Back to Utopia?

PARIS – France no longer claims center stage in world history, but it remains influential beyond its national borders. From the eighteenth century on – including Charles de Gaulle’s epic role in World War II, decolonization in Africa, and the May 1968 student revolt – France has been a frequent bellwether of deep societal changes across Europe. Will its recent presidential election continue that tradition?

François Hollande, bland and bureaucratic, campaigned on a promise to be a “normal” president, unlike the colorful incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy – and, indeed, unlike all of his predecessors since the Fifth Republic was established in 1959. Hollande’s victory thus may be a sign that democratic countries have become reluctant to be led by flamboyant or charismatic presidents or prime ministers.