Oddly enough, I have few large professional regrets, things I really wish I had done differently. But there are many small ones. Here’s one. Sometime in TAC‘s first year, perhaps even before we published our first issue, I don’t recall exactly, I got a call from an associate of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean Marie, leader of the French Front National. She would be in Washington in a day or two—was I free for lunch? As it happened, I wasn’t really. There were some complicated personal matters at home, I was commuting back and forth to New York, and hadn’t planned to be in DC that day.
But I also wasn’t that eager. I thought that Jean Marie Le Pen was getting a bit of bad rap by being labeled an anti-Semite, if not a fascist, all of the time. But I was aware of some of the things he had said which could well give that impression, and was also aware that I wasn’t paying much attention to France in those days, and that if I was, I might agree with the charge.
So did I want to have lunch? Not really. There might be some requests for favorable coverage, or overtures towards linking TAC to the general European populist (or far) right. I didn’t feel TAC was far right, and didn’t want to give anyone that impression. Much as I was curious to meet Marine Le Pen, there were good reasons (besides my personal ones) for not rearranging my schedule. I replied that regrettably, I would be out of town.
Marine Le Pen has for years now succeeded her father as head of the National Front, the party which has—in the limited but far from unimportant elections for the European Parliaments, scored higher than any party in France, besting the ruling socialists, besting the center-right parties. Marine Le Pen has changed the FN’s image, modernized it, softened it, without repudiating her garrulous father, whom she always refers to publicly as “Jean Marie Le Pen.” Generally speaking the Front National is the French anti-immigrant party—the one that worries about whether a multicultural society with an expanding and pious Muslim minority is really possible or desirable. I think this is a reasonable argument to make, though difficult to carry off without attracting racists and bigots and turning the party into something potentially worse than the perceived problem. I suspect that vast majorities of Frenchmen would agree with the FN’s premise: De Gaulle, who once said that trying to hold on to French Algeria would ensure that his village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises would become Colombey-les-Deux-Mosques, almost certainly would.
Marine Le Pen’s argument is buttressed by the fact that none of the “mainstream” French parties showed the slightest desire to protect the values and interests of the French who were troubled by mass immigration. The center-right of Sarkozy campaigned on a fierce law and order line, but failed to stem France’s rising crime rate. And mass immigration—if it produced some discomfiture about public prayer, or rising crime, or complicated governmental services—also was a symbol of the larger issue, loss of nationhood, loss of sovereignty over the French space. The steady rise in power of the Brussels bureaucracy and the European Union gave the FN another issue to campaign about—though it might have been essentially the same thing: globalization. The FN and Marine Le Pen were opposed. For France’s elites, membership in “Europe”, even at the expense of France’s currency and control of borders, was considered a closed question and certainly not one to be put before the French people.
The other big winner in Europe’s weekend elections was Britain’s UKIP, headed by Nigel Farage, which beat the Tories and absolutely decimated the Liberal Democrats, heretofore Britain’s third party and part of the ruling coalition, in Sunday’s vote. Like the Front National, UKIP opposes British membership in the EU, which was foisted upon Britain without a vote, and opposes mass immigration. (Under EU regulations anyone in the EU can come to Britain freely, which is very nice unless you are a tradesman or worker whose income might be decimated by such “free movement” of labor.) Farage avoids making common cause with Marine Le Pen, calling attention to her party’s racist roots. It’s always a difficulty on the right—I too would not want to be associated with the Euro parties that truly do seem fascist, racist, or anti-Semitic, including the anti-Muslim scourge Geert Wilders. But the desire to be able to vote against submerging one’s national identity in some larger, bureaucratic transnational institutions seems an altogether natural, and even commendable impulse.
Another thing that ties both Le Pen’s party and UKIP together is a reluctance to get on the anti-Russia bandwagon. Both share a well-justified skepticism over the notion that Putin represents the New Hitler, or that any sense of caution about trying to extend NATO’s domain up to Russia’s border represents “appeasement.” In this case, the so-called “fascist” parties are very much more measured and less aggressive than the “liberal” ones. I haven’t checked on the views of Tony Blair, liberator of fascist Iraq, towards Ukraine, but I can predict without hesitation that he entirely favors the most aggressive measures to pull Ukraine into the West, half of its population, and Russia’s interests, be damned.
It seems in other words that the anti-globalists are inherently conservative, skeptical of folding traditional national powers (about immigration, currency, other levers of economic control) over to a distant European bureaucracy, and skeptical too about following American policies in Europe. Considering that the hawkish Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover from the Bush-Cheney adminstration (she was a top Cheney aide) is now in charge of American policy towards Europe, that skepticism is probably well-justified.
I’m sure that I could find plenty of things not to like about the new Front National, and about UKIP. But their success is cheering, something to be enjoyed. And I wish I had had lunch 12 years ago with Marine Le Pen.