Until earlier this week, French citizens were tearing through the ancient streets and magnificent boulevards of Paris, setting fire to everything in sight; pouring manure on French national treasures and generally defacing any symbol of French greatness they could locate. Undoubtedly, the boyish French President Emmanuel Macron longs for those steamy summer days earlier this year when the only thing complicating his reign over French politics was whether or not he was faire des galipettes with his bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla. But that was July. Now, we are in the frigid months, when the French abandon their fascination with the banal and storm the ramparts (because, in part, they can’t pay their energy bills).
This is not the first time that the French have rioted (and it likely won’t be the last). Nonetheless, the recent wave of French riots was, potentially, one of the most politically destabilizing in recent memory. Unlike previous protests, the grievances of the rioting French are deeply rooted in the systemic failures of the French socio-political and economic system. We’ve seen this before: in 1789, during the bloody-minded French Revolution. Sure, many outside France (maybe even some inside of it) dismiss the long-term threat to the current French political system that these riots posed, but just look at the makeup and disposition of the rioters.
The Working Class of France Strike Back
The protests emanated from the parts of the country that were, for the most part, overwhelmingly pro-Marine Le Pen in the 2017 French presidential elections. These were the rural areas and former industrial towns that had been hollowed out by the same forces that eviscerated Britain’s old industrial centers (leading to the Brexit movement), and that led to the rise of Donald Trump in the United States.
In other words, the working people of France were striking back (and it remains to be seen if they are truly finished).
The dying French working-class tried to fight back against the insane policies of the globalists at the polls in 2017, but were overruled by the more heavily populated urban centers, like Paris (this is why everyone should be grateful that we in the United States have an electoral college). After that failure, the forgotten Frenchmen and women who’ve been mostly excluded from the globalist “paradise” that is the European Union made a final stand in the streets of Paris — in some cases spending their last few euros to leave their homes and join the yellow-vested protesters who were marching in Paris since November 17.
Like the manic French Revolution, great wealth disparity drove the recent protests. This was precisely the same pattern that the French Revolution followed: for the rural country folk, they were protesting King Louis XVI’s onerous tax system that was foisted on the backs of the working-class, as the image below shows, but these anti-tax protests in 1789 rapidly devolved into something more terrible.
In the face of the ceaseless — and growing — protests, President Emmanuel Macron hastily exited the G20 summit in Argentina to lead an “emergency session” of his national security team. The outcome of the meeting, as has since been tweeted out by senior French government ministers, was that the French government would not abide by the rolling protests in Paris. They would use any force to stop these protesters (although martial law was never declared).
Brush Off Your Guillotines…
For his part, Macron, was playing the role of the clueless King Louis XVI, the last monarch of France before the revolution tore down the old order. Like Louis XVI, Macron is effete and detached from the people—even viewing himself as a Roman god, Jupiter, lording over the chaotic French political system (the French Bourbon kings styled themselves as having descended from the ancient Greek god of the sun, Apollo). Despite his self-imposed deification, Macron’s imperious edicts and decrees will not save him, his presidency, or the existing political order in France (which was faltering long before Macron won an unlikely election victory in 2017).
As if recognizing his losing hand, Macron quickly reversed course on the gas tax. Perhaps Macron realized that he had stuck his political neck out too far with his draconian stances on the gas tax and his visceral response to the subsequent riots. Roger Kaplan recently wrote that Macron’s responses morphed from the cluelessness exhibited by the doomed monarch, Louis XVI, to the wise responses that Charles de Gaulle displayed in the face of another bout of horrific rioting in 1968. Macron reversed course on the French government’s gas tax hikes—apparently giving in to the rioters.
Yet, Macron’s reversal is only temporary and misses a more fundamental point: like the revolutionaries of 1789 (as opposed to the rioters of 1968 or 2005), the French rioters appear intent on tearing down the old system and replacing it with something more egalitarian and more French. Macron has delayed the imposition of the gas tax for six months. At best, he’s bought himself until the summer of 2019 before he must yet again face an incensed mob, seeking his removal from power. But, the systemic flaws of the French political order will be as apparent then as they are today.
The Never-Ending Failures of Globalist Technocrats
For all of my colleagues on the American Right extolling the virtues of Free Trade and lower taxes, I caution you to recognize that these rioters are not Milton Friedmans-in-waiting. Those rural French who did not support Marine Le Pen, a Rightist (but not a Wall Street Journal kind of conservative), likely supported the radical Leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In effect, the people risking everything in the streets of Paris are not merely protesting an inconvenient tax — any more than the rural folk who supported the French Revolution were merely upset at the king’s onerous tax system (which, of course, they were).
This is a point that my friend and fellow American Spectator contributor, Esther Goldberg, recently noted on Facebook, when she lamented the fact that French rioters were destroying symbols of French culture in Paris. One doesn’t destroy 200-year-old memorials extolling their country’s past greatness unless there is a deeper animus at play transcending the technocratic “solutions” that neoliberal economists offer. American journalists who assume that the French people’s anger will subside after a hefty dose of tax cuts and deregulation — getting Macron to embrace his inner Reagan — are as blinkered as Thomas Jefferson was, when he asserted that the French Revolution would herald truly enlightened republican governance in France during his lifetime.
Deep changes are indeed afoot in France. No amount of temporary reversals on the part of the French government will prevent that. We are witnessing the end of the postwar French political order. The kind of changes that the French people are demanding from their government will only ever be temporary because the very system of French government is incapable of fundamentally changing its governing style. Things will get worse, not better the longer that the French elite, like Macron, remain deeply committed to the German, I mean, European Union.
Whether these changes in France’s political culture bring about the same level of bloodletting as the French Revolution remains to be seen. But it isn’t going to be pretty going forward. The age of disruption has hit France and it will not dissipate until true change at the top is embraced — and any fundamental changes to the French political system will only further weaken the turgid European Union. I’d expect more levels of unrest eventuating in the end of the Macron presidency as the months wear on.
A word to the wise: Macron shouldn’t serve cake anytime soon at the Champs Élysées.
Brandon J. Weichert can be reached via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.