Shortly after Louis Napoleon’s 1851 coup in Paris, five of the greatest political minds in 19th century Europe hustled to their writing desks to capture the meaning of the events. The five were very different people: Karl Marx was a communist; Pierre Joseph Proudhon an anarchist; Victor Hugo, the most popular French poet of his time, a romantic; and Alexis de Tocqueville and Walter Bagehot were liberals. Their interpretations of the coup were as different as their philosophies. But in the manner of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, they all mistook the end of Europe’s three-year revolutionary wave for its beginning.
Anyone tempted to claim that the outcome of the French Presidential elections marks the end of the populist moment in Europe risks making a similar mistake.