Entgrenzter Rechtsextremismus?

11.3.2015

Magali Balent: "The ideological modernization of right-wing extremism - The case of the Front National"

Positionspapier zum Vertiefungsangebot "Die ideologische Modernisierung des Rechtsextremismus" im der Rahmen Fachtagung "Entgrenzter Rechtsextremismus? Internationale Perspektiven und Gegenstrategien" der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in München, 09.-10.02.2015.

Abstract

The FN is an old far-right party whose discourse has remained largely unchanged since 1972. But in the grip of the context and the arrival of Marine Le Pen as leader of the party, the party had to adapt to be more in line with the population expectations. Could we speak about a global modernization of its discourse through decades as the FN remains a party divided into different trends and that there is no consensus on it? In this presentation, we will analyze permanent ideas and evolutions in order to conclude to a possible modernization of the FN discourse.

Introduction

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris at the beginning of January showed that the FN was a party divided between different ideological trends. Regarding this tragic event, the FN split into two parts with on one side (with Jean-Marie Le Pen, Aymeric Chauprade or Bruno Gollnisch) those who immediately spoke about a war of Civilization against some Muslims, and on the other side, with Marine Le Pen, a discourse more moderate and careful trying to make a strong difference between Islamists who were responsible for the attacks and the rest of the Muslims. At the end, this event has showed us, once again, that the FN, from an ideological perspective, was not “a bloc”. Nevertheless, you have an official line that is sustained by Marine Le Pen (and before by her father) and this is this official line that will interest us in this presentation. Regarding the question to know whether the FN has modernized its discourse, we will see first that it remains today a traditional extreme-right wing party whose objective and purpose have remained the same since 40 years. But in a second part, we will analyze the evolution of this discourse in regards of the evolution of the national and international context and the arrival of Marine Le Pen as President of the Party in 2011.

I. The traditional ideology of the FN

The FN remains today a traditional extreme right wing party Since its establishment in 1972, the FN has made France’s national rebirth and the survival of French identity its raison d’être. It therefore establishes all of its positions since the right beginning according to this aim. So in the 1970s and 1980s, the FN believed that the national identity was threatened by international communism, an ideology which, in the party’s view, embodied the negation of Western civilization and European liberties. Ten years later, multiculturalism became the grave-digger of national identity, with its promotion of ‘the mixture of races, cultures and peoples’ encouraged by the European Union, the US and by French political leaders in order to meet the demands of globalization. This propensity of the FN to perceive the nation as a fragile entity constantly under threat from enemies plotting against it, has not changed. It is a result of the party’s conception of the nation, which it defines on the basis of ethnocultural, rather than political, criteria. Many enemies are identified, both within the national borders, like immigrants, the Jews, political elites, the media, and beyond—international communism during the Cold War, the US and globalization since 1990, the European Union, and Islam. Therefore, national survival depends on the nation’s ability to preserve its heritage and the specific identity that makes it a unique entity. According to the FN, any alteration of this heritage through the integration of population groups seen as culturally incompatible, signals the process of killing off the French nation. This world view dictates the FN’s political programme, which focuses on three focal areas dedicated to this mission of national survival in an anti-system rationale.

First, the FN wants to restore France’s economic and social fortunes by imposing protectionist measures to combat unfair competition and relocations. These measures include favouring French candidates in job recruitment and for social security payments, and increasing public spending on retirement pensions to ensure national solidarity for people of French ‘origin’. Second, the FN programme promotes the restoration of the authority of the state and the state apparatus that forms the basis for its sovereignty, given that—according to the FN—no other player is better placed than the state to defend the national interest. The state would therefore have the power to legislate on immigration in order to reverse the flows of immigrants from countries outside Europe and to put an end to illegal immigration (abolition of the jus soli and of social security payments for immigrants). The defense sector would also be prioritized to give the country the resources needed to safeguard its freedom. Defending the national interest would also involve an appropriate foreign policy that would enable France to act entirely independently (especially vis-à-vis the US) and to avoid intervening in conflicts in which it has no direct interest. Third, the FN aims to address the country’s future by promoting a pro-birth policy. Family allowances would only be paid to families in which at least one parent is French and a parental income—equivalent to 80% of the statutory minimum wage—would be paid for child-rearing. The FN’s vision of the future also involves placing more emphasis on national cultural, historical and geographical heritage (through selective teaching in schools) and preserving national integrity, thus justifying retention of the overseas territories.

Although the purpose of the programme has not changed over time and has kept its identity- and protest-based philosophy, there have been significant changes in the message due to the evolution of the national and international context and also the arrival of Marine Le Pen as President of the party that doesn’t belong to the same generation as her father.

