In July 2015, 10 months before launching his campaign for the presidency, France’s then-economic minister Emmanuel Macron gave an interview in which he reflected on what was missing from French politics. “That absence,” he said, “is the figure of the king.” The French, he argued, had never “fundamentally wanted the king to die”; the Terror, the revolutionary period that saw the beheading of royals like King Louis XVI, “dug an emotional, imaginary, and collective void” that, with the exception of the “Napoleonic and Gaullist moments,” democracy had failed to fill.
Nearly two years later on May 7, Macron walked alone across the spot-lit Napoleon Courtyard at the Palais de Louvre after being declared the winner of the presidential runoff against Marine Le Pen. When he reached the stage, the crowd cheered over the triumphant strings of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. He stood at the center of the courtyard, the palace lit up behind him, and delivered a clear message: He would fill the void at the heart of political life. “I won’t let anything stand in my way,” he declared from his podium. “Our civilization is at stake.”
One week later, on the way to his inauguration, Macron cruised down the Champs Elysée standing in an open-top camouflage army jeep surrounded by cavalry, a stark departure from the civilian limousine used by most presidents. When he arrived at the 365-room presidential palace, he took another slow, solitary walk along a 60-meter red carpet, exuding the singular authority of a king. Hollande met him at the door; from a distance, he resembled a butler.