France’s Authoritarian Establishment Faces Off Against the Even Uglier Authoritarianism of the Far Right

French voters will elect their next president on Sunday. While most of the country and the rest of the world are united, for valid reasons, against populist Marine Le Pen, the truth of the matter is that voters have a choice between two shades of illiberalism: the aggressively populist one of Le Front National and its authoritarianism-light version represented by incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen is everywhere observers believe her to be. Le Pen is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and takes positions that are among the most dangerous in populism. Her obsession with “wokisme,” which is a general term for “leftist” ideology she detests, has also led to her becoming obsessed. She admires Viktor Orban’s authority and would gladly follow his lead by imimposing economic policies on Hungary.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Le Pen’s father is much more refined than Le Pen. Jean-Marie, the founder of Front National and a committed antisemite, called the Holocaust an “insignificant detail” of history. This polish makes her even more dangerous. And even though her critics label her far-right, her economic views are typical of a French statist. She favors large expenditures and centralization.

Without a doubt, she is an authoritarian. And more authoritarianism would mean bad news for France. However, it does not follow that her opponent represents liberal government even though they are able to compare favorably.

The main difference between them comes down to their geopolitical positions. Macron presents himself as a liberal-democratic globalist on the international scene. After the authoritarian policies of Hungary, Poland and other countries, Macron spoke to the European Parliament in 2018. He said that the answer was not authoritarian democracy, but democracy’s authority. He supports NATO and the other international organisations, unlike Le Pen. He is less likely to condemn Russia’s actions on Ukraine, as compared with other Western leaders.

The difference in economic matters is not as stark as people think. Macron spoke in vain about reforming France’s retirement system. However, Macron is a huge spender and has a tendency to overregulate. He did however reform the wealth tax.

Unfortunately, Macron’s acts while in office also expose him as an authoritarian light. The French are currently living in an emergency state under Macron. Macron let go of some emergency powers that had been in place following the November 2015 terrorist attacks. Other anti-civil liberty powers and military power were however made permanent. These new powers were deployed when the police fired rubber ball-shaped projectiles—a practice forbidden by other European countries—and dispersal “sting-ball” grenades against yellow vest demonstrators protesting another green tax on gas.

Macron’s Avia rule prohibited hateful speech without defining what it meant. It was deemed anti-constitutional by the Conseil Constitution. Macron favors “Fake news” as well. This rule is based on Macron’s belief that while voters can tell a good from a poor politician, they are too ignorant to do the same when it comes down to news.

COVID-19, which Macron used to justify a resurgence of the state emergency in 2020, gave Macron yet another reason. French citizens were forced to endure curfews lasting months and restrictions that prevented them from traveling more than three miles away without filling out forms, mandatory indoor and outdoor vaccinations, and restrictions that prohibited them from going outside of their homes for over three hours. French police enforced some of these restrictions and imposed severe fines.

Meanwhile, the state consumes 62 percent of France’s GDP, public hospitals are in shambles with fewer beds and workers than before COVID-19, and—as the French like to say—”everything that is not forbidden is mandated.” This is why Macron has had a hard time convincing voters that voting for him means voting for liberalism.

Macron remains clearly the liberaler candidate. He will be elected, but it won’t mean he governs wisely. If he fails to change, it’s only a matter of time before France elects an authoritarian—one quite likely worse than Le Pen.

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