Macron’s gamble and the myth of the Republican Barrier

by Chris Bertram on June 12, 2024

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.

Interpreting the present through the lens of 1933-45 is in any case, not just a staple of French politics but of Western politics more generally. We’ve had an array of leaders from Nasser to Putin or Trump placed in the Hitler role with the warning that they must be stopped now, or they’ll go much further. We regularly have appeals to compromise denounced as embodying the spirit of Munich. In Ukraine, the “who are the Nazis?” game has been played out in its most absurd form with Putin both being Hitler in Western eyes and denouncing the Ukrainians as Nazis himself. And then in Gaza we had a range of opinion columns explaining how, if anything, Hamas is worse than the Nazis, matched by thinly disguised Zionism-as-Nazism discourse from some pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Granted that Nazism gives us a particularly horrible illustration of where ethno-nationalism can lead, we still might benefit from a wider range of historical reference points.

But back to France, where Macron’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, has been particularly assiduous in pursuing the discriminatory logic of modern nationalism, legislating to exclude foreigners from various benefits, to strip naturalised citizens more easily of their nationality and denouncing the enemy within, the fifth column of Islamists and their supposed leftist dupes. Since Macron’s government has so clearly identified the enemies of the nation whilst being necessarily rather ineffective in dealing with them, it can’t be a great surprise that a portion of the electorate, when invited to vote for a party promising to deal more robustly with the very same enemies, is not deterred by stories of whose grandfather did what eighty years ago. Because in the end, both sides of the Republican Barrier embrace rather similar stories about the nation, the will of the people, their sovereign right against foreigners and all the rest. Small wonder then that the Republic is in danger of falling to Pétain’s heirs, since they just seem like a more serious version of the status quo rather than the terrifying enemies of democracy that they are.



LFC 06.12.24 at 4:18 pm

How important an electoral factor is Jordan Bardella (whom I don’t know much about)? Except that he’s young, (probably) telegenic, and not likely to remind people of The Past (i.e., Vichy and Pétain, etc.).


MisterMr 06.12.24 at 8:08 pm

By googling a pair of pages in french, my understanding is that Macron wants to beat both Le Pen but also Melenchon.


Akshay 06.12.24 at 8:10 pm

The horror government currently being erected in the Netherlands was created in exactly the same way: the formerly “centre”-right party, having successively compromised with xenophobia, racism and fascism, decided to run a far-right campaign, having collapsed the government over a far-right issue. To their shock, the original far-right soundly defeated their copy. The thought that campaigning for their most dangerous opponents was unwise, has not occurred to them yet though


Alex SL 06.12.24 at 10:25 pm

There is an interesting tension between the (IMO correct) observation that copying the far right will not work in the long term because once its ideas become normalised, voters may as well go for the original instead of the copy, and the (IMO often correct, at least depending on the electoral system) observation that elections are won in the centre. The problem being that the centroid of the electorate shifts around, and in Europe it has shifted to copying the far right.

Not going to defend nominally centre-right politicians here, but to bang my usual drum, in the end the buck stops with the voter. The model of them being a box that does what they should if politicians just pressed the right buttons has serious limitations; they have agency. Voters could reject what amounts to ethnic cleansing of their country from all immigrants, and they could realise that global heating, resource overuse, the lack of affordable housing, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few billionaires are bigger problems than their taxi driver wearing a Sikh turban, trans women going to the loo, or whatever that fifteen minute city nonsense conspiracy is about. Indeed they would, if they were decent and rational people.

And these are the questions that really matter: Why are voters increasingly conspiratorial and far-right? Why do they prioritise politicians who promise to hurt vulnerable minorities and guarantee simple fixes that fall apart after two seconds of thought over politicians who promise to invest in infrastructure and find compromise? Compared to, say, the economic crisis of 1929 or the post-war rubble of late 1945, are things really so terrible right now that an authoritarian strongperson or destroying all established norms are attractive solutions? Here I will circle around to the OP’s observation that what happened 80 years ago doesn’t matter to contemporary voters. Indeed it doesn’t, but the key problem is, we haven’t had experience with seriously bad times for several generations in a row. People think that 2008 was disastrous when the consequence for most of them was “due to changing jobs, I will accumulate less wealth than the boomers did at my age” instead of “my children are starving”, “my son fell at Stalingrad”, or “here, take these 20,000 Reichsmark and buy a loaf of bread, because in a few hours it will cost 40,000”. This has created a deep immaturity, and I fear that things will have to get much worse before voters broadly realise that handing power to a series of narcissistic con artists can have serious adverse consequences.

The point is, as much as I wish politicians would just not ape the far right, I can kind of see why they do. More and more voters want those policies, and the job of the politicians is to get elected. The buck stops with the voters.


steven t johnson 06.12.24 at 11:40 pm

It’s not clear to me how a bitterly divided parliament doesn’t neuter itself, leaving Macron’s presidential prerogative free to act. A unified opposition parliament could cause problems but that so far as I know is unlikely. And the more Macron expands the war on Russia, the more powerful his effective power I suspect. Maybe Macron has plans that don’t rely on elections?

Nor is it clear to me how Melenchon and LFI is far left. (Admittedly this comes from a view of “real” politics about policies and personnel, who gets what? and who does what?, rather than performances and postures.) Just because some people manage to see the devil in Melenchon rather than the monster Macron doesn’t make it so.


John Q 06.13.24 at 2:21 am

More on the irrelevance of 1939-45 history. The most poisonous far-right parties in Europe (Afd and Fidesz) have no neo-fascist history at all. Rather they started out relatively recently as hard neoliberals. Taking the point a bit further, the US Republicans are worse than even AfD and Fidesz, and the UK right (both Tories and Reform) not much better.


Chris Bertram 06.13.24 at 6:32 am

@Alex SL “Why are voters increasingly conspiratorial and far-right?”

The internet and particularly social media are an important part of the explanation, partly through the erosion of authority of “experts”, including leaders of political parties, academics, broadcasters, civil servants. We may be living through a repeat of the Reformation where the authority of priests over holy scripture was rejected in favour of people reading the stuff for themselves and coming to invest all kinds of hope in extremists and sectarians. Mass murder and violence resulted.


Alex SL 06.13.24 at 7:38 am

Chris Bertram,

There is a big difference, in my view, between rejecting the dogma of the priest and and rejecting the evidence of the climate scientist who accurately predicts global heating, of the economist who accurately predicts the impact of Brexit, or of the doctor who recommends vaccination and masking, especially when rejecting the latter with the argument that virus particles are so small that they pass through the mesh anyway but that oxygen molecules are so large that the mesh restricts breathing. One is indeed reading and thinking for oneself, the other is not only sociopathic overconfidence but also intellectually inconsistent, because by and large these people still tend to respect the expertise of their car mechanic or dentist and expect their own expertise to be respected. I mean, I have relatives who think climate scientists don’t know what they are talking about but express touching faith in engineers’ ability to simply suck all the carbon out of the air when things get really bad. They do not adopt a new epistemological paradigm but merely get selectively belligerent and conspiratorial when they hear something they don’t want to hear.

