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Is Le Pen France's Goldwater?
My parents and I were staying in a Provençal auberge when Apollo XI landed. Most of the guests stayed up to watch the first steps on the moon, in the middle of the night French time. As soon as the astronauts were safely on the surface, out of the kitchen – at 3 A.M. – came the cooks with a moon-shaped cake, complete with craters and decorated with U.S. flags, for the little American boy. I am no Frenchman, but that helped make me a Francophile.
All received opinion in France says that Jean-Marie Le Pen will not be the next President of France. (The latest polls predict an approximate 80/20 split in Chirac's favor. [But click here for Barbara Amiel on a daring prediction of an upset.] The prevailing assumption is that no one who did not vote for Le Pen or his former colleague Bruno Mégret will vote for him in the final round, leaving him with the roughly 20% "extreme-right.' Incumbent Jacques Chirac is banking on it; he democratically refuses even to debate Le Pen: "faced with intolerance and hate … there is no possible debate."
I wonder. A lot of Frenchmen are fed up with establishment politicians altogether. But in any case, Le Pen's success has forced into the open the issues both Chirac and Jospin were hiding from: immigration and the European Union. Le Pen has emerged, in British parlance, as the Leader of the Opposition. In American terms, he could be a harbinger of a massive political shift like Barry Goldwater. He makes the election something else the mainstream parties would rather avoid: a test of how French the French still dare to be.
France is the most patriotic of European nations. I lived in Paris during the later years of General de Gaulle's presidency and the early years of his successor, Georges Pompidou. Even as an American, I remember being struck by the omnipresence of the Tricolor and the unapologetic national pride on display on national holidays, especially Bastille Day and November 11th parades along the Champs-Elysées as De Gaulle passed by in his wartime uniform.
France had recently ended a half-century of suffering and reverses. Even so, France was defiantly distinct - and distinctly French. I didn't know the phrase yet, but I think most Frenchmen subscribed in some fashion to De Gaulle's "certain idea of France": a great nation with a high civilization, one worth preserving and sharing with the world.
This isn't just arrogance, as many Americans think - understandably, given the pettiness of recent French governments - or just a desire to resist U.S. hegemony. To most Frenchmen, France is precious for herself.
Most Establishment French commentary since Le Pen's success has consisted of ritual denunciations of his racism/ anti-Semitism (citing one 15-year-old comment about the gas chambers as a "detail" in history)/ "Europhobia" (which is to European discourse as "homophobia" is to American: an invented, but indefensible, offense). There are horrified litanies of the good things he opposes: immigration, the EU/ the euro/ homosexuality/ multiculturalism. Le Pen's opposition to what he sees as U.S. hegemony and to the Gulf War generally go unmentioned. The French élite does not wish to be seen agreeing with the devil. But to understand Le Pen's appeal (especially if my hunch is right that most Frenchmen are still more patriotic than their government), it is worth looking at what Le Pen is actually for.
What he says he is for is France and the French - as that nation and people have historically been understood. The Front National's uncompromisingly nationalist "Program for Governing" is on the internet. Part of the Program's uncompromising nationalism is that it is posted in French only, no English (or, for that matter, Arabic or Berber) translation. [There is an English summary]
The program is a coherent, even erudite, document. It analyzes a broad range of issues under the general headings of Identity, Sovereignty, Security, Prosperity, Fraternity and Liberty. It is not the work of a bunch of knuckle-draggers (I concentrated on Identity and Sovereignty issues, so no comment here about the FN's protectionist economics - but how much worse they could be than Brussels and most French governments?)
The political tone is very French: the FN is not averse to centralized, government solutions to problems, although it favors making many issues subject to direct democracy in the form of referenda. More significant, the overall tone is unabashedly national, not European or globalist: the FN will act exclusively in the interests of France and the French, as it defines the two. Alliances and adherence to international institutions are desirable only to the extent they advance French interests. All the problems the FN identifies are, in Le Pen's view, aspects of one big problem: seduced by "Europe," France's élites have lost their loyalty to France.
Hmm. Sounds familiar.
The most revealing part of the FN Program is a nine-page essay (the author is not identified; Le Pen himself?) entitled "France—Universality, Memory and the Sacred" (La France – l'Universalité, la Mémoire et le Sacré).
This idiosyncratic work is an unusual thing to find in a party platform. It is an elegantly written, scholarly exposition of the ideas behind Le Penisme. It belies media portrayals of Le Pen as a racist thug. It is undeniably rooted in ideas with long intellectual pedigrees, however uncongenial they may be to globalist Europhiles. While its claim for universal significance for French civilization seems overdone to an American reader, it is a welcome change from the ritual praise of the EU and France's duty to submerge herself in it that one usually hears from French politicians.
La France is full of quotations from writers, philosophers and politicians, both French and foreign. Joan of Arc (Le Pen's heroine-saint) takes her place along with Bossuet, Clémenceau and the coronation oath of the Kings of France, on the duties of good government. Simone Weil joins Solzhenitsyn (from his Nobel speech) in praising the distinctiveness of nations. The FN seems to favor genuine diversity in the world, rather than forced diversity in France. Pope John Paul II joins Soviet dissident Igor Shafarevich and Solzhenitsyn (again) to decry the horrors mankind suffered at the hands of materialist totalitarianism in the 20th Century. Joseph de Maistre and Hippolyte Taine speak in favor of social organizations that are responsive to human nature, against the Comte de Saint-Simon's idea of society as a "laboratory" to create human happiness. The French Orientalist Ernest Renan makes an appearance to argue that a nation is the fruit of a social order, rooted in its land, its people and their history.
This is the sort of blood and soil patriotism that has modern liberals seeing swastikas. But I think in this case they are mistaken. Le Pen strikes me as in the tradition of De Gaulle (even though he is denounced by the rump Gaullists), not that of Mussolini or Hitler.
