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Portrait of the journalist, essayist and writer, Jacques Julliard, posing at his home in Bourg-la-Reine, during an interview with Le Figaro.

CHRONICLE – Emmanuel Macron's sources of inspiration are multiple and, at least in appearance, contradictory, explains the historian and essayist*. The president's approach can be described as cesarocentric. Its success will depend on its ability to respond to a triple challenge, geopolitical, social and cultural.

This man is in himself a gallery of portraits. In the sole name of Emmanuel Macron, commentators compete with historical references and parallels fuse on all sides.

The conscript with a hundred faces

The figures of Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle, of Guizot and Giscard, of Mendès France and Kennedy, of the Saint-Simonians and of the great liberals suddenly appear in droves. A floor flattering certainly, but variegated, which testifies to the perplexity which the character inspires. It is after all normal. Those we have just mentioned have a definitively fixed image, while Macron, still at the start of his career, partly composes his own as he advances. It goes without saying that those who compare Macron to Napoleon do not make the former the equal of the latter. They only mean that he follows his line.

The verticality of power

Let's see that. From Napoleon, or rather from Bonaparte, he has the youth, the eye, the decision and the “spirit of conquest”, a Bonapartist expression par excellence, which he takes up on his own (1). And above all this belief in its star, combined with a "vertical" vision of power, based on authority, in a society that swears only by equality, consultation, in a word, horizontalism. Could it be here the finally achieved synthesis of Jean-Pierre Chevènement and Michel Rocard, which he claims jointly? The combination of the two lefts under the auspices of centrism?

“Authority is not without prestige, nor prestige without remoteness.”

Charles de Gaulle

With Charles de Gaulle, the similarities are less obvious, due in particular to the difference in age between the two characters, but also in character. Between the youthful enthusiasm of Macron and the maturity tinged with pessimism of De Gaulle, there is even a frank opposition. On the other hand, they come together in a certain taste for secrecy and the conviction that the exercise of supreme power requires a certain distance from ordinary citizens: "Authority is not without prestige, nor prestige without distance", wrote already in The Edge of the Sword (1932) a Charles de Gaulle who is at the start of his career and is still only 42 years old (2). Emmanuel Macron was not afraid to take on board this proud definition of power when he called it "Jupiterian". That is, personal and authoritative. And Jean-Dominique Merchet to quote (3) in this regard this profound remark by Patrick Buisson: "In France, a country of Christian tradition, power is not exercised by delegation, but by incarnation."

Quite different is the inscription, however no less indisputable, of Emmanuel Macron in another tradition, that of Orleanism. Like François Guizot, its most accomplished representative under the July Monarchy (1830-1848), Emmanuel Macron pronounced his “get rich!” in January 2015 in Las Vegas, while he was still François Hollande's Minister of the Economy, wishing that there were "young French people who wanted to become billionaires".

If the left is generally the party of ideas (when it has any), the extreme left and the extreme right that of the passions, the right is par excellence the party of interests.

Often caricatured – Guizot's exact formula is “Enrich yourself through work and savings and you will become voters” – the notion of a tax associates the exercise of political capacity with a certain level of wealth and taxation. It goes hand in hand with the affirmation of an industrial and banking bourgeoisie, but also with parliamentarianism. If the left is generally the party of ideas (when it has any), the extreme left and the extreme right that of the passions, the right, in its Orléanist version, is par excellence the party of interests. If we add a discreet Protestant coloring that Régis Debray thinks he detects in the current government orientations, there is undoubtedly Guizot in this Macron.

And finally, a discreet touch from Giscard with the idea of ​​a large central political gathering – “two out of three French people” – which is basically the ideal of La République en Marche, based on overcoming the notions of right and left and the desire to "cut both ends of the omelet", according to Alain Juppé, who launched the idea, like a bottle in the sea, of a great central movement for European women. This centrism, "it's the dream of my whole life", adds François Bayrou. Here then! At a time when the government is deciding for the 2019 Europeans to return to the system of national lists, which would make it easier to achieve this dream.


Arrived at this moment of our exploration of macronism, let's take stock. We have just seen two major trends emerging. One is that of a personalized, if not personal, power marked by the verticality and the specific imprint of the Head of State, in accordance with the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. It is the Caesarist family, without the word being affected by the pejorative nuance that is often given to it.

The other tendency is that which aims at the constitution of a central group in the government of the State, and if possible in the electorate, at the heart of the parliamentary system. It is a great topological centrism, overflowing on its left and on its right the small centrist family embodied by François Bayrou. Hence the expression caesarocentrism that I propose to designate the Macronian system, forged on the model of "caesaropapism", a regime in which the temporal power claims to exercise a right of control over the spiritual power of the Church (Byzantium, the Holy Germanic Roman Empire).

There is, at least in appearance, an internal contradiction in this system: the juxtaposition of a personalized and centralized power with the bourgeois parliamentary system, synonymous with pluralism and inclined towards the limitation of the executive.

Are we heading towards bipolarization or tripolarization?

It is this difficulty that Charles de Gaulle wanted to solve thanks to the construction of the Fifth Republic which tries to articulate the presidential principle and the parliamentary principle. The logic would be – it will prevail one day – to go, as in the American Constitution, towards the autonomy of two principles, then obliged to collaborate. Such is the paradox: the American-style presidential system makes more room for Parliament (Congress) than the French-style presidential system.

