by Agnes Poirier
Thursday, 11
February 2021

The dark fantasy of a new Vichy France

There is an undercurrent of Anglo-titillation with a Le Pen victory
by Agnes Poirier
Young French voters are turning to Le Pen. Credit: Getty

Yesterday, Politico published an article titled: “The Return of Marine Le Pen” with a dramatic first sentence: “Marine Le Pen has never been closer to seizing power in France than she is now”. This must be a case of early election fever. France’s next Presidential elections are taking place in May 2022, and we are starting to see the first polls and commentators beside themselves with catastrophile excitement.

The first surveys by Ipsos and Harris institutes are placing Marine Le Pen slightly ahead of Emmanuel Macron in the first round, around 25-28% against 24-27% for the current French president. Since her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front party made a splash in French politics thanks to the introduction of proportionality in the legislative electoral system in 1986 (proportionality since then revoked), the story of the French far Right has certainly been one of electoral ascent.

However, and to put it bluntly, this does not make Marine Le Pen any closer to seizing power. Why? Mostly because the two rounds of the French presidential elections will always work against her. It is a tradition, almost a culture, for French voters to vent their anger on the first round, hence the high scores of the Far Right at this stage. At the second round, French voters choose the better of the top two candidates or, as some would put it, the lesser of two evils.

In recent years though, a sense of titillation among both parts of the French electorate and the Anglo commentariat, have nourished an unhealthy climate, one that is betting on, and secretly wishing, a Le Pen victory in France. In France, that “après moi le déluge” spirit among the far Left was already apparent in 2017. In an interview to The Guardian in May 2017, the writer Laurent Binet summed up the French far Left rhetoric:

“I’ll vote Macron, but I hate having to do it. I hate those who force me to make such a choice and I understand those who won’t, because I hate this blackmail: choose between the fascist plague or the financial capitalist tuberculosis.”
- Laurent Binet, The Guardian

No doubt, we will hear as much, if not more of that, next year.

Among the Anglo commentariat — people who don’t actually cast a vote in those elections — the titillation of a Le Pen victory is a purely conceptual one as they won’t be the ones suffering its direct consequences. And this dark desire of theirs makes the subtext of many comments and articles.

This sentiment is grounded, I believe, in old and new prejudices about France and the belief that, at heart, France is far more Vichy than it cares to admit. For instance, back in November, on French public radio, the New York Times bureau chief Adam Nossiter judged that Charlie Hebdo cartoons mocking Religion was equal to the antisemitic propaganda exhibition organised by the Nazi administration in 1941 in German occupied Paris.

This alone informs us why instead of seeing, for instance, Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to root out Islamist separatism in France as a way to stop the rise of the far Right, they see it, on the contrary, as evidence that France is really just made of fifty shades of Le Penism. This is of course a point of view like any other, but it is also a more pernicious one than many others. Let’s hope the French will prove both Le Pen and catastrophiles wrong again in May 2022.

Join the discussion

  • A very, very poor article that takes us for idiots. Why do so many ‘journalists’ seem to think they know more than we do when the reverse so often applies?
    One hardly knows where to start with this piece, but I will say that I don’t see how the ‘consequences’ of a Le Pen victory could be any worse than the ‘consequences’ suffered by working class and rural French people over recent decades. And why would a Le Pen victory herald some sort of Vichy regime? Surely Le Pen would at least make a show of standing up to the Germans.

    Last weekend I watched a far superior and infinitely more balanced analysis of current French politics and Le Pen’s chances on the Danube Debates or whatever they’re called. This particular debate featured the excellent Ann Eilzabeth Moutet. In their various ways the contributors sensed that Le Pen would not win next year’s election, largely because she is simply not a very good politician or communicator, as evidenced by the fact that she had recently defenestrated her smartest colleague. But we have known for some years that Le Pen is not very bright. If her party were led by a skilled politician and communicator it would probably win the presidency.

  • I’ve always liked Agnes, mainly because she’s French and I like her accent. I’m guessing she lives in London or Paris and has always done. I live near Poitiers, on Le Diagonale, a line across France running SW to NE, where no one of any interest to les métropoles or chattering classes live – they’re gilets jaunes, Penistas, whatever, and I suspect they are about to bite you in the bum, just as the Brexiteers, the MAGAs, Fidesz, AFD and all the rest have done. Not because they are stupid, bigoted fascists, but because they have had enough of not even being seen, never mind heard, listened to or understood.

  • A good point that Fascism is, in essence, “a thing of the left and not the right.” Mussolini started as a socialist as did Sir Oswald Mosley, a friend of FDR’s — the two were both patricians drawn to the left. Jonathan Guinness, Mosley’s stepson, observed in his House of Mitford, that Mosley, in later life a champion of “Europe” remained always a man of the left. He thought that Fascism would be a better bet to implement his socialist policies than the complacent Labour Party.

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