them, that he felt free to curse and threaten with impunity high-ranking officers of the police and gendarmerie.
The police had their reasons. In this video, shot in March 2017 and published by Public Sénat the day after after Le Monde identified Benalla as the rogue cop, we see Benalla manhandling a journalist, then stealing his badge. The incident was “so serious and so incomprehensible,” Public Sénat reported, “that the director of the channel sent a letter to then-candidate Macron’s team, noting that there was no threat whatsoever to the candidate and protesting this arbitrary interference with the press in in its normal duties.” It was a warning, Public Sénat wrote, “that should have been heeded, and should have prevented Benalla from following Macron into the Elysée Palace.”
We learned from sworn testimony before the French parliament that the President and the Interior Ministry had been aware of the incident as soon as it happened. Neither alerted the public prosecutor, as required by law, nor did they do so until the story was on the front page of every newspaper in France. Instead, they suspended Benalla without salary for 15 days, but for a “technical reason” he received his salary anyway and immediately reappeared, accompanying the President as if he had not been suspended at all. They knew Benalla had done something psychopathic on May Day, but not one of the people officially responsible for ensuring the security of the President insisted that his access to him be cut off.
The cover-up has been clumsier than the crime. After the story broke, no one could get the alibi straight. Neither Interior Minister Gérard Collomb nor the Paris Prefect of Police Michel Delpuech were willing to take the fall; both pointed the finger at Macron. On July 23, Delpuech contradicted the Elysée’s declarations that the police had authorized Benalla to attend the demonstration.
All of this is scandalous, yes. The corruption, the favoritism, and the carelessness with state security warrant stern condemnation. But none of it merits the unrelenting fever it has generated in France. It does not warrant the obsession, and it can be described no other way.
Why? As French scandals go, writes Arthur Goldhammer, “nothing here rises to the level of past presidential misdeeds.” He recalls the barbouzes of de Gaulle’s Service d’Action Civique, the Greenpeace Affair, Mitterrand’s private eavesdroppers. “These were affairs of state. Benalla is a choirboy by comparison.”
Benalla has since been indicted for assault, impersonating a police officer, gang violence, interference in public service, illegally wearing a police badge, and conspiracy to abuse police surveillance footage. The three high-ranking police officers who allegedly gave Benalla the footage of the incident have been indicted for misappropriating the images and violating professional secrecy. The judiciary is conducting an investigation into “cronyism.” Five have so far been indicted. The National Police and the Inspector General are conducting simultaneous administrative investigations.
Macron has taken responsibility. The buck stops with him, he says. He has assured us that Benalla was never given the nuclear codes. He has assured us, too, that Benalla has never been his lover. So that, at least, is settled.
So why, then, isn’t it settled? Why did the leaked video first force Macron into hiding—he went silent for days, completely aberrant for the normally voluble Jupiter—and why, when at last he emerged, did he stand before the flashing lightbulbs and say, “Benalla has never been my lover?” Any competent brand manager would tell you those are not the words to utter if you aim never to associate in the public mind the words “Macron,” “Benalla,” and “lover.”
Because, of course, everyone suspects Benalla is his lover. It takes quite a conspiracy theory to account for this any other way, doesn’t it? But that is not the heart of the matter. France isn’t anti-homosexual in the Russian manner. Marine Le Pen, for example, surrounds herself with gay advisers and insists that, far from being homophobic, her animosity to Islamic immigration stems from her homophilia. Homosexuality in France is now at best mildly transgressive. Few would have thought the worse of Macron had he come out of the closet. His taste for men was rumored before the election, and since nearly everyone had heard about it, not much of a secret.
Macron might have been better off saying, “Yes, he’s my lover, and it’s none of your business.” That’s an answer France might have understood. It is the reflex response here to any question about a public figure’s private life. An American (in all innocence, presumably) once asked Quora whether Macron was gay, and was taken to the woodshed by his French interlocutors. “I am not politically in favor of Macron, but this question is inappropriate. To say the least,” remarked one.
