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The Front national under Marine Le Pen: a mainstream political party?

Abstract

The Front national has experienced such an increase in popularity under the leadership since 2011 of Marine Le Pen that some commentators have suggested the FN is now politically mainstream and question the validity of continuing to represent the party as ideologically extreme. This paper argues that although the party remains ideologically extreme, this does not prevent it from forming part of the political mainstream because it is perfectly concomitant with some form of French republicanism, specifically the national republicanism which has become hegemonic in recent decades. To more effectively combat the FN one must both recognise this and at the same time articulate an alternative, much more inclusivist vision of the French Republic, one leaving no space for the vision of the Republic articulated by the FN.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The FN received 14.9%, 3.8 million votes, in the 1997 parliamentary elections.

  2. 2.

    The specificity of FN ideology has long been a matter of dispute. Some critics historically identified FN ideology as ‘fascist’ or ‘neo-fascist’ (see Fysh and Wolfreys 1992: p. 325; Husbands 1992: p. 267; Eatwell 1995: p. 258), but issues with such a classification (see, for example, Milza 1987: pp. 431–33) and the diversity of the internal components of the FN—including integral nationalists, neo-fascists, nouvelle droitistes, and radical Catholics (see Camus 1996; Algazy 1989: pp. 257–62)—meant that the majority of analysts identified the party as belonging to the extreme right. Notwithstanding both the conceptual difficulties in identifying the key ideological components of the extreme right (see Mudde 1996, 2000: pp. 7–11), the fact that some elements within the party have always been closer to the traditional right (see Bastow 2002: p. 89), and the more recent literature linking the party to radical right-wing populism, I shall use term ‘extreme right’ to refer to the ideology of the FN throughout the article.

  3. 3.

    Though they suggest this silence does not necessarily imply the denunciation of such elements.

  4. 4.

    MLP’s 2017 presidential election programme omitted any call for a referendum on this issue.

  5. 5.

    Though if MLP does not, like her father, articulate a belief in natural, biological difference Alduy and Wahnich (2015: p. 56) argue she nevertheless ‘conserves the idea of transcendence and rootedness’.

  6. 6.

    Although she evokes the idea of ‘Christian civilisation’ as a principal kernel of French identity (Alduy and Wahnich 2015: p. 57).

  7. 7.

    MLP does this above all through her critique of the ‘ultraliberal’ economic model, and its ideology, ‘globalisation’. In this way she seeks to link her discourse on the economic to an ideological, even civilizational struggle. See Alduy and Wahnich (2015: pp. 35–41).

  8. 8.

    In so doing, as Alduy and Wahnich note (2015: p. 45), ‘surreptitiously gliding’ between the terms ‘state’ and ‘nation’ as if they were the same. MLP’s 144 Engagements for the 2017 presidential election identified the ‘enemy’ of the people as globalists, who sought‘ ever greater immigration and less cohesion between the French people.’

  9. 9.

    An offence created at the Liberation to take into account reprehensible behaviours which occurred during the Occupation and in the Vichy regime not covered by the laws on treason or murder in place at the start of WW2. It ceased to be an offence in 1951.

  10. 10.

    For a useful summary of the FN’s ideological positioning in relation to the European Radical Right see Ivaldi (2016).

  11. 11.

    Stockemer and Barisione (2016: p. 5) note that MLP’s 2012 presidential programme ‘was not presented as a party programme but rather as Marine’s “personal” project’, a personification starting with the title of the programme: ‘My Project, for France and for the French people’ and ‘Marine Le Pen, the voice of the people, the spirit of France’. This personification continued with her 2017 presidential programme, presented as a series of 144 commitments she made ‘Au nom du people’, and ending with a handwritten sentence signed by MLP.

  12. 12.

    Goodliffe (2011: pp. 280–309) links this trend both to the structural transformation of the French economy since the early 1980s, which ‘had a catastrophic impact on the political and sectoral organizations, notably the Communist Party and trade unions, which had bound, from the 1930s on, the French working class to the republican order’, increasing their occupational vulnerability, and to cultural change, notably the erosion of class identity. See also Goodliffe (2016: p. 128).

  13. 13.

    A survey prior to the 2017 presidential election showed that 30% of first time voters planned to vote Le Pen, with male first time voters more likely to vote Le Pen than female ones (35% against 26%). The proportion increased if the voter was working class, even more if they were unemployed (60% of unemployed first time voters against 36% of the unemployed as a whole). See Chaillou et al. (2016: pp. 19–20).

