– Last week, you attended a conference organized by the prestigious Iliade Institute which focused on the transformation and future prospects of European politics. On the eve of the French presidential election, how would you describe the dynamics in French politics nowadays?
– The primary vocation of the Iliade Institute is to work "for the long-term memory of Europe". Indeed, identity confusion and progressive nihilism undermine any ambitious politics in the West today. This is why the work of the Iliade Institute is valuable in the debate of ideas in France. The Institute offers training, conferences, and publishes numerous books. An annual symposium takes place in the spring not far from the National Assembly, in the magnificent Maison de la Chimie. This year, the symposium, entitled „At the Sources of Politics: Identity, Sovereignty, Sacredness,” brought together more than 1,200 participants. The intellectual debate in France is going rather badly: political correctness limits discussions, media uniformity silences all currents of thought other than that of the dominant liberalism, and there are even „memory laws” concerning the interpretation of history which limit freedom of expression. Mere proposals in favour of national interests violate the law against alleged “incitement to hatred”.
In this context, France’s overall political dynamic depends mainly on news commentary disseminated by the mainstream media, and without substantive thought. By contrast, the Iliade Institute sets high standards and fosters radicalism, bringing together original authors such as Alain de Benoist and Renaud Camus.
– As a political analyst, how do you understand the main ideas that are colliding in the French election?
– The presidential elections in France are the occasion for the most animated debates between the various parties. Traditionally, the political battle opposes the left against the right. This division is disappearing, however, due to a lack of ideas to structure it and of parties to represent it. Indeed, the Socialist Party (PSE) almost disappeared in 2017 as a result of the ascendancy of Emmanuel Macron’s party, “En Marche!”, while “Les Républicains” (PPE) is torn between the liberal centre-left and the populist right. Another cleavage is taking place in which an elite bloc is opposing a populist bloc – factions which the British writer David Goodhart designates using the terms “anywheres” and “somewheres”. He schematically opposes “somewheres,” those who see themselves as rooted in a specific place, against “anywheres,” uprooted individuals who are citizens of the world. The right/left and somewhere/anywhere dichotomies roughly overlap.
The somewheres and a large part of the working classes, traditionally on the left, have been won over to the populist right, defending their interests as sedentary workers through the Rassemblement National.
The other political tendencies are subordinated to this main division. The Green party remains a prisoner of left-wing ideas, as it is even now one of the political forces most thoroughly won over to the woke agenda and gender theory, that is to say to those tendencies that are most in rebellion against the natural order. Compared to 2017, we can see a decline in the prospects for Frexit, that is to say the radical desire to leave the European Union. On the other hand, the populist parties plan to create a political standoff in order to apply their program even if it means transgressing the current European treaties.
– According to recent polls, Marine Le Pen is gathering momentum and threatening what once seemed an almost unassailable position of strength for Macron, elected in 2017. What is the reason for the sudden surge in popularity of the President of the National Rally?
– Marine Le Pen is the main representative of the populist current and opposes Emmanuel Macron as the champion of the elite bloc. She transcends the primary contradiction of left-wing populism, as represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise), which claims to defend the most vulnerable French citizens without questioning mass immigration and multiculturalism (which represent great social violence). Marine Le Pen's problem is that the President of La France Insoumise’s strong personality prevents the rallying of a segment of the working classes to national populism.
However, the President of National Rally already enjoys a situational advantage in the French political landscape: she attracts the protest vote.
Her rise in the polls was not in fact the result of any significant event in Macron’s electoral campaign. Indeed, Marine Le Pen is more at the head of a popular sociological bloc than of a family of opinion. The danger for her is if her electorate does not mobilize, because it is the one most inclined to abstain from voting. Moreover, Le Pen paradoxically benefits from the offensive campaign mounted by her right-wing competitor, Eric Zemmour. Zemmour's more conservative proposals and his radicalism against immigration have made him the mainstream media’s favourite target.
– Candidates on the French right were fighting each other, and not Macron during the presidential campaign. Their political messages are extremely similar, so analysts say they are only making their own right-wing voting camp more polarized. Do you think it makes sense for three right-wing candidates to run against centrist Macron?
