OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

The new Le Pen

Faced with imitative xenophobic policies by centrist governments, voters might prefer the McCoy

In the mindset of what might be called the democratic center — a defense of human rights and respect for rites and formalities — there is a certain tendency to form grab-bag amalgams. We tend to put all extreme-right parties in the same bag, when each has a personality of its own, though they are all enjoying a shared groundswell from Scandinavia to Greece. Perhaps the most widely misunderstood is the National Front (FN), of Le Pen, first the father, now the daughter, which has soared in the opinion surveys in France, and one week ago won the local elections in the canton of Brignoles.

Why is the FN winning vote shares above 20 percent, when it is expected to get no more than 10? Some factors are merely a result of the political moment. Socialist President François Hollande does not appear to fill the media space of a head of state — unlike his predecessor, Sarkozy, who fairly burst the seams of the office. The crisis swells the vote against whoever has made the mistake of being in power. The atrocious disaster of Lampedusa only highlights the specter of immigrant hordes from Africa in many people's eyes. The Socialist government's obsession with preemptively imitating the extreme right — as in the Gypsy expulsions - does not attract the xenophobic vote so much as it trivializes the issue, making the FN's stance seem reasonable. The voter, faced with choosing between the original and the copy, may prefer the real McCoy. But there is a whole array of particular reasons.

As geopolitical seasoning, the extreme rights adds opposition to a new World Order in which the EU is a reserve for the oligarchy to take pot-shots at the plebs

The present leader of the FN, Marine, the 46-year-old daughter of the founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is reinventing Lepenism. The father was a hairy Neanderthal, never far from an attack of political apoplexy, while his relatively photogenic daughter embodies a positive indignation unlike the father's protesting war cry of the stale, moth-eaten Catholic right. Hers is a protest not of the lords, but of the people, with a leader who cannot be portrayed as a clown as easily as her father, who was born with the face of a cartoon villain. But in those days you had to bellow to get any votes at all, when now you must talk softly to convince the reasonable.

And the program? Nothing could be simpler. Always the Maid of Orleans; protectionism for everything French, always under threat of contamination. Plenty of talk about the sovereignty of the common people, which is why at every rally they sing La Marseillaise, and a distracted visitor might think he was at a rally of the left. As geopolitical seasoning, opposition to a new World Order in which the EU is a game reserve where the oligarchy takes pot-shots at the common people, and globalization is an apocalypse. In this landscape the FN stands as a bulwark of anti-capitalism, an enemy of oligarchy. If we listen to the rhetoric alone, Robespierre himself might be tempted; and an ally, though much against his will, might be found in Régis Debray, who in Le Monde Diplomatique spoke of how "neoliberal economic deregulation undermined the foundations of public power, which was the great strength of France.'

Marine's Lepenism is thus formidable as a threat that might turn France away from the course it has held to since 1789: the Grande Nation as a land of asylum, where ius solis took precedence to ius sanguinis. Edwy Plenel suggests that: "The FN is a laboratory for an authoritarian model of dealing with the crisis." Indeed the FN need not even come to power to see at least a part of its objectives fulfilled: because, iceberg-like, its voters are the submerged mass of the neoliberal policy that is eroding the welfare state throughout Europe. Imagine, then, the FN as the figurehead of a Europe-wide hyper-populist movement, which in 2014 might wield, even in minority, considerable clout in the European Parliament. A torpedo fired against the whole idea of democracy and solidarity in the EU.

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