France’s electoral history in the 1990s demonstrates why Karl Marx had France in mind when he observed that historical events take the form of tragedy the first time they happen and when they appear to repeat themselves, they take the form of farce. He was referring to the First and Second Empires, the first founded by an adventurer remembered as Napoléon-le-Grand, the second by his nephew, whom Victor Hugo called Napoléon-le-Petit. Maybe all national histories are to some degree repetitive—consider the cycles of tragedy and triumph, or of backsliding and commitment, in Jewish history, or the cycles of stagnation and dynamism, and progress and reaction in American history—but it is France which has made nostalgia a national style. Here the need to recover past glories attains neurotic proportions, which is why far more than other people the French do not recover or repeat the past, only mimic and talk about it. 1