II. The evolution of the discourse since 2011

1) These changes are first due to the evolution of the context: First, in the early 1990s the party abandoned its ultra-liberal economic principles, to replace them with support for state interventionism. Indeed at the beginning, the FN was a very liberal party and defended, among other things, tax cuts for small to medium-sized enterprises, the limiting of social security and the abolition of income tax. Presented as a radical alternative to socialism, the FN’s economic and social doctrine claimed that it wanted to ‘make the poor rich instead of making the rich poor’. And this positioning was accompanied by an undisguised fascination with the US and its Republican president, Ronald Reagan. This rhetoric was carefully tailored to the right-wing ‘petite bourgeoisie’ that had come over to the FN in the early 1980s after the socialist–communist coalition came to power. But it was gradually abandoned as the FN made headway among the working classes, who had been disappointed by the left and worried by liberal globalization. And this required the party to develop a message that appealed more to that group. In line with this, the FN became the defender of acquired social rights and of public authority, from which, according to the party, only the French should benefit. This leaning towards ‘economic and social populism’ has strengthened since Marine Le Pen became party leader due to her decision—against a backdrop of international financial crisis and accelerated globalization—to appeal to the losers of globalization by stigmatizing international finance and holding liberal capitalism responsible for all the problems in the society. The FN’s rhetoric is now more left-leaning, with the party claiming it will give a central role to the state and restore effective protectionism. Secondly, Changes in the international situation and the end of the Cold War forced the party to rethink some of its positions from an international perspective. From that time onwards, the FN saw the main political confrontation no more between Marxist socialism and liberal capitalism ... but between the adherents of cosmopolitanism and the defenders of identity-based values. In this way, having previously been highly supportive of Community Europe—the ‘imperial’ Europe trumpeted by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a bulwark against the Soviet threat—the FN became a fervent champion of national sovereignty, which was deemed to be at risk from the European Union. It now likened the EU to a ‘totalitarian’ and anti-democratic structure. At the same time, France’s ally, the US, which had previously been celebrated for its patriotism and its interventions against the ‘red peril’, became a counter-model, a symbol of decadence and materialism. It was also described as the mastermind behind this ‘new world order’ and accused of wanting to create a cosmopolitan world in which all peoples would become interchangeable and nations would disappear.

2) But changes are also due to the arrival of a new generation of political leaders within the party once Marine Le Pen was elected as President of the Party: In that sense, we can speak about a certain modernization of the discourse of the FN with the arrival of MLP in comparison with the old discourse defended by JMLP Indeed Jean-Marie Le Pen and his team, belonged to an old generation the one who lived World War II and the colonial wars in the 50s and 60s and who remained nostalgic for the period of colonial power and of French ‘greatness’, wanted to perpetuate the country’s influence in the world (via the policy of ‘Francophonie’ and ‘civilizing missions’ in Africa). That can explain why the discourse of Jean-Marie Le Pen was focused on anti-Semitism and the reference to issues linked to the past, the cold war, the colonial period and so on. On the contrary, MLP is not interested in these issues and wants to reflect the concerns of her electorate and keep step with current issues. Her team belongs to the generation born after 1968 and feel concern by issues of post-cold war in the context of globalization. That’s why she has chosen to focus the party’s message more on Islam and the threat she considers it poses to French society and to the French Republic. Thus Islam is described as fanatical and expansionist and immigration from Muslim countries is likened to an ‘invasion’. Moreover, Marine Le Pen stresses that Islam is incompatible with French cultural and political values. This is why she so passionately denounces halal food, the practice of street prayers in some urban neighborhoods and the construction of ‘cathedral mosques’, all of which she sees as proof of the threat Islam presents to France’s national identity and to its republican and secular heritage. Although contextual factors play a key role in this repositioning, with the Arab revolutions in the Maghreb countries being used as evidence of the Islamist threat, it is also a tactical ploy to neutralize accusations of anti-Semitism by focusing on another enemy. The call for national entrenchment in a crisis-hit world where the September 11 attacks are still fresh in the memory occupies a more central place than previously. So the new team at the head of the party appears to be more in favour of withdrawing into a national ‘cocoon’, echoing the revival of national sentiment visible in France.

So to conclude, we can assert that the discourse of the FN has definitely evolved even though its main theme has remained the same. Could we speak about a modernization of its discourse? I think yes because it is more republican and in line with current issues but we must keep in mind that it remains inside the party people who want to keep an old traditional line and discourse so we cannot say that, as a whole, the discourse of the FN has modernized.

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