NATIONAL POPULISM

Christopher Flood

 

Introduction

 

The label of national populism is applied to a contemporary right-wing ideology which is nationalist in the sense that it gives priority to defending the independence and the integrity of the nation. It is populist in so far as it seeks to mobilize support by claiming to speak on behalf of the mass of ordinary, decent people against a corrupt, degenerate ruling elite. It is not exclusive to France, but in the context of French politics the label is widely used to refer to the ideological stance of the Front National (FN). It is not the only ideological current on the French extreme right at present, but it is by far the most important by virtue of its connection with the FN. Apart from the short-lived success of the Poujadist movement in the mid-1950s, the FN is the only party of the hard right to have made a real impact in France since the collapse of Marshal Pétain’s Vichy regime in 1944. Of negligible importance from the time of its inception in 1972 until the early 1980s, the FN survived under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen to become a significant force in national politics (Camus, 1989; Hainsworth, 1992; Perrineau, 1994; Marcus, 1995). From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, despite setbacks, the party’s national electoral support consolidated in the 10–15 per cent band, with opinion polls indicating sympathy for its policy positions well in excess of its electoral scores. It forced serious dilemmas of policy and tactics on other parties. Even if it does not continue to gain support, the FN will still have had a powerful influence on French political life. One of the major reasons for this has been the ideological self-confidence which allowed it to take advantage of a climate of political and economic uncertainty to force the concerns of the hard right to the forefront of public debate.

Influenced by the arguments of New Right theorists concerning the importance of ideological struggle and the need for thorough renewal of right-wing political culture, the FN has devoted enormous effort to production and dissemination of ideology (on the New Right, see Duranton-Crabol, 1988; Piccone, 1994; Taguieff, 1994). In this respect it is also following the earlier example of the Action Française (AF) movement, as it developed in its heyday before and after World War I. Under the intellectual leadership of Charles Maurras, the AF had published a daily newspaper, produced or influenced a number of political and cultural magazines in Paris or the provinces, controlled more than one publishing house, and run series of lectures and conferences at its own educational institute (see Weber, 1962).

For its part, the FN has created increasingly sophisticated organizational structures for developing and communicating its ideology (on party organization, see Birenbaum, 1992; Institut de Formation Nationale, 1991; Marcus, 1995). Since 1988 this area of the party’s activity has been coordinated by the Délégué Général and his staff. The Délégation Générale includes a number of different sections. The propaganda section produces posters, tracts, leaflets, audio and video cassettes, etc. There is a section responsible for organizing major demonstrations, commemorations, festivals, public meetings, and so forth. A training section runs the Institut de Formation Nationale (IFN) to educate activists and organize conferences, series of evening lectures, etc. The study section produces reports and brochures to provide arguments for use by the president and the movement. The communication section deals with press releases and monitors the media. It is also responsible for producing the magazine, La Lettre de Jean-Marie Le Pen. There is a section devoted to spreading the FN’s intellectual influence. This includes the Conseil Scientifique, which brings together the party’s leading intellectuals. It produced the theoretical journal Identité from 1989 to 1994, followed by a two-year break pending relaunch in 1996. The journal has served as a laboratory and showcase of ideas which can subsequently be distilled into the party’s manifestos. That was the case, for example, in 300 mesures pour la France (FN, 1993), a glossy, 429-page book published for the 1993 parliamentary elections. Besides the communication apparatus directly attached to the party, there are daily (Présent, Le Français) or weekly (National hebdo, Minute, Rivarol) newspapers, and other periodicals (Le Choc du mois, Monde et vie, Itinéraires, Militant, for example), which support the FN and in some cases reflect the particular orientation of one of its internal currents. It is worth adding that the party has its own twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week radio station, and the FN was ahead of other French parties in establishing a substantial site on the Internet.

Like the Communist Party in its better days, the FN has attracted a significant number of intellectuals, many of them from the New Right think-tanks, the Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE) (for example, Pierre Vial, Jean-Claude Bardet, Pierre de Meuse, Jean Haudry and Jean Varenne) or the Club de l’Horloge (Jean-Yves Le Gallou, Yvan Blot and Bruno Mégret, among others). The editorial advisory board of Identité, numbering 20–25 members at any given time, has always had a majority of university teachers, albeit not from the grandes écoles. Le Pen himself is a tireless publicist who has authored many books, articles, prefaces and pamphlets. His editorials introduce issues of Identité, and he normally plays a prominent role in the annual lecture series organized by the IFN.

National populism is a synthesis of elements deriving from almost every major current of French extreme right-wing thought. It provides common ground between the party’s different ideological families. Christophe Bourseiller (1991, pp. 73–95) distinguishes six of these groupings: revolutionary nationalists/neo-fascists, classical nationalists, royalists, Catholic traditionalists, national conservatives and the New Right, with its subdivision between the anti-liberal GRECE grouping and the national liberal Club de l’Horloge. It has been alleged that there are elements around the fringe with neo-Nazi beliefs (Camus, 1995). Whatever the case, the FN tolerates a considerable degree of internal diversity, subject to the prohibition of organized factionalism such as exists in the Parti Socialiste (PS). At the same time, the FN has set out its common programme in numerous publications and has underpinned it with theoretical arguments developed in books and articles by the party’s intellectuals. For the purposes of this chapter, I will concentrate for the most part on what unites the FN rather than dealing with differences between internal currents.

 

Issues of Identification and Self-Representation

 

In identifying its own ideological position, the FN does not deny that it has its roots in the intellectual traditions of what it calls ‘the national right’ or simply ‘the right’ (for standard histories of the traditions, see Rémond, 1982; Chebel d’Appollonia, 1988; Sirinelli, 1992; Winock, 1994). On the contrary, it is proud to present its own ideology as being consistent with the fundamental values and goals of the national right in the past. Its publications often eulogize earlier extreme right-wing thinkers. For example, Identité regularly carries articles and book reviews concerning writers such as Rivarol, Taine, Maurras, Barrès, La Varende, Bonnard, Montherlant, Céline or Jünger. The whole of the 1989–90 series of eighteen evening lectures run by the IFN was devoted to the theme of ‘national thought’. With the exception of neo-Nazism, it covered theorists representing all of the main strands of extreme right-wing thought since the time of the French Revolution – from counter-revolutionary traditionalists and theocrats (notably Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald) to theorists of national identity (such as Hippolyte Taine, Ernest Renan and Maurice Barrès, who merited an entire lecture to himself), theorists of elitism (such as Gustave Le Bon or Vilfredo Pareto), populist nationalists (from General Boulanger to Colonel de la Rocque), reactionary social Catholics (Louis Veuillot, René de La Tour du Pin and Xavier Vallat, among others), neo-traditionalists and neo-monarchists (Charles Maurras and his school of thought) and assorted fascists (Robert Brasillach, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Julius Evola) to a range of national liberals, or theorists of the political applications of ethology. The FN located itself as part of that broad lineage by launching the series with a talk by Le Pen entitled ‘National Thought and Political Struggle’, and ending the series with Bruno Mégret on ‘The Renewal of National Thought in the 1980s’.

However, as the title of Mégret’s lecture suggested, the FN purports to offer something more than a mere reassertion of earlier ideas. It presents itself as a creative ideological force which harmoniously blends the best of the old with new ideas adapted to the circumstances of the present. The way in which it wishes to be perceived is described by Jean-Claude Bardet as follows:

 

The Front National can be viewed in two ways. On the one hand, it embodies the philosophy of the eternal right – and in this respect it can be said to be restoring the right’s legitimate access to the French political scene. On the other hand, because the issues and the ideological contours have changed, its nature is innovative and it achieves an original political synthesis which cannot be reduced to the old frameworks of thought. (1994, p. 6)

 

Yet, while it claims to represent the true right as distinct from parties which merely pass for right-wing, the FN does not accept the label of extreme right for itself. It argues that the label is not merely an ideologically neutral classification in terms of relative distance from the notional centre at any given period in the history of the political system. The FN maintains that those who label it an extreme right-wing party are doing so in the knowledge that the label has historical connotations of extremism, violence, racism and authoritarian hatred of democracy. Their aim is to marginalize the party by implying that it is neo-fascist or neo-Vichyite, while ignoring the features – notably, its rejection of racism and anti-semitism, as well as its positive commitment to republican democracy – which make the party different, dynamic and new (for example, Le Pen, 1995c, 1996; and see Marcus, 1995, pp. 129–30). The FN, the newspaper Présent and the Club de l’Horloge have all brought successful court cases to force a right of reply when described as extreme right-wing in the press, with the predictable result that large numbers of journalists, politicians, intellectuals and academic analysts have lined up to assert their right to use the label (for extensive discussion and responses, see Le Monde, 9–10 June 1996; Libération, 11 and 19 June 1996; Le Nouvel Observateur, 20–26 June 1996; National hebdo, 27 June–3 July 1996).

