Le Pen and the Future of France
How Large is the French Public's Rightward Drift?
“That is how Paris destroys us slowly, delightfully, tearing us apart among old flowers and paper tablecloths stained with wine, with its colorless fire that comes running out of crumbling doorways at nightfall.”
- Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch
As you probably haven’t heard, the first round of France’s presidential elections are on Sunday, April 10th: campaigning has already ended, and we will soon know where the chips fall [it’s common in other countries to have a prohibition on campaigning in the 2 to 3 days preceding an election, to prevent voters from being swayed by a last minute surprise or increasingly impossible promises no one has time to refute.] The main contenders are centrist [and pawn of financial interests, or do I repeat myself] incumbent Emmanuel Macron running with his “Republic on the Move” party; right wing candidate Marine Le Pen leading the “National Rally” party; far-left elderly socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon leading “France Unbowed”; and far-right broadcaster Eric Zemmour leading the “Reconquest” party. Notably, the traditional center-left and center-right parties, the Socialists and the Republicans respectively, have been fading into obscurity for a decade and aren’t expected to get more than 10% each. What is left are four parties which were either founded or inherited by their current leaders- though Macron represents the financial establishment, France’s traditional political establishment is essentially dead. Historically, France’s runoff system has created a situation where a so-called “Republican Front” ensures that moderate parties win every presidential election in the second round. But that pattern may finally break, as Marine Le Pen has seen a steady rise in polling that seriously threatens Macron’s chances to continue his presidency. So who is Marine Le Pen and how did she get here? Let me start with some background on Marine Le Pen and my interest in this topic.
I have always been a Francophile- when you are as pretentious as I am you pretty much have to be, it’s one of the requirements. As a young man I hoped to study foreign languages in college and live abroad and that sort of thing, because I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with all the shit wrong with American society [that said, as an older man, I know a man is himself where ever he goes and that the whole world is fucked.] There was but one problem: it turns out I am terrible at learning foreign languages. I did not see that coming, as I am very good at English, but a lack of natural aptitude and my complete absence of memorization study skills doomed the endeavor [I have a hearing impairment and cannot hear and take notes at the same time, and also don’t study.] I was barely, with extra help, allowed to move onto French 3. When I got there, it rapidly became obvious that I should not have been given permission to take the class, as it was completely beyond my skill level to receive French-language instruction. And thus the dream was dead, though I did gain the usual benefits that cause them to require language classes, you know insofar as better understanding vocabulary and grammar and that sort of thing.
My second year French instructor was a graduate student who had just returned from living in France for some time. She was there during the 2002 election, when Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front party stunned the world by making it to the second round in the elections. She explained, basically, that he had barely snuck through with under 20% of the vote, and that he was a scary Algerian War veteran who was racist and wanted to deport everyone so she was worried about her status in the country [of course, it isn’t white American ladies on worker’s visas they want to deport- in fact, according to her, American women have a reputation for being sexually permissive in France, and there is nothing the French like more than that.] I’m pretty sure she also said he had a hook for a hand or an eyepatch or something which he definitely doesn’t. Anyway, the aforementioned Republican Front got together, and Le Pen only gained about 1% more in the general election, losing by over 60 points. Crisis averted.
As someone who has always disliked mainstream politics, I’ve tended to be perhaps too ready to accept anything which will greatly shake up the status quo. Also, there is no accountability involved in supporting candidates who will never win, because they don’t govern and thus don’t cause harm. I voted for Kanye in 2020 and it seems clear to me now he was not qualified to handle a Ukraine crisis. This clearly applied to Jean-Marie Le Pen: there must have been people who only supported him to shake things up with a protest vote but didn’t trust him govern, or he would have gained more in the second round. Le Pen was seen mostly as a provocateur and though he knew how to exploit public fears and get attention, he never managed his National Front in such a way that it could win a major election. The parties and media tried to make him a non-person, but he persisted and contested every presidential election for decades. It was, to most people, a party of anti-Semites and Vichy apologists- Jean-Marie Le Pen has a long history of saying clearly racist things so he did much to cause this image; further, in the 1970s when the party began, quite a few literal pro-Nazi partisans were still alive in France. But, the days of Jean-Marie Le Pen are long over [though he is still alive] and his youngest daughter Marine, while continuing to be a controversial figure, has changed the party’s course, changed the party’s name to “National Rally” and spent years “de-demonizing” the party, much more successfully than anyone expected. Now, she is within striking distance of real power.
