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Marine Le Pen is not far-Right National Rally's supporters eschew extremism

(LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

(LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)


July 2, 2024   4 mins

Is this the week that Europe’s much-anticipated far-Right wave finally crashes down upon us? As the results of France’s first-round vote trickled through yesterday, almost every media outlet — from the BBC to The New York Times — carried stories of Marine Le Pen’s “far-Right” victory. Meanwhile, just over the border in Belgium, came warnings of Viktor Orbán’s plan to form a new “far-Right” pact in the European parliament. Throw in the AfD’s “far-Right” party congress on Saturday, and it’s been a busy few days for the movement.

Yet these warnings have become ritualistic and devoid of analysis. For in truth, there is little “far-Right” about many of these movements. They are Eurosceptic, but not EuroExiters. They are hostile to mass immigration (which government is now not?), but recognise the large decline in birth rates means they’re stuck with large-scale immigration. They are suspicious of the LGBTQ+ movement, but largely accepting of homosexuality. Their aims, from housing to the economy, are mostly hard to attain, but if lawfully pursued, none is a threat to democratic government.

Why do millions follow these parties? Waiting for speeches from Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a National Rally (RN) gathering in Marseille earlier this year, I asked a couple, M. and Mme Bodineau, that question. They were middle-aged, cheerful and happy to talk. “It is,” said M Bodineau, “because she speaks the truth. She speaks for us.” “I admire her,” added Madame Bodineau. “She is very intelligent.” I asked if they had thought of voting for Eric Zemmour, the former journalist who has placed himself to the Right of Le Pen. Madame Bodineau made a face of rejection: “Non, non, c’est un extremiste!”

This is a common feature for many of the established parties: their supporters eschew what they regard as extremists — anyone openly, or suspected as, racist, antisemitic, potentially violent — and support parties which are strongly against illegal immigration and critical of extreme liberals. They do not, in the mainstream, reject all immigration: they wish it to be controlled.

Thus, in France, the large majority favours the RN over Zemmour’s Reconquête!. In Sweden, moreover, the Alternative for Sweden group, a split from the “far-Right” Sweden Democrats (SDs), finds minimal support for its proposals to leave the EU and end support for Ukraine — both of which the SDs, part of a governing coalition of the centre-right, have rejected.

None of this to say that there isn’t a small number of genuinely far-Right parties in Europe at present. Chief among them, the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) was recently expelled from the EU parliament’s Identity and Democracy (ID) group after Maximilian Krah, its former leader in the European parliament, suggested that all members of SS were not necessarily bad people. Last week in response, the AfD executive decided to form a new European parliamentary group. Several of its possible partners are well to the Right: antisemitism, for example, is a strong theme in both Hungary’s Our Homeland and Poland’s Konfederacja. Nearly all are strongly in favour of an immediate exit from the EU, and have close ties with Russia. Typically winning between 4-7% of the vote, these really are far-Right parties masquerading as populist.

Compared with them, the rhetoric used to describe RN’s first-round victory seems overblown. Le Pen has been devoted, over the years and more energetically over the past few months, to scrubbing herself and her party clean from the stains of her father, the impassioned antisemite Jean-Marie Le Pen. She and Bardella now propose to be a moderate couple in all things, with Zemmour as a handy extremist from whom they visibly recoil. Bardella, in particular, who may become France’s next Prime Minister, has promised that his potential government would lead “realistic” economic policies and “not weaken” France’s voice abroad. It’s hardly the language of a radical intending to shake the foundations of French politics.

“The rhetoric used to describe RN’s first-round victory seems rather overblown.”

Even on an issue which divides the Right across Europe, the RN can be seen playing the moderate card. Once a friend — and beneficiary — of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Le Pen used a speech in the National Assembly in March to state: “It is the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people that will lead to Russia’s defeat.” If she follows the logic of her discourse, she will stand with Meloni and the Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmy Akesson, making her the third and most powerful of the New Right — a far better term than “far-Right” — to line up with Nato, the US and (most of) the Western democracies.

None of which screams “far-Right” takeover. These politicians are not like Donald Trump, who doubles down on promises to imprison enemies, purge the civil service and challenge the constitution. With the exception of the AfD, the European New Right parade their relative moderation. Yes, like mainstream ideologies — Socialism, Social Democracy, Liberalism, Christian Democracy — they differ in their standings with voters from state to state. But they also have a restraining ideology of their own: Democratic Nationalism. They place faith in the choices — and, implicitly, the moderation — of the people, and assume the nation remains the most natural unit both for politics.

