After his victory at the Presidential elections in May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy quickly became both deeply controversial and intriguing. It was clear from the start that his rule was to be the most autocratic since Charles de Gaulle's; Prime Minister, government and parliament found themselves eclipsed by the ever-present, hyperactive President who sought to take many decisions on his own and to implement changes in numerous different domains, but with no obvious overall plan. His sweeping reform programme was inspired by a perceived need for rupture with the past, and bringing former Socialists into government seemed to confirm his insistence on the validity of some left-leaning points of reference as well as those on the right. To many, Sarkozy was both dangerous and unfathomable, like Napoleon. In this short book the author argues that the Sarkozy phenomenon is best explained by principal reference to the notion of Bonapartism, which of course has a long history in French politics. Bonapartism is an exceptional form of political rule which results from an unstable situation and where an authoritarian leader steps in and appeals to the electorate in populist fashion with promises of modernization and progress. But Sarkozy's authoritarian, populist rule is also influenced by the extreme right as well as by more conventional centre-right politics in which Sarkozy worked for many years. Yet Sarkozy is less out of step with trends in other liberal democratic states than it might seem; in other highly industrialized countries also a long-term decline of interest in politics has combined with the emergence of highly personalized, media-driven political leadership. The book is written in a clear, accessible way which assumes little prior acquaintance with French politics or history. Those with little knowledge of French politics will find it rewarding, as will as readers with greater familiarity with the field.
Keywords: France, French politics, French presidency, Sarkozy, autocracy, de Gaulle, government, parliament, Socialism, Napoleon, Bonapartism, populism, modernization, progress, extreme right, democracy, Europe, political leadership, Marx, Gramsci, nationalism, economics