Is France Going National-Socialist?

Postmodern Nazis, to be sure: no brown shirts. But Nazis nevertheless -- nazis who relish in anti-Jewish paranoia and are eager to spread it everywhere.

Radical politics usually develop when classic politics fail. According to an Ipsos/Steria poll published on January 21 by Le Monde, 8% of the French -- only 8%! -- trust the political parties. Only 23% trust their National Assembly representatives. Trade unions do not fare much better: 31%. Nor does the judiciary, at 46%.

Real confidence starts only with local powers: 63% of the French trust their mayors. The increase culminates with such last-resort players as the police and the army, credited, respectively, with a 73% and a 79% confidence rate.

The Fifth Republic established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, France’s current government, was long perceived as a stable and efficient democracy. That was largely a fallacy.

To start with, the 1958 constitution has provided for a hypertrophied but bicephalic executive: the popularly elected president is very powerful, but so is the prime minister who answers to the parliamentary majority. There were latent conflicts between them when they belonged to the same political party; open conflicts erupted when they did not.

However, the real failure of the Fifth Republic is that it has been subverted by the noblesse d’etat (“state nobility”), to use a terminology coined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.. This group consists of the senior civil service, which supplanted the political class rapidly and merged with the economic elite as well; the European Union Commission in Brussels, a non-elected multinational super-government that, for at least three décades, has carried more weight on many issues than the national government of France; and the ever-growing non-Western immigrant communities who more often than not tend to ignore French traditional culture and values -- including in political matters -- and to superimpose their own.

As long as the economy was booming, the welfare benefits growing, and the legal working hours shrinking (it went down to 35 hours per week with five weeks vacation; and eight legal holidays easily turned into extended weekends), most citizens did not pay attention.

Things changed in the 1990s when the French economy was not able to deliver anymore. Or, to be more accurate, when it split between a declining and deindustrialized domestic economy and an aggressive and highly performing globalized economy.

The working class was largely destroyed. Millions of jobs were lost, and wages -- for those who kept a job -- were almost frozen. But welfare benefits kept growing. At the other end, the upper class and the upper middle class grew much richer from their globalized activities, but invested less in France proper and managed to escape taxation as much as possible, either legally or illegally. As for the middle class, from middle executives to small-scale entrepreneurs to propertied senior citizens, it was mercilessly overtaxed and impoverished. Somebody had to pay for the mess.

From then on, the French gradually lost confidence in the political class and in both the country’s and Europe’s political frameworks. In 2005, an angry France derailed the so-called “European constitutional treaty” in a referendum. It then elected the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 on the assumption that he would curb the “state nobility,” tame immigration, lower taxes, and revive the domestic economy. Sarkozy took some steps, but at the end of the day disappointed his constituency on almost all accounts. In 2012, the pendulum switched to the socialist François Hollande, who promised lots of things to his own supporters but eventually had to admit that French statism was bankrupt.

No wonder that radical fringe parties (the right-wing National Front, the left-wing Green party and Left Front) are attempting now to supplant the moderate main parties (the conservative UMP, the socialist PS, and the centrist UDI).

And even they are threatened by grassroots movements of all sorts.