Unfortunately, this obvious retort was unavailable to him, because Macron had spent months of his campaign saying, “Yes, she’s my wife, and it’s none of your business.” In his 2016 memoir, the candidate described his “love often clandestine, often hidden, misunderstood by many before imposing itself.” But this love that dared not speak its name was to Brigitte, whom he met when he was a 15-year-old student at a Jesuit high school. She was 25 years his senior, married, and a mother of three. She divorced her husband when Macron turned 18. When Macron began his political career, in 2007, they married, and Macron became a grandfather of seven before his 40th birthday.
Their relationship has mostly struck the French as weird or romantic, but none of their business. Rumors that Brigitte was Macron’s beard were stilled by good manners, discretion, and respect for the beauty of their love story, the will to believe in their love story—especially among middle-aged women with a taste for le fruit vert. When the far Right—and Russia—had the bad taste to cast aspersions on the authenticity of their marriage, Macron won the round by calling such intimations odious: “Saying that it is not possible for a man to live with an older woman without being anything other than a homosexual or a hidden gigolo is misogynous. And it’s also homophobic.”
Were it not for this, Macron could have said, “Yes, he’s my lover, and that is none of your business.” It would have been met, probably, with a great round of public applause for his bravery. But precisely because he had so vigorously denounced anyone who suggested such a thing as a homophobe or a misogynist, the get-out-of-jail-free card was unavailable to him when he possibly needed it most.
Still, his presumptive hypocrisy is not the heart of this matter either. No one in France cared that Mitterrand had two families, or that Hollande had three mistresses. A touch of hypocrisy would have been easily understood. He’s a politician, after all.
So what is this really about? As is often the case in French theater, the action is onstage, but the meaning is offstage.2 The first clue is in the political correctness Macron deftly wielded as a weapon on the campaign trail. This scandal is political correctness in action, and it displays political correctness for what we all know it to be: a sinister system of internal constraints that serves simultaneously to highlight and to hide forbidden thoughts. It also serves as a signal of class status: It is the vernacular of the aspiring upper-middle classes, and deploying it is a sign of class anxiety. The aristocracy sees no need for it. We speak plainly, but only to each other.
Thus it is impossible for the French middle class to articulate, or even consciously to identify, the truly transgressive element of this drama. None can say plainly that yes, France was ready for a President who married his high school drama teacher; France was ready for a closeted gay President, if that’s in fact what he was, or even an openly gay President. But no, France was not ready for a closeted gay President with a taste for S&M.3
That is the heart of the scandal. Benalla is a sadist. Homosexuality is tolerated, but Benalla is different. He is not, for one thing, obviously homosexual. He has a long history of heterosexual liaisons. Perhaps he is an intermittent homosexual, but that is not particularly interesting these days, either. What is interesting, because it is something else entirely, is that Benalla obviously enjoys inflicting pain, and in his elevated disposition in the Macron era, he has been out of control. Thus the reaction to this scandal in France owes much to the hidden image of Macron as a willing victim of Benalla’s baton. There cannot be two sadists in a sado-masochistic affair. If Benalla and Macron were lovers, and Benalla is the dominant half of a sado-masochistic couple, where does that leave Macron? It leaves him where no one wishes to see a French President.
But this is only one thread in a complicated weave. The French press has gone out of its way to affirm that Benalla is French; he was born here; he is one of our own. This is not just political correctness: It is so. This is an important part of France’s conception of itself, made manifest in the law.4 And it is not so. The forbidden thought—and the obvious one—is that Benalla is not a French name. Benalla was born in France, but he is from a French-Moroccan family. He is part of the great wave of post-colonial immigration from the Maghreb.
For Macron to have gotten himself involved in this sort of debauchery smells of Rassenschande. There is to this affair a distinct air of racial defilement. No one wishes in the least to say this, but it is true anyway. If Benalla is an intermittent homosexual and not entirely French by blood—ah, that word does have a way of returning, doesn’t it—the fact that he is also a sadist means he has been showing the clubbing end of the baton to Macron, and in doing this, screwing over France.