(Also, I am pretty sure that there was lots of mass murder and violence before the Reformation, ranging from plain old feudal wars of conquest across the Albigensian Crusade and antisemitic pogroms all the way to peasants’ uprisings.)


Chris Bertram 06.13.24 at 8:19 am

@Alex SL Sure there is, but Zwingli and Calvin and sundry Anabaptists would have been all over YouTube and TikTok given the chance, inciting their followers to the slaughter, justifying persecutions. Even today, Islamic State is pretty much the same phenomenon and yet very much a product of the internet age.


novakant 06.13.24 at 9:57 am

This is interesting:

Andelman compares Macron’s strategy with Mitterand letting the Communists into his cabinet in 1981 to showcase their incompetence and so eventually defuse the threat:

even if the right manages to win control of Parliament next month, allowing Le Pen’s amanuensis, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, to take over as prime minister (…) it will be a chance to showcase the utter failings of the extreme right.

Looking at the ‘program’ of the RN it might just work:

Their platform is staggering: slash immigration, ban Islamic head coverings in public, dial back renewable energy investment, lower inflation by rebating the VAT tax to consumers, expel foreigners who’ve been unemployed for more than a year, lower the retirement age back to 60, inaugurate a 20 billion euro national health plan, slash the VAT on energy to 5.5% from 20%, build six new nuclear generators and increase the security and justice budget by 1.5 billion euros a year. All this with little sense of how to pay for it.

It’s a huge gamble, but what other choice did Macron have? (Also see the interview with Ockrent/Renzi)


notGoodenough 06.13.24 at 10:18 am

On the other hand, as I understand it (from a position of not being French or living in France), there has been a noticeable difference in the creation of the Popular Front (apart from Glucksmann) and the seeming implosion of Ciotti and Zemmour/Maréchal. But perhaps those with more insight could comment?


Trader Joe 06.13.24 at 11:35 am

A word from the bond market

France’s debt to GDP has quietly surpassed both Portugal and Spain and is moving towards Italy and Greece territory (as both of those countries continue to improve). Whatever the voters of France decide, the next government is going to be facing higher borrowing costs and the need to constrain finances or further raise taxes to pursue whatever agenda they are seeking.

Hitler and Mussolini didn’t have to contend with bond vigilantes and Bureaucrats in Brussels/Frankfurt curtailing their ambitions – perhaps the existence of these structures, however painful, is at least a copper lining of neo-liberalism.

Far be it from me to say what France should do or how its people should vote (the US elected Trump once and could do it again) but it would be the voters willingness to effectively say the silent part out loud as far as immigrants and Muslims that will decide the outcome and as Chris notes – we’re running out of people who actually remember 1945 rather than having just watched movies about it.


Chris Bertram 06.13.24 at 11:42 am

@novakant Mitterrand didn’t “let” the PCF into his cabinet in 1981, they were an integral part of the Union de la Gauche.


novakant 06.13.24 at 12:08 pm

I’m not sure what you mean, Chris. Did Mitterand have to appoint the communists to his cabinet after his big victory or did he do it for tactical reasons, as Andelman suggests?

I don’t know all that much about French political history and was only paraphrasing Andelman, who was referring to the NYT of the time:


Chris Bertram 06.13.24 at 12:56 pm

@novakant it is true that he could have governed without them, but doing so would have dishonoured the terms on which they had campaigned (many PS deputés would not have been elected without PCF support in the second round).


novakant 06.13.24 at 1:39 pm

Got it, thanks.


MisterMr 06.13.24 at 4:24 pm

@Trader Joe 12
“Hitler and Mussolini didn’t have to contend with bond vigilantes”

Hitler largely went into power because there was first a very big inflation, and then a very stark deflation when the Weimar government tried to re-enter the gold standard.
This very strong deflation caused a lot of personal bankruptcies, that the nazis blamed on Jewish bankers.

Since the Euro is, in some sense, similar to be into the gold standard, I’d say that this is a very bad example.

PS: Mussolini also had some confused monetary policy (first tried the hard currency way then tried to impose price controls then had a big inflation IIRC) but I don’t know it in detail.

PPS: My understanding from what I see in Italy is that people who vote for right leaning parties are quite confused about monetary policy because on the one hand they are against money printing but on the other they pro monetary sovereignity (to have less taxes and against foreign Bruxelles politicians), and they don’t really trealize that “monetary sovereignity” and “money printing” are the same.


steven t johnson 06.13.24 at 4:43 pm

It is not clear why Alex SL thinks that voting changes policy. Nor is it clear why Alex SL thinks that much money and effort is spent on cultivating myths. Not even the internet and social media is ruled by consumers. Beyond the notorious algorithm, advertising and market competition play an enormous role. If that fails, well, that’s why there are schemes to ban or censor some social media, like Tik Tok.

The Reformation in Europe was very much driven by the question of Church property and the control of preaching. (Plus the church courts’ legal powers over individuals, though that varied widely.) Churches were the internet/social media of the age. I don’t think Chris Bertram meant to endorse state control of that medium in preference to the wicked, the evil and the Satanic, aka “people,” but there is an inadvertent hint.


Tm 06.13.24 at 6:13 pm

Novakant, the Communists were a junior partner of Mitterrand‘s own coalition. But when his party lost the next legislative election, he had to appoint an opposition politician as prime minister, an arrangement known as cohabitation. If Le Pen‘s party forms the next government, this would be a case of cohabitation. The outcome is unclear but the president still has a lot of power in a cohabitation. That my be why Macron thought the risk worth taking. The idea of letting the fascists govern to prove their incompetence is idiotic but in this case, Macron will give them sort of a sand box. He won’t hand over the nuclear codes.

Macron’s strategy counts on the fact that the far right has always underperformed in legislative elections because it was isolated. Ciotti now has been thrown under the bus. Macron also hopes to woo the social democrats and isolate Melenchon but this probably won’t work. A victory for the left is at least a possibility if the right remains divided.

In the EU election, the left won about 30%, which is somewhat better than the last few elections (the big question remains why the left can’t more benefit from Macron‘s unpopularity – Melenchon got only 10% btw; it really is about racism not neoliberalism or „populism“). If they remain unified, they might win the first round of the general election.

Worth pointing out that Marine Le Pen‘s party has always done very well in EU elections:
25% in 2014, 23% in 2019, now 31% (another fascist party got additional 5%).

Compare that to the national elections:
14% in 2012, 13% in 2017, 19% in 2022.

Turnout, amazingly, was below 50% in 2017 and 2022 and slightly above in 2019 and 2024.


stostosto 06.13.24 at 9:19 pm

@Alex SL: “copying the far right will not work in the long term because once its ideas become normalised, voters may as well go for the original instead of the copy”.

