Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Marine Le Pen or Emmanuel Macron is elected President of France on May 7. As with Geert Wilders back in March, Le Pen’s poised to win the war even if she loses the battle. François Fillon, the ultra-Catholic free-marketeer, would’ve walked away with this race had he not been caught up in a nepotism scandal (‘Penelopegate’). Now he’ll be blamed for rebranding Les Republicains as France’s second most popular right-wing party. Macron, meanwhile, has earned the nickname ‘the French Obama’, which is exciting only if you’ve worked at the Sorbonne’s financial aid office since the late 90s when you were doing an undergrad degree in Anarcho-Queer Dance Theory. Seven or eight housewives think he’s God’s gift to mankind and everyone else reckons he’s a self-righteous turd. (‘The French Obama’ indeed.) Even if they vote for him for fear of Le Pen, she’s the only one who comes out of this with her dignity intact.
Of course, we shouldn’t discount the ‘populist moment’ behind Le Pen. Having picked up a tacit endorsement from the White House, commentators will be justified in saying the Front National’s strong showing is an extension of the Brexit/Trump/Wilders thing. It will be slightly overwrought, though, given the above, and the abominable leadership of the ruling centre-left Parti Socialiste. Hollande’s a bad president even by the standards of self-loathing Eurocommies. Maréchal Pétain could’ve pulled in at least half of Le Pen’s votes, given the field.
Still, the French election is a fascinating case-study for Anglosphere conservatives. While Brexit was a no-brainer and the GOP primary a bit of a circus, we divvied ourselves up between Fillon and Le Pen fairly early on. Small-government types and social traditionalists fell in behind the former; immigration hawks and protectionists, the latter. Before François put his foot in it, it was shaping up to be a race between Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson – the kind of dream that would’ve send 16-year-old moi scampering for a confessional. Still, as my psychoanalyst would say, such fantasies can be healthy. These exercises in wish-fulfilment help us take the temperature of the English-speaking Right. And I wonder if the conservative movement may have gotten itself too worked up over the populist moment.
For starters, most of these nationalists are iffy on so-called social issues. They may, like Trump, simply take little interest in things like abortion and marriage. That’s pragmatic: their base often consists of as many disaffected working-class Leftists as it does right-wingers. They bin the old litmus tests and bring their own priorities to the fore. Yet others, like Le Pen, are openly progressive. Indeed, her opposition to mass immigration stems from her concern that Islam is a reactionary political ideology as much as it is a religion. (And she’s not wrong, so far as half of Western Muslims are concerned.) While the media tends not to report on this fact, it’s not something she hides from. Case in point: 40 per cent – nearly half! – of married gay men voted FN in the last election.
That makes sense. Le Pen is an old-school Jacobin, an unswerving believer in the Revolution’s legacy. She’s the greatest living champion of France’s liberal, secular republic. And if that’s your game, fine. It just worries me to see so many professed Burkeans throwing their lot in with this daughter of Robespierre. Conservatism’s first articulation was a protracted rejoinder to people like her and the ideology she advances. And while we might have bigger fish to fry, let’s not go handing out harpoons willy-nilly.
This could, of course, be so much ado about nothing. I just can’t help but think of the last great political realignment, which nearly destroyed the conservative movement. What we’re seeing now is the mirror image of what happened in the 60s and 70s, when the disciples of Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill set their differences aside in order to take on the threat posed by Soviet communism. While the New Right eventually triumphed, thanks to the efforts of great liberal-conservative statesmen like Reagan and Thatcher, we ended up forgetting that we ever had differences to begin with.
The reason Trump and Le Pen are so popular with conservatives – to the horror of many of our liberal allies – is because they’ve reminded us what those differences are. Conservatives value economic liberty, but we also cherish honest, blue-collar work. We believe in freedom of religion, but that doesn’t preclude assimilation, national sovereignty, and civil order. Their black-and-white view of right and wrong is refreshing after Fifty Shades of Grey. Most of all, their unabashed Western exceptionalism is like manna in the desert of neoliberal globalism.
I’d hate to think we’ll throw the baby out and keep the bathwater again. We shouldn’t forget those (equally valid) conservative principles that made our alliance with liberals possible in the first place. Nor, for that matter, should we forget those which distinguish us from both nationalism and liberalism. We believe the family is the foundation society, not the nation-state or the economy. We believe constitutions are the bulwark of our liberties, not democracy or the marketplace. And we believe in Judeo-Christian morality, not ‘Enlightened’ secularism or consumerist individualism. So while we may well hope Marine Le Pen wins, given the alternative, her gains aren’t necessarily our gains. She may halt the West’s decline, but she won’t restore our civilisation. Only conservatives can do that.
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