November 30th, 2016

If you think our 2016 election featured an unusual duo of choices…

take a look at France’s:

In France, [pollsters] failed to see that former prime minister François Fillon would win the race to become the conservative party’s candidate in April’s presidential election. A social conservative with liberal economic views, Fillon scrambles our notions of Left and Right…

…Fillon tells the French that he wants “to give the country its liberty back.” He promises to cut a half-million public-sector jobs, end the 35-hour work week, and reduce France’s corpulent 3,000 pages of labor regulations to a svelte 150. This would be a revolution, of sorts…

In April 2017, Fillon, an Anglophile and practicing Catholic, could conceivably confront Marine Le Pen, the anti-Islamist leader of the National Front, in the second and conclusive round of the French presidential election. If so, the pundits will find that their old mental maps have been rendered useless in a conflict between two “conservative” candidates. That’s because the working-class vote, once claimed by the Left, has been abandoned by the French Socialists…

So according to Fred Siegel (author of that City Journal article), we have two candidates on the right—or sort-of on-the-right—fighting over what we now can call the Trump voter. Or perhaps the Trump électeur.

I fail to see what’s “liberal” about the economic views of Fillon as described there (after all, these are public sector jobs he’s cutting), although this piece in Politico also calls him economically liberal, and offers an attempt at explanation:

[Fillon] won more than 60 percent of the vote against a more moderate candidate by focusing on social values, winning the support of Catholic groups and projecting exactly who he is: an economic liberal and social conservative who, at the end of the day, is indisputably right-wing…

Hours after Fillon’s victory Sunday, Philippot went on television to assail Fillon as a cold-hearted agent of capitalism, saying his plans to lay off 500,000 civil sector workers would “bleed” France. His calls for reform of labor rules were further “austerity” directed from Brussels and embrace of the EU was proof of his “savage globalism,” Philippot said.

“The candidate of uncontrolled globalization has a name: François Fillon,” Philippot told BFMTV. “His program is rather medieval in nature: he wants to bleed France to make it better, even though we know this doesn’t work very well.”

But Fillon’s camp argue they can siphon off Le Pen’s working-class votes. They point to exceptionally strong performances in some economically depressed areas where the National Front usually does well as proof that Le Pen does not have a lock on “Trump-like” voters.

Back to Siegel:

Fillon’s Thatcherite economic policy will no doubt push France’s vast array of public-sector trade unionists—and what remains of the industrial working-class voters—into the arms of Marine Le Pen, who could merge as the de facto left-wing candidate (if such terms still have any meaning). The many millions who either work for government or are the recipient of corporatist benefits might quietly support Le Pen’s nationalism rather than risk losing their privileges.

Whoever is the victor, the ill-begotten European Union will have been handed yet another shock…

So, which is it? First Siegel says Fillon is economically liberal, and now we hear from Siegel that he’s got a “Thatcherite economic policy.” And although Politico says that Fillon is in line with the EU, Siegel says that neither candidate is.

Clear as mud, I’d say. I know that words like “liberal” mean something different in France from what they mean here, but how could a “Thatcherite” economic policy also be called “liberal”?

And since we already don’t especially trust polls at this point, I suppose we should take this with a huge grain of salt:

France’s Francois Fillon will convincingly beat National Front leader Marine Le Pen in a presidential election runoff next May, taking 66 percent of the vote, a new opinion poll showed on Wednesday.

The Elabe poll showed free-marketeer conservative Fillon, who secured his Les Republicains party nomination on Sunday, remains firmly in first position among several declared or potential candidates, including Le Pen and socialist incumbent Francois Hollande.

Both Fillon and Le Pen, head of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU, National Front, are expected to make it to a head-to-head runoff on May 7 after a first round of voting in April which will winnow out the field.

In that runoff, Fillon would likely secure 66 percent of the votes versus 34 percent for Le Pen, according to the poll, which was conducted by Internet on Sept. 28 and 29 and involved a representative sample of 941 voters.

I say it’s a long way from now to May. But it does seem as though, if we’re talking about the Trump électeur, Fillon is the more obvious choice. Both candidates are tough on immigration, by the way.

And just to make it more confusing, here’s another take:

Forget the headlines about François Fillon being a Thatcherite revolutionary or someone who will transform France into a shining neoliberal model nation. He is middle of the road, provincial middle class and if the French had a term like middle England, he would be viewed as “middle France”…

There is no doubt that he can beat Marine Le Pen – and Europe will heave a sigh of relief.

She has tried to present herself as the Brexit-Trump candidate in France, but if there is one thing that does not work in French politics, it is to make an offer based on what the Americans and English do. Marine Le Pen’s endorsement by Nigel Farage is a viper’s embrace and France and Fillon will hug Germany ever closer and back more, not less, into Europe.