Arguably the Danish Social Democrats have successfully applied this exact strategy. Copying – even very explicitly – the xenophobic rhetoric and harsh immigration restriction policies of the far right seems to have deprived the far right of its raison d’être and, notably, voters. The extreme right has been reduced to 10-15% of the vote (from peaking at some 22% in 2015) – while many of their positions have become mainstream with practically all other parties


Alex SL 06.13.24 at 10:51 pm

Chris Bertram,

Not sure I understand the argument, sorry. Zwingli and Calving being bad people isn’t evidence that the malaise today is due to a technological innovation in communications as opposed to due to the immaturity of most voters and journalists who have never faced a serious crisis that would have turned them into serious people.


“quite confused” is what happens when people reject experts whose expertise they don’t like and think that it must be possible to have a cake and eat it too because democracy means I get what I want even when it is something that is impossible to get. I would not view the populist right in terms of immaturity and petulance if they were at least honest about the consequences of their demands and understood trade-offs; like, I could to some degree grudgingly respect somebody who wants to have zero immigration and deport all immigrants already in the country if they would openly admit that that would wreck their nation’s economy and lead to a collapse of everything from elderly care to health care, but they never do.

steven t johnson,

So, just to confirm, your position is that the only humans who have any agency are politicians and, I assume, business leaders, and everybody else is sheeple who never think, don’t hold values, grudges, or hopes, and simply do what the politicians and business leaders tell them to do?

I had really hoped that “voting doesn’t change policy” could have been put to rest with Brexit, when the vast majority of politicians and business leaders were against that decision. And do you seriously believe that if 54% of Germans voted in favour of the Alternative fuer Deutschland at the next election, policies would be exactly the same as if 54% of Germans voted in favour of the Greens?

Importantly, yes, the voters could just do that if they wanted. Next election, the electorate of nation XYZ could, if they wanted, turn XYZ’s policies communist, libertarian, or monarchist, for any values of XYZ where that is currently a democracy. They don’t. Why? I understand that it is psychologically easier to believe that they are being manipulated, and that if they weren’t being manipulated they would agree with you, specifically, on everything that is important to you, and I understand that because I would also love to believe that agreeing with me is the natural state of the world. But that is overly optimistic. Other people really choose not to agree with you and hold different values than you (or me).


Thanks, that is an interesting counter-example. Odd, then, that it doesn’t work in so many other cases. (Not in any way implying that I want other parties to become xenophobic – speaking purely in cynical strategy terms here.)


J, not that one 06.14.24 at 3:30 am

It doesn’t seem quite right to date religious violence in Europe to the Reformation. First you had the wars to Christianize the kingdoms, then to impose a standardized form of faith on the outliers, then to fight “the infidel” in the Crusades, and finally the Inquisition. Only when uniformity had once again been enforced, and in due course the imposed uniformity failed to hold, did a new enemy present itself.


steven t johnson 06.14.24 at 3:42 am

Momentarily accepting the premise for argument’s sake: Believing people are sheeple is no different from thinking they are guilty of “immaturity and petulance” and are not “serious people.” Those things cause people to be sheeple instead of people. And it’s certainly better than thinking the mass of people are simply evil.

But all this assumes the premise, that voting changes policy. The question should be, do the politicians do what the people want? No. People didn’t want Roe v. Wade revoked. They don’t particularly want interest rates to be raised to increase unemployment for the sake of higher profits. People claim they voted for Trump because he would end forever wars and reindustrialize the economy and bring good times back and he didn’t do that. Political parties in the US do not necessarily carry out popular policies, regardless of the votes.

I think in the US most people think they’re voting no. That’s impossible but it’s also a myth assiduously cultivated, also by people claiming that when policies are not even on the ballot. Voting is designed to forestall meaningful choices. There was as I recall a Florida referendum on restoring the franchise to convicts who had served their time. The Florida legislature promptly devised a scheme to require those requesting the restoration of their franchise to pay.


novakant 06.14.24 at 7:38 am

Worth pointing out that Marine Le Pen‘s party has always done very well in EU elections: 25% in 2014, 23% in 2019, now 31% (another fascist party got additional 5%). Compare that to the national elections: 14% in 2012, 13% in 2017, 19% in 2022.

Let’s hope for the best, but here’s my nightmare scenario if the RN wins enough seats:

France faces a debt crisis a la UK (Truss) cause by uncosted spending

Anti-Islam rhetoric and policies (headscarf ban in public places) create civil war-like atmosphere

French support for Ukraine will be at risk because parliament withholds funding

Also, one shouldn’t underestimate Le Pen’s ties to Moscow in general.


novakant 06.14.24 at 7:48 am


Tm 06.14.24 at 9:25 am

Trader Joe 12: „the next government is going to be facing higher borrowing costs and the need to constrain finances or further raise taxes to pursue whatever agenda they are seeking.“

This raises the specter of Macron‘s government having to raise taxes on the rich, which unfortunately isn’t popular with voters but maybe less unpopular than Macron’s pet project of raising the retirement age.


MisterMr 06.14.24 at 9:48 am

@J, not that one 22

Why not the islamic conquest? Or the romans beating up, in reverse order, christians, druids, and Dyonisus cultists?
There has been a lot of religious violence!

That said, I would say that the Catars and even more the Waldenses were basically reform 1.0, and since the inquisition was created (according to wikipedia) in 1184 as an answer to the catars, the two are IMHO related.

Of your list:
“First you had the wars to Christianize the kingdoms”
I don’t understand what you are referring to, do you mean stuff about the Reconquista of Spain or of Sicily? But then these were largely christian countries ruled by Muslims.
Or do you mean the christianisation of pagans? That was surprisingly non-violent for what I can understand.

“then to impose a standardized form of faith on the outliers”
Again I don’t understand what you are referring to, do you mean catholics VS arian christians in the early middle ages (solved by Charlemagne defeating and annexing the Lombards, but not expecially bloody)? Or the various ancient heresies (those were more like civil wars IMHO, difficult to say who started it)?

“then to fight “the infidel” in the Crusades”
True, but those were more like wars of conquest, plus in reality muslim countries also largely tried to conquer christian places, so it was actually quite balanced.

“and finally the Inquisition”
True, but as above linked to the Catars.

By the way I’m not trying to give a pro-catholic view of history, catholics (both the papacy proper and the various catholic kingdoms) sure were guilty of a lot wars and blood, I just don’t think they were more bloody than the others.

