Two Roads for the New French Right

Two Roads for the New French Right, by Mark Lilla.

[Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s] performance at CPAC was unusual, and one wonders what the early morning audience made of her. Unlike her hotheaded grandfather and aunt, Marion is always calm and collected, sounds sincere, and is intellectually inclined. In a slight, charming French accent she began by contrasting the independence of the United States with France’s “subjection” to the EU, as a member of which, she claimed, it is unable to set its own economic and foreign policy or to defend its borders against illegal immigration and the presence of an Islamic “counter-society” on its territory.

But then she set out in a surprising direction. Before a Republican audience of private property absolutists and gun rights fanatics she attacked the principle of individualism, proclaiming that the “reign of egoism” was at the bottom of all our social ills. As an example she pointed to a global economy that turns foreign workers into slaves and throws domestic workers out of jobs. She then closed by extolling the virtues of tradition …

If all French eyes are not on Marion, they should be. Marion is not her grandfather, though within the soap-operatic Le Pen family she defends him. Nor is she her aunt, who is crude and corrupt, and whose efforts to put new lipstick on the family party have failed. …

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen

Something new is happening on the European right, and it involves more than xenophobic populist outbursts. Ideas are being developed, and transnational networks for disseminating them are being established. Journalists have treated as a mere vanity project Steve Bannon’s efforts to bring European populist parties and thinkers together under the umbrella of what he calls The Movement. But his instincts, as in American politics, are in tune with the times. …

[There is] an unoccupied ideological space between the mainstream Republicans and the National Front. Journalists tend to present an overly simple picture of populism in contemporary European politics. They imagine there is a clear line separating legacy conservative parties like the Republicans, which have made their peace with the neoliberal European order, from xenophobic populist ones like the National Front, which would bring down the EU, destroy liberal institutions, and drive out as many immigrants and especially Muslims as possible.

These journalists have had trouble imagining that there might be a third force on the right that is not represented by either the establishment parties or the xenophobic populists. … The Republicans have no governing ideology apart from globalist economics and worship of the state, and in keeping with their Gaullist secular heritage have traditionally treated moral and religious issues as strictly personal … The National Front is nearly as secular and even less ideologically coherent …

The other reason La Manif [the Demonstration for Everyone] might continue to matter is that it proved to be a consciousness-raising experience for a group of sharp young intellectuals, mainly Catholic conservatives, who see themselves as the avant-garde of this third force.

They share two convictions: that a robust conservatism is the only coherent alternative to what they call the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of our time, and that resources for such a conservatism can be found on both sides of the traditional left–right divide. More surprising still, they are all fans of Bernie Sanders. …

They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism, and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft).

That mélange may sound odd to our ears, but it is far more consistent than the positions of contemporary American conservatives. Continental conservatism going back to the nineteenth century has always rested on an organic conception of society. It sees Europe as a single Christian civilization composed of different nations with distinct languages and customs. These nations are composed of families, which are organisms, too, with differing but complementary roles and duties for mothers, fathers, and children. On this view, the fundamental task of society is to transmit knowledge, morality, and culture to future generations, perpetuating the life of the civilizational organism. It is not to serve an agglomeration of autonomous individuals bearing rights. …

Why do they consider the European Union a danger? Because it rejects the cultural-religious foundation of Europe and tries to found it instead on the economic self-interest of individuals. To make matters worse, they suggest, the EU has encouraged the immigration of people from a different and incompatible civilization (Islam), stretching old bonds even further. Then, rather than fostering self-determination and a healthy diversity among nations, the EU has been conducting a slow coup d’état in the name of economic efficiency and homogenization, centralizing power in Brussels. …

Feminism criticized:

A number of young women have been promoting what they call an “alter-feminism” that rejects what they see as the “career fetishism” of contemporary feminism, which unwittingly reinforces the capitalist ideology that slaving for a boss is freedom. … Marianne Durano … puts it this way:

We are the victims of a worldview in which we are supposed to live it up until the age of 25, then work like fiends from 25 to 40 (the age when you’re at the bottom of the professional scrap heap), avoid commitments and having children before 30. All of this goes completely against the rhythm of women’s lives.

Eugénie Bastié, another alter-feminist, takes on Simone de Beauvoir in her book Adieu mademoiselle. She praises the first-wave feminist struggle for achieving equal legal rights for women, but criticizes Beauvoir and subsequent French feminists for “disembodying” women, treating them as thinking and desiring creatures but not as reproducing ones who, by and large, eventually want husbands and families. …

Coherence about the free movement of capital and people:

Whatever one thinks of these conservative ideas about society and the economy, they form a coherent worldview. The same cannot really be said about the establishment left and right in Europe today.

The left opposes the uncontrolled fluidity of the global economy and wants to rein it in on behalf of workers, while it celebrates immigration, multiculturalism, and fluid gender roles that large numbers of workers reject.

The establishment right reverses those positions, denouncing the free circulation of people for destabilizing society, while promoting the free circulation of capital, which does exactly that.

These French conservatives criticize uncontrolled fluidity in both its neoliberal and cosmopolitan forms.

hat-tip David Archibald