The victory of Emanuel Macron in the French presidential election was predicted, but there were so many unusual features about his election that they virtually overshadowed the result. That the win was as comprehensive as it was provided much relief to his supporters, who saw his opponent Marine Le Pen as representing a sort of populist new wave. That populist wave is not just anti-EU, anti-immigrant, but is also racist.

France is important as a leader of Europe. It is an economic leader because of its size, but it is in a way the intellectual leader of Europe. Specifically, it expresses the Enlightenment Project, that bundle of liberal ideas which were derived from the English Revolution of the 17th century. There were two major attempts in the 18th century to implement the ideas of the Enlightenment, the USA, which came into being as a result of its War of Independence, and the French Revolution. The intellectual lead has rested with France, but it is as the laboratory of the Enlightenment that it has alternated leadership with the USA. Both have worked on the Enlightenment Project, which was against the two most salient features of the 18th and 19th centuries, racism and colonial empires, and inequality. Monarchy was either abolished or rendered toothless, and its accompanying aristocracy was rendered subject to the law of the land. Rule of law is an enlightenment ideal, as well as decolonisation.

The Enlightenment ideal developed into capitalism and communism. It became the motivating philosophy of decolonisation, under one rubric or another. Even though the Communist Manifesto was written by a Jew and a German, the Commune it idealised was the French Commune. The defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War led to the formation of a Commune in Paris, and France has always been ahead of the in USA its radicalism, the example of the Popular Front government of 1936 serving as an example. At the same time, some Frenchmen saw this rise of the left as the reason for France’s decline. This view was held by Marshal Henri Pétain, who took over after the defeat in 1940, and the formation of the Vichy French government. Pétain also held decidedly anti-British views, which seems to make him memorable in the context of Brexit as well.

Fascism is not French in origin, but even before the Vichy regime there were French fascist movements paralleling those in Germany and Italy. The Action Française of the inter-War years provided crucial underpinnings for the Vichy regime. Its nationalism is reflected in the Front National, which Macron defeated. The Front National has upset the left-right binary in French politics. Like so many political concepts, the left-right binary is of French origin, dating back to the seating of deputies in the original National Assembly (which has given its name to many other countries. Including Pakistan).

The success of the Front National in entering the presidential run-off, where it used to be eliminated in the first round. Is a repeat success, for it achieved this in 2006, or is it something more? It must be noted that in 2006, Jean-Marie Le Pen got only 17.9 percent of the vote, going down to the most massive electoral defeat in French history. His daughter Marine also suffered a massive defeat, but now got 33.8 percent of the vote. Support is rising. True, Maries has tried to move the party away from its xenophobic past, but the effort has been disingenuous.

France has not fallen victim to the anti-immigrant, nationalist, sentiment that has been sweeping the West, but it was not counter-intuitive to expect it to. After all, the USA had elected Donald Trump to the Presidency on the same sort of Islamophobic platform. The election took place in the background of Brexit. Though the UK’s exit from the EU would hurt it on economic issues, the motivation for ‘yes’ voters was anti-immigrant sentiment and the kind of racism that is inherent in Islamophobia.

A sign that the Anglophone West was more prone to Islamophobia was shown by Marine Le Pen’s defeat. It was preceded of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands election. At the same time, there too, his party, the PVV, came in second, an improvement on third in 2010 and fifth in 2006. Its next test will be in Germany, where the Christian Democrats under Angela Merkel are up for re-election, with the opposition Social Democrats having changed their leader, but performing badly in state elections so far. The UK also has posed itself an electoral test, with Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May having called a snap election for 8 June.

While all of these electoral tests are taking place, Western civilisation seems to be entering a period of angst, with an uncertainty about what had assumed to be the verities on which it was based. If Muslims cannot be accommodated, then who can? The economic agenda assumed by the anti-immigrant parties also seems to work against the spirit of the Enlightenment Project, which sees globalisation as its latest manifestation.

Another issue that could be raised, but will probably not, because the alleged beneficiary did not win, is that of Russian interference. Russia is alleged to have obtained, and then made public, a bunch of emails showing that Macron owned a concealed offshore company. The offshore company allegations were quashed before the election, but the attempt was to make Macron lose to LePen. That was a fairly similar allegation to the one bedeviling the Trump Administration, which has sacked the FBI Director at a time when the FBI was investigating the Russian connections of various Administration officials.

That President Putin, a former KGB officer, might try to influence Western elections is credible, and again, the UK elections will provide him the next opportunity, as will the German one. So far, it seems that Russia has been backing the proto-fascists, almost as if Putin was replaying the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 which was the apogee of the Fascist-Communist cooperation that led up to World War II. However, there is a more serious aspect. The Enlightenment Project is all about elections, and changing their results is simply not on. True, so far the results are being influenced by revelations, but what about trying to influence them by other means? The issue is surviving in the USA because Trump won, but in France, despite the attempt, Macron still won. If Le Pen had won, however, the issue would have remained.

An interesting aspect of this contest is not so much that Macron won, as that he is likely to lean towards Islamophobia in future. One reason is that he would like to be re-elected in 2022. Another reason is that he is not bound to any political party, as the one he heads was founded by him as a personal political platform. He is not bound by a party political programme, and thus can go in any direction he finds expedient. Perhaps Trump, Le Pen and others sharing their views will find greater success in influencing other politicians who subscribe to the Enlightenment Project, than in actually winning elections.