-OpEd-

PARIS — Upon returning from exile in 1870, legendary French author Victor Hugo declared that "the instinct of the people always matches the ideal of civilization." That very instinct swept away the worst among us in electing Emmanuel Macron as the new French President.

And what a victory! Very few had thought he could pull it off when he decided to try the impossible, with this profound intuition that the French were ready to knock down an exhausted political generation. With the conviction that this almost revolutionary drive, slowly awakened across different generations, was going to deliver the coup de grâce to the wobbly pillars of our public life.

His was a belief that the last hours of an ancient order were before us, our democracy ripe to redraw a partisan geography that had grown obsolete. The path was narrow, but the gamble passed through, via the political left, an electoral wasteland, and with just the amount of luck that any great victory requires. And so, this "alien" of politics, as he often described himself, found his point of entry. The only really new face of this presidential campaign gathered more than 20 million votes Sunday.

The expectation is immense.

Macron's indisputable legitimacy is not only based on this result but also on what he symbolizes: a thirst for renewal expressed with a touch of radical fervor that he, the newcomer, felt far more than the entrenched rent-seekers of politics-as-usual.

Through our new president, the world can marvel at the face of a young, daring, conquering France that they probably didn't know existed. It is a France that makes room for outsiders, a France that risks and truly astounds as an alternative to the rising populism.

The new head of state will have to confirm the qualities ascribed to him. The expectation is immense because, even more than in other Western countries, French society is undermined by mass unemployment and worries about a transforming society. Worry feeds fear, as this campaign clearly demonstrated — and this fear will have to be met.

Still, even as this fear and anger drags people into lies and the cages of identity politics in other parts of the world, in France, in this moment, it translated into an entirely different and enlightened choice, true to what we have always been: the country of reason, hope and freedom.


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