PS: add on to religious violence: the various conflicts between Guelphs and Ghibellines can, in a certain sense, be counted as religous violence.


lurker 06.14.24 at 10:23 am

@ Alex SL, 21, re cynical strategies
In the Euro elections the Finnish far right lost about half of their previous voters while the mainstream right (who are governing in coalition with the far right) won.
Some far right voters were disillusioned by their party selling out to the woke mainstream and didn’t bother to vote, some realized they can get most of the policies they want by voting for the mainstream right instead of embarrassing weirdos.
The alternative government coalition, a GroKo of mainstream right and SocDems, would not be waging open war on the welfare state and the unions, and that’s all the mainstream right and its donors really care about. Some of the donors will want more immigration, eventually, but they figure they can crush the unions now and switch partners later. The strategy is working, for now, for some people.


Alex SL 06.14.24 at 10:32 am

steven t johnson,

No, believing people are sheeple is very different from saying that they have agency but use agency in a deplorable way. The first is a model of a passive box whose buttons a manipulator presses to get the box to do something. The second is a model of human beings who have responsibility for their actions – and, yes, who may be called names for doing bad things, precisely because they have responsibility when they freely decide to, say, hurt members of a minority.

Your bailey that voting never changes policy is also very different from your motte of a few selected examples of specifically American voters not getting what they want because either (1) they chose to elect an obvious fraud, (2) what they wanted is undeliverable, like bring back the good times of when they were young, or (3) decision-making institutions other than plebiscites have to exist in a complex society.

Sure, if 52% of Americans vote for the moon to be made of cheese, it will still stubbornly stay rock, so I guess voting doesn’t change anything. And putting the interest rate to the public vote is certainly a new idea to me. Given that it has to be adjusted under changing economic conditions, would you hold such plebiscites at annual intervals or more frequently? What about putting to majority vote things like human rights, the definition of words, what office chairs public servants are allowed to have, or the exact phrasing of paragraph 5.7.1 in the regulations specifying the safety standards for airplane engines?


Chris Bertram 06.14.24 at 10:53 am

“It doesn’t seem quite right to date religious violence in Europe to the Reformation.”

I did not do this however, I merely made the claim that the Reformation led to an enormous amount of religious violence. Which is true.


noone important 06.14.24 at 11:38 am

“it will be a chance to showcase the utter failings of the extreme right”

Ha-ha, this is funny. Yes, the prosperity, peace and tranquility-loving Biden, Macron, and Scholz should demonstrate the utter failings of their opponents, of the Orban’s and Trump’s ilk.
…and Russian meddling, obviously, as suggested in 25. The Kremlin! That’s the ticket.


J, not that one 06.14.24 at 1:08 pm


I meant the sentences to run roughly in chronological order, though different geographical regions encounter the early ones at different times, up to about “impose a standardized form of faith on the outliers.” In France that would be the Albigensian Crusade, viewed as the hinge redirecting the violence of the Crusades inward into Europe, ensuring the uniformity of French Christendom and its direction from the capital and the anointed king. In East-Central Europe it would be the re-conversion of states Christianized by ex-Crusaders in the form of the Teutonic Knights, and the subjection of Orthodox populations on the eastern border by a Catholic state.

There are two views of religious violence in Europe. In one, there’s a universal peace and uniformity imposed by the Catholic Church, with periodic outbreaks of violence caused by delusion or the lust for power. In the other, there’s the unavoidable diversity of belief and social organization, which is periodically demonized and waged war (physical or political) on, with the claim of universal truth serving to help mobilize willing participants in the fight. I wasn’t talking about religious violence in general and was puzzled by your suggestion that religious violence is always instigated by rebels against the status quo.

I’ve recently noticed an uptick especially online in romanticizing the Catholic Church and viewing it as more of a monolith, historically, than it really has been, including among non-Christians. A literalizing and universalizing of scholarship that compares this or that uniformity to an idealized church at some high point in the Middle Ages. To compare pogroms with the Reformation is somewhat odd.

CB @ 30

Fair. I’ve also noticed an uptick in writers suggesting that all the bad things in the modern world started with Luther, and presumably wouldn’t have happened without Luther, which I do find annoying for the reasons mentioned above. I do wonder how long the empire, holy or secular, could have held as the north developed more. It’s not as if Rome had TV and the Internet to help maintain the same ties they could have with closer princes and populations. (Think how much violence could have been avoided if the Pope had just conceded that many of Luther’s accusations were fair, and opened a dialogue!) Possibly any temporary peace the Reformation broke into is more surprising.


engels 06.14.24 at 2:05 pm

Une page de l’Histoire de France s’écrit avec le Nouveau Front Populaire


Trader Joe 06.14.24 at 2:15 pm

@17 MisterMr

I think perhaps you miss my point. You’re quite correct on the economic history of Germany under Hitler. The point however, is that he still pursued all of the policies that he pursued despite deflation, personal bankruptcies etc. At the time, attempting to re-enter the gold standard was viewed as actually quite fiscally responsible – akin to joining the Euro (to use your analogy) but he persisted with policy despite that goal.

By contrast, what France is facing is the widest spread to German borrowing costs since the financial crisis (spread has nearly doubled just this week) the potential for debt downgrade and as their finance minister noted today – potential expulsion from the EU if a left coalition and its irresponsible spending policies prevail (his words, not mine). I’d view this comment as a substantial overstatement, but to the extent people vote with their money – the bond market is not impressed.

Accordingly the EU acts as a check on policy – where Hitler (or Mussolini), quite clearly, was not constrained in any such way.

With respect to the OP – the fact we’re debating this suggests CBs point – what happened in 1935-1945 isn’t much a check on views of today.


Tm 06.14.24 at 6:01 pm

Novakant, Macron retains a veto, sort of. But you are right about control of funding.

I don’t think an outright majority for Le Pen likely at all, more likely there will be no clear majority and governing will become even more difficult. Macron might even be forced to share power with the left (which has affirmed running as an alliance), that might get interesting.


Tm 06.14.24 at 6:02 pm

The Islam-bashing is breathtaking in its stupidity. They already banned headscarves in schools and public offices. As if that solved any problems… More restrictions would be unconstitutional. The popularity of this nonsense confirms that for large swaths of the electorate, actual public policy of the sort that could make their lives better or worse is utterly irrelevant. Voting for them is about living a fantasy of national purity. How can democracy work under these circumstances?

Wilders in the Netherlands won 23% in the 2023 general election on a platform of – seriously – banning the exercise of the Islamic religion. Who really thinks this is a good idea, let alone feasible and compatible with constitutional government? The election was right after the Hamas attack, which I’m sure was decisive. Islamist extremists and islamophobic extremists need each other and de facto support each other, with the common goal of fostering hate and confrontation.

In the EU election, Wilders was down to 17%. Perhaps because he had to publicly disavow parts of his anti-Islam platform in order to enter into a coalition with other right wing parties. Another experiment in „fighting“ the extreme right by giving them power. Wilders does not get a government office though.


Tm 06.14.24 at 6:14 pm

I now figure that the Server error was caused by using the Word fascism more than once or twice… maybe you’ll want to retire that old rule since the need to talk about rising fascism won‘t go away anytime soon.


