The two dominant lenses through which history is often explained argue either that the people involved shape history decisively, or the underlying forces at work that shape history regardless of the people. The first approach argues that great and consequential individuals must be understood to understand history, the other that the underlying forces of humanity must be studied.
History may come to view Sunday’s French presidential elections as the people of France decisively calling for the return of government to its traditional role at the centre of European life and for an end to austerity. The consequences that follow – perhaps the end of the post WWII France-Germany compact on which modern Europe has been founded through to the undermining of the single currency for all of Europe – would be explained by historians through this deliberate choice. Op-ed writers are already getting started, reading all sorts of deliberate intent into the vote.
Perhaps the reality is that this has not been so deliberate a choice. The vote split 52/48. Sarkozy was detested by many who thought him more Louis XVI than de Gaulle, a fatal quality in French politics. And austerity policy alone can count for a 2 point swing.
If either of the traditional historical frameworks is right, then Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be the incoming President. The truth is that if it weren’t for 1 sordid sex act amongst apparently thousands, DSK would be declaring victory and we would be talking about a responsible, serious choice and that the European project is in safe hands.
Something to remember when history is written – the Euro may have been 1 temptation away from being saved.