Screwing over France in whose name, one might ask, if only because the question is always pertinent. Four or five million French Maghrebis—that is one answer. Go to any suburb around Paris or Marseilles and ask the locals whether they appreciate the fact that someone named Benalla is busy kicking the shit out of the President of the Republic, and, unbidden they would say they enjoy it very much. It is about time that someone did so. This has little to do with Islam and nothing to do with terrorism, it is a matter of redressing an old, old feeling of humiliation.
If in doubt, take a walk through my neighborhood. Try asking, at random, “What do you make of this Benalla business?” The responses are entirely predictable along class and ethnic lines. The waiter in the bobo café will say, “Lovers? Why, that hadn’t occurred to me. Or to anyone I know. What a strange thought.” But go exactly ten meters down the street and talk to the Maghrebi garbage collectors: All smirks and chortles. Their Ivoirian comrades? They’ve honestly got no idea what you’re talking about. Then try a high-ranking civil servant (in strictest confidence and utmost discretion, bien sûr—and only after you’ve established your aristocratic bona fides)—oh yes, the rumors get lewder. I would hardly be surprised if in the upper echelons of the Palace the word now involves Brigitte and a horse.
But in screwing over France by screwing over Macron, Benalla has made a symbolic concord with another constituency altogether: the police. Now, it is a simple and observable fact that no trivial number of police are, by psychological type, sadistic. This is hardly to impugn the police. Every polity needs its protective thugs; no society can long do without them. As it happens, Benalla loved the police. He wished to be one of them, and if not one of them, one of them in spirit. (This type is well known in the United States, too. Think Steven Seagal.) Even though no one in France is so stupid as to wish the police to disappear, the police are widely despised for their gratuitous brutality, their clan loyalty, and their flagrant dishonesty. The socio-economic class they represent lies between the edges of the working and lower-middle class. As they are despised, so they despise their betters: The attorneys, whom they loathe; the clever criminals, whom they sometimes admire; the politicians; and the press. In a country with fascist tendencies, they would represent a barely controlled Freikorps, a clan expressing their resentment in violence, first because violence does very well in expressing something, and second because violence has a latent psychosexual aspect. It is relieving to go beat people up.
These, then, are the first clues to the concealed drama of this affair. Macron has allowed himself to be used both by the Maghreb community and by the police in order to relieve them of their frustrations and resentments. To the French who can sense things happening, but not think about them or forthrightly discuss them, this is bound to provoke a shiver of discontent. Many in France dislike the Maghreb population because they fear, with some reason, that their allegiance is not to France at all—at least not yet. Many dislike the police because the police are not likable (nor should they be). The last thing they wish is for these groups to have their way with the President, and so with France. But this would seem to be what happened. One wonders how many French commentators and writers fully understand the meaning of the Ernst Röhm scandal in Germany? At some level, they all do. And at some level, this is a far deeper source of anxiety, for Röhm was Hitler’s Benalla.
Here is the another clue: The French delight in devouring the powerful and executing monarchs, even when it is not in their interest, and this to a degree unexcelled in any other Western country. They will re-enact the spectacle of destroying the monarchy every time in preference to asking whether it is the right moment to do that.
And a last clue: French libel laws are no joke, and any journalist who says in plain language what everyone is thinking will get his ass sued off. Thus all of this is happening between the lines. Look for the double-entendres. Such an event could be described in many ways in both French and English: the May Day scandal, the Benalla scandal, or even Benalla-gate—in both languages. The press has landed firmly on l’affaire Macron-Benalla, which in both languages means what you think it does.
Another one: “Might this be compared,” journalists are asking one other, entirely straight-faced, on television, “to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior?” No, actually. The aptly codenamed Opération Satanique—more often known as the Greenpeace scandal—took place in 1985, years before the word “Rainbow” would evoke anything but a polychromatic optical illusion. The Rainbow Warrior was the flagship of Greenpeace’s fleet, en route to protest a French nuclear test in the Tuamotu Archipelago, when the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) bombed and sunk her in the Port of Auckland, killing a photographer on board. The New Zealand police captured two operatives and charged them with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. Mitterrand managed to survive by denying everything, vowing to get to the heart of it, whitewashing all the evidence, accusing MI6 of sinking the ship to discredit France, forcing his Defense Minister to take the fall, sacking the head of the DGSE, and launching a trade war against New Zealand’s sheep. In the end, France was forced to confess, apologize, and pay massive reparations, and to this day, the French must ritually apologize for it every time they set foot in the antipodes.
