Politicians whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make ridiculous. On Tuesday evening, as the deaths attributed to COVID-19 reached 50,000, Emmanuel Macron, president of the Republic, again commandeered French television channels to announce his latest strategy to end the national lockdown.
He claimed to be making himself perfectly clear as his timetable for ending lockdown was conditioned by the subjunctive. The big give was that from Saturday, we are to be allowed to spend three hours daily outside, and to venture 20km, or 12.5 miles, (no more) from our front doors. (This will be a relief to a friend in the Dordogne who was ‘verbalisé’ by the flics last week when she was discovered 1.2km (three-quarters of a mile) from her house, 200 meters (an eighth of a mile) more than permitted.)
From December 15, cinemas, theaters and discotheques may open, and the lockdown will officially end, although with a sting. There will be a national curfew from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. The nightclubs will have to close at night. So, less to that than meets the eye. And the hated ‘attestations de déplacement dérogatoire’ (permits to leave home) may finally end.
Then, on January 20, restaurants and bars will finally be allowed to reopen, although this is contingent on further progress against the disease. And so the economic and social destruction of the country seems certain to continue. But have hope, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, Macron promised. Those whose livelihoods have been destroyed will soon find jobs in the new green economy, which will arrive next year, along with the vaccines that will finally end the war against COVID.
Monsieur and Madam Dupont are unlikely to have been impressed. If the first lockdown was generally respected, the current version is not just being widely ignored, but derided. Not even the police seem to be taking it very seriously.
A few days ago, Die Zeit, the German daily, published a story declaring France to have descended to a state of ‘Absurdistan’. A nation in which citizens need a permit to collect their children from school, or buy cough syrup, presided over by a ‘quasi-monarchical’ head of state.
It’s impossible to disagree. Until a few days ago, at garden centers across France, unsold Christmas trees piled up because it was illegal to sell them, pending the publication of a decree by the Minister of Agriculture.
In the aisles of 700 Monoprix department stores, large posters mocking the government have been hung over the aisles. ‘A commission having concluded that water is wet, we finally have the right to sell you umbrellas’, read one. ‘Those who think deodorants unnecessary don’t ride the bus very often’, said another. In Absurdistan, tobacco, lottery tickets and alcohol have all been deemed ‘essential’ and legal to buy, but not winter coats.
The philosopher Pierre Manent sums it up:
‘What is striking about the health crisis is the inability of the government to do anything other than impose general immobilization with the help of prefects and gendarmes. Certainly the difficulties are serious, but, apart from of course the efforts of the hospitals, can we quote a single measure which signals a minimum of initiative or daring on the part of the government or the social body? What “common action” will we remember? We will suffer for a long time from this imposed passivity.’’
This morning, the news-channel commentariat is in full song. It’s too early to be sure, but reaction to his latest homily suggests that so far Macron doesn’t seem to be having a good war.
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.