A Machiavellian prince at the Elysée: virtù leadership and contingency in the populist moment

Barthold, Charles and Fougère, Martin (2021). A Machiavellian prince at the Elysée: virtù leadership and contingency in the populist moment. Ephemera: theory & politics in organizations (Early Access).

URL: http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/machia...

Abstract

In this paper we study the strategies through which Emmanuel Macron was able to emerge as a hegemonic leader in French politics in the context of the populist moment. In particular, we analyse (1) Macron’s interventions that contributed to redraw the political map and renew the establishment, as well as (2) how some of those interventions focused on building his digital movement-party LaREM through personalisation. Drawing on Laclau, we emphasise how, for political leaders, politics is about boldly adapting to contingency¬ – and we use Machiavelli’s concept of virtù to illuminate how Macron adopted these strategies in his rise to power. We contribute to the power and leadership literature by showing how, through virtù, a leadership practice can emerge and become hegemonic. Relatedly, we contribute to the political organising literature by suggesting how the digital movement-party En Marche! (later La République En Marche) and its alternating opening and closing was used strategically in Macron’s conquest of power. Thus, we illuminate how a movement-party was used instrumentally for a highly personalised conquest of power. Finally, we make a theoretical contribution by suggesting how Machiavelli and Laclau can be combined in order to understand the populist moment: as a political space full of contingency in which Machiavellian insights are relevant to understand how leaders seize opportunities; and from a Laclauian perspective, as a space of opportunity for some of the virtù interventions to make a hegemonic project successful.

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