Saturday, May 19, 2012

Noiriel Analyzes the FN Vote

Historian Gérard Noiriel analyzes the FN vote. Key point:
A partir des années 1980, la bureaucratisation de la société et la crise de la grande industrie ont liquidé les mouvements de masse entraînant une perte d’autonomie du politique au profit des médias. La « démocratie de partis » a laissé la place à la « démocratie d’opinion ». Le retour de l’extrême droite sur le devant de la scène est à mes yeux une conséquence directe de ces mutations. Le triomphe de la politique-spectacle a créé en effet des opportunités dont s’est saisi Jean-Marie Le Pen, en développant la stratégie des « petites phrases » conçues comme des « bombes médiatiques » qui prennent leur place dans l’actualité au côté des crimes, des catastrophes, des procès etc.
Les journalistes, pris dans les rouages de cette machine médiatique, sont contraints d’accorder de l’importance à ces poseurs de « bombes », contribuant ainsi à l’héroïsation des leaders d’extrême droite. Puisque ces derniers sont devenus des personnages centraux du récit médiatico-politique, les électeurs se sentent autorisés à voter pour le Front National. La réputation sulfureuse de ce parti séduit tout particulièrement ceux qui n’ont plus rien à perdre et qui cherchent à exprimer de la façon la plus radicale possible leur refus d’une société qui ne leur fait pas de place.
This argument strikes me as superficially appealing but empirically unfounded. Is it really true that that the FN "particularly attracts those who have nothing more to lose?" There is a good deal of evidence suggesting that the answer is no. The FN has found support in many segments of society, including retirees and small businessmen who definitely have something to lose. Its working-class support has been increasing, and some of that may come from the unemployed, but some of it also comes from the employed, who have their jobs to lose and fear losing them to immigrants willing to work for lower wages.

What Noiriel wants to call attention to, I think, is the fact that most of the public discussion of FN voters is conducted by "the political-media complex," a fancy term for people like himself and me, who speak of FN supporters as the Other and have no direct contact with the milieux in which a vote for the FN is a live option. We impute attitudes and emotions we do not really fathom: hence the "suffering" narrative, which Noiriel rejects as confabulation. That may be true, but in what respect is "the nothing more to lose" narrative an improvement? Isn't it just another name for the same thing?

Where I think Noiriel is right is in his perception of the way in which Lepenist barbs and provocations, echoed by the media, are used to construct an anti-systemic image. For voters whose judgment is that "the system" has failed them, the response is to seek the candidate whose provocations seem most disruptive of what they see as the routinized and ritualized exchanges that constitute the mainstream discourse. In the ensuing surenchère of acerbic attitude, anti-system candidates compete with each other in a closed rhetorical universe that hives itself off as a separate realm of what Noiriel calls the "democracy of opinion," in which one opinion is deemed as good as another simply because it is voiced and without need for the kind of justification once provided by ideology in the "democracy of parties." Hence the intense media interest in the Le Pen-Mélenchon face-off in Hénin-Beaumont. Nothing of consequence will be decided here, but the battle of provocateurs will surely défrayer la chronique.

3 comments:

DHMCarver said...

Debates in France on the FN remind me often of debates in the United States on the Tea Party -- the difference being that the disaffected who gravitate towards the FN's rhetoric in France have become happily ensconced in one of the "mainstream" parties in the US. There is no view I have heard uttered by a FN politician that cannot be found at the highest levels of the Republican Party (the Holocaust denial excepted).

Anonymous said...

Art: good critique of Noiriel's blabla. He's a first-rate historian but should leave contemporary political analysis to others.

DHM Carver: what you say about the Republicans is spot on. I've been making this argument for years, most recently on my blog.
http://arunwithaview.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/le-pen-and-america/

Arun

Anonymous said...

A socialist from the North who won't vote for the PS in the législatives
http://www.marcvasseur.info/index.php/2012/05/21/je-ne-voterai-pas-socialiste-aux-legislatives/

A phenomenon that is far from being marginal apparently.