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French President Emmanuel Macron’s concessions to Paris protestors signaled the first surrender of the West’s internationalist establishment to populist demands. Macron’s concessions are all the more important because they are the first major internationalist concession to come while that establishment holds power. Enthusiastically supported by the Left, and a growing concern for the sane cohort of citizens in multiple countries, the heralded demise of Western sovereignty is premature.
Few may have a full grasp of the implications of what has unfolded in France, but our French cousins are signaling that a worldwide political movement is afoot in the West. This is a movement that goes deeper than electoral politics as it plumbs the question of whether the West will remain comprised of sovereign states.
The history of Franco-American relations presents a mix of deep philosophical connectivity peppered with bilateral cultural ridicule. America’s separation of powers as the structural and political manifestation of liberty, owes much of its inspiration to Montesquieu’s 1748 book, The Spirit of the Laws. Since French troops under Comte de Rochambeau helped secure the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the two republics have shared the same side in fights against Nazism and Communism. Against the threat of terrorism, al-Qaeda attacks against France in the 1990s served as a dress rehearsal for what was to come later.
Amid the comity of political philosophy the Franco-American relationship has also witnessed American fascination with “freedom fries” after Paris’s refusal to join the 2003 Iraq War, and French consternation over the success and popularity of American wine. Cultural issues aside, both countries have reprised their roles in the Western project of sovereignty and citizenship, with each doing it their own way.
The juxtaposition of presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron is stark to the point of parody, and is well within the Franco-American tradition of mutual republicanism and ridicule. In the French 2017 election, Macron’s En Marche! party was seen as a safe option of centrism when compared to Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Compared to Donald Trump’s tweets and brusque determination to assert America’s national interest, Macron’s centrism and trust in the European Union appears a vivid contrast.
Unlike Trump, however, Macron declared an intent to govern “as Jupiter,” and as a “remote and dignified” political presence. In the past, Macron even alluded to France’s need for a king. Unbeknownst to Macron and the political elites around the world who view him as the globalist alkali to Trump’s acid, the French president displays precisely the hubris animating the current wave of populism in the West.
For globalists, whose guiding ideology combines leftist animosity toward the West with a disdain for popular national will, Macron has represented a great hope after the subsequent blows of Brexit in the UK, and Trump’s 2016 election. Macron’s election was viewed as of particular importance to the survival of the April 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, especially after Trump’s decision to withdraw from it shortly after his election. Ostensibly designed to curtail climate change, the Paris agreement’s application of “climate finance” to assist developing countries and curtail emissions effectively relegate a developed country’s economy to a position secondary importance. As taxes comprise “the single most effective weapon in the fight against climate change,” a people’s sacrifice of higher taxes to pay tribute to the false idol of climate change degrades the economy and the material well-being of its citizens.
A country’s full commitment to following the folly of climate policy not only ignores the fact that every country has an incentive to cheat on its commitments but also subordinates the country’s social contract to a nebulous and inanimate obligation.
A government must not only keep its citizens safe from harm, it must help ensure their prosperity. If a government sacrifices the safety of its citizens for a “humanitarian obligation” to absorb countless numbers of migrants, or abrogates national wealth for the sake of the climate, the government can no longer be said to be sovereign or representative.
While the United States escaped this particular international version of taxation without representation, France is arguably going through its own mini “reign of terror.” Since November 17, French protesters named for their yellow jackets have rocked Parisian stability over their opposition to steep tax hikes on gasoline and diesel. It does not require a degree in economics to figure out that high fuel costs have a deleterious impact on the whole of the economy. As goods and workers move require transportation, the cost of everything rises accordingly with prices in fuel. Indeed, citizen animosity over the hikes convinced even paramedics to participate in the protests.
Enough Jupiterian Moralizing
The dark secret that today’s internationalist elite and the Left refuse to recognize is that the key to monetary wealth lies not in income, but in the ability to save. The middle class, those who must discipline themselves in order to save and indeed have something to save, will take notice when their government decreases their ability to do that. Further, when their government decides to allocate their taxes away from things such as schools and roads to social justice fetishes such as the climate, the middle class will take notice.
The Jupiterian moralizing and global virtue signaling of the elite in response to citizen grievances is not only condescending, it signifies a larger problem in the contemporary West. The simple crux of this problem is that Western elites no longer live in the same reality with the bulk of the citizens in the countries they represent.
It is easy for the transnationally wealthy to lecture middle class citizens about the importance of sending money to developing countries and away from domestic need, or simply to raise taxes to price people out of their cars and into cramped public transportation. Such people can avoid the effects of legislation like that. For the middle class, however, these policies in the name of the environment represent nothing less than the conscious degradation of their lifestyles and identities. For all of our polarization on this question, America’s current politics pale in comparison to the situation in Europe.
Buried beneath layers of supranational bureaucracy and the costs of expansive welfare states, national identity and middle-class concern for their personal welfare seemed on their way out for the sake of global environmentalism. Yet the French yellow jacket protest model has spread to Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary in recent days. Combined with the Anglophone phenomena of Trump’s election and Brexit, the rise of a populist-tinged conservatism in Brazil, and Quebec, what is happening in France represents a West-wide revolt against the globalist status quo. This epochal shift is not without precedent.
At the time when Franco-American relations first emerged as political twins of Enlightenment-era philosophy, monarchy was the global order of the day. This norm was shaken in the 50-year period from 1775-1825 when most of the Americas and France threw off European colonial rule. Both in the new United States, and in former Spanish colonies in Latin America, sovereignty devolved from the monarch to the citizenry over that timespan. In Europe, the 1789 French Revolution ended monarchy in France and ushered in modern republicanism.
Current changes in the West, thankfully, are not as melodramatic as those of the 18th century, but they do not need to be in order to be profound. The international organizations and constructs that grew during the Cold War and served to create the “global” economy in the 21st century have diminished a concept of national sovereignty that took centuries to develop. The yellow jacket protests are the French answer to the Brexit vote and the Trump election. What is happening in the West is the slow reclamation of that diminished sovereignty. For all of the past mutual mockery, the United States and France are continuing to assert the values they developed in tandem in the eighteenth century.
Photo Credit: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images