04/22/2012 09:21 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2012

Triumph of "France of No"

The results of the first round of the 2012 presidential election extend the perfect continuity of an election marked by rejection and a campaign guided by resentment. The fact that François Hollande is in pole position is not a surprise. The fact that the guiding principle of this election is the will to eliminate Nicolas Sarkozy and not the support for the person or the plan of Francois Hollande is just as clear. These facts are nothing but a confirmation of the deep unpopularity of the current president of the Republic and the continuation of a long series of electoral defeats for the UMP, the latest of which swung the Senate to the left.

The uniqueness of the 2012 vote, a complete break with that of 2007 spurred by renewal and confidence in the future, lies in the power of the French expression of nihilism, with the historic gain achieved by Marine Le Pen as a symbol. Exhausted by three decades of crisis, paralyzed by the fear of individual and national displacement, without illusions about the ability of politicians to envision a collective prescription for recovery, the French have mobilized massively, with an abstention rate reduced to 20 percent of the electorate, to say "no" to everything.

No to Nicolas Sarkozy, who risks joining Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the category of little-prized, not re-elected presidents under the Fifth Republic. The choice of a violent and divisive campaign diffused neither the passive personnel accumulated by the current president, nor the rise of the extreme right it revived with the debate on national identity. Attacks against François Hollande, far from destabilizing him, have actually enhanced his tenacity and endurance.

No to government parties with the weight of populists accounting for 35 percent of the vote. The refusal by François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy to campaign based on ideas, privileging instead a confrontation at once personal and purely tactical, left the field open to demagogues, who set the tone and style of the campaign. The extremists positioned themselves in the center of public debate, putting pressure on the candidates of so-called government parties to the point of driving them to compete in terms of utopia or excess, some crying war against finance, others hate of the rich, Islamic danger, or the reconstruction of borders.

No to the economic crisis. Even though the French economy and the euro zone are in critical condition, even though the attack on French debt began as a sharp rise in spreads and credit default swaps, even though the model of growth based on public debt is obsolete, the French presidential campaign, unlike all other elections in Europe, has chosen to overlook the crisis. Without a credible strategy for ending the crisis, the French were reduced to ignoring it or declaring it over.

No to a collective plan capable of reinventing the nation. The French social and political body has never been more fragmented than on the evening of that first round of presidential elections, marked by strong polarization and extremism. The nation is balkanized, torn between groups, clients, territories that do not see in each other a common future and who do not meet but in fear, despair, hatred and even demonization of one another.

No to the twenty-first century and to the real world, with a fold in national territory and a race to build new Maginot lines to increase isolation from Europe and globalization. Politics, which constitutes action in the real world, is eschewed in favor of a leap to a mythical past, or in favor of a utopia shaping the world according to French obsessions. The inability to develop a plan for the modernization of France in the world of the twenty-first century leads to the dissolution of the world as is, resulting only in speculation about a virtual world.

This nihilistic election, under the sign of regress rather than progress, has, with the exception of the strong mobilization of the electorate, no political base with which to modernize the country, to revive Europe, or to confront the shocks that continue to multiply. It demonstrates the depth of the French disease, which threatens at any instant to contaminate our European partners.

In sum, it was not 2002 but 2007 that was a parenthesis in French political life. Sapped by three decades of crisis, "la vie politique" was dominated, from April 21, 2002, on through the referendum of May 29, 2005, by the decay of institutions, the disintegration of the social body, and by the rise of extremists. The 2012 election presents itself in many ways as the revenge of Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose theme -- nihilistic, xenophobic, anti-capitalist, anti-liberal, protectionist and hostile to Europe -- is now central and widely shared.

To say no to everything is the last refuge of a people abandoned to despair by irresponsible leaders, a people more and more ready for any changes, including those which would cause fatal damage to a freedom that almost no one would dare to defend or even invoke.