  14. 14.

    FN vice-president in charge of strategy and communication and MLP’s right-hand man, widely credited as co-author with MLP of the strategy of normalising the FN.

  15. 15.

    Philippot and figures around him argued that the party needed to make the issue of French control of its own currency a red line (de Boni 2017): without a national currency there could be ‘no economic patriotism, no possible control of our democracy’ (Albertini 2017a). Philippot claimed the presidential and legislative elections demonstrated that FN voters were not concerned about the idea of quitting the Euro (Galiero 2017). Figures hostile to Philippot’s strategy argued that the presidential and legislative elections saw the people reject the idea of France quitting the Euro and thus suggested the party needed to re-evaluate its stance around Europe and the single currency (Albertini 2017a). Philippot and his supporters at the same time called on the party to become less strident on immigration. Julien Acard—the FN representative of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region who was suspended by the party from this role in summer 2017—suggested the party needed to ‘put an end to anxiety-inducing speeches, particularly on immigration and insecurity’ (Albertini 2017a). The MEP, Sophie Montel argued: ‘On immigration, the choice of words is important. Some express things in a caricatural way and I worry about their will to reinforce even more the place of this subject in the discourse of the FN’ (Albertini 2017b).

  16. 16.

    To give just one example, a seminar on the Euro held during the summer put back the exit from the Euro to an unspecified date and made it less of a party priority. Whilst there is speculation that this will eventually lead to the party quietly dropping the idea, nothing more concrete has been announced thus far (see Escalona 2017).

  17. 17.

    These groupings were identified by Betz (1994) as variants of what he called Radical right-wing populism.

  18. 18.

    Such as her repeated avoidance of any clear position on the issue of abortion on general, or of challenging the Veil Law on abortion, of any discussion of such feminist issues as equal pay, or the use of such phrases as ‘the cause of women’(Alduy and Wahnich 2015: pp. 53–54).

  19. 19.

    Le Pen’s articulation of the rights of women as a struggle against ‘Islamicism, which reduces their fundamental freedoms’ (Le Pen 2017, commitment 9) was also articulated by the political mainstream in its critique of the veil. See for example, chapters 7 and 10 of Delphy (2016). On the transformation of the meaning of laïcité in recent years see Baubérot (2012) and Daly (2013).

  20. 20.

    This perhaps facilitated the move of Republican values to centre stage during the Third Republic, in being ‘adopted by a wide variety of groups (such as the Orleanists) who had hitherto been opposed to republicanism and democratisation’ (Chabal 2015: p. 13).

  21. 21.

    Key texts include his Le sacre du citoyen (1990), Le peuple introuvable (1998), and La démocratie inachevée (2000).

  22. 22.

    Thus, for Rosanvallon: ‘The Revolution is seen to sanctify the individual while simultaneously making unity the inalienable goal of the revolutionary project’ (Chabal 2015: p. 179). It is precisely because of this ambiguity within modern democracy that Rosanvallon sees democracy as a project, therefore, open and incomplete. This ambiguity underpins the resistance to Jacobinism through the attempts to recover space for intermediary bodies (which Rosanvallon presents as French liberalism). See Chabal (2015: p. 181) and Dimier (2004).

  23. 23.

    This explains why historians such as Weber believe that a republic which is one and indivisible can ‘only be reached (and was reached) through violent assimilation and centralisation’ (Dimier 2004: p. 838; Jennings 2000: p. 578), and underpins the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century struggles around regionalism, various forms of corporatism, solidarism, and syndicalism (see Spitz 2012: p. 253).

  24. 24.

    This is the traditional republican narrative of “colour-blind” integration’, according to which problems of immigration are presented as ‘social’ rather than ‘ethnic’ problems (Chabal 2015: p. 84).

  25. 25.

    The 2011 report by the Haut Conseil à l’Intégration, La France sait-elle encore intégrer les immigrés?, after summarising the history of immigration into France since the nineteenth century, argues that: ‘All foreigners, whatever the difficulties they faced might have been, were progressively integrated until they dissolved into the French nation, they and their descendants all the more’ (Haut Conseil à l’Intégration 2011: p. 21).

  26. 26.

    A term affirming that the nation-state is the limiting framework of the republic and democracy, and drawing on the Jacobin republican tradition.

  27. 27.