Well, I’ll tell you one thing I’m not going to be doing at this point: making a prediction right now based on my utter confusion about who Fillon is. Anyone who has a finger on the pulse of France can jump in here and offer one, though.

29 Responses to “If you think our 2016 election featured an unusual duo of choices…”

  1. Susan Says:

    Liberal means something quite, quite different in Europe.
    Something akin to what we would label conservative. Being called “liberal” is anathema to traditional socialists

  2. neo-neocon Says:


    Yes, but City Journal and Politico are both American publications writing for US readers. Why on earth would they use the term “liberal” in the European manner, more-or-less the opposite of what it means here, without explaining exactly what they are doing and why?

    It makes no sense. Particularly since the Siegel article specifically says Fillon is “a social conservative with liberal economic views” who “scrambles our notions of Left and Right.”

    They are using “conservative” in the US way there, so why would they use “liberal” in the European way, and then make it explicit that “social conservative” and “economic liberal” are opposed?

    Makes no sense at all.

  3. Artfldgr Says:

    when communists/liberals/fabians/socialists/anarchists/anti-capitalists/marxists/progressives/ by any name control the press, they only report who they want to win.

    but the rubes/idjits/idiots/ignorant/ by any name, tend to want to belive that these factions are not in control, do not collude or consipire, have no power, are fringe, etc… any excuse to ignore it

    then they wonder why to extreme cases, things were off… well, they are off cause the usual winners and controllers actions stopped working for a short while and so, failed and so created a dissonance.

    been telling you for ages to study the past and the practices of the actual regimes, not the cartoon cutouts that pass for western knowlege of such…

    if you did, you would realize that these are ADVOCACY polls where the pollsters are trying to influiecne outcomes while pretending to not do so.

    ie. lets call it passive agressive politics..

    the mechanics are the same.. the perpetrator is doing things to influence the outcome but in such a way that its hard to blame them for that influence.

    same with the perpetrators defining a supporter with no known affiliation as not being affiliated… ie. you have to register with the pope to be a catholic or else your not… you have to be a registered combatant with ISIS or else your not…

    sure… but thats them changing minds not reporting facts for minds to consider… the news areas are tanking cause news programming is supposed to be what you put up to inform, not what you do to the public watching.

    or as i said when i cancled my Daily News subscription when they called to ask why… i said, news is facts that i can read and decide, clown pictures, talking bubbles, slanted coverage, lies by ommission, advocacy polling, failure to confiurm when the story fits na goal of a narrative the state is pushing.. are all forms of propaganda, and i am paying for news.. since your not providing what i am paying for, i can get my fiction cheaper, and more entertaining elswhere.

    the lady that called was almost apopleptic in her inability to have a response to try to get me back..

    she tried to reduce the cost..
    i said, what is the value of a lie to the recipient?
    [edited for length by n-n]

  4. Matt_SE Says:

    I don’t see any room for the “Shy Tory” effect here, not when both front runners are on the right.

  5. Big Maq Says:

    “François Fillon would win the race to become the conservative party’s candidate in April’s presidential election. A social conservative with liberal economic views, Fillon scrambles our notions of Left and Right”

    Despite what many may think in this part of the world, have found that the political “Conservative” parties in most other countries are well left of what the GOP used to be – trump seems he could be much more along the lines of the European “conservative” version.

    Believe it or not, they get as demonized there as the Republicans do here, despite that difference.

    @Art – you are looking for something that does not exist, as, in a world of such grand conspiracy, you will forever view anything published as pushing an agenda, unless, of course, you agree with what they are saying – then it must be “correct” and “factual”!

  6. Chester Draws Says:

    It doesn’t take much to be “right wing” in France, given the enormously left-wing attitudes of most voters.

    if you did, you would realize that these are ADVOCACY polls where the pollsters are trying to influiecne outcomes while pretending to not do so.

    You can keep saying that, but it does not make it true. Some evidence is in order.

    Any business with that model would go broke pretty fast.

    And even if they didn’t go broke (presumably someone prepared to waste billions controlling all the organisations involved) the media are eventually going to stop reporting any polls that are always wrong.

    And they would be out-competed by correct pollsters. Since there are no correct pollsters, the obvious conclusion is that polling is just plain difficult.

  7. Nick Says:

    All four words – liberal, conservative, left, right – have different meanings.

  8. Cornflour Says:

    A couple of days ago, at “Ricochet,” Claire Berlinski wrote a brief note the French elections, and I think it’s worth a look ( Berlinski is American, but now lives in France.