Still, the FN’s disclaimer has to be treated with caution. The official policies of any party are normally a compromise between the positions of its different internal currents, depending on the balance of power in the party and on the political environment in which it is operating. Parties which undertake ideological renewal for purposes of adaptation to changing political contexts do so with varying degrees of conviction and of internal division. Clearly, there can be a distinction between the party’s official line on a given issue and the views of particular factions or individual activists. There can be a difference between what is said in private gatherings and what is said to wider publics. In any case, it is not always necessary to spell out chapter and verse: a discourse can be framed so that it carries different connotations for different sections of a single audience (compare Billig, 1979, pp. 124–90, on the National Front in Britain during the 1970s).

In the FN’s case, to declare loyalty to the ideological traditions of the extreme right, while asserting that new times require new positions, leaves plenty of scope for ambiguity (Rollat, 1985; Milza, 1992). Numerous exposés have shown that there are members of the party who hold racist, anti-semitic, Holocaust-denialist and/or other opinions which would be classed as extremist in relation to the norms of the French political mainstream (for example, Plenel and Rollat, 1984; Etchegoin, 1987; Tristan, 1987; Taguieff, 1989; Assouline and Bellet, 1990; Bresson and Lionet, 1994; Collectif, 1995; Marcus, 1995). There are undoubtedly members who could be described as authoritarian traditionalists in the Vichyite lineage, and others who could be labelled as neo-fascist. When extremist opinions are aired publicly, they can offer ammunition to the FN’s enemies, but there is clearly a margin of tolerance in relation to writings and other public statements which do not appear directly under the auspices of the party. As Guy Birenbaum (1992, pp. 252–77) points out, newspapers and magazines which are notionally independent of the FN, but which serve the party, often have a more extremist tone than the official organs.

In terms of the current topography of the French party system the FN is on the extreme right, even though there are micro-parties further to the right. Furthermore, the content of its ideology owes much to precursors who are normally classified as belonging to the extreme right, even if the FN itself does not choose to label them in that way. On the other hand, rather than constantly looking for tell-tale lapses which might cast doubt on the sincerity of the official line, it is more productive for present purposes to analyse the salient features of the national populist synthesis itself. As they stand, the positions elaborated in the FN’s official publications and in other writings by its leading theorists constitute a modernized nationalist discourse which includes a sweeping critique of the values, the practices and the institutions of contemporary French society, coupled with an extensive range of alleged solutions to the problems.

 

Persecuted for Defending the People

 

The discourse of the FN operates on the basis of a classic binary scheme of us/them = right/wrong = good/evil. It supposes that good is always forced to defend itself against aggression by the coordinated forces of evil. ‘We are the people against the Establishment’, runs the heading of one of the sections in Militer au Front, a manual for FN activists (Institut de Formation Nationale, 1991, p. 43). The FN does not like the connotations of the term ‘populist’, but it describes itself as ‘popular’ in the sense of being for and of the people. The FN claims that France is undergoing a crisis of values and identity, amid a host of urgent social, economic and political problems. The blame for this state of affairs is placed squarely on the mainstream parties which are defined as the Establishment – that is to say, the Parti Socialiste (PS), the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), the centre-right Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF) and the Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (RPR). ‘Destabilize the Establishment’ was the title adopted by Le Pen for his editorial in the issue of Identité devoted to attacking the oligarchy of ‘new masters’ ruling over French society (Le Pen, 1990).

The preoccupation with decadence and the tendency to explain national decay as a consequence of conspiracy have been recurrent features of extreme right-wing thinking since the time of the French Revolution (Chebel d’Appollonia, 1988; Winock, 1990). Under the Third Republic, right-wing polemics against the regime had habitually included denunciations of the corruption and duplicity of the politicians who operated the parliamentary system. Nationalist writers such as Maurras and Barrès – the precursors most widely quoted by FN intellectuals – had been in the habit of presenting politicians as a single, self-interested group colluding together to maintain their power and privileges. The nation was being subjected to a massive confidence trick, they argued, as politicians formed a parasitic class trading in words, peddling influence, selling their services to the highest bidder, plotting and scheming behind the façade of irreconcilable party differences which hid their common aim of exploiting the people. The parliamentarians were also presented as being in league with powerful economic interests, Jewish finance, Freemasons and other sinister, anti-national forces.

In a similar way the FN habitually presents the mainstream parties, ‘the Gang of Four’, as all being equally statist, incompetent, devoid of idealism, indifferent to the interests of the nation and often corrupt. The suggestion is that there is objective collusion between the mainstream parties as they manipulate France’s institutions for their own benefit (for instance, in Le Pen, 1985; Constans, 1990a; Lefranc, 1990a; Sirgue, 1994). Thus, although the FN professes to differ from the old extreme right because it accepts democratic, republican principles, its vilification of the mainstream parties provides a substitute for the extreme right’s traditional distrust of parliamentary democracy as such. The FN also voices claims made familiar by its nationalist precursors when it assumes that the circle of collusion extends to the media, trade unions, state bureaucrats, ‘moral authorities’ (notably the soft-left clergy who dominate the church), pressure groups and lobbies that share common interests and values as members of the privileged elite. Notwithstanding the FN’s professed rejection of anti-semitism, the denunciations of these groups sometimes echo the extreme right’s eternal obsession with Jewish and Masonic machinations to exercise a hidden control over the levers of power. For example, Grégoire Legrand announces:

 

Above all there is the ‘antiracist’ nebula, the conglomerate of Jewish, Masonic or Christian associations, often at the heart of important economic interests, which have experienced the maintenance of the national idea, the idea of French France, as a threat to the minorities and the lobbies. (1989, p. 11)

 

It should be added that the alleged conspiracy extends beyond France. As always, the enemy within is linked to an enemy without. It is true that the role of the PCF as the fifth column for world communism ceased to be a particular focus for denunciation after the collapse of the Soviet bloc from the end of the 1980s to the early 1990s. But the other parties, along with the various special interest groups, the ‘lobbies’, are now seen to be locked into the emergent global system of political and economic power relations centred on the US, with the United Nations as its surrogate and the European Union as its Trojan horse (Blot, 1992a; FN, 1993; Gannat, 1994). Although hostility to the US as a political, socioeconomic and cultural model never had the same force as hatred of the Soviet regime, the French extreme right has had a long history of distaste for American society as a multi-ethnic mishmash characterized by acquisitive individualism, compulsive consumerism and a debased mass culture. The emergence of the US in the 1990s as the only surviving superpower was greeted with deep ambivalence (de Meuse, 1990a; Blot, 1991b). It is accused of promoting international collusion between power elites to create a New World Order of homogenized societies, stripped of all particularity or sense of identity which could obstruct the global oligarchy and its clients.

The instrumental value of positing the existence of a pervasive state of decadence and accounting for it in terms of conspiracy is not only that it reduces complex processes to simplicity. It also supports the FN’s claim to be the only true force of national renewal in opposition to the agents of decay. Whereas the parties of the Establishment are supposedly formed by self-interested careerists, the FN claims to be a movement of activists driven purely by a reforming ideal. And whereas the mainstream parties represent particular sectional interests, the FN asserts that it alone invites the whole nation – or at least its healthy elements – to join together. The FN thereby makes a virtue of political marginality. Serving the FN is construed as a vocation requiring courage and self-abnegation. The acceptance of personal sacrifice for the higher cause is echoed, for example, in La Flamme by Bruno Mégret, when he confides that he had renounced a potentially successful career in the RPR and had rejected the shabby compromises that went with it (1990a, p. 12). According to the FN, because the party represents the aspirations of the people against the self-interest of the Establishment, it naturally suffers unrelenting persecution. The themes of victimization, moral superiority and heroic struggle in the face of systematic attack recur constantly in FN literature. For example, a November 1994 issue of La Lettre de Jean-Marie Le Pen is entitled ‘ “They” Attack Him Because He Defends You’, and the tone is captured well in the article ‘The Pride and Honour of Pariahs’ by Carl Lang in the same issue, where it is followed by a lengthy list of physical attacks on FN members (compare Gaucher, 1991).

