The French National Front: The Extremist Challenge to Democracy

The French National Front: The Extremist Challenge to Democracy

The French National Front: The Extremist Challenge to Democracy

The French National Front: The Extremist Challenge to Democracy


Over the past few decades, extreme-right political parties have won increasing support throughout Europe. The largest and most sophisticated of these, the French National Front, is the focus of analysis in this book.


I began research for this book on the French National Front some years ago after I had written about mental retardation policy and mental health policy. Having taught European politics for many years at York University, I was surprised that in the early 1990s academics (with some exceptions) continued to fret about the European left while ignoring the significant, and dangerous, rise of the extreme right. My purpose, therefore, was to write a clear, straightforward account of the most popular and dangerous extreme right political party in Western Europe, the French National Front.

Along with other extreme right parties, the National Front loudly proclaims its allegiance to democracy, refuses the extremist label, and demands to be included among the mainstream parties of the right. However, thinly concealed behind a rhetorical fog of coded language and slogans, the Front's ideology is pervaded by anti-Semitism, racism, and hostility to parliamentary democracy. in addition, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front's charismatic leader, has surrounded himself with ex-Vichyites, ex-fascists, or fundamentalists of the far right whose commitment to democracy and tolerance is open to question.

In the June 22, 1995, New York Review of Books, Italian author and scholar Umberto Eco discussed the revival of the extreme right and put forward a model of "Ur-Fascism." Eco, like many other people, is troubled by the ambiguities of the contemporary extreme right: It disclaims any relation to prewar or wartime fascism, yet its ideology echoes many of fascism's principal themes. "Ur-Fascism," said Eco, "is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, 'I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.' Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises."

The purpose of this book is to discover what lies behind the plainclothes of the French National Front. Part 1 uses the mechanism of a brief political biography of Jean-Marie Le Pen to provide a history of the French extreme right from 1945 to 1995. Although the revival of the extreme right is a Europeanwide phenomenon, one cannot understand the amazing success of the French National Front without knowing something of the French context. Part 2 consists of a series of analytical chapters on various aspects of . . .

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