From liking her as a disruptive force a decade ago, I have grown to love Marine Le Pen over the years, and she’s one of the only major politicians in the world whom I genuinely support. Her life story is compelling from start to finish. The youngest of three daughters, her father started the National Front when she was four. When she was eight years old her family apartment was bombed in an act of political terrorism which remains unsolved. No one was killed, but her life was changed forever, she wrote, “That night I went to sleep like all little girls my age. But when I woke, I was no longer a little girl like the others.” Her family moved into a mansion outside of Paris willed to her father by a wealthy supporter, which became the National Front’s headquarters. Other parents would not let their children play with her because of her father’s political views and reputation, so she grew up in a milieu of French far right figures who visited her house daily. Her mom left soon after, posing for Playboy dressed as a French maid to mock her ex-husband and his ideas about the ideal traditional wife.
Marine was a trial lawyer for 6 years, but having grown up isolated and with a clannish mentality, true independence from her family was never an option- and Le Pen is a notorious name in France. She married a party member in 1995, had a baby in 1998 then twins in 1999, and divorced in 2000, raising three kids on her own. She is now in an unmarried long-term relationship with a different prominent party member.
So much for her personal life. In 2011, Marine Le Pen took over the party from her father, and much was said about a woman consolidating control of France’s most “macho” [or misogynistic, depending on who you ask] right wing party. In her first presidential campaign she earned 17.90% of the vote in the first round- just more votes than her father had earned in the 2002 final round. But she accomplished something more stunning: she got equal support from women as from men, something no European far-right party has ever achieved. From then to now somehow she manages to be a woman in politics with none of the pitfalls and only the strengths- you will never see her claim to be treated unfairly due to her gender or living in a sexist society and she only plays up the power of womanhood. But, in another way, because of who her father is, she’s been treated unfairly her whole life.
Ultimately, in the process of mainstreaming the party, she had to expel her father for continued anti-Semitic comments and his general resistance to turning the party into something which could win elections. And it appears she has succeeded in turning it into a party that can at least potentially win elections. In the 2017 race, she focused on her signature issues of crime, immigration, and Islamization. She also took a somewhat leftward turn on economics, attacking Macron as a representative of the neo-liberal financial order- in general she is a vocal opponent of the despersonalizing impact of massive global systems, financial and otherwise. She came in second place in the first round, but ultimately lost by 22 points, with the Republican Front coalescing around Macron.
However, a lot has happened since 2017. Macron is unpopular, his various attempts at liberalization and further globalization have many critics, the country has been racked by gilets juanes protests about rising cost of living and gas taxes, and his covid strategy has been intentionally divisive. Further, Macron barely campaigned and relied on popularity as a responsible statesman he intended to gain from dealing with the Ukraine crisis- popularity which faded quickly. All of these things combined with Marine’s “softened” image as a friendly cat lady who is personally hurt by her [sexy] niece’s defection have combined to create a situation where the candidates are polling within the margin of error. The famed polling analysis site FiveThirtyEight reports that Macron could lose.
But it isn’t just that, her political positions have simply become more popular. The Guardian writes,
“Le Pen’s hardline manifesto policies have not changed, and overlap with Zemmour’s. She has promised a referendum on immigration and a rewrite of the constitution to ensure “France for the French” — where native French people would be prioritised over non-French people for welfare benefits, housing, jobs and healthcare. The Muslim headscarf, which she calls “a uniform of totalitarian ideology”, would be banned from the streets and all public places.
Le Pen’s key themes – concerns over insecurity and crime, a feeling of decline and social inequality, and her linking those issues to immigration and a perceived threat of Islamism – have taken up more space in the public debate in recent years.”
This is also what I like about her so much: France for the French. France is a unique and culturally important country that is a treasure to all of humanity, and we should not want that to change. Also, that isn’t racist like someone might think: the Fifth Republic is officially “colorblind”, meaning it does not recognize race. There are no hyphenated French, even actual Islamic terrorists are called Frenchman by the media. Everyone in France is either French or is a foreign national. Really, every country should be for its citizens, the globalists notwithstanding, but this is especially true of France which is tied together by a unique national identity instead of familial loyalty, common religion, or longstanding government institutions. France has had over 10 constitutions since the US Constitution was signed, and secularism is a huge deal for historical reasons. Le Pen is a staunch supporter of what they call ‘laïcité’, secularism. She does not just aim this at Muslims, but also attacked a rival for saying his Christian beliefs informed his political views. This would be unimaginable for an American conservative, but I couldn’t even tell you if she professes to be a Christian.