Tm 06.14.24 at 6:41 pm

On the question of the causes:

I think the temporal distance from 1945 cannot be overestimated as a contributing factor. The rise of fascist movements to political relevance in Europe and the US coincides with the disappearance of the last people with personal experience of fascism and the world war.

Also not to be underestimated is the role of Putin as a sponsor of almost every right wing extremist movement.

Structurally we are in the middle of the end of the fossil fuel economy while experiencing the first catastrophic effects of climate heating. This causes anxiety and insecurity while the dying fossil fuel industry would rather destroy the planet than go away. It’s no coincidence that every single right wing extremist party, and many establishment right wing parties, are in the pockets of the fossil lobby and are programmatically fighting the green transition.

Another structural factor that I think is important but is more ambivalent is the widespread decline in fertility. All wealthy and many mid income countries now are below replacement and many, including China and Russia, have entered or are about to enter the actual contraction phase. Rightwingers see this as a threat and react with panic. This may partly explain why right wing propaganda is so heavily dominated by doom and gloom. American, French or German nationalists, instead of appealing to the greatness of the nation, paint their own country as hopelessly rotten.


steven t johnson 06.14.24 at 6:46 pm

I wrote “It is not clear why Alex SL thinks that voting changes policy.” The alleged bailey that voting “never” changes policy is hostile misreading. Another such hostile misreading is the claim I suggested the plebiscite to set the Federal funds rate.* Actually following the Humphrey-Hawkins law that enjoins the Federal Reserve to work towards full employment would be a welcome “reform.” But that is another example of voting not changing policy by the way. Of course it’s not on the ballot, only the duopoly is, practically speaking.

The first sentence doubles down, though. Three moral indictments of the rabble are offered as the explanations of why the voters should have been ignored (none of which as it turns out to apply to the handful of examples offered!)

I submit it would be far more sensible and more sympathetic to humanity to say votes are mostly products of mass manipulation because 1) experience has taught deep skepticism about the utility of voting, leaving election little more than irrational, performative gesture (unless you are a constituent, i.e., practically speaking donor or big shot.) Yet cynical people who don’t vote are rarely conceived as voting “no” to the whole system. 2) people think they can vote against someone, a myth assiduously cultivated by their supposed betters, many of whom also libel humanity as evil people. That by the way serves to let people with much greater responsibility off the hook. 3)alternatives are excluded by legal privileges and a multitude of advantages for people who already have real power.

Historically, on the rare occasions when the masses of people really engage in politics (in the guise of theology back in the Reformation) they tend to reveal a large, large part of them have what is disdained as leftist positions and the committed reactionaries are generally a minority, despite the local exceptions. That of course earns even more hatred from the Good People (boni) or the Best (aristocrats) and their employees. That’s why democracy is so often conceived to be an arrangement where they get to vote…but it doesn’t matter. (Yes, yes, usually!)

*I regret now trimming my response in the interest of brevity. I commented on the distinct limitations of plebiscites as the emobodiment of democracy. Most plebiscites are couched as loaded questions, or worse, blank checks. (For the record, so far as foreign observer can tell, Brexit was the latter.) Traumatic as the Brexit vote was, I’m still not sure there wasn’t some immaturity and petulance in the insistence that the EU is Schengen, but not Maastricht and the canaille should not dare disagree.


SamChevre 06.14.24 at 8:58 pm

Alex SL asks,

“And do you seriously believe that if 54% of Germans voted in favour of the Alternative fuer Deutschland at the next election, policies would be exactly the same as if 54% of Germans voted in favour of the Greens?”

No. But I do believe that Germans voting for the Greens could reasonably expect the closing-down of nuclear power plants if the Greens won. I do not think the Germans voting for the AfD would lead to a comparably-dramatic decline in non-European immigrant presence in Germany.


Alex SL 06.15.24 at 12:50 am

steven t johnson,

At 18 and 23 you rejected the proposition that, and I quote literally, “voting changes policy”. That sentence, on a plain reading, means you express the belief that voting never changes policy. That is how language works. If I reject “I have a sister” that means I argue that I have zero sisters. You could easily instead have written, “these days, voting rarely changes policy, because voters mostly flip between two large parties that agree on most things”. I would not have taken any issue with that statement, saving us a lot of letters here, and it would have the enormous advantage of not implying that giving the Greens a 67% majority would have outcomes completely indistinguishable from giving neonazis a 67% majority.

I note that the only one here calling voters canaille or rabble is you. My position is that voters in a democracy have agency, access to free information that they can freely choose to either consume or reject, and a free vote that they can freely choose to place here or there or over there. Auntie Mavis reads that Somali gangs are going to steal her job while undeservedly collecting welfare, that she should be afraid of trans women attacking her in the public toilet, and that climate change is a conspiracy by scientists who deliberately want to destroy our society, and she votes right. I read the exact same garbage, think, “wow, this is ridiculous garbage completely at odds with observable reality”, and vote left.

The difference between Mavis and me is therefore not in the people who wrote the garbage; it is on us, the voters. If Mavis was a better person, she would not build her entire identity around hatred and fear but instead embrace diversity and solidarity. But she isn’t, so she doesn’t. At some point, that’s on her, not on Rupert Murdoch. He would be powerless if his audience wasn’t receptive to what he sells.


Tm 06.15.24 at 8:33 am

Sam: „Germans voting for the Greens could reasonably expect the closing-down of nuclear power plants if the Greens won.“

Ironically, the closing down of the NPP had nothing to do with the Greens winning. The law was passed in 2011 under Merkel and most NPPs were retired while the Greens were in opposition.

„Non-European immigrant presence“ in Germany is rather small (unless you count the descendants of Turkish immigrants born in Germany as non-European; important to know that the AFD has hatched plans to deport naturalized immigrants and their descendants).

Right wingers are already making these people‘s lives as miserable as they can and this will only get worse. But the effects of the AFD winning elections will be felt in many policy areas, not just immigration and refugees but for example energy, culture and public broadcasters, courts and the rule of law, police, social policy, gender equality, queer rights, …


engels 06.15.24 at 10:02 am

Auntie Mavis reads that Somali gangs are going to steal her job while undeservedly collecting welfare…and she votes right. I read the exact same garbage, think, “wow, this is ridiculous garbage…and vote left. The difference between Mavis and me is therefore not in the people who wrote the garbage; it is on us, the voters.

Do you attribute your exceptional virtue to DNA or divine election?


Alex H 06.15.24 at 12:58 pm

“Do you attribute your exceptional virtue to DNA or divine election?”

How about luck? I am more virtuous than Nazis, but not b/c of my genes, but b/c I am lucky.


Alex SL 06.15.24 at 2:58 pm


If what you mean with “decline in non-European immigrant presence” is mass deportation, then that does indeed seem unlikely to happen even if they win. But they could still make immigrants and other vulnerable minorities suffer. That is what it ultimately boils down to, because that is the only policy that makes the far right happy and is actually deliverable.


