Twilight for two once-great civilizations

Jeffrey T. Kuhner

France’s decay serves as a warning to America. For centuries, Paris was the cradle of Western civilization. The French, however, have hit hard times. Their country is dying, and most French citizens don’t seem to care. This threatens to be our fate as well.

France’s first-round presidential elections were held on Sunday. The Socialist Party’s candidate, Francois Hollande, slightly edged out President Nicolas Sarkozy, 27.9 percent to 26.7 percent. The two will head into a runoff on May 6. Mr. Hollande is widely expected to win, granting the Socialists almost complete control of the French political system.

Mr. Sarkozy’s defeat should come as no surprise. The French conservative committed the cardinal sin in politics: He overpromised and underdelivered. In 2007, Mr. Sarkozy ran on a winning platform of economic reform, law and order and restoring France’s national identity. He has failed on every count. The French economy is stagnant, weighed down by a bloated welfare state. High taxes and runaway spending have led to economic sclerosis, severe unemployment and soaring deficits. France’s debt-to-gross-domestic-product (GDP) ratio is at 90 percent — the tipping point at which it is almost impossible for a nation to avoid bankruptcy.

Srreet prayer blocks traffic in France.

Moreover, under Mr. Sarkozy, France has accelerated its integration into the European Union even though most voters reject it. French national sovereignty is being submerged under the Brussels-Berlin behemoth. France is no longer a serious power on the world stage; its geopolitical capital has been depleted through decades of military cuts and heavy welfare spending. It is a second-rate nation consumed with delusions of grandeur.

Mr. Sarkozy failed to confront France’s most pressing problem: the rise of radical Islam. Socialist multiculturalism serves as a breeding ground for Muslim militants. Living in public housing outside Paris, many French Muslims rely on government assistance. Instead of being grateful, they have nothing but contempt for the French state — and the long-standing French tradition of strict secularism. Many Muslim-dominated areas are no-go zones for the police; riots and car burnings are common; crime is exploding; and the mosques are overflowing, seething with rage and fanaticism.

This was highlighted by the recent slaughter in Toulouse. A French Muslim, Mohamed Merah, murdered three soldiers and four Jews, including an 8-year-old girl. His acts were those of a terrorist, a member of Al Qaida determined to wage jihad. His loyalty to Islamism trumped his fealty to France. Although Mr. Merah had been under surveillance by the French intelligence service for years, he was allowed to roam freely and even travel to Afghanistan. The French public has concluded that the Sarkozy government — despite talking a good game — is unable and unwilling to curb Muslim violence.

Hence, the French electorate has turned to the hard left. Voters have decided to bury their collective heads in the sand. Their hope is that Mr. Hollande can postpone the country’s collision with reality. He promises to increase public spending, expand outreach to France’s swelling 5 million Muslims, and soak the rich with a 75 percent tax rate on millionaires. He also pledges to tackle the country’s crippling debt through the great thief of the working and middle classes: inflation. Mr. Hollande vows to pressure the pliant European Central Bank to print a lot more euros, hoping this will dilute the severity of France’s debt crisis. This is a recipe for economic disaster — creeping inflation, the impoverishment of French consumers and the flight of private capital. It is Obamaism on steroids.

The result is the stunning growth of the rightist National Front (FN). Led by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN finished third in Sunday’s ballot with nearly 18 percent. Ms. Le Pen is a different political leader from her father: She has stripped the FN of its post-fascist overtones and transformed it into a serious vehicle of the populist right. She opposes the EU, the eurozone and the bailout of Greece. She insists that France regain its sovereignty, calling for the national currency — the franc — to be restored. She wants to secure France’s porous borders, slash immigration and pursue a policy of traditional assimilation.

On the Islamic question, she is an unabashed nationalist: Muslims must integrate into the mainstream of French life. This requires respecting French laws, French norms and French culture. She demands that the wearing of burqas and face veils be banned. She argues that the Muslim practice of segregating boys and girls in public swimming pools should be made illegal. She wants a sweeping crackdown on Islamists, especially those fomenting holy war in radicalized mosques.

In short, Ms. Le Pen understands that France faces a serious internal threat — one that must be dealt with now before the country becomes a European Lebanon.

Had Mr. Sarkozy implemented much of the FN’s program, he would be cruising to re-election. Instead, he is fighting for political survival. Confronted with the choice of two establishment europhiles, French voters prefer the real thing. This is why Mr. Hollande will win — and win big. Yet, this will not save them. The only leader who can pull France out of its death spiral is Ms. Le Pen. She, however, is reviled by the EU’s ruling class.

France’s collapse is imminent. America likely will follow. Many of France’s problems — skyrocketing debt, high unemployment, a credit-rating downgrade, a vast and corrupt public sector, the loss of national identity, and nearly unlimited Third World immigration combined with militant multiculturalism — are shared by the United States. Going back to 1776, the destinies of America and France have been intertwined. Sadly, they are both in the twilight of their civilizations.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.