Yes, these parties are conservative in some things — such as with strengthening the family — but they are not in others. Were he to become prime minister, for instance, Bardella plans to increase working-class living standards by lowering costs and cutting taxes for companies who raise workers’ wages; it is closer to socialism than conservatism. The extremists, it seems, are elsewhere.


John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and is writing a book on the rise of the New Right in Europe.


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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 days ago

Marine Le Pen’s Party does not appear to be a totalitarian party relying on armed street fighters to intimidate nor does it have an aggressive and expansionary foreign policy like the parties of pre-war German and Italian parties that seized totalitarian power in Germany and Italy following some electoral success. Still less does it advocate the anti-Semitic policies of the NSDAP.

The tag of far-right is merely a propaganda device to frighten the population by associating the party with the policies of these genuinely malign pre-war parties. It is only in the socialistic elements of the party’s policies that the Party bears any resemblance to the pre-war parties the propagandists seek to tar it with.

It should become the editorial policy of Unherd that articles referring to parties such as those led by Le Pen and Meloni are not referred to by the lazy, misleading and propagandist phrase “far right” that contributes nothing to understanding the nature of such parties.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
8 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Fully agreed. Best for readers to just move on to another article and hope that the web analytics demonstrate the lack of attention to articles once this term is thrown in.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
8 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Well said, Jeremy – ’tis easier by far to swim with the river’s flow than to battle one’s way upstream.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
9 days ago

Why do I never hear of the ‘far-left’? Does it exist? The term ‘far-right’ only has meaning when used in contrast to the ‘far-left’. And yet, the term ‘far-left’ is used rarely, if ever.

Here’s a thought: the individual who uses the term ‘far-right’ is on the left, or the far-left. Being in that position, they do not know that they are ‘far-left’.

Why don’t the right use the term ‘far-left’? I have a feeling they are too polite to do so.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
8 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

An alternative theory might be that those labelled as “far-right” are too busy looking to deal with the problems created by the left in general to waste time fighting the “far-left”; whereas the left, with their false assumption of occupying the ‘moral high ground’ feel duty-bound to smear anyone who doesn’t agree with them with some epithet or other, continuing the mindset of their jejune student politics days.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
8 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Indeed! And of course they have plenty of spare time to do so.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Spotting the Far-Left; top tip – generally engaged in mostly peaceful looting and riots.

charlie martell
charlie martell
6 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I prefer the term “aggressive left”. The left is relentlessly aggressive in shutting down any argument they either disagree with, or do not understand, most often the latter.
Any reasonable economic, social or cultural policy terrifies the left, as they know people would approve if given the chance. Here in Britain, we have had over twenty years of socialism, including 14 years of a very left wing Tory party. The results are there to see.

Chipoko
Chipoko
8 days ago

‘Far-Right”. “Hard Right”.
The BBC is obsessed with brainwashing us that parties like Reform UK or the French RN are fascist and evil parties. No such threat from the Left!

Roderick MacDonald
Roderick MacDonald
8 days ago

It would have helped to be told just why AfD was “genuinely far-Right.” One member making an unfortunate remark about Germany 80 years ago does not make it so, and wanting to leave the EU sure as hell doesn’t.

laura m
laura m
8 days ago

Dismantling the deep state is NOT “purging the civil service”. Nor does Trump say “challenge the constitution”.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago

I can’t find anything in the AfD’s manifesto which screams Far Right. Can anybody help? There are a few hotheads, but the party leaders, such as Alice Weidel and her co-president, Tino Chrupalla, are measured and almost statesman-like in their pronouncements, and to me seem about as Far Right as Mrs Thatcher. For the author, is it a case of Le Pen, Meloni, thus far right and no further?
David Eades

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 days ago

By 1945 , the World had seen the death camps created by the Nazis. The World has not seen the death camps created by the communists as none have been allowed access. Hence the difference, , The Left has never had to refute the communist death camps.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
8 days ago

The Left and the Media label as “far right” anyone to the right of Starmer, while any group that is truly “far right” meets in a phone box. The Left and the Media need a “far right” so they can play Whaddabout when the Left fascists, who are far nastier and more numerous, are kicking up one of their regular riots.