I don’t think this is the thread for a philosophical discussion of determinism, but for what it is worth, I am a compatibilist. I know that I am the way I am because of circumstances that were out of my control – I did not pick my genes or the family and country I was born into – and only gradually gained agency as my capacity for reason developed. But I assume that you, too, when confronted with one person who takes pleasure in bullying you unprovoked and who is known to steal and vandalise others’ possessions and a second person who befriends you and shows kindness and generosity to strangers more generally, would be able to call one of them a bad person and the other a good one without suffering a mental blue screen of death over the fact that there is cause and effect in our lives. I see no reason why the same commonsense approach should suddenly go out of the window when somebody makes awful choices in their role as a voter.

I am really quite perplexed by the fallacy at play whenever this discussion comes up. Presumably, everybody participating in this thread would acknowledge that while they themselves are certainly influenced by the information they have available, e.g., whether the media have reported on or buried an incident of corruption, based on the available information they ultimately then make a decision how to vote (not not vote) based on their own values and some mental model of what the consequence would be taking into account tactical voting. They would also presumably acknowledge that they have the ability to asses information for its plausibility. Yet when we look at others in the aggregate, many of us infantilise those others and think they don’t have their own agency, decision making, ability to reason, and values. How odd.


steven t johnson 06.15.24 at 3:40 pm

Alex SL@41 is in my judgment disingenuous. Alex SL claims now to have found the proposition that voting rarely changes policy unobjectionable.* But that’s not true I think. I think the exchange clearly was about voting as an everyday practice, normal operations, routinely the source of policy. I say when voting in elections actually makes a decisive difference, it is because of political crisis which began with splits in the ruling strata over something like financial crisis or war or maybe even internecine rivalries. And then the voting is simply a measure of relative power, one of the mechanisms for deciding who is the winner without resorting to violence within the class.

Alex SL I think clearly means voting is the root of political power. And like all good people agrees with Spider-Man that with the original power comes the ultimate responsibility. That is what I objected to, and I still think it is nonsense with a reactionary bent.

Alex SL, after claiming not to despise the people in general, invents a Mavis to stand in. Condemning Mavis is condemning them. The excuse for this is supposed to be the people have freely chosen to believe “Murdoch,” another stand in, who would be powerless if he was able to sell to the audience. But this is all wrong.

Murdoch, literally and figuratively, doesn’t sell to the audience/Mavis, Murdoch sells the audience to advertisers, who are generally rich people. Back in the day, when Fox News as the struggling upstart facing down CNN, I noticed how every small business I encountered had Fox News on the waiting room TV. Fox cultivated its audience for years, to sell that audience to the advertisers (who I think are the usual suspects in the Marxist rogues’ gallery, sorry.) The notion the audience is the customer is a specific example of the wrongness of thinking the consumer is the kind of capitalism, stems from that error.

And of course, relying on the thin excuse that free speech is free, then the people are obviously to blame for general course of events, because they voted and that generally determines the general course of events obviously. The circle is complete and as the ancient Greeks observed, perfect. Except of course, speech isn’t free, it costs. Someone with a bank of amplifiers will drown out someone with just their own voice. And money buys repetition too, another way to monopolize (not literally!) the public space Mavis supposedly free chooses from. Crude as the analogy, it applies. And Alex SL verges on denying the power of propaganda (except in designated enemy nations?)

But I think in the end the perspective is fundamentally religious, a disguised version of supernatural free will, probably with some incoherent philosophical mishmash (usually called compatibilism.) This sort of thing is by far the majority view in philosophy but perversely I still reject it. If you really want to see what the masses think, look at the rare occasions when they actually engage in politics. I also reject Burke in favor of Paine, Nietzche in favor of Marx. I look back and think this is what people really want (allowing for changes in historical situation and the exigencies of events) and agree with them. Others look back in religious horror. It is impossible in the end to argue religous dogma, I’m done.

On a personal note, it seems to me that Alex Sl’s alleged “plain” reading isn’t at all plain if the entire paragraph in @18 is read. The reference to censorship of TikTok only makes sense if I thought that people in social media did in fact have *some agency. Thus when Alex SL compares the alleged plain reading to a dichotomy like denying a sister, it is a false dichotomy, a fallacy. How much matters. But Alex SL didn’t ask for clarification, I think because Alex SL is trying to defend the personal bailey.


Alex SL 06.16.24 at 1:07 am

steven t johnson,

You are getting increasingly hostile and increasingly put words into my mouth, so I will attempt to clarify one last time and then bow out. I read your comments that voting doesn’t change policy as a denial that voting changes policy and based my first responses on that reading. If that isn’t what you meant to say then we may not have much disagreement. That being said:

Sentences like “when voting in elections actually makes a decisive difference, it is because of political crisis which began with splits in the ruling strata over something like financial crisis or war or maybe even internecine rivalries” continue to imply that you model politics in a democracy as an entirely top-down process where nothing can ever change unless the “ruling strata” decide it should. Of course a billionaire media owner has has a much bigger megaphone than somebody making ends meet as an Uber driver. But in the end, people could look at the output of that billionaire and say, what a loonie. In the end, when there is an election where 20 million people have the vote, and 12 million people decide to vote socialist, then different things happen than if 12 million people decide to vote libertarian. And there’s my point.

And the interesting and useful question is then, why do people who would benefit from left-wing policies don’t vote left, and not… honestly, I am not even clear on what you would be able to discuss in this context if you have given up all hope that your fellow citizens would ever want to improve anything without a billionaire telling them what to do. But apparently, it is me who has a poor view of his fellow voters because I do believe that they have agency.

As for the rest, I am using a hypothetical Mavis as a stand-in because I am hardly going to describe in detail identifiable nonsense that identifiable family members believe while commenting with a user name that makes it fairly easy to figure out who I am. Murdoch, on the other hand, isn’t a stand-in, he is my attempt at the strongest case for your view, an oligarch who can single-handedly sway political opinion in several countries. (And yet, when I see his papers, I decide to reject the hatred they promulgate, and so do others, and there’s my point.)

Then you conflate the figurative ‘selling hatred and fear’ with ‘selling in the sense of advertisement space’, although without thinking too much about it, I didn’t even call the consumers of Murdoch media ‘customers’ but merely ‘audience’. But even then, people still pay money to get his newspapers and TV channels, so they are still customers, even as advertisers are also customers. Then you make the point of a billionaire having more power to shape narrative than you or me, which I agree with, okay. Still, the billionaire isn’t having his goons stand next to me at the ballot box and beat me if I don’t vote his way, and I reject his ideology, as do many others, and there’s my point.

