Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call legislative elections in France, following a strong showing for the extreme-right-wing Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen constitutes an extreme risk. No doubt he thinks that either the RN will fail to get as many seats as they hope under France’s two-stage election system or he calculates that since he will remain President he has the option of another dissolution as soon as the right-wing government experiences a dip in popularity. Whatever his calculation, his immediate strategy rests upon the notion that a Republican Barrier exists to keep out Le Pen: the idea being that all those parties opposed to Pétainism and collaboration with the occupiers in WW2 can be relied up to favour one another over the RN in the second round of elections where two remaining candidates compete.

This notion has already come under severe strain, however, as the President of the Gaullist Les Républicains party, Eric Ciotti, has to the outrage of most of his fellow leaders, proposed an alliance with the extreme right [update, Ciotti has now been expelled from the party] and Macron himself has sought to exclude La France Insoumise, the far left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, from the Republican family. (Perhaps he hopes that LFI voters will back his party anyway in the second round. If so, he’s been irrationally optimistic.)

In any case, I think the whole idea of a Republican Barrier, as currently formulated, is based on the idea that the divisions of 1940 (which themselves to some extent echo divisions of the 1890s, the Second Empire, the Restoration and before that the Revolution), are salient to modern voters irrespective of the policies actually pursued by “Republican” parties, which, to be honest, may not differ all that much from those of the far right. Granted, divisions based on which side grandpa and even great-grandpa were on can be surprisingly enduring: consider Ireland where the divisions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, centre-right pro-capitalist parties both, have persisted for decades based on the opposing sides of a civil war now a century old.
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