“Live dangerously!” was Nietzsche’s advice to his followers, those “good Europeans”, the “legislators of the future”. He wanted them to send their “ships into uncharted seas”, to “live at war” with their peers and themselves. That was the secret, as he wrote in The Gay Science, “for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment”.

Ever since he called a snap election on 9 June, Emmanuel Macron has been living dangerously. The decision was taken after his centrist coalition was trounced into second place by the National Rally (RN), who won more than double the vote in the European elections. Today, as it becomes clear that the RN threat has been neutralised by an unexpected surge on the French Left, it appears that gamble has paid off.

Even with his Ensemble party consigned to second place, the results can surely be read as a partial victory for Macron — a politician, we must remember, who was first elected to face down the far-Right populist wave. In 2017, Macron won the French Presidency in a landslide, beating Marine Le Pen 66% to 34%. Five years later, he repeated the feat, winning 59% of the vote. Within two months, however, his absolute majority in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, was turned into a relative majority in the legislative elections. Over the next year, his popularity started to wane, largely the result of two bills: one raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, the other hardening immigration.

The first was passed by decree and the second with the help of conservative and even far-Right votes. Before yesterday’s results, there were concerns that, in trying to appease the far-Right, Macron may have emboldened it. Indeed, Jordan Bardella, the new leader of the National Rally, called Macron’s immigration bill an “ideological victory” for his party. It brought to mind another of Nietzsche’s warnings, this time in Beyond Good and Evil: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” By taking on the far-Right’s positions in trying to face them down, it seemed Macron was in danger of becoming a monster himself.

Isolated within his own party, however, Macron seems to have followed Nietzsche’s counsel to be “at war” with one’s peers and oneself. Aside from his inner circle, most of his party did not know he was going to call a snap election — not even his sitting prime minister Gabriel Attal — putting them in a difficult situation. Nor was his former prime minister Edouard Philippe informed: a still very popular politician who leads a faction within Ensemble. Philippe has stated that Macron’s decision to call the election means the “end of Macronism”.

“Macron seems to have followed Nietzsche’s counsel to be ‘at war’ with one’s peers and oneself.”

What happens next is anybody’s guess: with a hung parliament seemingly on the horizon, propped up by the New Popular Front (NPF), we are in the “uncharted seas” Nietzsche dangerously called for. Will a national unity government, spanning the centre-left (the Socialists and Greens) and centre-right (the Republicans), be formed? Although coalition-building was a feature of both the Third and Fourth Republics, France has lacked the political know-how to do so since Charles de Gaulle established the Fifth Republic in 1958 with a strong presidency.

What we do know is that, despite not losing to the RN, Macron finds himself in a weaker position than before the European elections. While the French Presidency, and therefore Macron, will retain a firm hand in external affairs, Macron’s foreign policy will be undermined. Macron has been at the forefront of trying to build European strength in the face of Russian aggression, to make Europe “acquire a single will”, as Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil on the subject of Russia’s “threatening attitude” and the need for an “equally threatening” Europe. In a similar vein, Macron has made clear he is open to sending French ground troops to Ukraine, to the horror of his Western allies, and has promised Zelensky the delivery of French missiles and planes to help in the war effort. The Left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, by contrast, has repeatedly called for the US not to “annex Ukraine into Nato”. For him, closer ties with Ukraine are certainly not a priority.

Thus, Macron, who has another three years to run on his presidency, could soon find himself in another tricky situation. Ultimately, it will be then that he will be judged. In his semi-autobiographical Ecce Homo Nietzsche wrote:

“I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.”

Macron’s name, of course, may not be “associated with the memory of something tremendous”. But it is fair to say that, since coming to power in 2017, he has dynamited the French political system, bringing an end to the dominance of the old Socialist and Republican parties. Shortly after dissolving parliament he said: “I threw my unpinned grenade under their legs. Now let’s see how they get on.” If Macron has blown up the French political system, we’ll soon know whether he has blown himself up in the process too.

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Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: https://unherd.com/