I must admit I do not understand the comments about “enemy nations” (where did I bring that up?) and the philosophy of free will. The latter issue is only tangentially relevant to a conversation about Macron’s strategy, but for what it is worth, I have participated in many discussions of it where incompatibilists refuse to accept that compatibilists like myself believe what we say we believe and instead insist that we must actually believe in supernatural free will and be lying about it. I assure you, that is not the case. I am a determinist and materialist, but I accept the sentence “I make a choice” despite the brain following cause-and-effect for the same reason that I accept the sentence “I am digesting my dinner” despite the stomach following cause-and-effect.


MisterMr 06.16.24 at 7:46 am

@J, not that one 32

I don’t think I ever said that religious violence is always instigated by rebels against the status quo, in fact even when we speak of wars of religions it is because the “rebels” are now the local status quo fighting against the status quo somewhere else.
That said, certainly the Catholic church did a lot of repression.

My impression is that, since anglo countries are mayority protestant, for a certain period there was a certain implicit assumption that the RC was the only or main example of religious obscurantism, with stuff like inquisition, the process to Galilei etc..
More recently though there was a swing in public opinion, so for example it is more known that stuff like witch hunts were more a bipartisan thing between catholics and protestants, with the inquisition actually limiting the witch hunts (while giving intellectual fuel to them), recognizing that protestants were also quite obscurantist (see Tycho Brahe) etc..

I think this cultural swing is what you perceive as a pro-catholic fashion, and perhaps there can be exaggerations in it, but in many cases is just a corrective to a previous anti-catholic bias IMHO (in anglo culture, not in other places that are mayority catholic obviously).

@Trader Joe 34

I’m sorry I don’t follow your argument: hiw do budget constraint prevent Meloni from, say, mistreating immigrants? It is more likely that such constraints give her an excuse to treat them worse.
Sure Meloni cannot have a huge deficit to finance huge military investments to then invade France, but this wasn’t in the cards to begin with.


engels 06.16.24 at 5:47 pm

Having learned a bit more about the background of this, the arrogance and lack of communication is staggering. The stupidest political decision since Cameron’s referendum call?


nastywoman 06.17.24 at 3:24 pm

Mujtaba Rahman:
I think Macron’s allies believe it would have been impossible for him to continue governing with 15 percent of the vote and a 17-point gap with the far right in the European elections. Passage of the budget would have been very challenging in 2025, and there was a very high probability of censure motions that would’ve potentially precipitated the fall of his government later in the year. So I think in Macron’s imagination, he was getting ahead of an inevitability, and better for him to seize the initiative and take the fight to Le Pen and the opposition than have them dictate the likelihood of an early election by engineering these votes of confidence that could ultimately have resulted in the collapse of his government.

Now, it’s true that constitutionally, it’s up to Macron to call an election. And it’s true that in the face of a censure motion, he could fire his prime minister, he could reshuffle his government, he could avoid an election. But I think the general sense is there would be a volley of censure motions from the opposition, and at some point, he would’ve been obliged to call one.

The final thing I would say here is even if Le Pen delivers a majority in the National Assembly, the one thing Macron may then be able to do is constrain her because he’ll still be in the Élysée. Is it better to have an open boulevard for Le Pen to win both the Élysée and deliver a majority in the National Assembly in 2027 or better that the far right comes to power earlier, but is more constrained by virtue of the fact that Macron would still be president?

I hadn’t realized the extent to which he’d be painted into a corner if he didn’t make this move now.


Trader Joe 06.17.24 at 7:23 pm

@48 Mister Mr.

If Hitler or Mussolini wanted to pursue some policy – be it armament or social – they printed Lira or DMs and then they did it. Sure, if they did enough of it eventually their currency would suffer but they could sterilize to some extent via gold which is why they wanted on the gold standard of the day (such as it was).

No EU called and said you can’t issue more debt or you have to lower your deficit or suffer X,Y or Z consequence because you are f-ing up our currency.

Current EU leaders, whatever domestic policy they are considering, also have to consider their budget and how their borrowing impacts the Euro and what the consequences of it might be. Their people may/may not support the policy – but if Brussels doesn’t they have levers they can pull (particularly when France has run a deficit for 15 years straight – only Spain is worse). Brussels won’t send an army, they’ll send a finance minister.

Its my view that this is a real check on policy at least to some extent and as I said at the outset, maybe not a silver lining but at least a copper one. You may see it differently.


nastwoman 06.18.24 at 6:51 am

and about Meloni and the game she is playing – the philosophical creativity of it could be a role model for Macron – as he also could pretend that he is more of a ‘Fascist’ in order to collect more of the Dumb Right Wing Voters and
like ‘the beautiful’ Meloni (as Trump would perhaps call her)
‘beautifully’ –
against the Crazy Right Wingers!


engels 06.18.24 at 9:43 am

French bosses build ties with Le Pen as left triggers alarm

France’s corporate bosses are racing to build contacts with Marine Le Pen’s far right after recoiling from the radical tax-and-spend agenda of the rival leftwing alliance in the country’s snap parliamentary elections.

Four senior executives and bankers told the Financial Times that the left — which polls suggest is the strongest bloc vying with Le Pen — would be even worse for business than the Rassemblement National’s unfunded tax cuts and anti-immigration policies…


MisterMr 06.18.24 at 11:36 am

@Trader Joe 51

It certainly is a real check on policy, but it is also a check on leftish policies.
There is also the problem that right leaning parties, being nationalist, can play the “Bruxelles makes me do this” card, while leftish parties, that are overall more pro EU, cannot do this so easily because this pushes voters towards the nationalistic right leaning parties.


EWI 06.18.24 at 3:02 pm

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.

Being Irish, I actually can ‘consider Ireland’ and this is a gross simplification which doesn’t support the OP’s case as much as he thinks it does. The ‘ordinary decent republicans’ of the Collins cult among FG supporters were to a some extent either purged or drifted away to FF or similar, leaving an alliance of big Catholic farmers, the larger capitalists, ‘Castle Catholics’ and the wealthier and more privileged echelons of the non-Catholic communities as their enduring bedrock.


EWI 06.18.24 at 3:29 pm


I wasn’t talking about religious violence in general and was puzzled by your suggestion that religious violence is always instigated by rebels against the status quo.

Seeing as though Ireland has ‘entered the chat’ through a remark by the OP, it bears mention that, in the face of the threat posed by avowedly anti-religious Republicanism, the RC hierarchy flipped from seeking to undermine the British Protestant state into a clear rapprochement with the British against Irish radicals, which lasted all the way through to 1922.


MisterMr 06.19.24 at 11:53 am

@nastwoman 52

“against the Crazy Right Wingers!”

The crazy right wingers (Salvini) are part of her government though.
Or maybe I misunderstood what you mean.


nastywoman 06.21.24 at 7:38 am

@’The crazy right wingers (Salvini) are part of her government though.
Or maybe I misunderstood what you mean’.

You didn’t – as it is even more ‘beautiful’ (Italian) to govern against members of your own government too.


