The Paranoïd Style in French Politics: The Fifth Republic under Siege


On the eve of primaries on the Right in November and for the Socialist Party in January, the French presidential campaign for the April/May 2017 elections is now in full swing. The political landscape is bleak indeed: both major political parties are profoundly divided and fragmented; the incumbent party has suffered a string of defeats since 2012 in municipal, European and regional elections and whoever its candidate(s) may be, he/she will most probably not qualify for the run-off in May, guaranteeing the election of Alain Juppé or Nicolas Sarkozy in the spring. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice have accelerated the drift towards identity politics as the extreme right finds validation of its favorites themes on immigration and the supposed radical incompatibility between Islam and the French republican compact; the attacks also stand as a major cause for the implosion of the Socialist Party. Beyond the context (high unemployment levels and a slow, sputtering economic recovery, Brexit, the terrorist threat...), this form of political chaos has institutional roots as the republican model designed by Charles de Gaulle in 1958 is no longer adapted to the challenges France is facing today. This lecture will attempt to unpack the topical from the structural in the long descent of France towards political dysfunction and assess the possible scenarios for political reform.


Speaker Bio:

Vincent Michelot is Professor of American Politics at Sciences Po Lyon. He is a graduate of Ecole Normale Supérieure de Saint Cloud and holds a PhD from Université de Provence. Author of two essays on the American presidency (L'Empereur de la Maison Blanche, Armand Colin, 2004; Le président des Etats-Unis, un pouvoir impérial? Découvertes Gallimard, 2008), and a political biography of John F. Kennedy (Kennedy, Folio, 2013), he also co-directed with Olivier Richomme Le Bilan d'Obama (Presses de Sciences Po Paris, 2012), a collection of essays on Barak Obama's first term. His latest work, a casebook in French on women's rights in the Supreme Court will be published in 2017. He is currently at work with Ray La Raja and Alix Meyer on an essay in comparative politics on political parties in France and the United States. Professor Michelot is a member of the board of the Fulbright Committee in Paris and the vice-president of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Institut des Amériques. In the Spring of 2017 he will be a visiting professor at the University of Virginia.