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The answer, I think, is that France is a fractured society. For many of its elite--the people who work for Vivendi and Airbus, have Harvard M.B.A.s and speak perfect English--globalization and a free-market economy offer glittering opportunities. But for others--and this is true elsewhere in Europe--the modern world is a threat. "Europe," says Bernard Guetta, a columnist at L'Express, "is frightened of the new century." Some French see national identity challenged by immigration and the rise of Islam; they witness governmental powers ineluctably shifting from Paris to the European Union. They fear that an American-style, unfettered free-market economy has nibbled away at social cohesion. And so they have thrown their support to Le Pen, a man who promises to turn back the clock, to rebuild a world where to live in France means that you speak, eat and buy French.
France is not turning fascist, but last week's vote was revealing nonetheless. In modern Europe, the nations that have embraced globalization and the market have been those like Britain and the Netherlands--places with a trading, maritime tradition, whose people have long wandered the world looking for opportunities. There's a part of the French character that is similarly adventurous, and of late I had become convinced that France had joined the globalization club. Now I'm not so sure.