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Have EU technocrats paved the way for the Far Right?


In the Boston Review, Arthur Goldhammer writes about the spike is support for the Far Right in France, as evidenced by the success of the Front National in the first round of recent regional elections. Contrary to what many commentators have said, Goldhammer argues that this support results not from fear over terrorism and immigration, but rather disillusionment with France’s governing elite. An excerpt:

The malady that afflicts France is not new and is not primarily a consequence of terrorism or even racist resistance to immigration. It stems from one simple cause: growing numbers of French people feel that the nation’s ruling elite has no answers to the problems they face. Although it is of course true that people in many countries have lost confidence in their elites, the consequences are particularly serious in France, which has long relied to an unusual degree on elite governance. This is no accident. The Fifth Republic, established in 1958, sought to remedy the chronic instability that plagued the previous regime by vesting supreme power in an executive branch insulated from the rapidly shifting emotional undercurrents that roil democratic polities in troubled times…

Le Pen has proved remarkably adept at luring a voting public left adrift by the rule-bound rigidity and remoteness of the technocratic elite. She promised to assert French state power, as in past crises, by raising protective tariff barriers and throwing off the straitjacket of the euro, which prevents France from devaluing its currency in order to improve its competitive position. She had no compunctions about ignoring the probable negative consequences of these choices: capital flight, higher prices, isolation of France within Europe, and the possible collapse of the EU. This is transformational stuff for the FN, which had been known less as a policy shop than a factory of xenophobia. As Cécile Alduy has shown in her study of the FN’s rhetoric, the shift to economic themes allowed Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter to pirouette away from some of the hateful obsessions that had disqualified her father’s party in the eyes of many. Since her accession to the leadership, the younger Le Pen has “modernized” her party in other ways as well, making it friendlier to gays (even appointing a gay vice president) and more welcoming to the educated.

Image of Marine Le Pen via Boston Review.