Tm 06.22.24 at 2:59 pm

Serious question, how good is Meloni‘s relationship with Salvini? It would seem that Salvini ought to feel more than threatened by her success. Everybody‘s talking about Meloni‘s 29% in the EU election. But in 2019, Salvini had gotten 34%. And Meloni‘s election reform project, if I understand it correctly, would make Meloni‘s coalition partners irrelevant.

And anyway, what is that extreme volatility of Italian voters really about? Are they bored to death or what?


steven t johnson 06.22.24 at 5:24 pm

Quoting myself @5, “It’s not clear to me how a bitterly divided parliament doesn’t neuter itself, leaving Macron’s presidential prerogative free to act.” Here’s a constructive criticism or maybe trial balloon from a friend of France and Macron,


MisterMr 06.23.24 at 9:26 am

My answer to Nastywoman 58 and Tm 59

Short answer is that Salvini is trying to take Meloni’s place by outpopulisting her, while Meloni is trying to take the place of Berlusconi as the natural leader of the whole right.
Salvini is unlikely to win, Meloni is too strong currently, and the right loves strong leaders.

First, you have to understand that italian first past the post system works through coalitions, so that Meloni’s and Salvini’s votes and Berlusconi’s party are summed together for the purpose of Fptp counting.
This means that, if we compare the italian system to the american one, the coalition as a whole is comparable to the Republicans, while the three parties are comparable to primary contenders, who however will share power after the election proportionally to their votes.

This system started in the 90s with Berlusconi almost uncontested leader and the Lega party and AN (postfascist) as the two wings.
Berlusconi IMHO was an early right wing populist authoritarian, although this was not obvious at the time because he was early, and some of his voters had a sort of personality cult of him.
But B. got disgraced by a sex scandal, and then got ill and died, thus creating a power vacuum in the right.
Salvini (Lega) for a while looked like he could take the place of B., and he did that by being very right wing populist while in a coalition government with another party, but then he basically broke the government he was in, let the left into the government while he self-ousted from it, and generally looked like an idiot; then he during covid was part of a bipartisan government but since he wanted to look populist he postured as anti-government while being part of it.
Most right leaning voters then voted for Meloni (FdI, descended from AN) as the lastoption after B. died and S. disgraced himself.
Meloni delivered a big win thus righties will bet on her again, she tries to stay presidential and avoid scandals (hence the centrist appearence), and Salvini faces an uphill battle to surpass her, that he fights the only way he knows, by being ultrapopulist to the level of ridicule.
This said, Meloni isn’t a centrist, she already made some economically pro rich moves, she is going anti-abortion in a moderate way, she is going anti-trans in a moderate way (comparable to some terfs and, while I’m not all that anti terf, it is obvious that she is using terfs as a cover to look as a paladine of traditional morality), she has been criticised by many journalists for keeping a stronger than usual grips on public broadcasters, she copied Salvini’s stick of preventing Ngo shipswho save migrants abandoned in the middle of the mediterranean to land in Italy, and is trying to pass reforms that strenghten the premier VS the parliament.
So, not as bad as Salvini, but certainly smarter and really not a centrist.


nastywoman 06.24.24 at 11:08 am

‘So, not as bad as Salvini, but certainly smarter and really not a centrist’.

and as ‘European Italians’ we actually don’t care what she ‘politically’ is
(or not)
as long as she stays with US in the EU
(and defends the defence of a European Ukraine)
and if she got all these votes for doing –
something completely different –
THAT’s what Macron could test too?


Tm 06.25.24 at 7:06 am

I know she’s not a centrist but the whole thing mystifies me.

And what is it with this huge volatility of Italian voters? In 2014, the Democratic Party got 41%, in 2018, the Cinque Stelle 33%, in 2019 Salvini 34%, 2022 Meloni 26%.
In 2024, Salvini is down to 9%, 5S down to 10%, Meloni 28%.

The Italian ESC entry was called La Noia, boredom. Are Italians just bored?


MisterMr 06.25.24 at 11:04 am

@TM 63

Well during that period a lot of stuff happened:

Berlusconi, the very charismatic leader of the right since the 90s, disgraced himself in a sex scandal and later died, creating a power vacuum in the right;

the Lega party went from a local party of northern italians being racist against southern italians to a national party of italians being racist against immigrants (this happened earlier and is what propelled Salvini to 34%);

the “democratic party”, that is generally portrrayed as the prosecution of the communist party but is really an amalgam of ex-communist and the left part of the old christian democrats (who have a lot of influence in the party) is in constant identity crisis (personified by Renzi who lead the party from 2013 to 2018, but now is the head of another “centrist” party with 8%, he also sabotaged a leftish government inbetween forcing Draghi into government);

between the 2018 election ant the 2022 one there were 3 different governments with a different set of alliances, and during the last two of these governments COVID happened;

the populist movement of M5S, which originally was neither left of right, managed to get 35% of the votes, but then immediately after the rgiht leaning voters of M5S realized that there were lefties in the party and defected for Lega, but thes Salvini miscalculated and managed to self-kick out from the governmet leaving the remaining leftish M5S to govern with the left (the first 2 of the 3 governments mentioned above) etc.

So it was quite hectic.

I think it is more a sort of long term general identity crisis of the mayor parties, plus the fact that both voters and politicians are not used to the Fptp system and don’t vote strategically, which makes things very volatile.
The “double soul” of the Democratic party is also a big part of the identity crisis and it is easy to miss from the outside, too, but it turns the Dems into a group of backstabbers, which is a big problem.


TM 06.25.24 at 4:34 pm

John Ganz’ book “When the clock broke” is getting a lot of attention and it occurs to me that the thesis of the 1990s as an “incubator period” for the current rise of fascism might well apply to Italy. Wonder whether it also makes sense for Germany or France?

e. g.


MisterMr 06.26.24 at 6:08 am

@tm 65

I skimmed the article about Ganz and didn’t find it convincing, not for Italy at least.
IMHO what happened in the 90s is that the left, that was in the backfoot since the 80s, become left-neoliberal, and in this way could get back to power.
This had the perverse effect that the right had to become populist, because the left stole that specific place.
In Italy this happened more immediately also because the previous dominant center right party imploded, so the change was more abrupt.

The Ganz article insists on the idea that white males hate equality, but while assholes exist and often vote right, this doesn’t explain why the right had to cater to that particular public starting from the 90s, and also is a psychologically satisfactory idea for lefties that notes that in that period racial or gender inequality was falling, but ignores that economic inequality was rising.

The changing racial dinamics didn’t really happen in Italy.

We also know from Picketty (in an article about changing politicc demographics) noted that in the same period the left changed from the party of the not educated to the party of the educated, probably because the amount of people with high education and lowish income increased, which probably pushed the right into being anti science.

So this sort of populism we have today is, naturally, a continuation of some trends from 30 years ago, but IMHO not the ones Ganz says.

Comments on this entry are closed.