    So far, I’ll admit to nothing more than being confused, but I don’t think it helps when people try to squeeze all this into a left / right vocabulary. Square peg / round hole and all that.

    I also think it’s interesting that most French political parties, political elites, and political classes are now pro-Russian and anti-American. This position used to be the province of the socialists. If I can trust my memory, de Gaulle’s supporters were also anti-American, but not pro-Russian.

    I don’t seem to be getting very far with this. I guess further research is necessary. Submit or delete is just about a coin-flip.

  9. Nick Says:

    Cornflour – That’s really funny. “Submit or delete is just about a coin-flip.” I know that feeling well, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else talk about it.

  10. Bob Greiner Says:

    In much of Europe, the left wing never took over the word “liberal”. Instead, liberal is used for someone concerned with liberty.

    In the US, we now call such people “libertarian”.

    An Economic Liberal over there is in fact a Thatcherite.

  11. Susan Says:

    Hi Neo,

    In response to your response….I actually agree with you….It doesn’t make sense, and frankly, I don’t know how they could have made this mistake, unless they were, for example “quoting” without properly understanding them, European sources of information. Cultural misunderstandings to be sure…it will be interesting to see if there’s a correction at some point. I can’t believe the term “liberal” has changed in Europe to the point that it coincides with our definition.

  12. Mayan Says:

    The US has strange nomenclature, at least viewed from outside.

    The centre-right party in Australia is called the Liberal Party. It was intended to be an acknowledgement of classical liberalism. These days, the party is being torn between those who are more of that bent and a conservative faction. Some say it could even split the party. The two visions were always uneasy bedmates.

    Of course, you lot drive on the wrong side of the road, have strange accents, use strange measurement systems, spell things oddly, and use a different voltage and frequency, or at least that’s how we see you.

  13. parker Says:

    Well, the French are French, and they differ in their beliefs and attitudes a great deal. We have regular contact with three friends in France and they are all over the political spectrum.

    One is nearly 80, lives in the countryside around Agen. She was born a Parisian, a youngster during the Nazi occupation, later a successful business woman along with her husband, and upon retirement they bought a small estate to enjoy their golden years. She is truly conservative in the American sense. She wants France out of the EU, still distrusts the Germans, and likewise despises socialism. She will vote Le Pen.

    The other two are residents of La Rochelle, and in their early sixties. One wants Fillon to win and the other one wants the status quo but favors an end to Muslim immigration.

    I love France, in particular the countryside. Great food, good wine, and a slower pace of life.

  14. Jim Miller Says:

    Mayan – American journalists sometimes describe that Australian Liberal Party as the “conservative Liberal Party”. As far as I can tell, they do so without realizing they have said something funny.

    (I usually describe most Democrats as “leftists”, in order to avoid that kind of confusion, and use “classical liberal” to describe free-market, free-speech parties, elsewhere.

    There are, to say the least, complications, but both of those work, most of the time.)

    But heck, most Americans don’t know that the Red/Blue labeing is relatively recent in American politics (dating to about 2000), the opposite of what most academics used before then, and opposite to the color coding in most of the world. As you know, “Red Ken” is not a Tory.

  15. Jim Miller Says:

    As I noted yesterday, the bettors are currently giving Fillon a 69 percent chance of becoming Frances next president.

    That seems about right to me, given the unpopularity of Presdient François Hollande.

    (I assume the probability is that low, because the bettors know that a lot can happen between now and April 2017.)

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    France’s embrace of socialism and, its cousin multiculturalism, guarantee dysfunction.


    Why is driving on the right side of the road… wrong?


    Cities foster dysfunction.

  17. parker Says:


    Paris has much to offer, but been there and done that, so when we travel to France we get out of the city of lights and hop on a train to Brittany, Charente-Maritime, Lot-et-Garonne, or the Pyrenees. France and the French are a mixed bag, but once one knows their way around it is delightful.

  18. junior Says:

    While American Liberalism is Progressivism, Classical Liberalism is similar to American Conservatism. I’m guessing that City Journal expects its readers to know that when it talks about a country other than the US having Liberal policies, the readers can make the necessary shifts to figure out what is meant.

    No clue about Politico, though.

  19. neo-neocon Says:


    If City Journal thought the American reader could make the “necessary shifts to figure out what is meant” (which is an odd assumption to begin with; why not make the shifts explicit for the readers, most of whom are Americans?), then how on earth to explain this from the article, describing Fillon?:

    A social conservative with liberal economic views, Fillon scrambles our notions of Left and Right…

    Why not write, European-style: “a social liberal with liberal economic views, Fillon is a man of the Right” if that’s what you mean? And what would the “scramble” then be?