In keeping with its heroic self-image, the FN has a stock of political myths. By this I do not mean that the accounts of events are necessarily false, but that they are ideologically marked in their selection and interpretation of events. Militer au Front offers useful examples. It contains a brief history of the movement, presented as a secular redemption story in which the party learns how to fulfil its mission through a process of trials and obstacles surmounted (see Bariller and Timmermans, 1993, for the party’s official history). Thus, the first phase is entitled ‘1972–1982 the Necessary Foundations’, which contains subsections with titles which speak for themselves: ‘The Front National: Structuring the National Right’, ‘An Original Creation’, ‘The Crossing of the Wilderness’, ‘Maturing’, ‘The Martyrs’ and ‘The Pointers towards Emergence’ (Institut de Formation Nationale, 1991, pp. 13–16). The second phase has the overarching title, ‘1983–1989 the Emergence of the Le Pen Phenomenon’, with its subsections ‘The First Successes’, ‘Entering Parliament’, ‘The Presidential Elections of 88’ and ‘Second Wind’ (pp. 16–18). The claim is that despite the endless litany of false accusations and other dirty tricks by its enemies, ‘nothing makes any difference, the FN continues to shake up French political life, which is taking on new shape because of it’ (p. 18): soon the party will be ready for government, it proclaims.

Perpetuating the personality cult of Le Pen promoted in the FN’s publications, Militer also contains a hagiographic sketch of the leader’s life, woven around the themes of ‘the man of the open sea’, evoking his Breton roots, and ‘the man of faith’, representing Le Pen as the embodiment of firm convictions and, above all, absolute belief in France at a time when others have lost their sense of national identity. The March/April 1995 issue of the Lettre de Jean-Marie Le Pen, published during the presidential election campaign, made an interesting addition to the hagiographic literature with a strip cartoon autobiography of Le Pen under the title of ‘Passionately French’. It opens with the arrival of a letter announcing his fisherman father’s death in 1942 after hitting a German mine. The words of Le Pen’s mother to her son are: ‘Now my little lad, you’re the one who is head of the family’ (p. 3). The 14-year-old boy’s precocious assumption of authority sets the tone for the entire story, through to its conclusion with Le Pen announcing to serried ranks of FN members that he will run in the 1995 presidential election to lead France to the Sixth Republic.

 

Ideology, Identity and Immigration

 

In keeping with its discursive technique of treating the mainstream parties as a single block, the FN habitually reduces the differences of values, policies and practice between them to mere gradations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the vilest source of ideological evil was the Marxism represented by the PCF, itself linked to the totalitarian tyranny of the Soviet Union. The PS was assimilated to the PCF as the vehicle of a watered-down version of the same pernicious, statist ideology. The mainstream right-wing parties, in turn, were assimilated to the left. In his book La France est de retour, Le Pen asks a rhetorical question as to whether any one political programme could win the support of a majority of the people. He replies:

 

I think so, on one condition as far as the Front National is concerned – that the programme includes an explicit determination to break with socialism. Not only with the socialism of the left, but also with the socialism practised before 1981 by the governments of Barre, Chirac and Giscard. (1985, p. 283)

 

By the early 1990s the FN had modified aspects of its analysis, while maintaining the binary contrast between itself and the other parties. Its publicists argued that there had been a profound ideological change as the doctrinal oppositions of the post-war decades had been replaced by a new configuration. On the one hand, FN writers could gloat that the erosion of support for the Marxism of the PCF in the 1970s and 1980s had been cemented by the collapse of the Soviet bloc. They could equally point out that this had been paralleled by the disintegration of reformist socialism, as evidenced in France by the PS’s progressive abandonment of its former goals while in government during the 1980s and early 1990s. Cherished notions of class struggle, redistribution of wealth and state ownership had withered under the disastrous consequences of attempting to put them into practice. However, ideological conflict was by no means over, and again the FN depicted it in terms which linked domestic agents of France’s national decay with the international coalition of forces pursuing world domination. According to the FN’s interpretation, the left-wing Establishment, followed meekly by the centre-right, had needed to find a new ideological vehicle to save itself from gradual extinction. The ingredients of the new amalgam were social democracy, human rights, cosmopolitanism and globalism (Bardet, 1989; Rousseau, 1989; FN, 1993, pp. 15–16). Social democracy amounted to an uneasy blend of old-style statism with a leavening of economic liberalism, which gave particular emphasis to the globalist, free-trade dimension in keeping with the demands of European Union technocrats in cahoots with the United States. In terms of its influence on the ideological climate, as interpreted by the FN, America’s triumph in the Cold War had enormously boosted the receptiveness of France’s Establishment parties to the influence of the degraded American brand of consumerist economic liberalism, with its self-serving globalist advocacy of free trade and its utopian vision of a New World Order underpinned by American power (Gannat, 1994). In the FN’s apocalyptic rhetoric, the practical application of this cosmopolitan ideology would mean world government over an undifferentiated, borderless, ethnic melting-pot extending to the whole planet, endlessly traversed by migratory flows of people following the vicissitudes of employment markets. Le Pen sums up the matter in terms of titanic conflict:

 

In fact, what needs to be understood here, is that it is always a struggle between the same forces, a battle by those who have no loyalty to a country and care only about establishing and maintaining a system which allows them economic domination of the world against those who reject woolly-minded ideologies in favour of common sense, attachment to traditions and bonds with the land. In this gigantic, global struggle the Front national is an essential pole of resistance to the decadence all around. That is what I meant when I once parodied our enemies by shouting loudly and clearly: ‘Nationalists of all countries, unite.’ (1995b)

 

One line of the FN’s attack on its enemies within France focuses on the way in which the social democratic left, followed by the centre-right, has paraded the creed of human and civil rights inherited from the Enlightenment and the Revolution in support of a voluntaristic, contractual conception of citizenship, which the FN takes to be undermining national identity. The reference to the Enlightenment and the Revolution is important, and it gained particular topicality for a time by virtue of the bicentenary celebration of the Revolution in 1989. Ideologically, the roots of the contemporary extreme right in France can be traced back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to counter-revolutionary theorists, such as Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald, who wrote against the spirit of rationalism, humanism, liberalism and constitutionalism passed down from the Enlightenment to fuel the French Revolution’s destruction of the organic, hierarchical society of the ancien régime. The reactionary current of thought had continued down the nineteenth century among Catholic traditionalists. By the end of the century it had been enriched by the arguments of positivistic thinkers, such as Taine, Renan and Maurras, who claimed that systematic, empirical study of the historical evidence demonstrated the disastrous long-term consequences of the Revolution down to the present. The counter-revolutionary current has remained in existence since that time. Indeed, the FN’s Catholic integrist wing remains within the pure reactionary tradition. It commemorated the bicentenary by devoting its annual conference to the theme of ‘1789, the Terrorist Dawn’, sympathetically described by one FN reporter as a gathering where ‘thousands of people were able to benefit from moral support in an entirely counter-revolutionary atmosphere’ (Castagne, 1989, p. 31).

However, since the later nineteenth century the nationalist right has also encompassed a more pragmatic, modernizing current of thought, often labelled ‘neo-Bonapartist’ by analogy with the ideas and practices of Napoleon I and Napoleon III. Representatives of this current – in the lineage of Maurice Barrès and Paul Déroulède – have tended to have a more nuanced view of the Revolution and its legacy. They might condemn its radical excesses, but they have tended to accept its historical importance as a spur to social, economic and political modernization. The emancipation of the masses could be recognized as a necessary component of nationhood, so long as the pursuit of liberty and of civil or political rights was counterbalanced by a proper degree of social order and political authority. Today, Le Pen himself embodies a similar outlook (Taguieff, 1989, pp. 195–203; Marcus, 1995, pp. 102–4).

Still, theorists in Identité have often drawn heavily on the old counter-revolutionary themes in support of their own ethnic model of national community, and against the civic model of legal-political community passed down from the Revolution as an important element of the republican tradition (for example, Legrand, 1989; Blot, 1991a, 1992b; Salvisberg, 1992). They argue that the Establishment parties of today have inherited an impoverished notion of citizenship which is rationalistic, legalistic and individualistic. Citizenship is conceived in purely voluntaristic, contractual terms, whereas the core of national identity and the true basis of citizenship are shared ethnicity and participation in a common culture. The PS, in particular, is accused of having promoted this conception from the early 1980s onwards in support of its demagogic claim to be the protector of equal human rights against all forms of social exclusion. By the same token, FN writers again echo counter-revolutionary themes when they castigate the Revolution for inaugurating a quasi-religious cult of rights without concomitant duties, with the result that the pursuit of individual rights, or the rights of particular groups, takes precedence over recognition of obligations and attention to the good of the nation as a whole.

The FN expounds the necessity of cultural homogeneity and rootedness, the need for a sense of national history and for sustaining a spirit of national community. Pointing to the rise of nationalist parties in other countries of Western and Eastern Europe, the FN represents itself as the harbinger of an international wave of renewal of identitarian feelings (Brys, 1989; de Meuse, 1989; Le Chevallier, 1994). Threatening though they are, anti-Western movements in the Middle East and elsewhere can be interpreted as variants of the same identitarian drive. This is taken by the FN to mean that its own ideological moment is only just beginning, because it is entirely suited to the new historical situation. Its concern with restoring national identity can be presented in part as an extension of the ideology of rootedness inherited from Barrès (Sanders, 1990), but it is fused with the discourse of cultural identity and difference propagated by the New Right in place of the older, less publicly acceptable discourses of pseudo-scientific racial inequality (Taguieff, 1988, 1994, pp. 64–106; Adler, 1995). Indeed, whatever the racist undertones of many of its publicists’ discussions of immigration-related issues, it is perfectly possible for FN theorists to dismiss racism explicitly as a scientifically and ideologically outdated creed, but to defend the principle of excluding alien elements from any organic or social body as a law of nature (Lefranc, 1990c; Gregor, 1990; de Meuse, 1993).