Sadly, I don’t have the quote and can’t find it, but in 2017 she said something along the lines of, “I’m a Frenchwoman, I dress in high heels, wear a bikini at the beach, and drink wine any time of the day.” The point being obvious: Islamism is incompatible with the culture of personal freedom for which France is famed. Le Pen hates the “Burkini”, as you would guess. There is the contradiction here that how one dresses should be one’s own personal liberty, but it is also obvious what hijab represents in contradiction to France’s cultural values, which legitimately include a woman’s right to be sexy without being shamed for it. In fact, Le Pen has a topless bust of Brigitte Bardot in her office, signed by the actress, who is a political supporter. Le Pen says the bust is a protest against political correctness, and a memento of a France where a sex symbol could be a national heroine.
Her ideas are ascendant. Though the brief rise of Zemmour had people writing her off as politically dead, polling tells a different story about her future:
I assume, in France, like here, they will try to call her the candidate of old white men because she is right wing. The reality is, she leads in every other age group besides 55+ and leads 55%-45% with women. Le Pen is only 53, so she has three more elections in her before her age even begins to become a meaningful political liability.
“The whole thing feels like a hastily scheduled Sadie Hawkins dance, until a recording of Marine Le Pen booms through the loudspeaker. Low, expectant music thrums beneath her words, whose tone is somehow both irrefutably strong and and irresistibly soothing.
Then three things happen at once: The music explodes with drums. The crowd erupts into cheers. Marine Le Pen glides onto stage.
Whatever you think intellectually of Marine Le Pen — whatever you think about breaking up the European Union, about refusing refugees, about Islamophobia — it’s almost impossible to resist this crescendo of sound and action, impossible not to feel that same sentimental swell you get at the end of a movie, when the runt on the football team scores the championship-winning touchdown, or the orca, free at last, leaps from the ocean to that perfectly timed cymbal clash. It’s hard not to fall for the tension and release built into this moment, even if you believe that everything before and after it is a terrible idea. Hard not to be such a sucker.”
Every politician dreams of having that impact. Watch for yourself:
Incredible, it’s like a goddamn rave. I want to be at that party. Looks even better edited into an ad:
Watch her work a crowd:
Absolutely amazing, this woman is a rockstar. And look at how young they are: this crowd is the future of France. She is positioning herself as the “mother of France”, and that apparently has incredible appeal to those the right age to be her children. In our justified cynicism about politicians, something we forget is that getting people to follow you is one of the most important traits of leadership. Take Trump for example, he may have struggled with the elites who administer the country, but no denying the guy can motivate followers. Similarly, there are clearly many people ready and eager to follow Le Pen.
This is my favorite campaigning picture of her. I had to go back to 2017 on my Facebook to find it, as besides an unlinked Vice reference it had disappeared from the internet:
That’s how damn good she is, she can look comfortable and happy on a fishing boat holding an octopus: it puts every politician who ever wore a hard hat at an oil refinery to shame [of course, she also campaigns such places.]
And so, financial markets and the Western political establishments are in a panic. She is a longtime Eurosceptic, and a friend of the much maligned Hungarian President Viktor Orban. She has a history of meeting with Vladimir Putin and has used Russian banks [because French banks refuse to work with National Rally as part of the “cordon sanitaire”, the economic and social version of the Republican Front blocking non-centrist candidates.] Most importantly, she has long wanted to exit NATO, though since the Russian invasion of Ukraine she has drawn that back to simply leaving NATO’s integrated command structure. She would pursue a Gaullist foreign policy, which is what scares the West the most: this means a strong and independent France. A strong and independent France is crucial for a relatively stable multi-polar world, which is the thing the empire opposes the most. The Anglosphere simply has too much power, and there is no one better to counter that than France.
All in all, I am feeling pretty optimistic about this incredible woman’s prospects for ruling France, if not now, in five years. That said, elections very rarely go how I hope, Trump winning in 2016 is the only notable example. But she is said to have a 99.8% chance of moving to the second round. Are her politics perfect? No, but the world is complicated and I’m an avid pragmatist. I’m pretty much happy with anyone who is relatively sane and competent and is not pro-actively evil- living in reality is also important [I rarely find a suitable major politician meeting this modest criteria.]
Here is what she has to say about the place where France stands on the eve of this election:
“We are going to live the founding moment of a new era, an era of emancipation and regained freedom, an era where the people will once again be respected, in their dignity, in their will, in their integrity.”
You love to hear it, especially in an era where so many people are openly anti-freedom. I’ll surely be giving you at least one more update on this before the final election.
In the mean time, Vive Le Pen! Vive la France!
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