Now that was a scandal.
This is far less—on the face of it—than Opération Satanique, but far more unspeakable in its subtext. The result is something delicious in its clever malice but horrifying to watch. As Bernard-Henri Lévy rightly put it, the press, like piranhas, have run clips of Benalla smashing protesters in a loop while simultaneously making “grotesque speculations about the private life of the presidential couple.” Photos of Macron and Benalla staring into each other’s eyes have been on the front page of every newspaper and magazine in every news kiosk in Paris for weeks. You can’t miss the billboard-sized advertisements for magazines like Le Point and Le Parisien, with headlines like, “A Too-special Advisor,” illustrated everywhere by those photos.
For the subtler, there are the French public intellectuals who have gone savagely intellectual on Macron’s sorry ass. Michel Onfray, a self-declared hedonist, atheist, and anarchist, has been especially vicious. He begins with an apt observation: A republican believes himself at the service of the state; a monarch holds the state to be at his service; and “in a monarchical republic such as ours, the president of the Republic is at less risk of republicanism than becoming a monarch.” But this risk, he argues, was overlooked by the naïfs who brought Macron to power. They thought “a man crowned while yet in his thirties (le trentenaire couronné) could wrench destiny5 in the other direction, oblivious to the qualities required to resist the monarchical temptation: a temperament of iron, a character of steel, and above all an impeccable moral compass,” none of which, he adds, were in evidence in Macron to begin with, and without which French Presidents inevitably “come to view the world through the eyes of their retinue of fawning courtiers.” Thus it is clear that Benalla was “the King’s favorite,”
for we can no longer count the photos in which we see Monsieur Benalla in the closest physical proximity to Emmanuel Macron—in official situations, of course, but just as often in private ones . . . by his side in the chairlift on the ski slopes, in the cocoon of the family residence at Le Touquet, bicycling . . .
Onfray proceeds to work himself into a regicidal frenzy, but rather than shouting, “Off with his head!” he launches into a glorious paragraph that serves the same function:
It is no longer General de Gaulle’s Pléiades displayed ostentatiously on the desktop in the official photo with a large reinforcement of spokesmen to explain what they signify, but the Memoires of Saint-Simon, which relates in detail the mud in which these self-indulgent regimes wallowed. But I digress: The young man who would be president had also chosen for his office Gide and his Nathanaël, for whom he had been taught a passion, and Stendhal, whose doctrine of egotism is a school of narcissism, self-pleasuring, and happiness without others, or against, or in spite of himself. . . . Side-by-side, the author of Memoirs of War and the author of Corydon. Understand if you can. For my part, I have understood.
Have you understood? Of course you have.
Onfray says the obvious because he can do so in a dialect that places him above those who mark their status by means of political correctness. Just slightly below in class stature—but still publicly intellectual—are those who cannot discuss it at all, for it would be—what, exactly? Never mind, we just know better. Thus, otherwise perceptive intellectuals have insisted earnestly that this non-scandal has become such a scandal only because the press is bored—“It’s the dog days of summer and the World Cup is over, what else is the media going to do,” they shrug. “Especially at a time when half the French population has little to do but sit in the sun addle-brained, read the hysterical papers, and gossip.”
This is a threat to sane French politics in a tumultuous time. But it is also much more dangerous.
The nether reaches of French society, from which Macron’s most dangerous political enemies come, can and will continue to insinuate every one of these unspeakable thoughts, skirting the very limits of outright libel. It is an unfair fight: Were Macron’s allies to do the same, they would lose by definition.
Macron represents a class well described here by Pascale Emmanuel Gobry, one loathed by the have-nots. This means Macron must deliver the goods quickly or he’ll end up like Louis XVI. He has probably been taking the right economic measures, but the results have yet to oblige him: The latest growth figures are below the hoped-for 2 percent, and unemployment is again edging up. This makes him vulnerable—and thus these “grotesque speculations about the private life of the presidential couple” will matter, whether or not people think they should.
