The National Front roughly doubled its strongest prior performance in a presidential election, which is partly a testament to Marine Le Pen’s strengths as a campaigner, and her efforts to distance herself and her party from the legacy of her father, an admirer of the collaborationist Vichy regime and a nostalgist for the imperialist age of French Algeria.
However, her campaign was not about the past but about the future. The primary reason why Le Pen did as well as she did is the widespread and growing discontent with the future that France has been pursuing for the past generation, and which Macron’s campaign exemplified: a future of ever-closer European integration and ever-weaker bonds of solidarity uniting the people of France.
Questions of sovereignty and identity were central to both campaigns. And while a clear majority of French voters have rejected precipitous withdrawal from the European Union, the stigmatization of immigrants, and an open embrace of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the discontent with the French establishment consensus in all three areas is manifestly growing. Most fundamental is the urgent desire by French citizens simply for greater control over their individual and collective lives — a sense that they can choose their future, and not merely suffer it.