The discourse of identity and difference is articulated, for example, by the university teacher Pierre Vial, one of the founders of GRECE, a leading figure on the FN’s Conseil Scientifique, and head of an association named Terre et Peuple, established in June 1995 to organize visits to historic sites and to run seminars on what Vial describes as ‘the theme of rooted cultural identity’ (Chombeau, 1995). Vial contributes a regular historical column entitled ‘Notre Mémoire’ in National hebdo. He has written pieces for Identité (1993b, 1994a, 1994b) on the ethnohistory and culture of different French provinces with the intention of celebrating the ways in which each one makes a distinctive contribution to French national identity. He is an enthusiast of explorations into Indo-European and Nordic cultures – the contemporary, culturological counterpart of Aryanism (for example, in Vial and Mabire, 1975; and see Moissonnier, 1995, for an attack on the fascistic implications of some of Vial’s writings). He shares this interest with other leading intellectuals in the FN, such as Jean Haudry, author of a book on the Indo-Europeans in the popular ‘Que sais-je?’ series (1981; and see Sergent, 1982, for a critique of its racist implications), or Bernard Lugan, with whom Vial runs the Centre d’Etudes Indo-Européennes at Lyon III university.

Against those who claim that France has derived its culture from the diversity of ethnic groups which have settled its territory over the centuries, FN writers emphasize that until the influx of non-European immigrants since the 1950s, France’s ethnic structure had not been significantly modified since the early Middle Ages. Culturally, too, France was the product of a line of development which stemmed from the Celtic, Roman and Germanic descendants of the Indo-Europeans, enriched and refined over the course of time by the penetration of Christianity. According to Jean-Claude Bardet, ‘French culture is in a sense the concentrate and the epitome of Europe’s different cultures. That is probably why it has wrongly appeared less national and more universal. Wrongly so, because the “universal” quality imputed to it corresponds solely to European values and not to those of others’ (1991, p. 14).

The FN portrays the defence of this heritage as the challenge to be faced in the future. It feeds directly into the immigration issue, which the FN, like other national populist parties in Europe, has used as a centrepiece of its attack on the forces allegedly threatening French society (for example, in Le Gallou and Club de l’Horloge, 1985; Le Chevallier, 1989; Milloz, 1990a, 1990b; Le Gallou and Olivier, 1992; FN, 1993; and on national populism in Western Europe, Betz, 1994). According to the FN’s reading, the gospel of human rights and the denunciation of all forms of social exclusion have served as smokescreens for the inability of successive governments to deal effectively with the problem of mass, non-European immigration into France. In practice, one FN writer claims, the creed of human rights means allowing anyone ‘to live in France, enjoy the facilities of the welfare state, to acquire our nationality without constraint and to vote here’ (Legrand, 1989, p. 11). French national identity is obscured in the name of a purely abstract, juridical conception of nationality based on mere presence on French soil and obtaining the right document.

As interpreted by FN publicists, the political Establishment is using an unscrupulous, demagogic tactic when it calls for struggle against racism. The ploy allows the Establishment to brand the FN as racist, which it is not (Peltier, 1996a; Roberto, 1996; Roy, 1996b), and to trump up charges against it under unjust laws (Constans, 1990c; de Meuse, 1990b). At the same time, the issue of racism serves as a useful distraction from governmental failure to deal with major social and economic problems, such as unemployment, rampant crime, the declining birth rate, or massive budgetary deficits. Reversing the arguments of its detractors, the FN designates the conspiracy by defenders of non-European immigration to erode France’s ethnocultural identity as anti-French racism (for example, in Le Gallou, 1988; Madiran et al., 1995).

Governments of both right and left are accused of having colluded in a double lie to the effect that immigration has virtually been halted since the early 1970s and that the immigrants already resident in France would be integrated into French society (FN, 1993, pp. 25–35; Mottin, 1993). When FN publicists are arguing in melodramatic mode, the impression is conveyed that there has been an unarmed invasion, which is the preface to even greater inundations in the future as demographic pressures build in Africa. It is not surprising that the latest edition of Jean Raspail’s Le Camp des saints (1985), an apocalyptic novel of the arrival of a massive armada of immigrant ships on the south coast of France, has been marketed through National hebdo, and its author given a forum in Identité (Raspail, 1990).

In less hysterical vein, FN writers acknowledge that legal immigration by adult males did slow massively, but they focus on the large numbers of dependants who have continued to enter the country, alongside asylum seekers – most of them bogus claimants – and illegal immigrants. The FN’s constant refrain is that immigrants are a major cause of unemployment among the native French population because they are rivals for jobs (Milloz, 1991; Mottin, 1991). The presence of large concentrations of non-European immigrants in or around major cities is blamed for rising crime, civil unrest, urban decay, the swamping and deterioration of schools, alien religious and cultural practices (such as polygamy or female circumcision), plus the imposition of colossal burdens on the welfare system, hence on taxation. Thanks to the power of sympathetic pressure groups within the Establishment, immigrants often benefit from privileged access to state benefits and services which are denied to native French people. Thus, positive discrimination in favour of immigrants means negative discrimination against the French population. Furthermore, whereas European immigrants can be integrated over relatively short periods of time because they share kindred cultures, those who have come from non-European, third world cultures cannot be assimilated in the same way (Lefranc, 1991a; Le Gallou, 1991; Vilmin, 1992). Therefore, given their numbers, immigrants can be presented as a significant threat to French identity, and this is all the more true because so many of them are Muslims. In keeping with the habitual positions of the New Right, it is not argued that the immigrants should renounce their own cultures or their original national identities – on the contrary, FN theorists claim to defend the right of all peoples to their own identity – but rather that they should cherish their own identities in their own countries, not in France.

Following its usual practice of assuming conscious or unconscious collusion between sets of domestic and foreign enemies, the FN links non-European immigrants with the French Establishment, on the one hand, and with the expanding force of Islamic fundamentalism, on the other. A substantial part of the immigrant community – often represented as if it were the whole of the immigrant community – is perceived, in effect, as a fifth column serving Islamic expansionism in the geocultural and potentially geopolitical struggle which is developing between the South and the North (Vial, 1990; Cabantous, 1990; Le Gallou, 1990). Islam is France’s second religion, the size of the Muslim community in France is constantly increasing, mosques and Koranic schools are proliferating. The FN attacks those who justify the presence of these people by claiming that, except in its aggressive, fundamentalist version, Islam can be integrated because it is inherently tolerant. According to the FN, history shows that it is not a case of an aggressive version of Islam being cherished by an extremist minority while the true, tolerant version is held by the majority. Islam is double-faced – tolerant when it is not in a position of strength, but intolerant and aggressive when it is in an expansionist period. It has a theocratic, totalitarian worldview which bases the political and personal spheres on the religious. Consequently it is entirely incompatible with secular European culture. In explosive demographic conditions from Morocco to Azerbaijan it is undergoing a huge cultural and religious revival. It is a threat to Europe, and it has its external bases for terrorism and subversion on French soil. Le Pen claims that the field of French foreign policy starts in the immigrant suburbs of France’s own cities, which have been exterritorialized to such a degree that the government no longer has sufficient control to prevent the formation of ‘networks which can be used for any form of war’ (Le Pen, 1995b).

Over the years, the FN has developed an increasingly elaborate range of radical and repressive proposals for dealing with the immigration issue (compare Le Pen/Front National, 1985, with FN, 1993). They start from the principle that it is legitimate and necessary for any society to protect its identity by excluding foreigners whose numbers and/or culture make them unassimilable. The proposed measures include, for example, a ban on new immigration; a ban on family regrouping; expulsion of unemployed immigrants; expulsion of immigrants convicted of criminal offences; further reform of the Nationality Code to make naturalization more difficult; restricted access to welfare, housing, etc.; quotas in schools; immigrants to be last in and first out in employment. Le Pen’s 1995 election platform included the extraordinary claim that 3 million immigrants could be compulsorily repatriated in the course of a single seven-year presidential term, opening more jobs and better welfare benefits for French people (Le Pen, 1995a; Mégret, 1995). The principle of systematic privilege for French citizens over foreign residents would be enshrined in the Constitution itself by the addition to Title I, Article 2, Paragraph 1, of the words: ‘It [the French Republic] applies the principle of National Preference in relations between citizens and foreigners’ (Le Pen, 1995a, p. 4). However, it should be said that the FN’s policy platform is not entirely focused on repression. It also includes proposals for establishing bilateral arrangements to channel aid and investment to states which cooperate with arrangements to repatriate their nationals. More generally, despite their differences on other aspects of the matter, the party shares the view held by the European Commission and other international bodies that the issue of migration needs to be tackled at source by concerted action to help the countries of origin to mitigate the causes of emigration.