Boldest of all, in discussing the contempt of élites for ordinary people, La France quotes none other than Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France—risky in a country where the glories of the French Revolution are an object of fetishistic lip-service. Max Weber, Claude Lévi-Strauss and even Herbert Marcuse appear in the context of the disenchantment of modern secularized man.
Assuming La France accurately reflects Le Pen's worldview, what we find is that the "demagogue" is a profoundly traditional and conservative Frenchman - despite his sometimes rough-and-tumble approach to the political arena. What Le Pen wants to do is to restore France's traditional order. In his view, that order had been evolving continuously since the baptism of Clovis at the end of the 5th Century and is the successor of the Christian and Hellenistic traditions of Roman Gaul. But it has recently broken down under the blows of secularizing, materialist ideologies, the subjugation of France to the EU (and the Americans) and the ethnic dilution of the French through immigration.
Adopting Renan's view, French national order is rooted in the French people themselves and their history on their land. Their Christian faith (presumably Catholic, although La France does not specify) is an integral element. Frenchness is acquired primarily by birth, not just on French territory but to French parents, and through a French education. Language and traditional culture are essential. It is an organic view of the nation, as people and place: an extended family in its ancestral home. Destroy any element of the organism and ultimately it will die, to the immense detriment of the French and – naturellement - the world.
Le Pen is, in many ways, a man with a medieval view of society (I mean no insult), especially in his view of the state's duty to maintain society's unifying sense of the sacred, and conserve the "rootedness" of the French in their own tradition:
It is past time to reintroduce the Sacred into our society. We see clearly that our contemporaries are hungry for more than bread. … The progressive secularization of Western societies since the 16th Century, a secularization they have exported to the rest of the world, bears a very heavy responsibility for the "disenchantment of the modern world" (Weber). [emphasis added]
This is a man who takes the long view, who has also said that communism and Nazism are the "dreadful bastards" of the French Revolution. La France also implicitly rebukes Chirac (on the stump, Le Pen is far less polite about Chirac, whom he considers a traitor and a thief), for his failure to maintain that sense of the sacred:
It is the responsibility of the head of state not to desacralize public life. It is unacceptable, for example that July 14th [Bastille Day] should be dissolved into a euroglobalist demonstration, causing it to lose its significance: the celebration of the unity of the Nation (la Patrie) in the glory of our armies. Through symbols, our country's political authorities must assure the continuity of France and watch over her sovereignty. The one cannot live without the other. Allowing our demography to collapse and substituting an immigration of repopulation, letting criminality explode or "demonizing" our origins, this is letting France dissolve in the globalist melting pot.
France must remain sovereign and strong in order to be able to defend herself culturally and physically.
Distributing Hollywood movies in France wouldn't become any easier under a FN government.
Le Pen's view of Frenchness is the key to his opposition to immigration. He is criticized for disliking Arabs and Jews. While he does not care for Islam, and wants not merely to end Moslem immigration but to repatriate many immigrants, in the broader sense Moslems and Islam are not the point. The nature of France and Frenchmen is. As far as I can tell, Le Pen does not particularly dislike North Africans. He just prefers France and Frenchmen.
Because Frenchness is acquired through one's parents and one's upbringing, Le Pen would set the bar of naturalization much higher than it is now:
[The candidate for naturalization] must assimilate to assimilate: since he is not French by blood, he must become so, with all his spirit and without turning back, in mores, language and the education he gives his children.
Not too long ago, this would have been obvious. Now it is called racist.
Le Pen's immigration and sovereignty policy proposals are consistent with the worldview expressed in La France. He would end immigration immediately, and seek the repatriation of immigrants who are not assimilating or who commit crimes in France. He would deport all illegal aliens. He would suppress government funding for organizations that proselytize for Islam, as a matter of cultural self-defense. He would withdraw France from the EU and restore the franc. He favors ethnic preferences for the French in employment, government housing and access to benefits. His economic policies are avowedly protectionist.
Le Pen's advance to the second round stunned France's bien-pensants, but they were immediately in print in Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération and elsewhere decrying the horrible event, e.g. voters were too fixated on l'insecurité (crime) (there is probably a lot of truth to this). The student left took to the streets, naturally, to break things and get into fights to protest the violence Le Pen is introducing into French society. Among their peaceful cries: "Le Pen Fascist, the people will have your hide" (it rhymes in French). And May 1 saw even larger demonstrations.
As is typical in the newly multicultural France, minority pressure groups were out in force to tell the French how to think. Malek Boutih, president of "SOS Racisme" announced in Le Figaro (April 25) that "the nation must truly make a place" for immigrants. There were surprises also. Ever since the intifada reignited in Israel in September 2000, there have been attacks on Jewish targets in France. The government and media have deplored the anti-Semitic acts while never mentioning who was doing them. They preferred to leave the impression that it is the work of French fascists. But it is overwhelmingly North African Moslems importing the Middle East's wars into France. At least one prominent French Jew, Jo Goldenberg, former owner of a famous kosher Paris restaurant (and target of terrorist attacks), announced that he had voted for Le Pen: "Le Pen, it's the defense of France first of all, in the patriotic sense. As for me, that's what I care about." The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported: "Roger Cukierman [president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, the functional equivalent of Abraham Foxman] said he hoped Le Pen's victory would reduce Moslem anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli behavior, because his score is a message to Moslems telling them to behave themselves (leur indiquant de se tenir tranquilles)." Cukierman later claimed that he was quoted out of context, but didn't deny having said it.
If there is still such a thing as a patriotic vote in France, Jean-Marie Le Pen might do very well. Stranger things have happened in France. And, of course, in America – witness Goldwater.
May 01, 2002