Europe appears in shock today as the center of European socialism has rejected the Socialists and moved to the right. The victory of Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election has the continent abuzz, trying to discern its meaning and its impact for the rest of Europe. Der Spiegel reports that France "lurched" to the Right, and warns of social conflict as a result:
Perhaps it wasn't exactly a landslide, but it was certainly an unambiguous result: France's 44 million voters have chosen Nicolas Sarkozy, the strong man of the governing UMP, with a resounding majority and a record turnout. They have chosen his vision of a radical revitalization of the Republic and a return to the nation's patriotic foundations. Sarkozy's convincing win is the triumph of political individualism over the rival worldview of the Socialist candidate Ségòlene Royal and her vision of a "participatory democracy" -- which too often got lost in vague affirmations.
What's clear about Sunday's vote is that it marks a turning point for France. After the gray era of 12 years of "Chiraquie," the citizens of France have backed the candidate who spoke of change and even a "break" with established tradition. With an eye to chronic unemployment, spiraling state debt, globalization and the disappearance of entire industry sectors to lower-wage countries, the French have put their money on a politician who has always vowed to radically and swiftly liquidate France's historic mortgage -- the civil servant apparatus, the privileges of teachers and social workers, the influence of the unions.
Stefan Simons doesn't make this sound like a beneficial move on the part of the French. He denigrates the notion that Sarkozy will make any changes to France's direction, noting that Sarkozy helped Jacques Chirac run France for the past five years. He's hardly an outsider, Simons complains, even if he almost ran as an opposition candidate. That's about what a non-Socialist is in Europe these days, though, something Simons doesn't address.
He also sneers that Sarkozy ran a campaign based on fear. Sarkozy "dipp[ed] his hand into the toolbox of America's neoconservatives," Simons accuses. However, it was Segolene Royal who tried to scare the French away from Sarkozy by talking about riots in the streets if he won; Simons doesn't bother to mention that, nor does he give any thought at all to the fact that Socialism is founded on fear. Socialism addresses the fear of failure by never giving individuals the opportunity to risk and gain in proportion to that risk.
Simons deplores the thought of Sarkozy at the helm of the presidency, and doesn't bother to mask it. He fears that Sarkozy will be "seduced" by the power of his office. Farther on, he dreads Sarkozy's "brutish approach" and warns that he will pay no regard to "civil society". The problem the French perceive is that civil society is under threat from riotous Muslims, unemployment, and a sense of failure.
In fact, Americans might recall this kind of hysteria. It happened in late 1980, when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter, and the liberals screeched that the end was nigh for American democracy.
The Times of London takes a more balanced approach:
Setting the tone for a revolution after 12 years in which President Chirac often seemed to be disconnected from events, Mr Sarkozy has promised that after he takes office on May 17: “I will not be a referee, a monarch sheltering in the Elysée Palace. I will govern and take responsibility.”
His first task, after several days’ reflection, is to appoint a Prime Minister and what he says will be a tight Cabinet of only 15 full ministers. ...
Mr Sarkozy, who calls himself the “champion of the France that gets up early in the morning”, expects to face strong resistance from trade unions, public-service workers and the Left to his radical measures to encourage people to work longer hours and to cut benefits for the unemployed. He believes that his mandate from the majority of France will give him the authority to face down protesters, as Margaret Thatcher did in Britain after 1979. “I’m sorry if they don’t like change, but they are not the ones being elected,” Mr Sarkozy said of the powerful, Communist-led CGT union.
If Sarkozy can get the kind of reaction from the Left as he has from Der Spiegel based on his moderate panel of reforms, then France has elected the right man for the job, as well as the man from the Right.
UPDATE: Financial Times predicts that Socialism will have to mutate to a capital-friendly form if it expects to survive:
Let the finger-pointing begin. Ségolène Royal’s defeat on Sunday night left the French Socialist party in disarray and searching for someone to blame. There is hardly a shortage of scapegoats.
It is the party’s third consecutive presidential defeat. The Socialists now face the question of whether they can ever regain power without ditching their anti-capitalist rhetoric, as the mainstream left has done across almost all of Europe.
Ms Royal can argue that she did better than Lionel Jospin, who in 2002 led the Socialists to a humiliating third place behind Jacques Chirac and far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. But France’s main opposition party still faces a wrenching crisis.
”The left is not credible on so many issues, from the 35-hour working week to immigration and law and order,” says Dominique Reynié, professor at Sciences Po university.
Michael van der Galien puts it rather succinctly:
Socialism has had its day; socialism has brought moral decline, high unemployment rates, weak, unstable economies, huge governments, regulation in just about every area of one’s life; it has caused something called personal responsibility to disappear; it has brought moral relativism; it has learned us that we cannot be proud of our respective country; it has made large groups of people unnecessarily dependent on the government; it has forced us to accept the failed concept of multiculturalism; it has taught us (I mean Europeans in general with that) that whatever you do, you have to be politically correct; it has created an environment in which one is not allowed to name problems, let alone deal with them; it has taught us that criminals are not to blame for their crimes, society as a whole is and that they, therefore, should be coddled instead of punished… oef, the list goes on and on.
Socialism has weakened France, and Europe as a whole; it is time to get rid of it.
Perhaps it has put Western civilization back on its historical path -- the reliance on and the rights of the individual, not the collective.