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by Srdja Trifkovic
Friday Apr 26th, 2002 7:07 PM
The success of the National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential election—he came second and faces President Jacques Chirac in the final round—falls far short of a “revolution” of the Right’s wishful thinking. The number of his votes has risen only slightly since 1995, and the rout of the Socialists was primarily caused by the disunity of the Left (it had most votes, but they were split among several candidates) and by the arrogant odiousness of Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister and presidential candidate who has now retired from politics. Even if in the second round he gets the votes of his former ally Bruno Megret, and a few percent of don’t-knows, Le Pen will not become France’s president on May 5.

Le Pen’s relative success nevertheless indicates that he has tapped into resonant sources of grievance and concern. Many Europeans worry about immigration, crime, and loss of cultural identity, and feel alienated from the dominant post-national establishment. France is a ten-percent Muslim country today, and one third of newborn babies are Arab, not French. Its classrooms have been turned into laboratories for multicultural experimentation, and its working-class suburbs are no-go areas ruled by immigrant gangs every bit as violent as their counterparts in West LA or Brixton.

Faced with such issues mainstream politicians run for cover—either because they don’t have a view, or because they have politically correct opinions that they know are still largely unpopular, or because of their fear of appearing to be racist. They say nothing, they do even less, and they pay the just price. The upset in France thus fits in with the backlash against the Left’s near-monopoly of power in Europe that was cracked by Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in Italy last year. The resurgent CDU in Germany—and especially its sister CSU in Bavaria—makes the prospect of a massive Center-Right comeback in Germany almost imminent.

The reaction from the French establishment has been predictable: Le Pen became the latest Hitler-of-the-week, a grave threat to civilization as we know it, symbolized by the Euro, multiculturalism, the Common Agricultural Policy, and “tolerance.” “Non!” screamed the front page of the leftist Liberation. The talking heads agreed that Le Pen voters needed re-education and therapy. Chirac declared that he would refuse to take part in the traditional presidential campaign debate with Le Pen, declaring that he would have nothing to do with his challenger: “Faced with intolerance and hate there is no transaction, no compromise and no debate possible,” he said. “I do not want this election to be confiscated by obscurantism, hatred and contempt. I do not want the French nation to yield to the giddiness of fear. This has been a combat all my life, in the name of morality and a certain idea of France.” The President added that France faced a grave situation that threatened “its soul, its cohesion, its role in Europe and in the world.”

That “certain idea of France” is a quote coined by De Gaulle, and in its originally intended meaning it would apply more aptly to Le Pen that any of his opponents. Chirac’s kidnapping of the Gaullist legacy is dishonest but essential to his strategy, which now must include a sop to the old Right. The support from the mainstream Left he can take for granted: the loathing of the hoary, old FN leader and everything he stands for—authority, patriotism, self-reliance, discipline, law and order, traditional values—has scared the French ruling elite and forced it to gather around Chirac. Paradoxically, the resulting strong mandate for the President will pave the way for another seven years of supposedly Center-Right presidency—and this is the outcome least likely to favor the “hard,” or real Right. This is counter-intuitive but unsurprising: those described by M. Le Pen as belonging to the “corrupt, cosmopolitan oligarchy” that runs France have more in common with each other, regardless of their political affiliation, than with the rest of their countrymen. (In exactly the same way, in a run-off between Pat Buchanan and either Gore or Bush the ruling duopoly would march together.)

The second paradox—affecting the Socialist-Communist-Green alliance—concerns not the final round of the presidential election on May 5 but the election for the National Assembly in June, to decide which party will select the prime minister and assume the reins of government. The Left will lose big, and therefore it won’t be able to continue the “cohabitation” of the past five years of a neo-Gaullist president and a Socialist prime minister, because it cannot afford to campaign against Chirac’s party too vigorously while at the same time supporting Chirac against Le Pen for presidency.

In addition, with Jospin’s resignation the Left has no obvious leader who could energize the campaign. The “pluralist left” of the late President Mitterand’s heyday in the 1980s is but a distant memory. Inside the demoralized Socialist camp the leadership struggle is only beginning and the party’s secretary, the boring Francois Hollande, will lead the party into the June elections. The eventual favorite may be Martine Aubry, a powerful woman who as Jospin’s labor minister pushed through his major reform measure, the 35-hour working week. But in her own stronghold of the northern working class city of Lille, the Socialists were outvoted by Le Pen, a personal humiliation that damages her chances.

The good news for America is that Europe’s shift to the right makes its opposition to the U.S. “benevolent global hegemony” more likely than under the assorted “Third Way” apparatchiks who had dominated the Old Continent for a decade. Only by reasserting its independence in foreign affairs can Europe help President Bush resist the rampaging interventionists who have become far too powerful for anyone’s good.

Copyright 2002,
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