It is an old sepia-tinted image: a smirking youngster on a bicycle, surrounded by admiring elders applauding the talents of the wunderkind. That was the enduring memory of the 1997 EU summit in Amsterdam, when the newly elected Tony Blair gripped Europe by the handlebars and began his ascent to purposeless power.
It was the international launch of the Great Charlatan’s career of illusion, spin and deceit. Ahead lay the inanities of Blair’s Babes and People’s princesses, later the corpses of Iraq. Blair had a self-proclaimed heir in David Cameron, but although the arrogance and vanity were in sufficient supply, the baton was never convincingly handed on. Dave, too, bicycled in the environmental interest, with an empty government car forging a carbon footprint in his wake, but he could hardly be considered to have inherited the Blair mantle.
Today, however, a recognizable Heir to Blair has arisen, though happily not in Britain. Emmanuel Macron is daily growing into the role. Indeed, so quickly and so comprehensively has France’s fantasist president exhibited his divorce from reality, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that by the end of his career he might even exceed the extravagances of his paradigm Blair.
The supreme example of the triumph of hope over experience is the persistence with which Western nations repeatedly convince themselves they have found a political saviour and surrender their destinies to transparently hyped mediocrities and charlatans: Clinton, Blair, Obama, Macron, will they never learn?
French presidents can broadly be divided into two types. The majority are run-of-the-mill scoundrels, barely memorable. Then there is the minority category – examples would be De Gaulle, Giscard d’Estaing and Sarkozy – who succumb to the delusion that, instead of being the inheritors of the criminal regime of 1789, they somehow embody the mystique of France’s earlier rulers. In the case of Giscard, whose delusory grandiosity was aggravated by the circumstance of his being an illegitimate descendant of Louis XV, his ill-disguised longing to don the periwig and red heels of his more distant ancestor the Sun King was palpable.
Yet all these victims of folie de grandeur have already been outdone by Emmanuel Macron – “Jupiter”, in his own modest estimation. Macron is a class act: this is a buffoon’s buffoon. Last year, demonstrating the typical lack of self-awareness of the European elites, he published “Revolution”, a memoir-cum-manifesto the early chapters of which might have been headed “My Struggle”, had that title not already been appropriated by an earlier European fruitcake.
For Anglo-Saxons it provides a hilarious insight into the self-regarding rhetoric and bombast of Gallic pseudo-philosophers – for Macron is a philosopher and litterateur before he is a politician. It is at this point that Tony Blair should become concerned and look to his crown. He imagined he had stowed away on a long-haul flight from an airport that only offered domestic flights and that he had watched a football match from a stadium stand not yet built; but even in his wilder fantasies he never imagined himself to be the reincarnation of Rousseau or Hegel.
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Macron’s problem is not that he has a disturbed personality – that is virtually a prerequisite for a politician – but that as a consequence he offers everything to everyone on a scale that makes Pierre Poujade’s programme seem exclusive. One moment he is flattering Donald Trump, the next he is demolishing the president’s entire agenda before Congress.
This is not Jupiter but Janus. The French ridicule his schizophrenic approach to policy with the phrase he incessantly uses to voice his inconsistencies: “en même temps”. At the same time he wants to restore the “grandeur” of France and to merge it deeper into a more integrated eurozone, necessarily dominated by Germany.
He cites in his book the separation of Church and state as evidence of France’s millennium-long vitality (for most of that millennium Church and state marched hand-in-hand), but at the same time he is now criticizing the Republican cult of “laïceté”.
In a classic rodomontade before the EU parliament at Strasbourg, Macron denounced a “fascination with the illiberal”, and condemned populism: “I will not give in to any fixation on authoritarianism.” Coincidentally, 73 per cent of French respondents to the Ifop-Fiducial opinion poll for Paris Match recently described Macron as “authoritarian”.
So, according to the philosophe Macron, the wishes of European voters are “illiberal” and must be overruled to eliminate authoritarianism. That is a perception shared in Brussels. It has echoes of Bertolt Brecht’s satirical poem: “Wouldn’t it/Be simpler in that case if the government/Dissolved the people and/Elected another?” In fact, that exercise is already underway, via mass migration. No wonder the prime minister of Poland has criticized Macron for his “antipathy” to Central Europe.
Macron hopes Angela Merkel will help him press forward with eurozone integration, though Mutti has problems of her own and is not the power in the land she was. In any case, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, is leading a fast-growing alliance of EU states to block Macron’s integrationist ambitions.
Jupiter’s central plank, insofar as he has one in his jerry-built policy platform, is to reform French employment law along the Anglo-American model. Good luck with that, Emmanuel. It is doubtful that Napoleon Bonaparte could have prevailed against the French work culture of entitlement. In the meantime, Macron has made a start by infuriating older voters (the ones who invariably turn out at the polls) with tax changes that reduce their incomes, provoking a 9-point drop in his popularity among that demographic.
Emmanuel Macron is not a normal human being: he is the personification of the narcissism of the Western political class. Egotism, divorce from reality, absurd delusions of grandeur characterize the elites whose detachment blinds them to how ludicrous they appear to real people. “France needs a ‘Jupiterian’ head of state.” Instead, it appears to have elected a Martian. As a devotee of the climate change superstition, Emmanuel Macron should be aware that Jupiter Pluvius was the god of rain. After Macron the deluge.