Marine Le Pen or Tashfeen Malik?

December 09, 2015

Multiple Pages
Marine Le Pen or Tashfeen Malik?

French history is currently speeding up, which ought to be of intense interest to American Republicans pondering whom to nominate in 2016. While many Americans enjoy engaging in lowbrow derision of France, the French traditionally value displays of intelligence, and thus are often the first to work out the logic of events. If the 21st-century French are beginning to figure out that the conceptions of left and right (which they invented in the late 18th century) are becoming less critical in a new century when the fundamental issue is whether the West will allow itself to be swamped by the Rest, Republicans ought to pay attention.

The most important novel of 2015, Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, a tale of the 2022 French election, provides English speakers with a convenient literary lens upon the central question in France: Will the French ruling class accede to the demographic replacement of the French nation with the overflowing populations of the Middle East and Africa?

As part of the global electoral trend toward the right, in the initial round of the French regional elections on Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s National Front came in first with 28 percent of the vote nationally. Her party led in six of thirteen zones.

“It has not been a good year for the conventional wisdom that immigration and multiculturalism are ushering in a better world.”

Although headlines described the National Front’s preliminary victory as stunning and a shock, it really shouldn’t have been terribly surprising if you’ve been following the news in 2015. With terrorist massacres at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store in January, followed by the Paris atrocities of 11/13/15, it has not been a good year for the conventional wisdom that immigration and multiculturalism are ushering in a better world.

Moreover, Angela Merkel’s sudden whim last summer to suspend European Union regulations and invite inside the E.U.’s Schengen perimeter an uncounted number of Muslims revealed that the E.U. had even worse problems than its critics like Ms. Le Pen had been pointing out. Not only was French sovereignty routinely trampled by unelected Eurocrats in Brussels, but also the E.U. itself was defenseless against the unaccountable urges of the chancellor of Germany.

Over the decades, the National Front has won a remarkably high ratio of votes to offices, largely due to cartel behavior by the other parties, who strategically throw second-round elections to keep the Le Pen party out of power. (Houellebecq’s novel famously envisions a 2022 presidential runoff in which, to prevent a Le Pen victory, France’s traditionally dominant parties conspire to hand even the Élysée Palace to a new Muslim party.)

This has left the National Front inexperienced at governing, which could prove a problem for France if Le Pen wins the presidency in 2017 without her party having much familiarity with administration.

This mainstream conspiracy might happen again in the runoff this Sunday, ironically because the left alliance was beaten so badly. The Socialist Party of current president François Hollande has instructed its followers to vote for the center-right candidates associated with former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the eight districts where the left coalition came in last of the three major groupings.

That includes the regions won by the three main celebrity candidates of the National Front: Marine Le Pen, her 34-year-old strategist Floriant Philippot, and her 25-year-old niece and potential rival Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (who looks remarkably like Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe on Friends circa 1995).

Marion is closer politically and personally to her swashbuckling grandfather Jean-Marie Le Pen (who served as a second in the last duel fought in France in 1958). Earlier this year, Marine—a serious, Paris-is-well-worth-a-mass personality—had her own 87-year-old father thrown out of the party he had founded for going Off Message.

On the other hand, Sarkozy has so far refused to act like a character in a Houellebecq novel, reasoning that if he were to order his supporters to lay down for the Socialists the way the Socialists are doing for him, that would just validate all the conspiracy theories.

In an event with implications for Donald Trump’s strategy, Marine Le Pen won 41 percent of the initial vote in the far northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the French equivalent of the rust belt Great Lakes states where Mitt Romney lost the electoral college in 2012 by failing to appeal to working-class whites.

To win over proletarian whites who once voted Socialist or Communist, Marine Le Pen has been moving leftward on economics and social programs, adumbrating Trump’s less-than-wholehearted enthusiasm for traditional Republican free-market shibboleths. Le Pen rejects the tired cliché of the National Front as an extreme-right party, calling it the party of rejection of “ultra-capitalism.”

(Similarly, Houellebecq, the leading reactionary intellectual, sees globalism as an Anglo-Saxon plot. His real name is Michel Thomas, but he took his Communist grandmother’s maiden name of “Houellebecq” as his pen name out of gratitude for raising him—and, perhaps, because “Houellebecq” is so much harder for us Anglophones to spell than “Thomas.”)

It’s noteworthy that in Submission, Marine Le Pen evolves under the alien Islamic threat away from her father’s colorful conservatism toward representing an ever-greater share of the French nation, which, by definition, includes both right and left. The New York Times this week used a comic number of scare quotes to describe Marine Le Pen’s increasingly inclusive patriotism:

She talks about the French “nation” and its “sovereignty” and making France once again proud of its “founding values” and “authentic Frenchness.”

For instance, Submission includes the seemingly random sentence “For a while there’d been rumors that Renaud Camus was writing some of her speeches, under the direction of Florian Philippot.” French readers, however, would be aware that the novelist Camus is certainly—and the political operative Philippot is likely—homosexual. Gay Frenchmen, especially in Paris, have been flocking toward the National Front to protect them from Islamic thugs. In the very long run, however, there is little anomalous about this in a growing big-tent nationalist party arrayed against an establishment insistent upon policies that would eventually turn the homeland over to an alien and hostile culture.

In Submission, Le Pen represents the Republic’s last redoubt of French republicanism: “I was struck by the republican, even anticlerical, tenor of her remarks.” As Houellebecq foresaw, the Times reports:

In her victory speech on Sunday night she added the word “laicité” to the core French values of liberty, equality and fraternity. “Laicité” is loosely translated as secularism, but increasingly has come to mean eschewing any show of religious affiliation in public, which some critics see as a cover for anti-Muslim views….

If elected, Ms. Le Pen would be the first female president of France.

Ms. Le Pen uses the prospect of an Islamic takeover of France as an example of what France must fight. If the war is lost against “Islamist totalitarianism,” she said after the attacks in Paris last month, “the veil will be imposed on all women.”

If Ms. Le Pen is not elected, there might never be a female president of France.

Marine Le Pen or Tashfeen Malik?

Daily updates with TM’s latest


The opinions of our commenters do not necessarily represent the opinions of Taki's Magazine or its contributors.