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France Has an Extrême-Droite When It Needs a de Gaulle

Arrived in Paris Tuesday with few intentions beyond watching some tennis (French Open qualifying, the inexpensive and crowd-free formula for spectating a high level of the sport), eating well, and hanging out with my wife after her several hectic weeks of preparing our daughter’s wedding. But it was soon clear that the European civilizational crisis (cf. Death of the West [1]) while often easy to ignore, is very much with us. In a suburb of Stockholm, some immigrant youths have fought the police four successive nights (“youths acting youthy, [2]” summarized Steve Sailer, sardonically), while in London yesterday two African Islamists hacked a soldier to death [3] with a machete. In Paris on Tuesday afternoon a 78-year-old far-right activist and historian, Dominique Venner, entered the sanctuary at Notre Dame, deposited a suicide note at the altar, and shot himself in the mouth.

Venner was a serious figure in France’s extrême-droite, a phrase with different and far richer connotations than “extreme-right” in America. A major current of French intellectuals opposed the Revolution, quite understandably, and kept at it, rhetorically, throughout the 19th century. A French Right standing for traditional authority, order, aristocracy, the nation (and skeptical about fraternity, equality, and the various French republics) has been a constant and serious force, able sometimes to speak for nearly half the country. The far right hasn’t been violent since the early sixties—when right-wing officers of the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète tried to spark a coup against De Gaulle for letting go of Algeria—but as a current in French political life, it is always there. Today its main concern is immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, and in its current political incarnation, the Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, has jettisoned the party’s submerged but never absent anti-Semitism for a militant pro-Zionist and anti-Muslim line. Le Pen garnered 18 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election, and the FN is a fairly serious minor party, receiving 13 percent of the first-round votes in the legislative elections and holding quite a few local offices. Hostility to immigration is a “populist” cause, and many of the FN’s voters used to vote communist; nevertheless there is an aristocratic and intellectual aura to the far right dating to the Revolution, and not entirely absent from today’s FN. It is this of which Dominique Venner was a part.

The goals of the suicide are easy enough to imagine. Part is surely vanity—Venner’s blog, I’m sure, has received more attention in the past two days than its entire previous existence, and every intellectual wants to be read. He was old and recently diagnosed with a grave unspecified illness. His concrete goal was to pull together two disparate groups of disaffected conservatives, the opponents of gay marriage (as in the U.S. a sizeable, somewhat shell-shocked minority) and the opponents of immigration. In his suicide note [4] he tries to connect the two causes:

I protest against poisons of the soul and the desires of invasive individuals to destroy the anchors of our identity, including the family, the intimate basis of our multi-millennial civilization. While I defend the identity of all peoples in their homes, I also rebel against the crime of the replacement of our people.

In any case, no one in Paris is treating Venner as some kind of lone nut. He has fought for his beliefs, long after they were no longer fashionable. In 1954, you could not find a single major French politician supporting Algerian independence, and De Gaulle had to maneuver against the entire political system to bring France to accept it. Venner was one of several who never would, who believed that Algeria was eternally part of France and was willing to fight for it, even so far as plotting against his head of state. Like many high-ranking French officers, he plotted and lost and spent time in prison. Upon release he then carved out a career as an activist theoretician and, later in life, as a serious historian. Marine Le Pen, the third ranking French presidential candidate, honored him after his death.

I am not entirely without sympathy—there is part of the French Right which has a certain  appeal. But it has a knack for making very bad choices at critical moments, for being unable to recognize when to fight, when to retreat to more sensible ground. Charles De Gaulle, in my view probably the  greatest man of the 20th century, was able to incarnate much of the right’s virtues and sensibilities, but with a much sounder sense of  blending these virtues into the politics of a modern democratic republic. De Gaulle, often accused of being a fascist (in many cases ignorantly, by Americans) opposed Hitler in 1940 and understood that Algerian independence was inevitable in 1958. (I would be curious if Venner ever reflected upon what the effect of keeping Algeria would have been on the current demography of France.)

