The upcoming legislative election in France (on June 30 and, for the second round, July 7) tells us much about politics. It also suggests some comparisons between American and French politics.

The parties of the left vying for a majority in the National Assembly have built a populist coalition, the New Popular Front (Nouveau Front Populaire) or NPF, which temporarily unites in the pursuit of power both left and extreme-left parties, including the Communist Party. In each circumscription, NPF is running a single candidate of the left. The extreme-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) or NR, and the more center-right Republicans (Les Républicains or LR) have agreed on a similar electoral coalition. Renaissance, the center-right party of the current president, Emmanuel Macron, is running candidates in a loose alliance with a few small parties.

“Extreme” is a matter of degrees. Many Americans do not realize that the typical Democrat in America would be called center-right in France. A detached analyst would be hard-pressed to find differences between, say, Barack Obama and Emmanuel Macron. The political extremes are less extreme in America than in France, but that may have started to change a few years ago.

In the current French election campaign, it has been observed that the only program elements on which all the parties in the NPF really agree is to increase taxes and transfers–that is, to redistribute more money and benefits in kind to favored political clientèles. The redistribution goes basically to the poor and the modest middle-class, at the cost of “the rich” or, in fact, the less rich. It is a general political phenomenon that, whether on the left or on the right, those who want to re-engineer society have problems agreeing among themselves about what sort of utopia they want.

Interestingly, the program of the far right is as populist as the far left and targets the same clientele with similar goodies such as more “social” expenditures, also financed by the “rich,” and some price controls. The far right does add its dada of less immigration and more protectionism. The left adds “ecological planning” and a higher minimum wage. As Anthony de Jasay would say, in line with public choice theory, a political party that wants to get elected pursues the votes of the poorest 50%+1 of the voters with the promise to loot on their behalf the richest 49%. More generally, and whatever the reasons why the rationally ignorant voters support one party or another, the essence of politics or how politics works consists in harming some individuals in order to benefit others. At least, this is politics as we know it.

Mr. Macron’s “center-right” is just more prudent than the extremes, if only because it has already boosted the annual budget deficit to 5% of GDP.

Besides the general workings of politics, a major political similarity between France and America—after the Enlightenment, since America had a quite short history before—is that most citizens in each place think that freedom (“liberté”) has been born and dwells in their own country. In reality, liberty has been battered in both places, often in the very name of its defense, by their respective glorified political authorities, only earlier and more decisively in France than in America. In America, the worst is yet to come; over the long French history, it has come many times.

Marianne is a fictitious and attractive woman who has historically symbolized the French Republic. Her image or bust has taken different aspects over time–recently, those of French actresses such as Brigitte Bardot. The featured image of this post reproduces the current Marianne logo of the French state. Some may think that Marianne is a sexist symbol, but it certainly illustrates how efficient the French government has been in government propaganda and imagery for fueling national pride and obedience. Classical liberals and libertarians are rightly suspicious of state glorification.

The imminent French legislative election (like the forthcoming American presidential one) illustrates how escaping the plague of politics is as difficult as it is required. How to stop politicians from competing to discriminate against some citizens in order to favor others? Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan and the school of constitutional political economy he inspired have proposed subjecting politics to unanimously chosen rules at a superior “stage,” the constitutional stage. At that abstract stage, politics is tantamount to mutually beneficial exchange, while day-to-day politics under Leviathan is about discrimination and exploitation. (See my Econlib review of James Buchanan and Geoffrey Brennan’s book The Reason of Rules.) Anthony de Jasay, another economist and political philosopher worth consulting on these matters, proposed a more radical solution: abolish politics; that is, completely substitute individual choices for collective choices. (De Jasay’s book The State and his Against Politics are good entry doors to this radical theory; the links are to my Econlib reviews.)

The pessimists will opine that either ideal is a long shot. I would counter that considering something along those lines is required for the future of individual liberty and prosperity.