by Aris Roussinos
Tuesday, 7
December 2021
Idea
07:00

Zemmour is just the beginning

France is moving dramatically Rightwards — and it's time the Brits took notice
by Aris Roussinos
Credit: Getty

Considering the amount of turmoil Britain’s relationship with Europe has caused in the past half-decade, you’d think British commentary would be paying more attention to the French election, and the dramatic Rightward shift of the French electorate it has already revealed. The entire French Left, representing every shade from Communism to soft-Left social democracy, can barely muster 20% voter support combined. The centre, represented by Macron, has shifted further towards a traditional perception of Right-wing politics than anyone on the Tory benches, railing against woke American cultural imperialism, shutting down Islamist NGOs and moving towards a markedly civilisationist discourse about what it means to be European.

Meanwhile, Éric Zemmour’s entrance into the presidential race has taken the direction of French politics further Right than it has been in many decades. Openly campaigning against “the Great Replacement,” against the “theft of democracy” by unelected judges and journalists, and promising to pull France out of NATO’s decision-making structures at the helm of his newly-titled “Reconquest” party, Zemmour is rapidly expanding the terrain of acceptable French political speech on the Right. At his rally yesterday, he ruminated, in Trumpian fashion, over the epithets applied to him by French tastemakers. “Me, a fascist?” he asked, as the crowd roared in approval, “Well, let’s see.”

No wonder that the centre-Right Les Republicains, the equivalent of the Conservative party, are paying attention to the new public mood. In the first round of their ballot for a presidential candidate, the hard-Right MP Eric Ciotti, who warns darkly of a “war of civilisations” and has previously said he’d vote for Zemmour against Macron, unexpectedly came first.

When Sunday’s second round saw him eliminated by the centrist figure Valerie Pécresse (who describes herself as one third Thatcher and two thirds Merkel), Ciotti announced a new movement, To The Right!, proclaiming that “we want a strong right that isn’t ashamed to be rightwing” (though a photo opportunity over lunch with Pécresse shows him staying in the Les Republicains fold). As the political scientist Douglas Webber has observed, Ciotti’s rise to prominence “clearly reflects a strong sort of shift in political opinion in France and certainly amongst the rank and file members of the Républicains towards the right or the far right.”

Last night, the Vice-President of Les Republicains Guillaume Peltier (a former Front National activist) declared “How can we remain insensitive to the speech for France of Éric Zemmour?,” adding “one single opponent, Emmanuel Macron; one sole objective, to repair France; only one way, to unite all the voters of the right, with Les Republicains.” Like Zemmour’s open pitch to disappointed Ciotti supporters to join his movement or his appointment of the aristocratic Breton general Bertrand de la Chesnais as his campaign manager, his candidacy has as much potential to drag the centre-Right rightwards as it does to splinter the hard and far-Right. 

Zemmour probably won’t win, but he’s setting the tone of the coming election, and someone like Zemmour will likely take power in France sooner than we in Britain expected. The inchoate political energy of the predominantly Leftwing-populist Gilets Jaunes movement, France’s most sustained revolutionary force in the streets since 1968, now seems to have firmly settled on the Right when it comes to the ballot box.

France shifting hard-Right is a very different prospect to distant Poland or Hungary doing the same: one possible outcome is Ed West’s thesis that an increasingly Right-wing Western Europe will eventually see British Conservatives rethinking their attitudes to the continental bloc. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Rightist Europe and Liberal America soon becoming the two poles of British political conflict. Whatever their reason for averting their gaze now, British pundits will soon have to take notice of France’s pronounced rightward drift.

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  • Europe is fertile ground for authoritarianism. Its democracy is shallow. Before 1939 democracy was flimsy and rare. By 1945, at least in Western Europe, RAF and USAF bombs forced some democracy upon it. But it wasn’t voluntary.
    The EU today is hardly democratic. The Greeks can vote until they are blue in the face, but Brussels has the power. But no-one votes Brussels in or out. Any country who defies the EU in a referendum has to vote again until they get it right. When a region like Catalonia wants to secede, the police arrest the rebels. Let’s not even talk about Hungary. There is no democratic culture or instinct.
    Meanwhile the French have a big problem with their growing Moslem population because they have failed to integrate them, with even less success than us. But Zemmour’s policy of assimilation (where Mohammed apparently has to abandon his name and answer to Francois or Jean) would just lead to open conflict. I just can’t see any of this ending well for France.
    I can only see the EU gradually shifting to the authoritarian right, Brussels unaccountable power increasing and democracy being eroded even further. No wonder they want to have their own army – they will need to use it on their own population soon.

  • I’d argue that the distance between the authoritarian left and the authoritarian right is the smallest in politics. They are either end of a political spectrum that is not a straight line but one that loops back on itself.

  • Does France also suffer from the pernicious influence of a Left-biased higher education system?

    Yes, they do. Most of the “woke culture” is based upon the post-structuralist theories which came out of French universities, I remember studying it and thinking at the time that there is nothing to be done with it as they brook no argument and would not engage in debates or discussion to the utter frustration of the “classical” philosophers. To these people all debate is a power struggle and therefore not to be countenanced. Mind you they also say that no-one has authority to say that his position is correct and all ideas/writings are of equal value, which means that they disappear up their own ar**s as they have no authority either.

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