One married his mother, the other killed her father: The Freudian French presidential race

Don’t take it too literally.
Don’t take it too literally.
Image: Reuters/ Pascal Rossignol
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There are entire books of political analysis that could be written about the ideals and effects of France’s two leading presidential candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen. But for psychoanalysis-minded pundits, an irresistible theory has emerged: The two candidates exemplify Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex.

Freud controversially believed that all men have a subconscious desire to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (and women wish to kill their mothers and marry their fathers). He named the complex after Oedipus, the king in Greek mythology who unwittingly fulfills a prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother.

Symbolically at least, Macron and Le Pen aren’t too far off. Macron is married to his high school drama teacher, 25 years his senior. It takes little imagination to perceive an older teacher as a mother figure.

And while Marine Le Pen hasn’t literally murdered her father, she certainly annihilated him politically. Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the far-right Front National party that his daughter led until this week. But Marine Le Pen expelled him from the party in 2015, and the two haven’t talked since.

A Freudian psychoanalyst would have a field day analyzing the two presidential candidates’ signs of hatred and lust towards parental figures. But whether Le Pen and Macron are truly plagued by Oedipus complexes is considerably more uncertain. And in any case, Freud’s ideas on the subject are largely dismissed by contemporary cognitive psychologists.

But the Freudian description of the presidential candidates shows why the psychoanalyst’s ideas have such everlasting appeal. His theories employ compelling narratives and scandalous sexual and murderous urges. Regardless of whether Freud’s Oedipus complex is empirically provable (it’s not), his ideas allow us to believe we’ve glimpsed perverse subconscious impulses in two political figures. It’s immensely satisfying to turn to a theory that claims to unlock such personal mysteries.