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Macron’s speech offers thin gruel on Western ‘values’

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For one fleeting moment in Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress, it seemed as though he would connect the transatlantic alliance on the firm basis of its common values.

“The strength of our bonds is the source of our shared ideals,” he told lawmakers. Since 1776, the United States and France “have worked together for the universal ideals of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights.”

The use of the phrase “universal values,” an ersatz substitute for Western values, preceded his assessment of the key challenges confronting the U.S. and France:

“Together with our international allies and partners, we are facing inequalities created by globalization; threats to the planet, our common good; attacks on democracies through the rise of illiberalism; and the destabilization of our international community by new powers and criminal states.”

These purported crises demand collective (and collectivist) action on at least three notable areas, based on these aforementioned “universal values.”

Censoring “Fake News.” Macron couched government action to suppress certain media narratives as democracy’s self-defense mechanism. “To protect our democracies, we have to fight against the ever-growing virus of fake news, which exposes our people to irrational fear and imaginary risks,” Macron told Congress. “Without reason, without truth, there is no real democracy,” he continued. “The corruption of information is an attempt to corrode the very spirit of our democracies.” Macron has proposed giving judges the power to block stories they deem “fake news,” delete links to them, and close their users’ accounts.

Censorship contravenes America’s most fundamental founding ideals. Thomas Jefferson, whom Macron praised during his speech, wrote that he opposed all efforts “to silence by force & not by reason” the “complaints or criticisms” of the press – whether the stories in question were “just or unjust.” Jefferson’s day saw more fake news than our own; however, he relished waging ideological battle in the certainty that truth would prevail. “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” he added.

Rejoining the Paris climate agreement. “In order to make our planet great again,” Macron said in a playful twist on President Trump’s signature phrase, “I am sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris [climate] agreement.” While acknowledging concerns that the pact would harm the economy, he insisted, “We must find a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Europe’s experience should provide a warning against an ambitious, government-driven green energy agenda. Germany’s modest attempts to meet its energy needs with alternative energy sources have subjected whole regions to the threat of blackouts and caused energy costs to skyrocket. UK fuel regulations have forcibly separated some families for days at a time. These manifestly harm the middle class, whom Macron recognized as “the backbone of our democracies.”

Greater economic regulation. “I believe in the power of intelligently regulated market economies,” he said. Reducing the “inequalities created by globalization … requires the opposite of massive deregulation and extreme nationalism.” France offers little evidence that increased regulation creates prosperity, nor that regulation is often intelligent. After all, the recession of yesterday was produced by the regulations of two days ago.

More to the point, economic inequality – which is a misleading measure – has been declining, not increasing, according to the IEA’s Ryan Bourne. While the wealthy have gotten wealthier as globalization proceeds, the poor have gotten richer even faster. Oxfam admits that extreme global poverty has “halved” between 1990 and 2010 – a process that came, not from regulation and redistribution, but investment and private-sector development.

Absent from Macron’s list are such paramount Western values as religious liberty – e.g., allowing schoolchildren to wear a crucifix – respecting life, and allowing people to thrive apart from the continual interference of government in their choice of media consumption or their financial affairs.

As a source of shared Western values, this was thin gruel indeed.

(Photo credit: www.Kremlin.ru. CC BY 4.0.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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