We live in a time of constant upheaval and infuriating inertia. Existential threats to Western democracy abound, but nothing seems to change. With new ideas and technologies transforming the ways we live and work, much of the public seems impatient, urging on change, while the rest demands control and protection. Amid such feverish division, elections morph from battles of ideas to totemic fights for a nation’s soul. We have already seen such contests play out in the United States and Britain. Now it is France’s turn.
On Sunday, voters there will go to the polls to choose the country’s next president. On the ballot are the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, who is promising managerial reforms at home and the reinvigoration of Europe beyond France’s borders, and the far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, who proposes a nationalistic revolution, both domestic and foreign. In this way, the country appears an image in miniature of the wider world—divided and angry, fearful and on edge. Yet France’s election reflects Europe and the West in another way too: the relentless rise of the nationalist right, fueled by causes emanating from far beyond each nation’s borders.