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Pankaj Mishra

Macron Fans the Flames of Illiberalism

Public anger and frustration is soaring in France. Aloof elites can’t contain it.

Liberalism and its discontents.

Liberalism and its discontents.

Photographer: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

In 2017, the election of Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, as France’s president was almost unanimously seen in the business press as a sign that the tide of “populism” could be reversed. The Economist hailed Macron as “an able reformer and a credible figurehead of European liberalism.” As late as June 2018, Edward Luce, author of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism,” wrote in the Financial Times that “only in France, where Emmanuel Macron is firmly in charge, does populism seem contained.”

It is true that this silver-tongued graduate of Sciences Po and École Nationale d’Administration — the nurseries of the French ruling elite — had prevented a far-right demagogue from occupying the Élysée Palace. However, there was much in Macron’s pseudo-regal demeanor and fancy rhetoric (which included comparisons of himself to Jupiter, the Roman God of gods) to suggest that he might well trigger a deeper public anger.