    The author is clearly contrasting socially conservative views with liberal economic policies. If the word “liberal” was supposed to mean “conservative” to the readers, because the readers are supposed to understand that this is the European use of the word “liberal,” then why throw in the word “conservative” to refer to Fillon’s social views?

    That makes no sense.

    What’s more, that sentence about scrambling our notions of Left and Right is immediately followed by this next sentence (which I didn’t quote in my piece): “[Fillon] represents an alignment unseen since the 1840s.”

    That sentence would also be nonsensical if “liberal” means “conservative” in the preceding sentence. The only possible conclusion to come to is that “liberal” is used to mean more or less what Americans would call “liberal,” and “conservative” is used to mean what Americans would call “conservative.”

    In addition, the article goes on to add that if Fillon and Le Pen confront each other in the April 2017 election: “the pundits will find that their old mental maps have been rendered useless in a conflict between two “conservative” candidates.

    There’s that word again: conservative. If “liberal” means “conservative” in France, what’s that word “conservative” doing there?

  20. LondonTrader Says:

    Neo: As an Englishman I would describe the social policies of the right as conservative while describing traditional capitalism as liberal. Therefore I think that City Journal’s use is correct as I understand the terms. The confusing part as you point out is that they set it up as a contrast. It seems to me that it is the author who is confused about the terms using his American understanding of them.

  21. parker Says:

    What “makes no sense” makes sense when comparing the USA to France. There is no there there describes the French. They are just French. Yes, it is bewildering, but that is France.

    Are we not as bewildering?

  22. Caedmon Says:

    I just cannot see anyone winning the French Presidency on a platform of labour-market reforms.

    The current socialist President, Francois Hollande tried to introduce the mildest labour market reforms over the past summer. The resulting strikes and protests shut down the country for weeks, and Hollande’s approval ratings melted down to all but vanishing.

    This is not so much as about “shy tories” as a Nixonian Silent Majority. Is there a silent majority who will emerge at the ballot box to vote in labour market reforms? Will their vote be bolstered by socialist voters who think anyone is better than Le Pen?

    I don’t think so.

  23. Sergey Says:

    The conservative tsunami which brought about Brexit and Trump victory has a global reach. But how far it will make inroads into continental European land is still everybody’s guess. The dynamics behind it is, nevertheless, clear: ideological collapse of neoliberalism has created a void, and nature abhors vacuum. What will fill the void? May be, the old, good European fascism-lite. Not the worst outcome, in my view. Or some other nativist, anti-immigrant mass movement seeking to restore national identities of European nations suppressed and vilified by Brussels bureaucracy and failed neoliberal orthodoxy.

  24. Nick Says:

    Neo – You should have mentioned that the third paragraph of the City Journal article is all about the words, their changing meaning over time, and the changing alliances behind them.

  25. Big Maq Says:

    How “liberal” vs “conservative” are used, and how their meanings have become twisted, to the advantage of those on the left:

  26. Frog Says:

    Amen to Nick, above.
    City Journal and Politico should not be mentioned in the same breath. City J has generally excellent expository articles, and Politico has a clearly different agenda, less elucidating and more drone-Leftist.

  27. Brian E Says:

    “Fillon embodies all that France’s socialist, secular, and moralist elite reviles: He is a Thatcherite, a devout Catholic, and a political realist. The fact that he won the primaries by a two-third majority is but another confirmation of the gap between elitist narratives and popular feelings.”

    “Fillon’s economic platform was decried as too harsh (“ultra-liberal,” bien sûr) by his run-off contender in the conservative primaries, Alain Juppé. As for Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, her economic ideology is hardly distinguishable from that of the far left: she reviles globalization and free-trade, wants to pull-out from the Euro, and would enroll the French state to subdue the market. François Fillon’s Thatcherite economics, therefore, makes him an outsider in France’s political landscape.”

    The clue here is the use of the term “Ultra-liberal” for holding policies that we would consider conservative, market based or “Thatcherite”.

    I suppose if the center in French politics is socialism, then it makes sense that liberal would be to the right.

  28. Brian E Says:

    From the same article:

    “The French government overtaxes and overspends: government spending is 57.3% of GDP in France, 44.1% in Germany, and 43.8% in Britain.”

    No wonder the left keeps telling us we need to be more like Europe! But we may be closer than we think.
    While federal government spending is 20.5% of GDP, total government spending (local, state, federal) is estimated to be 36% of GDP.

    Trump put together a coalition of traditional conservative-liberal ideas that are going to require a rethinking of terms we use also.

  29. Sergey Says:

    Quote of the day: “In 2016, what could never have happened usually did.” – VDH.

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