 

Restoring Social Cohesion

 

Not all FN publicists are religious devotees, but from Catholic traditionalists to neo-pagans of the New Right they can make common cause in condemning the reign of hedonistic values and lamenting the decline of the sacred in French national life. Since the time of the Revolution, many Catholic traditionalists have seen secularism and dechristianization as scourges of a society which deserted its God-given vocation as Eldest Daughter of the Church. They were joined from the later nineteenth century onwards by thinkers in the manner of Taine, Maurras and Barrès, who took an instrumental view of religion as a necessary counter to the baser drives in human nature. This fitted with the moralism which has been such a constant feature of extreme right-wing thinking in France, even at the fascist end of the spectrum with its ‘righteous indignation at all it deemed decadent and its zealous determination to root out sinfulness (e.g. weakness) wherever it was found’ (Soucy, 1966, p. 55).

Like many of their predecessors, FN writers have blamed the philosophy of the Enlightenment for opening the ideological path towards an era of hedonistic individualism justified in the name of rights (Vial, 1991; Salvisberg, 1992). France and other Western societies are accused of treating the idea of sacredness as an archaic category of thought which has been superseded. The dominant worldview equates historical progress with the triumph of scientific and technical reason over emotion and religious superstition. The religious societies of the Middle East, Africa and Asia are regarded with disdain. Yet, argue FN writers, Western societies have reached a dead end, where material advance is matched by a vacuum of spiritual and moral values.

Echoing the eternal charges of traditionalists against the contamination of modernism within religion, harsh criticism can be directed at the church itself on the grounds that it has largely evacuated the sacred in its attempts to appease contemporary taste by updating its rites and watering down its doctrine (de Meuse and de Meuse, 1991). In the absence of a coherent set of shared moral imperatives, the decay allegedly extends to other institutions which ought to be defending the values of national community against the obsessive pursuit of individual self-gratification. Given that the family rather than the individual is the fundamental cell of the social body – to use an organic metaphor dear to the FN and its predecessors – it is seen as a disaster for France that the family has been undermined by laws encouraging abortion, divorce or cohabitation, as well as by inadequate tax and welfare provisions, with the result that the declining birth rate is preparing the way for a demographic winter (Mégret and Comités d’Action Républicaine, 1986; de Rostolan, 1987; FN, 1993; Cochet and Robinson, 1995).

Similarly, the state school system is said by the FN to be in crisis, staggering under the weight of bureaucracy and perpetrating colossal wastage of funds, undermined by politicized teachers’ unions, neglecting essential skills of literacy and numeracy. Extending an earlier conspiracy theory popularized in Barrès’s novel Les Déracinés (1988 [1897]), it is even claimed that the endless series of supposed reforms adopted by successive ministers, regardless of the political colour of the government in power, have been deliberately aimed not at improving the communication of knowledge, but at modifying pupils’ values, attitudes and behaviour, while actively purveying a shapeless, multiculturalist mishmash of ‘politically correct’ pseudo-knowledge to the detriment of the pupils’ sense of national identity (Vial, 1993a; Gannat, 1993). The aim is to strip the pupils of their national culture and to reduce the masses to a state of mindless ignorance which makes them infinitely susceptible to manipulation. The process is therefore no less attractive to the false-right elite than it is to the left. As is often the case, the more paranoid versions of this conspiracy theory represent what is happening in France as an extension of international collusion in the creation of a ‘new worldwide educational order’, fostered by UNESCO, the UN, the OECD, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and other bodies committed to globalism (Pichon, 1993; Bernardin, 1996a, 1996b; Roy, 1996a).

Outside education the malaise extends to architecture, the arts and entertainment (analysed, for example, in Le Gallou, 1991). Although state budgets and those of local government bodies have never been higher for supporting the arts, the problem perceived by the FN is summarized in its 1993 manifesto under the claim that ‘culture which is rooted and situated in French history’ has been replaced by ‘global, mass culture’ (FN, 1993, p. 88). Again, it is a case of quasi-conspiracy through the misuse of bureaucratic selection processes and patronage to exclude works which reflect national values and traditions, so that authentically French culture is reduced to the status of a historical curio found in heritage sites.

The question of law and order follows similar lines. Having posited the existence of a general climate of moral decay, the FN has an underlying explanation for the terrifying crime statistics which it constantly brandishes at the public (for instance, in FN, 1993, pp. 277–82). The populist line is that while the discourse of human and civil rights reigns supreme, the real rights of respectable citizens are violated, often violently, by thugs. At the same time, it is claimed, the powers of the judiciary and the police are systematically undermined, as they are given neither the resources nor the laws to be able to act effectively but are subjected to constant political interference. The rise of violence in the cities and suburbs as gangs of youths roam the streets makes a particularly potent symbol of social disintegration, and the fact that the pro-FN press focuses relentlessly on ‘ethnic gangs’ drawn from minorities allows it to convey the impression that social breakdown is primarily due to the activity of unassimilable, non-European immigrants. In keeping with its claim that many French immigrant suburbs have become no-go areas for the French authorities, the FN has even argued that immigrant crime is a threat to national security. It should therefore be covered by defence policy. Thus, Hervé Morvan argues:

 

The deliberate refusal to consider the potential problems arising from the presence of large, organized, non-indigenous populations in terms of defence is a danger, not only to the security of individuals, but also to the state’s ability to exercise full sovereignty on its national soil. In time of crisis, public order is a defence issue. (1991, p. 14)

 

The FN’s policy response to all of these evils is muscularly conservative with an authoritarian edge (Le Pen/Front National, 1985; Institut de Formation Nationale, 1991; FN, 1993; Le Pen, 1995a; and the series of interviews by spokespersons in National hebdo during the early months of 1995). The assumption is that there is a need to restore strong codes of behaviour, clear social duties, and firm social bonds underpinned by effective laws. Restoration of traditional morality and the integrity of the patriarchal family are to be encouraged by fiscal measures and an income for mothers of large families who choose to stay at home. Abortion would be banned and relentless struggle against AIDS would express the war against moral depravity. The activities of militant ‘right-to-life’ activists in the US are frequently reported with approval in Présent and other periodicals controlled by the Catholic traditionalist wing of the FN.

Support for private Catholic schooling and for the principle of parental choice, operated through a system of education vouchers, also figures prominently in FN programmes. For state education, the stress is on restoration of discipline, competitive ranking of pupils, return to grammar and basic skills, coupled with teaching of France’s national history and national values. Likewise, in the arts and entertainment, financial support from central and local government would be for work which was identifiably rooted in French traditions, work which celebrated French history, and work which reflected the particularities of the different regions of the country. Measures relating to art teaching, the restoration of the purity of the French language, the promotion of French folk culture, the renaming of streets, or the institution of new public holidays on major historical anniversaries all tend in the direction of cultural nationalism.

As for the field of public security, the FN has a vast, and extremely expensive, array of measures. The general principle is that law and order would be restored, with ruthless suppression of violent crime, stiffer prison terms, modernization of penal facilities and restoration of the death penalty for many categories of murder, terrorism, serious drug dealing or international racketeering. The judiciary and the police would receive additional manpower and other resources, as well as better conditions of service. Aside from other measures to reduce the presence and the geographical concentrations of immigrants, the perception of the threat to civil order as a defence issue also leads to arguments for a dense network of military reserve units to support the gendarmerie (as well as providing armed resistance in the event of foreign invasion) (Verdier, 1991).

 

Social Well-being, Prosperity and Sustainability

 

The critique of contemporary values extends to the FN’s attack on the deficiencies of France’s economic system. It is not merely an issue of success and efficiency, as measured in terms of indicators such as GDP or rates of growth. Here, as in other areas, the FN has remained broadly consistent with earlier incarnations of the extreme right, albeit with some modification. From the time when the pace of industrialization began to increase in the mid-nineteenth century, the various currents of the extreme right habitually reserved their harshest attacks for those who preached socialism or communism. Nevertheless, Catholic traditionalists, neo-Bonapartist nationalists and eventually fascists had their own, somewhat equivocal versions of anti-capitalism. Publicists of the extreme right voiced concern for the lack of moral conscience, the social divisiveness and the alienation fostered by unbridled liberal capitalism, especially when plutocracy could be linked to international finance, which it often associated with Jews. They protested on behalf of the small people – the small businessmen, the shopkeepers, the artisans, the peasant farmers and the labourers – who were marginalized, uprooted, expropriated or treated as mere tools of production. The extreme right was proud to describe its ideology as social, in the sense of being concerned by the problems of the lower middle and working classes under modern capitalism. Some elements even used the label ‘socialist’, although this did not mean a commitment to egalitarian redistribution of wealth or collective ownership. Private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange remained sacrosanct, but the extreme right tended in varying degrees to favour a corporatist ‘third way’ between socialism and free-market capitalism.

