yellow vests arc de triomphe Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

The Revolution Europe Needs

The "Yellow Vest" protests in France over the past month have been compared to the historic revolt of May 1968, when students and workers almost brought the French economy to a halt in the name of political and cultural reform. But unlike its precursor, today's uprising is not so much an exercise in democracy as an attack against it.

STRASBOURG – The spontaneous street protests in Paris over the past month come almost exactly 50 years after the mass revolt of May 1968. But that is not to say the two events are comparable. Les événements de mai 1968 was an anarchist uprising by students and workers against the traditionalism and apparent authoritarianism of President Charles de Gaulle. Today’s “Yellow Vests,” by contrast, have eschewed intellectual and political debate, and quickly degenerated into a rioting mob.

What started as a decent, middle-class protest against a new tax on diesel fuel has been hijacked by professional thugs and extremists railing against migrants, the European Union, and French President Emmanuel Macron. “Paris is burning,” gloated Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump’s populist former consigliere, at a recent appearance alongside Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally (formerly the National Front). According to Bannon, “The yellow vests … are exactly the same type of people who elected Donald Trump … and who voted for Brexit.”

Worse still, the extremist activism has already spread to neighboring Belgium and the Netherlands, which now have Yellow Vest movements of their own. And in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the xenophobic interior minister, has capitalized on the riots to launch a broadside against Macron’s policies. Never mind that Italy is in even more desperate need of a Macron-style reform agenda than France.