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The Coming French Revolution

PARIS – In a few weeks, France will elect its next president. Given the French executive’s considerable powers, including the authority to dissolve the National Assembly, the presidential election, held every five years, is France’s most important. But the stakes are higher than ever this time.

The two frontrunners are the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, who served as economy minister under Socialist President François Hollande, but is running as an independent. If, as expected, Le Pen and Macron face off in the election’s second round on May 7, it will be a political watershed for France: the first time in 60 years that the main parties of the left and the right are not represented in the second round.

France has not endured such political turmoil since 1958, when, in the midst of the Algerian War, General Charles de Gaulle came to power and crafted the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. That shift, like any great political rupture, was driven by a combination of deep underlying dynamics and the particular circumstances of the moment.

Today is no different. First, the underlying dynamic: the rise, as in most developed countries nowadays, of popular mistrust of elites, feelings of disempowerment, fear of economic globalization and immigration, and anxiety over downward social mobility and growing inequality.