Nowadays, although there are still currents in the party which favour the latter approach, the FN’s official line is somewhat different. It pays homage to the spirit of pioneering nineteenth-century social theorists and campaigners such as René de La Tour du Pin, Frédéric Le Play and Albert de Mun. It applauds the Action Française theorists of corporatism and the attempt to put those ideas into practice under the Vichy regime. But it takes the Vichy experiment as a demonstration of the dangers of technocracy inherent in corporatism, and no longer puts it forward as a viable solution for the future (Gannat, 1990). From the late 1970s to the late 1980s the FN was quick to catch the ideological tide of neo-liberalism sweeping across from the US and Britain. It incessantly attacked the technocratic, statist economic policies of the left and the soft right on the grounds that they were destroying the economy by means of a political, regulatory and fiscal straitjacket on businesses and returns. It proclaimed the virtues of free-market economics: enterprise, dynamism, risk taking, individual initiative, free competition, wholesale privatization of nationalized industries and services, deregulation, lower taxes and contributions (especially for large families), reduction of public spending, budgetary rigour, promotion of private health insurance and pensions – these were the watchwords (for the party’s economic programme at that time, see Le Pen/Front National, 1985, pp. 61–96). The moralistic side of the party’s thinking was not entirely absent, however, and it centred on one of the most durable of all conservative beliefs – namely, that possession of property encourages habits of social responsibility, provident behaviour and saving. The extension of property ownership was to be achieved, on the one hand, by the sale of social housing to tenants at preferential prices in the manner of the Thatcher government’s policy in Britain. On the other hand, the privatization of public sector firms would not be a straightforward sale of public assets, but would involve distribution of 70 per cent of the shares free of charge to French families in proportion to the number of members in each case – part of the intention being to reward those who had shown their commitment to the nation’s future by producing children.

As Hans-Georg Betz (1994, pp. 127–9) points out, the FN’s position was modified during the early 1990s in the light of the party’s concerns regarding the erosion of national solidarity. In fact, Le Pen (1989b, pp. 127–8) had already been arguing in the late 1980s that government should correct the effects of the free market when they threatened social cohesion. In their denunciations of moral decay in contemporary society, FN writers have matched their attacks on left-wing statism with a critique of the soulless destructiveness of American-style, speculative capitalism (Lefranc, 1991b, 1992; Gannat, 1992). They lament the fact that economic considerations are given precedence over all others, imposing the logic of profit as a universal yardstick, so that society itself is reduced to a market. Social bonds dissolve amid enormous disillusionment as everything and everyone is rated in economic terms. From the philosophical standpoint, it is argued that the economy needs to be restored to its proper function of serving society in subordination to higher political and social goals, not the other way round. Nevertheless, the counter-examples of the Soviet bloc and of statist, social democratic France can be taken to show that the economic sphere has its own laws which must be respected. No prosperous economy can exist without the right to property, free enterprise, free markets and the profit incentive. Just as the political sphere must be freed from the economic, the economy must be freed from the stranglehold of the state in order to work effectively.

Therefore, the FN claims to balance the necessity for political oversight with rejection of the statist approach (FN, 1993; Le Pen, 1995b). The party still stands for giving maximal autonomy within the public sector, reducing bureaucracy and waste, denationalizing firms in the competitive sectors (still including distribution of free shares to French families), deregulating the economy, and limiting the role of trade unions. Popular capitalism and extension of home ownership would be promoted. Small businesses and small farms are given particular prominence in the FN’s policies, since they are defined both in economic terms as essential to the nation’s prosperity, and in a traditionalist social perspective as ethnically rooted communities of work. Hence, besides the channelling of state and local government financial aid to small and medium-sized producers, rather than to the large conglomerates which undercut them, the party argues for a range of measures such as tax concessions, and a system for increasing access to investment capital and to loans at favourable rates of interest. The ubiquitous solution of reducing the immigrant population and restricting immigrants’ access to welfare benefits is presented as a key to lower unemployment, financing improved access for French families to low-cost housing, and allowing increases in welfare benefits and state pensions for French citizens. By reducing the burden of immigration and unemployment carried by the state, the consequent reduction in charges levied on employers would allow the minimum wage to be raised for the benefit of the low paid. The elimination of damaging competition by immigrants for France’s economic resources will be matched by protectionist policies to reconquer domestic markets which have been lost to foreign imports (discussed later in this chapter).

Since the later 1980s, in keeping with its claim to reconcile a restoration of civilized moral and social values with improvements in economic efficiency, the FN has adopted a modern-looking approach to environmental issues. It ties in with the thinking of the New Right, makes an appeal to the young, and offers possible opportunities for extending influence through contact with environmentalist groups. At the same time the FN claims that environmentalism, correctly understood, is essentially conservative (Le Pen, 1989b; Constans, 1990b). The party’s standpoint on the question evokes the Barrèsian emphasis on cultural and territorial rootedness. It also fits with the FN’s stance on protection of French agriculture (FN, 1993, pp. 194–211; Martinez, 1995), especially the peasant smallholding and the rural way of life which the traditionalist right has always regarded as a repository of time-honoured values such as hard work, continuity and stewardship – themes which had been endlessly reworked in nineteenth-century writings against the effects of the industrial revolution, and which had later formed central planks of the Vichy regime’s reactionary vision of National Revolution.

The FN’s position is that the political debate about protection of nature has been falsely reduced to two extremes: on one side, the virtuous greens, with their ideal of ending progress and returning to a state of nature; on the other side, the heartless predators who want technological and economic progress at any price. The dichotomy is false, it is argued (Mégret, 1990b). The greens have an ideology based on a retrograde, romantic conception of nature borrowed from Rousseau, which confuses science with utopian fantasy. This must be opposed with a lucid view which acknowledges that man necessarily imposes his mark on nature because he is a creator of culture. However, man needs to be aware of his place as part of the natural order. This requires a determined effort to restore balances and move away from unbridled productivism. To face the technocrats, the statist socialists, the urban developers, the big business lobbies, and all those who indiscriminately disfigure the natural or human environment, it is essential to rediscover an ethics and aesthetics of life, and a long-term perspective, allowing the individual to rediscover his roots and his identity as a member of a community bonded to a particular site (Chossat, 1990).

In policy terms this means, for example, favouring alternative, renewable energy sources. It means promoting modern public transport systems to reduce dependence on motor vehicles in cities. It entails strict controls on air, water and land pollution, as well as stricter protection of fauna, flora, waterways, shorelines and sites of natural beauty. Polluters will be made to pay and new legislation will bring a range of offences under the criminal code. It requires tighter planning controls enforced by a new inspectorate with real powers. It demands wider public consultation on urban schemes and infrastructure projects. None of this is especially controversial, but it is not impossible that the pseudo-scientific racism formerly preached by the extreme right, including the New Right in the 1970s, still lingers under the surface. For example, in Identité 7 (1990), which was devoted to ecology, three of the four substantive articles, as well as Le Pen’s editorial, cited Dr Alexis Carrel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1912, as one of their intellectual precursors in this area. Although there was no direct reference to the fact, the writers were presumably aware that Carrel’s views on the ecology of the nation had included the application of eugenics (as well as euthanasia for serious criminals) as a means of maintaining the quality of the stock and creating a hereditary biological aristocracy (Bonnafé and Tort, 1992; Cambier, 1995). There is something a little sinister even in the FN’s 1993 manifesto, when its authors blithely declare: ‘We are attached to our identity and our country, we are the defenders of our patrimony in the broadest sense of the term: biological, cultural and natural’ (1993, p. 111).