There are a total of twelve candidates running in this campaign. If we add up the voting intentions for Marine Le Pen (RN), Eric Zemmour (Reconquest) and Valérie Pécresse (LR), we reach around 40% - about as many as for François Fillon (LR) and Marine Le Pen in 2017. A single candidate could never collect 40% of the votes in the first round. The temptation to appoint a single candidate would not lead to any more success for the French right than for the Hungarian opposition... Serious differences in political sensibility remain between the right-wing parties. This campaign is interesting in that it is exacerbating these differences and subjecting them to electoral evaluation. In the eyes of the most dynamic citizens on the right, Marine Le Pen is being held prisoner by being cast as a harmless opponent of Macron. Eric Zemmour, for his part, has the ambition of replacing her and then achieving a synthesis of the various forms of the right. His proposal is slowly infusing public opinion. However, his rhetoric as a polemical journalist and his rather pointed intellectual references put off large sections of the electorate. Zemmour's campaign nevertheless has the merit of inspiring an impressive degree of enthusiasm. Perhaps his movement’s electoral base does not exceed 10%, but it is a base of true believers who will continue to persuade those around them until the last moment.
The stakes in the first round are the determination of what type of right will represent the French national interest in the second round against the liberal candidate, Emmanuel Macron.
– War in Ukraine, Energy crisis across Europe, immigration crisis – just some of the topics that currently concern European citizens the most. What do you think are the most important issues in France that influence French voters?
The presidential election is unique in that voters vote for a man more than for a party, and for a vision more than a program. The ability to defend peace within and across borders trumps other considerations. This is why Emmanuel Macron delayed his entry into the push for sending assistance to Ukraine in order to better campaign in the role of peacekeeper. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has monopolized the debates for a month and a half.
While the price of gasoline at the pump now exceeds 2 euros per litre despite there being no increase in the price per barrel, the public’s vindictiveness is being vented on the Russian President rather than on the French authorities who decided to increase taxes.
The issue is so muddled in the public debate that a simple cause and effect relationship cannot be understood by most. For example, the increase in energy prices can only result from manoeuvers by Russia, in most people’s minds, and certainly not from the sanctions being enacted by the European authorities. It seems that the health crisis that has been ongoing since 2020 has exacerbated existing trends. A growing segment of the population is turning away from public debate, deeming it futile. Instability and poverty are becoming major social problems. The voters who are the most mobilized remain the elderly and the most privileged, who tend to vote for the centre-left or -right, that is to say for Emmanuel Macron. Immigration occupies an important place in the debate, but the situation is such that the controversy has become more important than concrete proposals.
– When the French president visited Budapest last December, Emmanuel Macron described Viktor Orán as a political adversary, but a European partner. How do you see the relationship between the two leaders?
– Beyond their ideological opposition, Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban have the situational intelligence to cooperate where they have common interests.
We can say that they have discursive opposition and effective cooperation. As far as European defence is concerned, France wants to develop its military industry through European partnerships, and Hungary wants to modernise its defence capability. Another subject of agreement: the development of the nuclear industry. On the other hand, France has decided to redirect the source of its energy supply vis-à-vis Russia. This costly option for France would be suicide for Hungary or Germany.
In this case, the American national interest is prevailing in France, while Hungary is defending a national line which is also in the European interest: continental integration through commercial links.
The national interest in Paris’ eyes often boils down to either an ideological agenda or accounting gains for the flagships of its economy. It is in relation to this that we should understand the importance of a living national culture at the base of all political realism.
– As a researcher and guest lecturer at Matthias Corvinus Collegium, you are also writing a book about Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Based on your research so far, how do you see the success of Hungarian strategic thinking?
– A tree is judged by its fruit. The new plebiscite that was won by Fidesz on Sunday, April 3 demonstrates that the political choices made by Hungarian decision-makers are meeting the expectations of a majority of the Hungarian people.
The key element seems to me to be this cultural symbiosis between a national elite and popular aspirations. This is permitted by the affirmation of a cultural, concrete nation, which I oppose against liberal society. This is characterized by the prevalence of the anonymous citizen who has been deprived of a communal, collective spirit in which to nourish his individual soul. Europe’s decline is the result of the traumas of the 20th century, which undoubtedly constituted a dark period for our civilization. This is also the fascinating perspective offered by the French historian Dominique Venner in his book, The Century of 1914. In my opinion, this decadence is affecting the countries of Central Europe to a lesser degree for two reasons. First, they were not at the source of the 20th century’s ideological currents. Second, at times during their long history as cultural entities, they were deprived of a State representing their own identities and thus were able to maintain themselves precisely because of the vitality of their collective identity’s consciousness. Conversely, the model of the modern State has now spread everywhere. But the State sometimes conceals the cultural negation of the people it allegedly represents.
The political art today consists in synthesizing the people, the State, and the supranational level. Hungary offers an interesting example in this regard.
Borítókép: Thibaud Gibelin francia származású politikai elemző, a Mathias Corvinus Collegium vendégoktatója (Forrás: Mandiner/Mátrai Dávid)