The Return of la Marine

At the same time, however, the same percentage also agreed that “the unemployed could find work if they only wanted” – a position shared with the right. In other words, RN supporters are overwhelmingly in favor of some measure of social justice, as long as it tied to a notion of “deservedness” associated with productive work. Migrants and refugees clearly don’t count among the deserving. For too long the both Marine Le Pen and her father have charged that the vast majority of immigrants come to France primarily to take advantage of France’s generous social services; and for too long both have demanded to shut down the pompes aspirantes de l’Etat-Providence (suction pumps of the welfare state) and limit benefits to the native born (FN’s policy of préférence nationale).

Ever since she was elected president of the FN in 2011, Marine Le Pen has promoted herself as the candidate who defends “the France of the forgotten” (la France des oubliés). As such, she has gone out of her way to address the boondocks of France – aka la province – far away from the big cities, where established politicians would not want to be caught dead. Therefore it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Marine le Pen launched her campaign for the European election far away from Paris – in the small town of Thon in Vaucluse, a department in the south of France. In her speech, Marine Le Pen positioned herself and her party once again on one end of a new cleavage that pits, as she put it, les nationaux, represented by her, against les mondialistes, embodied by Macron. An astute politician, Marine Le Pen has been adroit in exploiting growing polarization tendencies in French sociey and politics along a new parochial vs cosmopolitan divide. This divide is nothing new. It first emerged in the final decades of the Belle Époque (1871-1914), which turned out not to be all that belle for much of France’s working class, providing ample opportunities for populist mobilization. Like today, populist agitation centered upon migration and national identity.


At the time, the divide was limited; today, it has reached alarming proportions, most recently with the eruption of the revolt of the gilets jaunes. As Laurent Joffrin, the editor of the center-left daily Liberation has noted, what is behind this revolt is a diffuse sense of “humiliation, which feeds all this rage” – a humiliation of all those people who live “out of the way” (excentré, i.e., out in the “boonies”). It reflects a new kind of rupture, a new kind of stuggle, one not based on class but on “space: urban centers against rurbans (banlieue), the periphery against the bourgeois bohemians (bobos), the countryside against the metropolitan areas, the small against the large communities.” Far away from the big cities, the “rurbains” feel “loathed by the urbanites and abandoned by those in power – and often rightfully so.”

It is this sense of being the object of contempt and neglect by the political establishment, which, at least in part, has fed the most recent wave of radical right-wing populist mobilization in advanced liberal democracies, both in Europe and overseas. Mantra-like repetitions by the media and the “established” parties (as if the exponents of the radical populist right were not already part of it, given the fact that many of them have been around for several decades) warning of the fundamental threat these parties pose to democracy have done little to nothing to dissuade disenchanted voters to put their cross next to the them.

The European elections are unlikely to diverge from this pattern. There will be great lamentation in the land, a lot of abuse of ignorant, irresponsible voters and “deplorables” – just to go back to business as usual, in favor of big transnational corporations, the financial markets and the rich.

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