 

Towards the Sixth Republic

 

In matters of government, the extreme right has a history of authoritarianism and elitism. It has been contemptuous of parliamentary democracy, especially when the political system allowed Parliament to dominate government at the expense of the head of state, as was the case under the Third and Fourth Republics. Some currents of thought have been hostile to any form of electoral democracy, on the grounds that the future of the state should not be at the mercy of a primitive numerical calculation of majority opinion among the ill-informed masses. From the time of the Revolution onwards, the traditionalist current held up an idealized and purified vision of monarchy as a model for France if only the country would free itself of the aberrant legacy of the Revolution. It was assumed that the legislative as well as the executive functions of government should be centred on the monarch, whose duty it was to take appropriate advice from individuals or from bodies of counsellors and to consult with intermediary bodies – professional, religious, cultural and other associations. In that sense the monarch would be a dictator, as Maurras acknowledged, though it was the monarch’s duty to respect the traditional rights, freedoms and customs of the people. Failing a restoration of the monarchy, traditionalists would settle for an uncrowned head of state, as they did for Marshal Pétain in 1940. At the same time, many representatives of this current were hostile to the highly centralized administrative system which had been set in place during the Revolution and consolidated by Napoleon I. They believed that the power of the head of state as guardian of higher national interests should be counterbalanced by administrative decentralization, to restore a considerable degree of local autonomy in the provinces under their own assemblies. Among the many ironies associated with the Vichy regime was the fact that it was pledged to a Maurrassian conception of provincial decentralization, but as it evolved from authoritarian towards totalitarian rule it effected the very opposite.

Characteristically, the type of system favoured by the neo-Bonapartist current looked more modern, more pragmatic and more populist. But it was no less hostile to parliamentary rule, which it often represented as a confidence trick whereby the people – the mass of decent, patriotic citizens who constituted the real nation – were manipulated and deluded by professional politicians. It still required a strong head of state in control of the executive and legislative functions, but neo-Bonapartists could accommodate easily enough to the principle of a strong, elective presidency. Many also admired the Napoleonic practice of using popular consultations in the form of plebiscites to seek public ratification of constitutional changes. A Parliament, however elected, was not unacceptable as long as its powers were strictly limited in relation to those of the head of state and the government. At the authoritarian extreme, where neo-Bonapartism prefigured or shaded into fascism, it might imply little more than window dressing to mask dictatorship. At the more liberal end of the neo-Bonapartist continuum lay the type of conception which informed the institutions of the Fifth Republic, founded by Charles de Gaulle. Although some representatives of the neo-Bonapartist current, such as Barrès, favoured a greater or lesser degree of administrative decentralization, others did not see it as a matter of concern. Even if they felt a commitment to cultural regionalism and the idea of social enracinement, many were strongly attracted by the centralized, hierarchical Napoleonic state.

Operating under the Fifth Republic as it has developed since 1958, the FN has found itself in a very different political system from its nationalist predecessors under the Third and Fourth Republics. The primacy of the executive over the legislature has been maintained since de Gaulle’s time. Directly elected since 1962, the presidency itself remains the principal seat of governmental power. Conversely, successive decentralization reforms since the early 1980s have produced a massive devolution of political, economic and other powers to local government institutions. This situation, added to the fact that the FN wishes to distance itself from the authoritarian, anti-democratic associations of its predecessors, has led the party to adopt a somewhat contorted ideological posture, which nevertheless enables it to claim that it is more, not less democratic than the mainstream parties. By the mid-1990s it was claiming to represent the march towards a new Sixth Republic.

We have already seen that the FN has retained the practice of vilifying the mainstream political parties and other sets of political actors presumed to be conniving with them at the nation’s expense. The charge is summarized in the claim: ‘The French People have been progressively deprived of their right of expression by the technocratic bureaucracy, the parties of the Gang of 4, the pressure groups and the media’ (Le Pen, 1995a, p. 10). Governments are castigated for incompetence and for their willingness to delegate the execution of policies to a caste of civil servants who are unaccountable to the public. Parliament is condemned for failing to exercise its duty of vigilant surveillance of the executive and for failing to carry out effective scrutiny of national budgets. Similar charges of incompetence, irresponsibility and abuse of power are levelled at local government. The FN has denounced the practice whereby individual politicians are permitted to hold two or even three elective offices at the same time. The waves of corruption scandals which came to light in the early 1990s provided further ammunition for the FN in its claim to be the only clean party.

On the other hand, although it has argued that the present degree of executive dominance over the legislature is excessive, and although it has called in somewhat vague terms for revitalizing parliament in matters of budgetary scrutiny and fully restoring its ability to initiate legislation, the FN has made no fundamental critique of the principle and extensive powers of the directly elected presidency. To that extent it has remained faithful to the extreme right’s allegiance to strong leadership. Indeed, it is striking that the internal organization of the FN itself operates on top-down, authoritarian lines, whatever the party’s democratic pretensions for the political system of the country as a whole (Marcus, 1995). The charismatic, autocratic personality of Jean-Marie Le Pen has encouraged a leadership cult, and there is some evidence that many militants favour a dictatorship or a monarchy in preference to a republican system (Birenbaum, 1992, p. 324).

Be that as it may, democratic principle coincides with self-interest in the FN’s long-standing demand for proportional representation in parliamentary elections – a system which brought enormous benefit to the party when it was used for the 1986 election, and corresponding disaster when it was replaced by the old system of single-member constituencies for the elections of 1988. Furthermore, harking back to a proposal which had figured in some conservative electoral programmes under the Third Republic, such as that of the Fédération Républicaine in the 1930s, the FN advocates multiple votes for parents in proportion to the number of children in the family – family size being taken as an indicator of social responsibility and, no doubt, conservatism. On its populist platform, betting on the potential susceptibility of sufficient numbers of people to its own values and attitudes should the proposals ever be enacted, the party advocates not only extension of the use of referenda by presidential initiative, but also Swiss-style national and local referenda by popular demand, which it advertises as a means of giving the people a real voice in the face of the Establishment on matters such as taxation, immigration, abortion or the death penalty (Blot and Club de l’Horloge, 1989; FN, 1993; Le Pen, 1995a). Reduction in the number of layers of local government and in the length of local electoral mandates also ties into the demand for greater transparency and responsiveness in political processes.

A range of other measures are aimed at settling scores with particular sets of enemies. Closure of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration is intended to destroy one of the training grounds for future members of the cosy political/administrative Establishment. Legislation would be passed to curb the role of trade unions. The allocation of grants to pressure groups would be reviewed to eliminate those which did not clearly serve the public interest as the FN construes it. The Constitution would be amended to include provisions relating to radio and television – including the right of all political tendencies to fair allocation of broadcasting time and the right of immediate reply to attacks. The Pleven and Gayssot Laws against incitement to racial hatred and against denial of the Holocaust would be repealed, on the grounds that they infringed the principle of freedom of opinion and were used for ‘the repression of national ideas’ (FN, 1993, p. 403; see also Constans, 1990c; de Meuse, 1990b).

 

Resistance to Absorption and Eclipse

 

As we have seen, the FN presents itself as the force of national revitalization in response to the debilitation of the national community. Revitalization means the reassertion of control – control over what happens within France’s confines, of course, but also over what enters from outside and over what leaves from within. The obsession with internal decay is matched by fears concerning the erosion of France’s power as an international actor. However, in this area as in others, the FN’s approach to foreign policy is not purely negative. It claims to offer strength and renewal. Interestingly, the historical exemplar to whom its theorists sometimes refer is none other than Charles de Gaulle, despite the extreme right’s traditional resentment towards the general in the light of his ‘sell-out’ of French Algeria in 1962, as well as his earlier role in the destruction of the Vichy regime and the post-war purges of collaborators.

Not surprisingly, the FN has never supported the idea that France should become a component of a fully federated European superstate. But this is not to say that the party has been hostile to all forms of European organization. As the self-proclaimed defender of identities, it purports to stand for a European Europe, just as it does for a French France. Its intellectuals have persistently expounded the nobility of the common European heritage of culture and civilization, with France as its epitome (for example, Mégret, 1989; Bardet, 1991; Blot, 1993). Their elation at the collapse of the Soviet bloc was motivated partly by the hope that Europe as a whole, West and East, would at last discover its strength and forge a new collective role in the world once it was liberated from the tutelage of the two post-war superpowers (Morvan, 1990b; Lefranc, 1990b; anticipated in Le Pen, 1989a). But the party has always claimed that the supranationalist conception which underlies the progressive integration of what has now become the European Union is unacceptable in principle and damaging in practice. The FN conjures up the threat of homogenization in every sphere under a centralized governmental and administrative system that annihilates the specificities of the member states and dissolves the national identities of their citizens. Inevitably, the parties of the French Establishment are accused by the FN of selling out French sovereignty and French economic interests to Brussels. Brussels, in turn, is charged with selling out European interests to the United States. It is an aspect of the conspiracy to destroy the nation as part of the cosmopolitan, globalist project for the future (Martinez, 1989; Milloz, 1989; Morvan, 1990; Martin, 1993).