I too would oppose what Venner called “the replacement of our people,” but I suspect the reality is something different. Throughout Paris you can see groups of French lycéeans, flirting, smoking cigarettes, having their coffee in their cafes, huddling on their motorbikes. They now come in all colors. To some extent then, the demographic of old France is not being replaced so much as supplemented. It’s of course a question of balance and of numbers. I would trust De Gaulle to chart the right course, but sadly there is little evidence he has any true heirs in France’s political class.

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#1 Comment By Zathras On May 23, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

Good article, with one omission. It is curious to have an article about the historical mistakes of the Extreme-Droit of France but not once include the word “Vichy.”

#2 Comment By Hattip On May 23, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

Ah…those who oppose the homosexual agenda, either in the USA or in France, are not “a minority”. I challenge you to prove otherwise.

(please do not proffer MSM “polls” or the results of rigged [and complex] elections).

If the issue was put up for the electorate, it would lose hands down. This is why the Left has to use the courts to ram it through.

#3 Comment By amspirnational On May 23, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

If I’m not mistaken, Le Pen’s NF, unlike what passes for the US hard right, opposes any French participation in and cooperation with American warring in the Muslim world. It
also has been, I assume still is,very critical of Israel and any French government cooperation with the oppression of Palestinians.

If McConnell has information that any of these stands have changed from Jean Marie to Marine’s NF, he should tell us.

#4 Comment By AF On May 23, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

As to Vichy, there are now a number of very interesting studies, the most published ones, of course, coming from the left and “opposed, sir, unalterably opposed”. There was even one that suggested that by some inevitable process the Vichyites morphed into some of today’s left wingers. There are other sources, however, that appreciate Vichy (and Algerie Francaise) more, including the Abbe de Nantes’ group, for which you can Google “CRC de nantes”. As pointed out there, one very significant factor in the Algerian situation was that the French were unable to assimilate the majority Berbers because as a laicist government and occupying force, they could not propose Catholicism to the natives, but only the implicitly atheist liberal secularism that no one finds so compelling as to merit adoption against one’s own different background, inj that case, Islam. Thus one could understand, even if not agree with, de Gaulle’s comment that he did not want ten millions “clochards” coming over from Algeria to metropolitan France.

#5 Comment By AF On May 23, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

Oh, and by the way, de Gaulle was not the greatest man of the XXth century. That honor belongs to the youngest European general since Napoleon’s time, whose every promotion from lieutenant to general was won on the battle field, and who then led the crusade for God and for Spain and kept order for another 35 years or so thereafter. Francisco Franco.

#6 Comment By Hooly On May 23, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

There’s irony here. The Extrême-Droite of the West at loggerheads with the Extrême-Droite of Islam. Just as Venner despises aspects of modern culture, so to do the mullahs, imans, jihadists in Islam. Both are paleo-conservatives of their own traditions. Both are in essence, dinosaurs, … obsolete and living fossils.

So NO you idiots!!, … the era aristocrats and The Church and the Most Christian Kings of France ruling it all are long, long gone, … just as the era of the Prophet, his Companions and the Caliphate is long, long gone. Please grow up and recognize your obsolescence because those of us who do not share your backward thought processes are getting annoyed. The perfect solution would be to deport you all to some island where you can fight it out, a rehash of the Crusades maybe, … and leave the rest of us in peace.

#7 Comment By AndrewH On May 23, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

There’s irony here. The Extrême-Droite of the West at loggerheads with the Extrême-Droite of Islam

There’s nothing ironic about it.

Both are in essence, dinosaurs, … obsolete and living fossils.

No, in essence they are of their people fighting to preserve their identities against the dehumanizing globalization represented by the US and its foreign satraps.

If I’m not mistaken, Le Pen’s NF, unlike what passes for the US hard right, opposes any French participation in and cooperation with American warring in the Muslim world. It
also has been, I assume still is,very critical of Israel and any French government cooperation with the oppression of Palestinians.

If I’m not mistaken the FN, even under Jean-Marie, was fairly supportive of Israel, though not fanatical about it like US Democrats and Republicans. Under the father and the daughter the FN has opposed participating in wars in the Islamic world.