    A term preferred to ‘assimilation’ in official discourse, seen as having ‘repressive and colonial overtones’, integration on the other hand being seen as a ‘less coercive’ and ‘less pervasive’ term, and therefore as being ‘more respectful of immigrants’ cultures’ (Laborde 2008: p. 188; Simon 2013: p. 209). The High Council for Integration’s defined ‘integration’ in 1993 as consisting in:

    …fostering the active participation in the society as a whole, of all women and men who will be living permanently on our soil, by accepting without ulterior motives the persistence of specificities, particularly of a cultural nature, but emphasising the similarities and convergences in the equality of rights and duties, in order to ensure the cohesion of our social fabric … It postulates the participation of differences in a common project and not, like assimilation, their elimination, or on the contrary, as with inclusion, the guarantee that will ensure their long-term survival (HCI, L’intégration à la française, 1993, cited in Simon, 2013: 208–209). See also HCI (2016).

    It is noteworthy that commitment 98 of Le Pen’s 2017 presidential election campaign called for the ‘Promotion of Republican assimilation, a more demanding principle than that of integration’. In practice, however, Simon argues the distinction between assimilation and integration is much more ambivalent (Simon 2013: p. 209).

  28. 28.

    Simon suggests that visible signs of multiculturalism in French society problematize integration, with ‘concrete signs of belonging to ethno-cultural or religious minorities in the public arena’ being ‘rapidly stigmatized as an expression of “communitarianism”’, leading to calls for such groups ‘to return to the collective norm’, and concentrations of ethnic minorities in deprived neighbourhoods being presented as threats to national cohesion. The ‘ghetto’ is treated here, says Simon, ‘as a source of “identitarian closure”’ (Simon 2013: p. 209).

  29. 29.

    Simon points to a pronounced shift in the geographical origin of immigrants: up until 1975 63% were European, with only 27% North and sub-Saharan African, but in the last 10 years ‘the overwhelming majority of newcomers have arrived from North and sub-Saharan Africa and Asia’. This visibility of the non-European immigrant not only makes them ‘vulnerable to longer-lasting discriminations than those once directed at European immigrants’, but ‘challenges the main purpose of the integration model which is to assimilate outsiders into to national body politic by making them similar’ (Simon 2013: p. 210).

  30. 30.

    This Act ‘required immigrants to demonstrate their “republican integration”’ to gain right of residence, the link between integration and immigration no longer something to be acquired over time, but needing to be demonstrated as already being possessed in order to enter the country (Simon 2013: p. 208).

  31. 31.

    This Act made compulsory a ‘reception and integration contract’, signed with the issuing of the first residence permit. This included ‘a commitment to live by the values and laws of the Republic, a civic-education training day and a language test’, and acted, Simon claims, ‘as an indirect method for selecting on the basis of ethnic origin, since these criteria tend to favour—on a cultural basis—certain profiles of immigrants deemed easier to assimilate than others’ (Simon 2013: p. 208).

  32. 32.

    Producing what Delphy has called a system of racial castes whereby the children of North African immigrants ‘have “inherited” their parents’ social inferiority’, leaving them with no possibility of social mobility (Delphy 2016: p. 76).

  33. 33.

    As well as from some of his comments in 2016 as part of his campaign to become the official candidate of Les Républicains, notably those concerning burkinis. See, for example, Chrisafis (2016a) and Chrisafis and Farrar (2016).

  34. 34.

    The ties between the republican treatment of the class struggle in the nineteenth century and that of struggles concerning ethnicity in the contemporary period can be seen in the mainstream republican rejection of the Communard notion of the Universal Republic. Ross points out, for example, that the ‘othering’ of the Commune through associating it with the International facilitated the development of a nationalist vision of the Republic: ‘“Othering” on the part of the Versaillais, their perception of or need to perceive the Communards as “less French” (and thus easier to kill) was in this sense part of the historical tendency of the dominant classes to exhibit class racism, considering workers as, in fact, foreign to the nation’ (Ross 2016: p. 31).

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Correspondence to Steve Bastow.

Additional information

I would like to thank Professor Nick Harrison of Kings College London, my colleague Dr Radu Cinpoes, and two anonymous reviewers for French Politics for their insightful comments which have informed the preparation of this article.

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Bastow, S. The Front national under Marine Le Pen: a mainstream political party?. Fr Polit 16, 19–37 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-017-0052-7

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Keywords

  • Front national
  • Marine Le Pen
  • Radical right
  • Republicanism
  • Mainstream