Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

A Robust Champion of France's Populist Right

Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

A Robust Champion of France's Populist Right

Article excerpt

Eric Zemmour, Le suicide francais. Paris: Albin Michel, 2014. 527 pages.

A significant shakeup in European politics is underway. In the 2014 European Parliament elections, parties of the populist right like the National Front in France and the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain made significant breakthroughs, with parties of the populist left like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece doing the same.

A lot of attention in recent months has been focused on Syriza, which won parliamentary elections in Greece in January 2015 with a strong anti-austerity program, setting off a new round of debate about an eventual Greek default on its international debts and/or withdrawal from the euro (Grexit). Of potentially greater significance, however, is the continuing ascension of Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the National Front. Though presidential elections are not due in France until 2017, Francois Hollande, the current incumbent, is terribly unpopular, as is the likely candidate of the centre-right, former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Public opinion polls show the National Front to be the leading party in France, and in regional and local elections it has been cutting deeply into traditional bastions of support of both the right and left.

Marine Le Pen has made clear her disdain for the course the European Union has been following and the loss of sovereignty France has experienced ever since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. She supports a French exit from the euro and increased state intervention to promote French jobs in an economy that has been buffeted by globalization. She has also made clear her opposition to what she sees as the Islamization of France and ongoing immigration from North Africa and beyond, a position rendered even more salient in the aftermath of the attacks by jihadi extremists on Charlie Hebdo and a Parisian kosher supermarket earlier this year. She has also expressed support for Vladimir Putin's incursions into Crimea and Ukraine and for the Assad regime in Syria, breaking with the dominant Western position.

All this by way of introduction to Eric Zemmour's Le suicide frangais, which has sold over 500,000 copies since publication in France and will be appearing in an English translation shortly. In it Zemmour, a well-known journalist and controversial public figure on the right, has chronicled more than 40 years of French political, cultural and social developments with the intensity of a surgeon honing in on a tumour in a stricken patient. Only the patient in this case is France, and the disease, according to its author, beyond remedy. France has a long tradition of books chronicling the nation's decline--Alain Peyrefitte's Le mal frangais, published in 1976, comes to mind, as does Julien Benda's La trahison des clercs of 1927. There is an even earlier history of authors on the right like Charles Maurras and the Action francaise around the turn of the 20th century or, a century before, Louis-Gabriel de Bonald and Joseph de Maistre, monarchist opponents of the French Revolution, denouncing the decline of France's traditional values. Their perceived sources of decline are "outsiders"--Jews at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, intellectuals of the Enlightenment (la faute a Voltaire et Rousseau) in the aftermath of 1789. The tone is strident and unforgiving.

The same can be said of Zemmour's book. He, however, has a more contemporary target. The student revolt of May 1968 opened the floodgates of social and political innovation, undoing the tightly knit fibre of French society that had allegedly existed until then. Like the Commandatore in Mozart's Don Giovanni, the ghost of Charles de Gaulle haunts Zemmour's book, casting a disdainful look at his incompetent successors. For Zemmour, like many right-wing intellectuals, is a temporal irredentist, and the golden age for him lies in the heyday of Gaullist France.

What are some of his main beefs against post-1968 France? …

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