The Saint-Napoleon: Celebrations of Sovereignty in Nineteenth-century France

David A. Bell writes:

France, it has often been said, is a democracy with the manners of an absolute monarchy. Think of the ceremonial splendour with which French presidents surround themselves, the haughty, distant style they tend to adopt, or the way relationships within their entourages tend to mimic, with delicious self-consciousness, patterns of favouritism and intrigue developed long ago at the court of Versailles. No Western head of state in recent memory (British monarchs included) has had a more regal touch than François Mitterrand, alleged socialist. Nothing is more alien to mainstream French democracy than the American-style ‘populism’ practised by politicians from Andrew Jackson to George W. Bush. The word populiste is a deadly insult, most recently deployed by socialists and Chiraquiens alike against anyone who dares interpret the result of the referendum on the European Constitution as a vote of no confidence in the country’s political elites. The only true populist in contemporary French politics is Jean-Marie Le Pen.

(LRB 23 June 2005)

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