f French presidential elections were held today, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, could come out on top in the first round. Ms. Le Pen would easily beat the current president, François Hollande, and might even edge out the center-right’s most likely candidate, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to recent polls. Voters hostile to the National Front would still band together to hand Marine a defeat in the second round if elections were held today, the same polls show. She would, however, end up carrying between 41 and 45 percent of the vote.
And that poll was held before the migrant crisis convulsed Europe.
I’m a little uncomfortable with the reflexive use of the term “far-right” to describe the various anti-“immigrant” parties reacting to the invasion of their homelands, especially since lazy journalists also refer to the National Socialist German Workers Party as “far-right,” thus employing a term of Soviet propaganda that emerged after the collapse of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Still:
The appeal of far-right parties seems to have caught European centrists by surprise. But it shouldn’t have. For decades, mainstream parties turned a blind eye to the “crazies” on the right. United behind the European project, center-left and center-right parties forged ahead towards a bright European future. They missed—or more likely simply chose to ignore—the simmering anti-immigrant and euroskeptic sentiment in their constituencies. The financial crisis of 2008 has acted like a force multiplier for these feelings: by showcasing the ineptitude of the ruling elites in addressing the serious challenges facing voters, many people only tentatively identifying as Europeans found they have a real appetite for the resolute certainties offered by strong nationalist programs. And a more mature far-right, groomed by years of failed attempts at power and steeped in a newfound pragmatism, was ready to pounce.
As history shows, there’s no such thing as a “European,” no matter how hard the EU tries to pretend that Norwegians are exactly the same as Greeks.
The most successful European far right parties have pitched themselves to voters as protectors of a civic liberal tradition, which they have nevertheless successfully reframed along national lines. In these party narratives, the EU has become a threat to national sovereignty, and non-European Muslim immigrants have become scapegoats for the loss of national values and the threat to liberal democratic ideals. Far right parties have paradoxically become defenders of European values against the encroachment of both non-European foreigners, as well against an effete elite in Brussels that is seen to be undermining European civilization by its commitment to pluralism at all costs. Cultural issues, rather than purely economic ones, have become the key to catapulting the far right into the political limelight.
No one likes to see his culture destroyed by barbarians. Especially ungrateful barbarians. Look for Europe to finally come to its senses; indeed, it’s already happening.