#8 Comment By William Burns On May 23, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

Surely we can look outside the limited realms of politics and war for our great men? Albert Einstein, for example, seems to have a far stronger claim to the title of “greatest man of the twentieth century” than De Gaulle.

#9 Comment By Thomas Sm On May 24, 2013 @ 12:13 am

Mr McConnell:

M. Venner was not a major figure in the National Front. I am not sure he was even a member or sympathiser. Absent from your post here is Venner’s main association – the intellectual GRECE (Groupement de recherches et d’études pour la civilisation européenne). GRECE has generally not been close to the FN since the mid-80s. It (GRECE) has a different political programme – pan-Europeanism, regionalism, racial separation, and neoclassicism/neopaganism. Venner was seemingly not a Christian, though he did note he chose Notre Dame as a place he respected for its cultural role.

The French Far Right, and that of other Latin countries, has many intellectual currents, it is not just bombastic conspiratorial propaganda about some target group like the John Birch Society or violent meatheads like the BNP.

So, what is actually wrong with the National Front today? The FN today *is* basically a paleo-Gaullist force. Under Marine Le Pen, it is still generally socially conservative but secular (the Trad Caths had influence under her father). It is against immigration but not anti-Muslim (unlike some currents which split off from it and took a super-pro-US and pro-Zionist line). Most importantly, it is for a sovereign central bank, the repeal of the ‘Rothschild law’ that followed De Gaulle’s death, and the nationalisation of large private banks. This means returning to a policy of the Bank of France issuing credit to French industry and agriculture for productive purposes. This defeats the drag of endless calls for austerity.

That is what made Gaullism work! So, what’s the problem? The political culture of the Far Right? That’s diluted now – and it is still a better culture than that of the (increasingly neocon) bourgeois Centre-Right or of the bobo Left.

#10 Comment By Mike Ehling On May 24, 2013 @ 12:24 am

Greatest man of the twentieth century? What about Niels Bohr? (I omit Einstein because of his late-life dogmatic rejection of quantum physics and his at least premature search for a grand unification theory, but I won’t quarrel if you propose him instead.) Or what about Watson and Crick?

Or why not choose the greatest writer of the Soviet era, Mikhail Bulgakov? (Or some other writer of your choice. Yeats? Conrad? Whomever.)

Or Jacques Maritain?

I have a great admiration for DeGaulle, but c’mon. Shouldn’t paleocons be promoting sciences and the humanities in preference to mere political and military figures? ;>)

#11 Comment By Thomas Sm On May 24, 2013 @ 12:26 am

@amspirnational & @AndrewH:

You are both right. The Le Pens seem to veer back and forth on the Israel issue. Like much of the European Right (and not only), the FN once had close ties with the Arab nationalist régimes – like Iraq and Libya. Overall, it has been favourable to the Arab nationalist cause. In time, it found certain defences of Israel to be politically favourable as they (1) helped shield it from anti-Semitic claims while JMLP was frequently being prosecuted for not saying the Holocaust was the biggest, worstest think ever; (2) connected to public anti-Islamic sentiment; and (3) appealed to people who loathe leftist demonstrators, who are heavily anti-Zionist.

Marine is less ideological and more obviously opportunistic than her father on foreign policy. She opposed the war in Libya but would not defend Qadhaafi (though her dad did). She alternates between pro- and anti-Israel statements. If there is any consistency, it is support for Israel’s right to exist, support for their right to be nationalistic, opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, but opposition to illegal settlements.

I think the slight shift over the years is a result of Israel’s coup in building up Hamas. People sympathise with secular nationalists but not with jihadis.

#12 Comment By William Dalton On May 24, 2013 @ 12:56 am

More than one reader has noted the irony of a political movement which sought for Algeria to remain a part of political France objecting to the growing influence of Muslims from Algeria and Frances’ former colonies in geographical France. And it has also been noted that a political movement which seeks to defeat the phenomenon of “gay marriage” going to war with Muslims who might be their key allies in such a fight is not one destined for victory, much less greatness.

