Published on 30 May 2014

The Banality of Anger

By Roger Cohen, published in the New York Times May 26, 2014

Nowhere is the crisis of modernity felt more acutely than in France where for a quarter-century now globalization has brought moroseness and mistrust on an epic scale. Uneasy with capitalism, uncomfortable with flexibility, unpersuaded by the so-called Anglo-Saxon model, France has retreated into its rancor. Immigrants and openness have constituted threat more than possibility.

Even its glorious cuisine seems somehow static, too heavy for its times, unable to adapt, short on Spanish inventiveness, locked in the past. Its wines, the best in the world by some distance, have proved short on narrative, that core ingredient of modern marketing. Its world-class private companies get swept beneath the relentless wave of functionaries’ complaints. Its president, once the near regal embodiment of French glory, is now an everyday sort of figure, battling the banal.

Rien ne va plus, say the French, or nothing works anymore. But the English rendering is anemic — stripped of a fathomless Gallic grumpiness that is the expression of a strange sense of defeat. Of course it is not true. A lot works very well in France. But the nation is dyspeptic. The glass is always half-empty.

Such bile must find political expression. It has in the rightist, anti-immigrant National Front of Marine Le Pen, victorious in European Parliament elections, her gaze now set on a greater prize: the Élysée Palace.

Make no mistake, she could become president. The National Front has surged before, notably in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the incumbent’s father, reached the runoff stage of the presidential election. But in the dozen years since then the European and French crises have deepened. France has near zero growth and growing unemployment. With an estimated 25 percent of the European Parliament vote, the National Front crushed both the governing Socialists (14 percent) and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (20.8 percent).

“An earthquake,” was the verdict of the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls. He is not wrong. A two-party system is now a three-party system. Marine Le Pen, subtler and cleverer and more ambitious than her father, is electable. She is plausible… Read more.

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