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France’s Anti-Populist Populist

While Emmanuel Macron's victory over Marine Le Pen in France's presidential election is good news, it does not necessarily represent a turning point for populism in Europe. In fact, Macron himself represents a kind of “enlightened populism” – one that has struggled to defeat its nationalist variant in the past.

WARSAW – Democrats of all stripes have been celebrating the prospect that the pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron – not the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen – will be France’s next president. But while Macron’s victory is good news, it does not augur the defeat of populism in Europe. On the contrary, Macron represents a kind of “enlightened populism” that comes with its own set of problems.

Macron’s candidacy, like Le Pen’s, was a rebuke to France’s mainstream political parties. He persuaded voters with his promise of a Scandinavian-style combination of economic liberalism and a flexible welfare state. But it may be time to concede that Scandinavia is unique, and programs that succeed there may not be replicable elsewhere.

Nonetheless, Macron’s populism may not be altogether a bad thing in the short term. Perhaps, in France and elsewhere nowadays, only a populist can beat a populist. If so, Macron’s enlightened populism certainly is preferable to the nationalist populism that Le Pen espouses. The question is whether enlightened populism can play a role in steering political systems away from populism altogether – and toward real solutions to their countries’ problems.

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