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Sophie Wahnich's reflection on the first round of the French presidential election was first published in L’Obs on 27 April.
What I take from the campaign and the result on 23 April is French people’s increasingly powerful desire for a leader. The three figures who dominated the debates expressed this same aspiration: Marine Le Pen, of course, but also Emmanuel Macron, acting solo against the parties, and finally Jean-Luc Mélenchon, even if he claims not to be doing so.
This aspiration to be led by a powerful incarnating figure is a worrying one. For the people crying out for this are often the same ones who often refuse themselves to engage in the invention of the society of tomorrow. The desire for a leader often goes hand-in-hand with a refusal to take responsibility. Certainly, the presidential election encourages this. In my view, this desire is a symptom of the present day world, and is not specific to France.
First published in Le Monde Diplomatique. Translated by David Broder.
"I'm going to be very clear..." Probably ignorant of the basic logics of the symptom, Emmanuel Macron seems unable to see how this repetitive way of starting each of his answers betrays the deep desire to cover things up — or rather, to recover them — that animates his whole campaign. "Keep on bathing between vagueness and nothingness" — that is what we should take from each of his promises of clarity. In his defence, we will admit that deferring to the obligation to speak when one's intention is to say nothing at all is one of the curses of this "democracy" that we have still found no satisfactory antidote for. Some will object that most of the candidates end up accommodating to this long and difficult moment — a moment one simply has to go through — and that the campaign-season fib is a well-established genre which should no longer be able to surprise anyone. For Macron, however, the problem takes on unprecedented proportions: not just a matter of slipping across a couple of whoppers, even of the calibre of "my enemy is finance" [as François Hollande claimed before his election in 2012]: rather, his entire campaign, and even his very persona as a candidate, constitute an essentially fraudulent enterprise.