The relationship of the FN to radical Islam in France reminds me of the constant battle between Sunni and Shiaa in the Muslim world – something which could only have been concocted by their common enemy in a strategy to divide and conquer.

#13 Comment By Richard Schatz On May 24, 2013 @ 4:16 am

You’re in Paris. Have you been pickpocketed yet?

#14 Comment By Aaron Gross On May 24, 2013 @ 10:48 am

Congratulations on your daughter’s wedding!

#15 Comment By James Canning On May 24, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Yes, what a disaster for France it would have been if Algeria somehow could have been kept as part of Metropolitan France!

#16 Comment By James Canning On May 24, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

AF – – You think de Gaulle should have welcomed the relocation of 10 million Algerians into France?

#17 Comment By Gabriel On May 24, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

A majority is opposed to gay marriage in the US. There is a proven Bradley Effect here. In California, Proposition 8, which amended the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman was expected to fail by a large margin, and instead passed by a large margin, when all other polls were dead on that year.

This is the most salient, but not the only, example. The average Bradley Effect for gay marriage is 7 points. And California has gotten browner since then. Gay marriage didn’t win any county of Southern California except Santa Barbara.

The only states gay marriage has won in have been narrow victories in Maryland (the only state Obama increased his margin in between 2008 and 2012 and one of his largest victories), Maine, and Washington. And these were no more than 52% in favor, if I recall correctly.

Meanwhile, North Carolina, with some of the most liberal whites in the South, rejected gay marriage by 61%–and North Carolina has 10 million people.

So massive losses in the South (which is more populous than the Northeast and Midwest combined), massive losses in the plains, modest but solid losses in California and probably the Great Lakes, and narrow wins in the deepest Blue States, a proven Bradley Effect, and you expect us to believe that a majority of the country is in favor of gay marriage?

BS. This is how the liberal media “manufactures consent”–it makes conservatives give up, thinking they’ve lost, when they’re winning.

Keep fighting gay “marriage”. We can win!

#18 Comment By NGPM On May 25, 2013 @ 6:56 am

The critiques levied against this article are highly appropriate. The Front National is not Zionist, at least not on any level resembling the neocon party in America. Indifference more accurately described their stance. De Gaulle is not what France needs right now, and it is directly his fault that immigration is such a problem. A superficial surveying of street demographics can be deceiving: the new colors are definitely NOT positive supplements. The poster who asked whether you’ve been pickpocketed is right on the money: crime is WAY up all over the country.

Re: Vichy, why is it that Naziism is pulled out every time the far right is brought up, but if anyone dares to mention Gulags or the Holodomar those are a “misapplication” of leftist thought?

#19 Comment By NGPM On May 25, 2013 @ 7:03 am

@Thomas Sm: center-right “bourgeois” sympathisants aren’t uniformly banal and insufferable; there are quite a few landed, established and Catholic families among them. Many of them are infinitely preferable (in my bourgeois Catholic opinion) to some of the socially desperate neo-pagan fake Gaullists on the “far right.”

(There are good people in the far right here, too, and there are insufferably banal types on the center-right, though they are not annoying for the same reason that their far-right counterparts are.)

#20 Comment By NGPM On May 25, 2013 @ 10:05 am

Another point: Scott McConnell’s main reproach of the extrême droite (of which Charles de Gaulle was most decidedly NOT, his occasionally sensible rhetoric notwithstanding) is its impulsive and temperamental nature (“knack for making very bad choices at critical moments”). One would HOPE the right keeps its quirkiness and whimsicality: civilization needs this tension between order and chaos to thrive, and if the right is not defending civilization, what is the point? The attempt to force society into strict algebraic uniformity is characteristically leftist.

