Why we need our own Macron
The divisions and fractures that run through our society must be overcome, whether they be economic, social, political or moral,” Emmanuel Macron declared during his formal inauguration ceremony at the Élysée Palace last year.
His tone was somber, devoid of misplaced bombast, unjustified flair and the usual clichés. Young, charismatic and ambitious, he, nevertheless, decided to strike a realistic note, reminding the French citizenry that he “didn’t think for a single second that (the confidence in the nation) was restored as if by magic” on the eve of his election victory.
He promised success only through the “slow, demanding but essential work” of a committed government. It goes without saying that Macron is far from perfect. He has been accused of authoritarian rule and hubris. His approval ratings are falling (only 29 percent in the latest surveys). And he has suffered high-profile resignations in his young presidency, including those of the chief of the armed forces, Pierre de Villiers, after disagreements over the defense budget; Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, who chose to run for local politics; and the environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who accused Macron of not putting substance to his rhetoric.
One of his bodyguards, Alexandre Benalla, was even accused of punching a protester, while his former culture minister Françoise Nyssen had to resign amid accusations of exorbitant renovations on a cultural site. Just over a year in, Macron has had to reshuffle his Cabinet to stave off declining confidence in his government.
Notwithstanding the troubles and travails of the actual Macron presidency, one can’t still deny the awe-inspiring nature of his rise to power — and its broader structural implications for 21st-century politics.
For starters, Macron’s political ascent represented a major break from the rise of right-wing populism in the West in recent years. In many ways, he is the ultimate “anti-Trump,” a sleek and polished maverick who skillfully managed to repackage moderate and reformist politics as an
attractive option for the future.
To use G.W.F. Hegel’s argument, Macron’s campaign went from a “particular” (a peripheral phenomenon in a specific context) to a “universal” (an event with universal relevance).
Crucially, he seized control of the state apparatus not as a right-wing populist who opportunistically taps into the darkest instincts of the citizenry, but as a centrist who appeals to reason and the best hopes of the public. If Donald Trump stood for the exclusionary and combative narrative of “Make America Great Again,” Macron stood for a more inclusive and sober-minded slogan: “Make Centrism Sexy Again.”
In this sense, Macron is one of the most radical figures of our times, precisely because he won power in a deeply dissatisfied society by, paradoxically, promising change through continuity.
Thus, Macron’s campaign strategy provides an interesting blueprint for making sure that we don’t throw out the baby (of democratic politics) with the bathwater (of corruption and the inefficacy of the feckless ruling elite).
What Macron did in his elections was to show that standing for the best values of the status quo — pluralism, constitutional republicanism, tolerance, inclusiveness and economic dynamism — is in itself a revolutionary act.
Nations fail not because of democratic politics, but because those in power fail or refuse to stand for principles of democracy.
In fact, Macron launched his campaign for the presidency by promising a “democratic revolution” that would “unblock France” and unleash its best potentials, by operationalizing the true essence of French republicanism. To support his campaign, he authored a book, titled “Révolution,” which essentially argued that the status quo is broken, not because of democratic politics per se, but because of the decay in the ruling political establishment.
In short, don’t change the system per se, but those who run it. Instead of reinventing the wheel, or embracing change—any change—for the sake of it, ensure that the best principles of a democratic status quo are actually embodied in everyday politics.
Similar to France, the Philippines is a deeply polarized society, torn between the extremes of right-wing populism, on one hand, and an enervated liberalism, on the other. What the country needs is a new kind of politics, one that combines the best elements of both extremes: a decisive and charismatic leadership that not only protects human rights and pluralism, but also ensures rule of law and effective governance.
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