France is hardly alone in struggling to redefine itself in the globalized, post-Cold War world. Britain, too, has had to digest the end of an empire. But French nostalgia for bygone glory and growth seems to hamstring its ability to face the future with confidence.

“In France, there is a particular strain of melancholy,” political philosopher Chantal Delsol said in an interview. “The British tell themselves, ‘We are no longer a great power, so we will live as a middling one.’ But the French don’t say that. They say, ‘We are intrinsically a great power, so why isn’t it working in reality?’ For a while we try to shut our eyes, but that doesn’t work for long. When reality truly dawns, then the first phase is extreme sadness, and that is the phase we are in now.”

That means voters are in a rebellious mood. That’s nothing new — Gen. Charles de Gaulle, the architect of modern France after World War II, once quipped, “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” But the desire to protest through the ballot box is strong, and could create shocks come election day.

Stay tuned.