A rounder critique would get at the underlying nature of the particular faction to which Monsieur Venner belonged: the neo-pagan so-called New Right (for the curious, not at all related to neoconservatism). These folks subscribe to something more closely corresponding to Guénonian perennialism than to “traditionalism” as Christians (especially Catholics) understand it. A few of them are overtly anti-Christian and regard it as an “oriental obsession”; some of them are highly pro-Catholic because they see it as the traditional religion “native” to France (even if they do not believe its doctrinal claims), and there is a whole spectrum between the two extremes. Venner was probably somewhere in the middle, as his suicide note seems to indicate: “I chose a highly symbolic place, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, which I respect and admire: she was built by the genius of my ancestors on the site of cults still more ancient, recalling our immemorial origins.”

Venner’s bad choice started with his pagan obsession. If one doubts that this is a bad choice, a meeting at popular forums of the Front National to see how and how much perennialism has influenced the impious side of the right-wing electorat might be an eye-opener. If on the other hand one is not willing to grant that neo-Paganism was a bad choice, then one cannot justifiably critique his suicide as a “bad choice”: honor killings are widespread among certain pre-Christian cultures, such as Japan, and the title of another obituary, “Dominique Venner, a French Samurai” is quite accurate on this point.

To wit, the timing could not have been better.

(P.S.: I deplore the act, because I deplore the pagan opacity of it.)

#21 Comment By Richard Parker On May 25, 2013 @ 11:51 am

I think if Prop 8 was on the ballot in CA today it would lose. The key demographic is youth vs. boomers and in particular female youth.

I teach college in CA and the young female mindset on gay marriage has totally swung from opposed to in favor close to 100% in the last ten years.

Each year more and more boomers (and their parents) leave the voting lists forever. Youth, we always have more youth as replacements.

#22 Comment By sickoftalking On May 25, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

I would somewhat disagree with the historical point here.

Rhetoric against the Revolution continued to be strong not only in French politics, but also in the United States. There was a lot of American oratory — all throughout the 19th century — that emphasized the Revolution as a negative model as a means to praise Burke. And conservative liberals in France would also often cite Burke as a counter-model and speak of the success in the United States; George Washington became a figure of reverence in French politics.

Both French and American conservatives exaggerated — and continue to exaggerate today — the atheistic elements of the Revolution. Forgotten is the fact that religious elements were key to the beginning of the Revolution (ie Abbé Sieyès), and that philosophes like Rousseau were more friendly to theists than they were to atheists. Forgotten by American conservatives was also the influence of Rousseau on the thinking of some American thinkers like Jefferson.

France did have some more extreme views at the table, like those of the ultra-royalists, but the practical debates of governance became pretty close to those that were happening in the US. Even the ultra-royalists conceded to property holders being able to vote, they just wanted wealthier people to have their votes count for more (vote censitaire). The most debated issue of the day thus became how broad suffrage was to be.

The same debate over suffrage was happening in the United States. The founders themselves disapproved of expanded suffrage, although US history textbooks seem to avoid discussion of that. One of the loudest voices for that point of view was Gouvernor Morris, who was extremely important in helping shape the Constitution, but is largely forgotten today. Like the juste-milieu Doctrinaires who would later dominate politics in the July Monarchy, he felt an aristocracy was natural, and that the poor would end up being duped by the rich, who would buy their votes with money, but at the same time opposed slavery and desired its abolition.

His point of view eventually lost out, as did similar points of view in France and the rest of Europe. But it took a while even in the United States, and then a while more to reverse things like the Seventeenth Amendment that were painted as a legacy of privilege. The “pro-democracy” forces continue to fight this battle in trying to dismantle the electoral college. More marginal voices in the US continue to murmur about repealing the Seventeenth Amendment and limiting the vote to taxpayers.

Still, the point here is correct that the extreme right was more vocal in France. Whats more important, though, is that perceptions of the right have been shaped by an extreme left that has been equally as vocal, though which has lost less favor with time.

If you think about it, Le Pen’s views weren’t radically different than those of Pat Buchanan over here, but where Buchanan would just be dismissed as ‘extreme’ by the media, the French left organized in protest to Le Pen. While Buchanan is ‘extreme’, Le Pen is ‘fascist.’

