Episode #09: Five Key Moments in the Presidency of Emmanuel Macron

How does a political outsider establish himself as the leader of a modern democracy?

Emmanuel Macron at the Louvre

In this episode, historian Laura O’Brien of Northumbria University analyses 5 key moments in the short political career of Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France. O’Brien parses Macron as a choreographed confection who consciously echoes other grand homme leaders of the French state, such as Napoleon, de Gaulle and Louis XIV.

As she explains, this is a man fully conscious of his image, his physical gestures, his choice of words, his appearance, the objects around him, and the places that he visits.

Macron at Versailles

Emmanuel Macron is a political anomaly. An independent candidate who came out of nowhere to grab the French presidency at the tender age of 39, he is a former investment banker and once worked as an assistant to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. O’Brien brings the perspective of a historian of 19th-century France to her portrait of a political mind that is carefully tuned into the resonances of French political symbols and into his own position in a long historical lineage.

Macron and Donald Trump

This portrait uses 5 key moments as waymarkers to understanding Macron’s first 12 months of power. Starting with his election night victory in May 2017, we move on to the unusual staging of his speech to the National Assembly and Senate in Versailles, to his Athens speech in September 2017 when he attacked ‘lazy’ workers, to his invitation to Donald Trump for Bastille Day, and finally to his front-on engagement with the Catholic Church at the Collège des Bernardins in April 2018.

Laura O’Brien

Mentioned in the interview:

  • This article (in French) includes videos of the Mitterrand inauguration in 1981, and explicitly shows how Macron referred back to it with his solo walk to the stage in the Louvre on 7 May 2017: https://tinyurl.com/ycg3yg3x
  • Emmanuel Carrère on Macron; English translation in The Guardian https://tinyurl.com/yaqkzjms
  • A comparison of the official portraits of the most recent 3 French presidents: https://tinyurl.com/y8dtag6y

Laura O’Brien is a historian of modern France at Northumbria University in Newcastle, in the north of England. She is particularly interested in the visual culture of French politics and in the history of revolutionary and social movements in France. She blogs at vesuvienne.wordpress.com/ and is the author of The Republican Line: Caricature and French Republican Identity, 1830-52.

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