Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Caldwell on Le Pen

I linked a few days ago to an interview of American neoconservative writer Christopher Caldwell with Rue89. The piece he was writing on France, which led to that interview, is now up at The Weekly Standard, the flagship publication of American neoconservatism. For Caldwell, the primary reason for the FN surge is the EU, "The French people have more Europe than they want," he writes:

Once Europe is identified as the problem, a political program comes into view—one aimed at restoring powers, formal and informal, that have been relocated abroad. Ms. Le Pen likens her movement to the Tea Party. To an extent that would surprise those familiar with the old FN, Ms. Le Pen is comfortable talking about economics. She would withdraw from the European Union and from the euro, which she rejects on the grounds that it is not an “optimal currency area,” in the sense laid out by the economist Robert Mundell. Who can dispute that? Her reading of the austerity plans being imposed on Greece and Ireland is that “they are destroying the peoples to save the currency.”

But this seems to me rather limited as an explanation of the current situation. More interesting is an observation he makes earlier:

The number of French people who don’t naturally gravitate either to the Socialists or to Sarkozy’s UMP is large, and there is reason to believe it is growing. Hannah Arendt wrote somewhere that right-wing movements appeal to the “déclassé of all classes,” and Marine Le Pen is frank about wanting those votes. “The working class, the unemployed, young people” is Marine Le Pen’s first description of who votes for the FN, but she is quick to note that women are backing the party in greater numbers. 

The "déclassé of all classes" is an excellent formula, although MLP's account of the demographics of her party oddly leaves out the elderly, which I think is one of her core constituencies. Older voters, fearful of demographic and cultural change, set in their ways, with limited contact with new elements of French society: such people are in evidence at FN meetings. Marine Le Pen naturally prefers to emphasize the dynamism of youthful adherents to her party, and no doubt this bears watching. But the fearful older voter is one who is, as it were, naturally "déclassé," no matter what his or her class of origin. Displaced by the young and with more to protect from "insecurity" and the claims of the "state," this is a group that has been tapped by recent populist movements everywhere. A Times survey of Tea Party supporters showed that they were older and wealthier than the general population. Does anyone know of a similar study for France?


Olivier said...

According to exit polls in the first round of 2007 presidential election, the elderly did not vote as much as the general population for M. LePen.
He scored best among working-class, high school drop-outs and male voters.
It's rather safe to assume this will be again the core constituency of his daughter
Ms. LePen has very few common talking points with the Tea Party's, which mostly focused on taxes and limited governement.

brent said...

Olivier is certainly right about the programmatic differences--almost total-- between the FN and the Tea Parties. There is, I think, a powerful emotional commonality though: both look to the nostalgic past for a more homogeneous nation (Tea Partiers are exclusively white), both appeal to a simplistic patriotism, and both resist the modern globalized economy in favor of an obscurely defined notion of self-sufficiency. But Sarah Palin makes MLP sound like Voltaire.

meshplate said...

Since the programs of the FN and tea party are located entirely in the realms of bathos and dull-witted fantasy, the point is that they share common hatreds. They are reactionaries which is what binds them.