France: Is There a Way Out?

The French react to terrorism much differently than Americans do. The victims’ families do not appear weeping on television or get book contracts, conspiracy theories have little traction, and even the National Front does not engage in the hysterical demagoguery that has become standard in the Republican presidential campaign. (After the November killings Marine Le Pen was a model of composure compared to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.) Nor do the French suffer from a pathological distrust of the state. They like to be governed, as long as they are governed well. Accordingly, if public officials look responsible and show sangfroid they will be left alone to do their jobs, as long as they make evident progress.

At the moment, though, the French state looks dangerously weak: on the one side economic stagnation and political paralysis, on the other international terrorism and an enormous number of migrants in a border-free Europe, with little sense of how to deal with any of this. The savvy conservative Alain Juppé seems to have understood that the coming presidential election will be about relieving public anxieties on these two fronts. To inaugurate his campaign he has just published a book titled For a Strong State. It would be suicide for an American politician to use such a title, but if Juppé makes strength the theme of his campaign he may very well end up in the Elysée Palace. If he doesn’t, and no other candidates persuade the public that they can control France’s destiny, that will leave only Marine Le Pen and her eerie clan to turn to.
— Mark Lilla