The other difficulty relates to the composition of the political forces within the system. Political scientist Pierre Martin, author of a theory of "realignment", describes recent political developments as that of a trend shift, since 2015, from a bipolar political system, based on the canonical left-right opposition, to a tripolar system comprising on the left an eco-socialist democratic pole, on the right a conservative-identity pole and in the center a liberal-globalizing pole (4). Such a trend is, according to the author, at work in many Western democracies.

The question posed is whether the "political earthquake" triggered by the election of Emmanuel Macron in the spring of 2017 will be a parenthesis quickly closed or a lasting transformation of our political landscape. Are we heading towards bipolarization or tripolarization? In truth, the history of the Republic shows that France has almost always made an electoral bipolarization coexist with a governmental tripolarization. Hence the voters' feeling of having been deceived: after having voted either for the left or for the right, they saw a government from the center emerging! General de Gaulle has largely eliminated this frustration, by reinforcing, thanks to the return of the single-member ballot in two rounds for the legislative elections, the bipolarization of political life.

The Challenges of Macronism

The geopolitical challenge is the consequence of what has just been said. How to move from a fragile centrist position to a powerful central position? Remember that with 24% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, Macron is starting from a limited electoral base. He was flanked by a right-wing opposition which, by adding the votes of François Fillon and those of Marine Le Pen, exceeded 40% of the electorate, while the left-wing opposition amounted to 28%. Formidable equation. De Gaulle had started in 1958 from a much more solid base. A referendum which had given him a constitutional legitimacy of 80% of the electorate, and especially apart from the debris of Poujadism and the OAS, the absence of opposition on his right. That's why he was comfortable in the bipartisan system.

A few strong personalities did not prevent the Philippe government from being one of the dullest in the history of the Republic.

However, not only is Emmanuel Macron flanked today by a double opposition, but inside his camp, he is alone. A few strong personalities, like Jean-Michel Blanquer, or experienced ones, like Jean-Yves Le Drian, do not prevent the Philippe government from being one of the dullest in the history of the Republic. The two cardinals in partibus of macronism, Juppé on the right and Valls on the left, not only are not ministers, but do not even belong to the majority party. As for the strong men of the system, Richard Ferrand in Parliament, Christophe Castaner at the head of the movement, I find them, in truth, a little weak, and Olivier Dussopt is a derisory prize of war.

In short, the legislative majority depends only on majority electoral law, and power on the presidential election.

The social challenge

A right-wing economic policy, like that of Charles de Gaulle and Emmanuel Macron, can only succeed if it enjoys a certain tolerance on the left. But de Gaulle could count on sympathy in the working class: part of the communist electorate had left the PCF in 1958. Nothing similar in Macron's electorate, made up mainly of CSP + and sores. His problem is therefore: how to become the president of those who did not vote for him? De Gaulle had also known how to make the Plan a kind of shadow cabinet, which organized, under the arbitration of senior civil servants, an enlightened employer and reforming unions like the CFDT and FO, but also part of the CGT , a kind of social government of France. The latter was clearly more progressive than the successive governments under de Gaulle. He orchestrated growth and an unprecedented improvement in working conditions.

Hence the need for Emmanuel Macron, if he wants to remain faithful to his fundamental equation, to imagine the equivalent of the Plan, that is to say an economic and social government of France, for example from the merger of two institutions that are now useless, the Senate and the Economic Council.

The cultural challenge

The solidity of a regime, its long-term presence and the collective imagination depend on its cultural policy. By inventing Egyptology and the modern Louvre, entrusted to Vivant Denon, Bonaparte profoundly marked French culture. De Gaulle, who entrusted culture to Malraux after having proposed it to Bernanos at the Liberation, did the same. And Mitterrand had for ten years with Jack Lang a great agitator of ideas and inventive minister. With Françoise Nyssen for culture, Leïla Slimani for the Francophonie and Stéphane Bern for heritage, we are in a sympathetic register but without brilliance or ambition. As for the reduction in credits for French high schools abroad, it is unworthy of Emmanuel Macron's idea of ​​France's role and, to put it in a nutshell, scandalous.

Admittedly, Emmanuel Macron has just won significant successes in this autumn of 2017: he overcame the union challenge to the labor law and seems to have dismissed the threat of a student revolt against the “soft” selection he has drawn up. In European and foreign policy, he imposed his personality. Whether in Lebanon, Burkina Faso, Europe, he emerged victorious from the confrontation. Her speech on the status of women impressed. In sum, in Cesarocentrism, Caesar is more convincing than the center… This is satisfying for the president's ego, and worrying in the longer term.

(1) We can read on the subject the excellent "Macron Bonaparte", by Jean-Dominique Merchet (Stock), as well as "Macron, miracle or mirage?", by Pierre-André Taguieff (Éd. de L'Observatoire).( 2) Quoted by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, “Le Moment Macron”, which abounds in suggestive parallels (Éd. du Seuil). (3) Merchet, op. cited.(4) Pierre Martin: “A political earthquake, the 2017 presidential election”, Commentary No. 158, summer 2017. See also the informed and vigorous book by Brice Couturier: “Macron: a philosopher president” (Ed. of L'Observatoire).* Editorial writer for the weekly “Marianne”.



Source: ©  Jacques Julliard: “Napoleon, Guizot, Giscard… the Cesarocentrism of Emmanuel Macron”

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