Rob N
Rob N
8 days ago

“Maximilian Krah, its former leader in the European parliament, suggested that all members of SS were not necessarily bad people”

In fact he said that not all members of the SS were criminals.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 days ago

Such movements are specific to their country’s history which is why Farage’s antecedent is Enoch Powell but there are only two historical regimes in France and Germany linking the Le Pen family and AfDl to their country’s past. Vichy is one while you can guess the other- the remainder of their politics are slim borrowings from Trumpian populism or sister parties within the sphere of modern European national conservatism.
I don’t deny that it’s canny for Le Pen daughter to have latched on to traditional French social democracy- she is more successful as a cynic than as a demagogue.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago

Yes, the extremists are definitely elsewhere in France. Nudge, nudge. Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his party, La France Insoumise.
A French national newly retired and living in the UK since 2001, I decided to get informed about French affairs by subscribing to Libération, a leftie newspaper. Since 9 June, the day Macron decided to dissolve the parliament, its articles have become more and more extreme bordering on unhinged. Each article about ‘the foul beast’ (la bête immonde) is illustrated with low-angle black and white pictures of Bardella or Marine Le Pen, sometimes with an eerie shadow in the background. Probably to make up for this scary vision (sarcasm to follow), Libération showers us with colour-therapeutic pictures of the rainbow-TQ flag and the recent ‘Marche des Prides’ with refined placards such as ‘More a**l, Less Attal’.
‘Pauvre France’ as my father used to say. I am glad he was spared that.

A D Kent
A D Kent
8 days ago

What we are seeing here is the realisation of many of these parties that they can get away with whatever they like as long as they don’t threaten Europe’s Atlanticist Military Industrial Intelligence cabal. That lot are the people who primed the pump for most of these waves of refugees with their disastrous geopolitical machinations – Le Penn, Meloni and the Swedes mentioned here have realised this and will now be rehabilitated. The AfD won’t.

It’s the views on the dastardly or loveliness of NATO that will now do most to determine whether or not a party or individual is given the ‘far-’ or ‘hard-’ prefix – much more so than their views on immigration or culture war issues.

This is what makes Corbyn, Galloway and Wagenknecht ‘hard-left’ and what made Meloni & Le Penn so unpalatable in the past. As long as they keep on message, understand that fundamentally everything bad in Europe is Putin’s fault, they’ll get along fine.  

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
8 days ago

Far right is a radical leftist term used to discredit any right of centre party, pretty soon the conservative party in Canada will be labeled as such , especially by the leftist media like the CBC who fear for their funding future under Poilievre. They may try to privatize it, but who would buy them as they can only survive on government funding by left of centre governments.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago

I lived in France for 20 years and was there for 6 months during the pandemic. I still have family in FrancE. I think its important to add that the “pandemic” mismanagement contributed to a widespread sense of malaise and mistrust. The French were always somewhat cynical about their politicians and this was only exacerbated by the lockdown lunacy, which included curfews, mask laws, vaccine passes, and firing many healthcare workers. Today all that is forgotten, people get covid and life goes on… But people’s trust that their leaders know what they are doing was undermined.

Etienne Roulleaux Dugage
Etienne Roulleaux Dugage
6 days ago

Emmanuel Todd had the right phrase to characterize the RN : “conservative populism”. “Far right” means, since the Dreyfus affair, “ethnical nationalism”, (common culture, history, religion) as opposed to “republican nationalism” (common values inherited from the Revolution). As France is a very ancient “State Nation”, fascist parties never really worked out to embody the nation struggling for its life, as it did inside nations where State was a new and fragile creation (Italy and Germany). Pétain was a antirepublican conservative, not a fascist, even though some of his supports tried to be. The RN is not even antirepublican. It advocates every standards of republicanism: “laïcité”, sovereignty of the people, constitutionnal loyalty, even new “societal rights” which recently integrated the republican doxa… Conservative it is because it responds to the growing fear of general downgrading. Populist it is because it has focused on the very concrete indications of this downgrading among the popular classes. That is: too many immigrants, too many beneficaries of public subsidies, too low wages, too high cost of life, too much insecurity,… It pays very few attention to the most dramatic problems of the country which cancel any solution to these topics: the unsustainable and growing burden of public debt and behind the failure of French statist system. It is a deceiving party among others.