It’s a moment of reckoning again. Or not.
The current furore surrounding the French political ‘earthquake’ – brought about by significant far-right party gains in recently held European elections – seems to be the cusp of one of many moments of ‘reckoning’ that have shaped French political life and Parisian history.
Indeed, the theme of ‘reckoning’ appears at many key turning points in the dynamic trajectory of French (and Parisian) history.
There are a few, striking images that come to mind in reflecting upon the theme of ‘reckoning’ in French political life:
Place de la Bastille
It is a poignant monument within the city that signifies this theme of ‘reckoning’ in Parisian history and French political life. It symbolizes not only a moment of reckoning for the old order but also one of redemption. It is as much a symbol of the Parisian bourgeoisie’s determination to dismantle a system that was no longer supportable as it is a symbol of other key themes (progress, human flourishing, innovation).
This image of Marie Antoinette on her knees in the St. Denis Basilica is quite striking. It seems to capture one of the most severely ‘punished’ figures in Parisian history. Here, she is in a position of piety that ultimately did not seem to assuage the Parisian bourgeoisie’s determination to enforce chastisement and reckoning.
This also captures a moment of reckoning of one political order and the birth of the third republic. It signaled a key moment of change. (see this recent blog post).
Place de la Concorde
This was the place were guillotines were set up to mete out justice against the old order but it was later re-appropriated to symbolize other themes – unity, tolerance, progress.
A contemporary reckoning?
Anti-European sentiment was strong on both the left and right but ultimately
it was the far right that garnered most support. The far left needs a rethink!
France seems to be on the cusp of a potential moment of ‘reckoning’. However, it may be premature to assert that this is definitely the case.
A few things make the gains of the far-right more of a warning than a true reckoning – chief among these is that the far right’s gains were mostly buoyed by high voter absenteeism and high working class support.
The leader of the far right, Marine Le Pen – hate or love her – is one of a few figures articulating a clear political position (how well those positions stand up to sound economic reasoning is questionable). She is able to tap into raw political sentiment regarding the aftermath of financial crisis, fear of globalization, unemployment, and so forth, by coming across as genuine and convinced.
Furthermore, Paris was one of the places were the far-right did not perform too well (relatively speaking). In a highly centralized country, Parisian political sentiment is very important.
While it is a significant moment, a much higher level of political participation is needed to declare a genuine moment of reckoning. With close to 56,5% of voters staying away from the European polls, perhaps the right-wing friendly result is at best a measure of political temperature. And boy is it sizzling.