#23 Comment By Cato Uticencis On May 25, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

It is unfair to ignore the growing size of the “Afro-Maghreb” Muslim population in France and how it undermines DeGaulle’s decision to sever Algeria from France. With an Algeria as part of Metropolitan France, there could be better control of the state of affairs in Algeria and most of the migrants would be the best coming for education and employment, not the dregs and dissidents. Of the over 4 million Muslims in France 25% are from Algeria. Let’s not forget a man in “Muslim” garb tried to assassinate a gendarme officer today in Paris.

#24 Comment By AZS On May 26, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

I admire Venner, although I philosophically disagree with his decision to kill himself. He wrote on a variety of very interesting subjects.

#25 Comment By James Canning On May 26, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

NGPM – – Re: how mention of Vichy often brings on comments about Nazis.

I think a simple fact people should keep in mind is that France was bled white by the catastrophe of the First World War. And many French people simply did not want a repeat.

#26 Comment By James Canning On May 26, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Cato – – Would you like to see a France with ten million Algerians living in it?

#27 Comment By Colm J On May 26, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

Hooly’s comment is very typical of the bluster that characterises the modern secular anti-traditionalist. No attempt at argument – just the usual feeble drivel about “dinosaurs” – and the faux-macho would-be threatening tone.

#28 Comment By Alfred, Melbourne On May 26, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

AF,

Yes, Franco conquered Spain – with an army of Moroccans and German aircraft. I guess that is OK.

While I deplore the unbridled immigration into France by people who don’t belong there, I think the same should apply to Europeans who either think Algeria is French or that Palestine is part of the EU.

#29 Comment By frg On May 27, 2013 @ 11:37 am

“Yes, Franco conquered Spain – with an army of Moroccans and German aircraft. I guess that is OK.”

OK unless one disingenuously demands absolute perfection. Franco’s original army was his colonial command in Morocco-so it obviously contained a lot of Moroccans. But he did not win the war with an army of Moroccans.

#30 Comment By isaacplautus On May 27, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

“led the crusade for God and for Spain and kept order for another 35 years or so thereafter. Francisco Franco.”

And murdered and imprisoned numerous people, including Spain’s greatest poet. Ended democracy and free press and thought in Spain. All minor details, I guess, so long as he kept “order.”

#31 Comment By The Dean On May 28, 2013 @ 10:42 am

Einstein the “greatest man of the 20th century”? Really?
Greatest scientist, yes. Are you reallly comparing the burden of complex scientific mathematics at Princeton to the decisions men like Roosevelt and Churchill had to make? You may not be trying, but that’s funny.

#32 Comment By Thomas Sm On May 28, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

NGPM,

I think the French centre-right is far more interesting than most all Western centre-rights. However, if the Far Right has a neopagan problem, though most of them are in small ‘groupuscules’ outside of the FN, the centre-right now has a neocon problem. This hardly existed before Sarkozy, but its appearance is undeniable. See also the recent UMP leadership election where Copé, an upstart secular Jew who engages in blustering rhetoric about Muslim terrorism, immigrants, and leftists, beat Fillon, a traditional French centre-right politician who always maintained a high level of popularity and had a background as a social Gaullist.

How is this possible? Because Sarzoky, even though he actually was not an ultra-libéral or full internationalist himself (like the American neocons), Americanised the internal politics of the French Right. In place of at least Chirac’s relatively Gaullist language, there is “us vs. them”/read-team vs. blue-team demagoguery.

At the same time, the rhetoric of the Far Right has improved. Le Pen himself started out a Reganite, emphasising anti-communism abroad and anti-socialism at home. Marine’s presidential campaign emphasised the repeal of the ‘Rothschild law’ and the nationalisation of the big banks (not hating Muslims, which is more of Sarkozy’s/Copé’s obsession). That is a Gaullist policy! The Rothschild law passed about the same time France capitulated and allowed the UK into the EEC – basically this is where the French Right returned to a strongly bourgeois-liberal bias and abandoned patriotic conservatism.

The FN is the only large force in France today that supports anything resembling Gaullist policy, whatever you think of its history or this or that person or group that may have once been associated in some way with it.