Thus, part of the complaint against the EU centres on the claim that it aims not only to abolish internal frontiers, but also to abandon meaningful external frontiers as well. In the economic sphere, as interpreted by the FN, the development of international free trade serves as a vehicle for American economic expansionism and for the development of the world as a single space traversed by flows of products, services and people under the surveillance of a universal superstate. FN publicists preached against the GATT agreement on the grounds that no state, or group of states, should have international free trade imposed on it against its interests. Just as the FN wants to protect French workers from immigrant competition on classical nationalist lines harking back to the late nineteenth century, so it also wants to protect French products and services by means of trade barriers. However, its central line is that the existence of the Single European Market means that these barriers now have to be around the EU as a whole. The notion of community preference at European level is intended to parallel the notion of national preference within the French nation state. Even so, although it is not official party policy, one of the FN’s leading theorists, Jean-Yves Le Gallou (1993), has argued for a gradual introduction of protectionist measures at national level and for a shift towards bilateral trading agreements, which would imply withdrawal from the Single European Market.

As regards the political dimension of the EU, the FN argues for the primacy of cooperation over integration. It calls for a Europe of nations, with each nation remaining firmly rooted in its own culture. Nevertheless, the FN’s preference for a loose confederation, which should eventually extend to Eastern as well as Western Europe, allows for coordination in the fields of defence, economic protection, anti-terrorism and, of course, barriers to third world immigrants. With the FN having ten Members of the European Parliament from 1984 onwards, statements made during the mid- and late-1980s were not always negative on the subject of European integration in particular fields, and were often equivocal on the question of how much sovereignty should be pooled or in what form. For example, the party’s 1985 manifesto referred sweepingly to the need for a common currency, a common anti-terrorist police force and court, and a common foreign policy and defence capacity (Le Pen/Front National, 1985, p. 191; and see Le Pen, 1989a, 1989b). Later, under threat of being outflanked by anti-integrationist elements of the more orthodox right and sections of the left in the wake of the Maastricht and GATT debates, the discourse hardened (FN, 1993; Le Pen, 1995a). The emphasis was placed primarily on denouncing the technocratic power of the European Commission and calling for its abolition, pointing to the dangers arising from the Schengen agreement (allowing in huge flows of immigrants and criminals), and calling for the Maastricht treaty to be scrapped and for Europe to withdraw from the GATT agreements. The need for restoring France’s national sovereignty by reasserting the primacy of French law over international law has likewise become a theme in the party’s discourse.

In addition to other charges against the EU, the FN accuses it of betraying European security interests in pursuit of the perverse, globalist utopia of an integrated European defence community under American tutelage. Defence and security issues have always been a major preoccupation for French nationalists, given that their perception of international relations reflects a combination of social Darwinism and Realpolitik. Indeed, the emergence of nationalism as an identifiable right-wing phenomenon had been closely linked to a burning sense of humiliation in the wake of their country’s catastrophic defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1. The obsession with French military fragility in the face of foreign threats and with the ever-present risk of betrayal by fifth columnists has remained constant since that time.

The FN has sustained the tradition of scenting weakness and betrayal in the face of unprecedented dangers to France’s international position. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the FN was preoccupied with the threat from that direction. Behind the slogan, ‘Neither red nor dead, but French and alive’, it pointed relentlessly to the supposed inadequacies of France’s military capability, while arguing that the European Community should take primary responsibility for its own defence by creating a unified command structure, developing its own nuclear and conventional strategy, and pooling national forces so that the Community would function as a distinct entity within NATO (Le Pen/Front National, 1985; Le Pen, 1989a, 1989b).

In the 1990s the FN has anticipated that threats might arise from the instability of Russia and Eastern Europe (including states with nuclear arms), but above all from the Islamic countries of North Africa and the Middle East (many with massive conventional arsenals and potential access to nuclear and/or chemical weapons) driven by religious fanaticism, economic deprivation and explosive demographic conditions. Meanwhile, in France’s overseas territories and in former colonies within the French sphere of influence, the perceived danger is that internal subversion by native groups may play into the hands of foreign powers which have ambitions to absorb the territories into their own spheres of influence. FN writers conclude that France needs to obey what Bruno Mégret – sounding like a cross between de Gaulle and Nietzsche – has called ‘the imperative of power’ (1991, title of article). Yet successive French governments are deemed to have starved the defence budgets and failed to define a coherent role for the armed forces. The deficiencies of France’s performance in the Gulf War of 1991 have been held up as testimony to the lack of adequate equipment or properly trained manpower (FN, 1993, pp. 306–7) – this, notwithstanding Le Pen’s opposition to the war itself (Marcus, 1995, pp. 122–4; Hainsworth, 1996; and see Peltier, 1996b, for an account of Le Pen’s protests against American aggression, the New World Order, etc., during a friendship visit to Saddam Hussein in May 1996).

Since the end of the Cold War the FN’s anti-Americanism has led it to favour a European military alliance and Security Council outside, and in place of, NATO. The aim would be to remove Europe from American hegemony by collectively building the alliance’s level of armaments to that of a superpower. Even so, the FN places particular stress on building up France’s own military capability and on developing an assertively independent foreign policy (du Verdier, 1991; FN, 1993; Mégret, 1993). Among other things, this means pushing defence budgets to the equivalent of 4–5 per cent of GDP. It means developing and testing new, miniaturized nuclear weapons for anti-personnel use. It means creating a rapid reaction force for overseas operations. It means new aircraft carriers, new submarines, and a modernized airforce with at least 400 combat aircraft. It means improving radar cover along the Mediterranean and developing an anti-missile defence system. It means well-paid, professional armed forces in place of conscription. It means a new military organization for sealing France’s frontiers against immigration. It means a coherent civil defence programme.

These and other measures would be the buttress for a foreign policy aimed, in effect, at restoring France’s international influence by revitalizing relationships in all those parts of the world where it was a major actor in its days as an imperial power. Despite its eagerness to follow the New Right in attacking the ideological, economic and cultural neo-colonialism practised by the United States (Gannat, 1994; Lefranc, 1994), the FN has every wish to see France strengthen its own political, economic and cultural hold on its remaining overseas territories and to extract maximum advantage from their locations. For example, small though they are, the FN sees its islands in the South Pacific as vital strategic cards in the power game which will unfold there. Aside from their value as military and logistical bases, they also allow France a direct presence in the part of the world which is predicted to become the hub of economic and commercial activity for the future. The theory is that by re-establishing itself as a great power outside Europe, France will ensure its role as a great power within Europe.

 

Conclusion

 

As a producer and communicator of ideology, the FN has shown enormous vitality. The sheer volume of production is massive and the quality of argument is not conspicuously inferior to that of intellectuals belonging to different ideological families. As with any body of ideological writings, of course, there are plentiful contradictions between different elements within and between particular texts – not least, the clash between liberal, illiberal and anti-liberal components in the system of ideas. There are many areas in which the principles and the policies remain vague. The same is true of the FN’s broad-brush attempts to explain how its proposals would be financed. For example, would the expulsion of 3 million immigrants in the space of seven years really prove an unalloyed economic blessing for the long term, let alone for the immediate period of transition? Yet the FN’s effort to push its way towards the forefront of the French political stage has owed much of its energy to the fact that it could offer an apparently cogent analysis of the nation’s problems, and an increasingly comprehensive range of solutions. The process has been dynamic, since political drive and ideological self-confidence feed on each other. At a time when other ideologies were crumbling or insufficiently attuned to the concerns of substantial sections of French society, the FN’s brand of national populism could be presented as both traditional and modern, conservative and radical.

From any political standpoint to the left of it, the party’s increasing appeal is a distressing symptom of profound malaise in French society, not a solution to France’s problems. The FN’s programmes cater to popular anxieties at a time of collective uncertainty. They single out particular groups as deliberate or unwitting instruments of damage to the nation’s identity, cohesion and material well-being. They postulate the existence of conspiracies or at least objective collusion between domestic and external forces which are responsible for the nation’s debasement. Their political mythology locates the present historical moment as the culmination of a period of decline, but they offer the promise of salvation. Of course, the promise is conditional. If the nation will recognize the validity of national populist answers to the questions which have to be asked, it will be capable of renewal. If it undergoes renewal, it will be able to accept the imperative of power. If the nation fails to do these things, catastrophe awaits in the form of disintegration, submersion and absorption.

It is a fact that the FN has made a successful effort to regenerate the ideological tradition of the extreme right, while remodelling it in ways which offer at least partial defence against those who wish to damn it by association with the failures and excesses of its predecessors. Short of a significant ideological renewal on the left, which appears unlikely in the short to medium term, the major threat to the FN would probably arise from further repositioning of the orthodox right to take up more of the party’s ideological ground on issues such as immigration, direct democracy, reduction of unemployment, strong policies on law and order, and a forceful stance in the name of French national interests in foreign policy. The problem is that this type of strategy could easily backfire by giving further credibility to the FN itself. Whatever the case, the mainstream parties have yet to regain sufficient ideological vitality to be able to drive national populism back to the margins.

 

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Theories Of The Right