Macron’s political crucifixion would be fine, amusing even to those with a malicious sense of humor, were there an alternative to Macron. But there is not. France’s traditional political parties have been destroyed. The radical-Right Rassemblement national (formerly the National Front) and the radical-Left La France Insoumise have seized upon this affair in the hope of destroying Macron and the centrist coalition he cobbled together from the ruins of France’s traditional parties.6 This is the horseshoe in action. Those profiting from Macron’s humiliation represent the worst of France—on the one hand its reactionary neo-Vichy wing; on the other, its stupid and vainglorious communists.
What’s more: Europe and the United States need Macron as much as France needs him. The timing of this affaire is rotten for France, rotten for Europe and the West, and just rotten, period. Why? Because Europe’s fate is now in the hands of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, and both pairs of hands are growing weaker. Franco-German cooperation is Europe’s only and perhaps last hope. Otherwise, it’s only too easy to see what will happen with the Americans out, the Russians in, and vile bodies such as Salvini, Orbàn, and Corbyn gaining ground and closing in.
Germany’s willingness to cooperate fully with France depends upon its belief that France has—mirabile dictu—achieved fiscal responsibility. Macron’s success is essential to convincing German taxpayers that France can get its own house in order. Thus far, under Macron, it has been doing that. Ridding France of its absurd labor laws, taking on the unions—and winning—have been significant achievements. Macron’s victory over the cheminots was reminiscent of Thatcher’s victory over Scargill. No French President has been able to do that before.
Only Macron has a hope of getting Germany to do what it must do to redress the damage caused by the premature introduction of the euro: Activate the June 19 Meseberg Declaration. Only Macron can keep Germany securely anchored in a multinational Europe. If he succeeds, he will be an important historic figure. If he fails, an endless succession of unimaginable nightmares are now imaginable, the cascade of potential triggers countless: right-wing populism on the Continent and left-wing populism in Britain; the end of the European Union with the mothballing of NATO; the re-nationalization of European economies after a trade war; the re-militarization of European foreign policies.
Fanciful? No. Germany is now in all seriousness privately debating its need for an independent nuclear deterrent. At least one public indication has appeared. More likely is something like the Treaty of Rapallo redux, toward which Germany is already headed. It is hard to know which is worse, but clearly either will transform German domestic politics in ways with no roadmap or happy precedent. We need a strong and popular Macron right now, one who can prove France will be a reliable economic and security partner to Germany, not a country lashed to the mast by the President’s bodyguard. Macron has survived two censure motions, but the damage is done. The next group of lunatic strikers will not fold as easily as the cheminots.
The speculations about Macron private tastes are inappropriate. To say the least. But Onfray is correct to say that France has an ancient monarchical reflex, and it has been looking over and over again at photos of the Roi de Jupiter staring moistly into Benalla’s eyes. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
The scandal is a sinister omen. It is a sign of a lucky streak coming to an end. And this we cannot afford, for Macron is France’s best hope of entering the 21st century—and Europe’s best hope of not returning to the 20th.
1. The YouTube user who uploaded the video mislabeled the date as 01/04/2018.
2. Think of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
3. One may argue perhaps that France should not have been quite so ready for that. Perhaps taboos against molesting your students, betraying your husband, and breaking up your family exist for good reasons. But that is a different question.
4. I write here about the significance of the French conception of citizenship.
5. He uses the idiom “tordre le bâton,” literally “twist the stick.” Meaningless in English, but a play on words in French, for as in English, a bâton may refer to a police baton (the scandal was exposed precisely because Benalla was too enthralled with them), and the word is richer still: Beyond being a metonym for authority, it is also a symbol of dignity in governance and, of course, a vulgar synonym for what Rabelais called “Le membre viril.”
6. Laurent Wauquiez is desperately trying to rehabilitate Les Républicains, but doing so by imitating the National Front, a fatal mistake, for if voters decide that’s what they want, they will vote for the echt item, not him. I have no idea what happened to Le Parti socialiste. Last I heard it was putting its hopes in a Belgian.