Emmanuel Macron supporters Aurelien Morissard/IP3/Getty Images
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La Condition Française

From the looks of Emmanuel Macron’s sweeping victory in the French presidential election, France seems to be recovering its self-confidence. But appearances can deceive: Macron will inherit a deeply divided country that remains mired in dysfunction and despair.

PARIS – Emmanuel Macron’s overwhelming victory in the French presidential election has opened a window of opportunity for France to recover its self-confidence and banish xenophobic populism back to the depths from which it emerged. To take advantage of it, however, Macron faces an unenviable task: recreate the dynamism that transformed France in the three decades (les trente glorieuses) after World War II, when General Charles de Gaulle established the French Fifth Republic. Because the modern French presidency was built for de Gaulle’s outsized character, it confers on the incumbent the power that he once exercised as a virtual republican monarch. But, unlike de Gaulle, Macron will have to do more than simply pursue a “certain vision of France.”

France’s malaise is not fake news; it is old news. But this national morosité still perplexes many outsiders, who regard France as a beautiful, bountiful country, and wonder why it consistently ranks below most other Western European countries in global happiness surveys.

During the recent election, puzzlement gave way to shock. In the first round, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left ex-Trotskyist, each won around 20% of the vote. In fact, of the 78% of voters who turned out for the first round, almost half cast their ballots for anti-establishment candidates who openly oppose institutions such as the European Union and NATO. Macron is clearly inheriting a deeply divided country. But several recent books by leading French thinkers and researchers provide much-needed clarity about France’s predicament.