Tag Archives: France

Extreme Tension on the Right in France*

I. Introduction

For several years now, extreme right in France has presented two tendencies. The first tendency, to be called neo-conservative, lacks an established party and is relatively new in the French political scene. Ultraliberal from an economic point of view, it is also ultra-reactionary in everything related to family values, abortion, contraception or assisted reproductive technology (ART). It arrived in France some fifteen years ago by transposing the American ultra-right (mainly the evangelist one) into the traditionalist Catholic framework favoured by the pontificate of John Paul II. It became a political force through movements such as La manif pour tous (LMPT)[1], Sens Commun[2] and journals like L’incorrect or Valeurs Actuelles. For a long time, it was present in very small circles, trying to influence, for example, N. Sarkozy, F. Fillon and L. Wauquiez[3]. This high-tech extremism has young activists and is embodied today by Marion Maréchal.

The second, better identified and commented, is populist and nationalist and more neutral in terms of family mores and values (does not show hostility towards contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage), this despite the presence of former Lefebvrists[4] within its ranks. It claims dédiabolisation and has a classic power-seizing strategy: in the ballots through a party, (Rassemblement National [RN], heir of the Front National [FN]). Its favourite topics are anti-migration, “remigration” and “the great replacement”. It is embodied by Marine Le Pen, who keeps, softened, the cheeky humour and the apparent frank talk of her father.

The existence of these two distinct right-wing extremist positions and the tensions between them have led to several identifiable consequences. First, there is a threat of break-up of the right (Les Républicains [LR]). This threat derived mainly from the attempts of neo-conservatives to enter classical right-wing parties (as is the case in the United States). François-Xavier Bellamy’s[5] candidacy at the head of the list for European elections is a significant example thereof. The aim was to eliminate the moderate right —in France, the Gaullist and regal right, and even more the social right. . Some of the traditional right voters who did not consider themselves as part of the ultra-Catholic neoconservative extremism of Laurent Wauquiez and François-Xavier Bellamy have already expressed their wishes and voted for La République En Marche.

Second, the RN has partly recovered and can prosper electorally in the context of the so-called “yellow vest” crisis. Here the lack of crisis management by progressive parties and even by the LR is quite noticeable (we saw Éric Ciotti[6] or Laurent Wauquiez put on a yellow vest in November 2018 before making a sudden turnaround in December). The political hound dogs are not mistaken. That is why Patrick Buisson[7], a consistent neoconservative, has abruptly approached the RN, and why LR municipal officials are already looking favourably at the RN for the Union des droites lists. Moreover, here has been an extremist rise over leadership within the LR, which became noticeable before the election of Christian Jacob as leader of the party. A rapprochement between the RN and LR is therefore possible, which would mean an extreme turn to the right for the French classical right, with its liberal centre wing joining the presidential party.

Although both extremists dream of union, such is a “forbidden debate” (Thierry Mariani[8] quoted by Ollivier, 2018). But, leaving their differences aside, do they form a “bloc” (in Gramsci’s terms) for the conquest of power? The strength of neo-conservatism, born from ultra-liberal think tanks, lies in its conception of State reform to impose market rules on public services (hospitals, education, pensions) by the power of the state. But in this field, La République En Marche is a competitor. The RN seems to be the only one to take charge of popular anger and demands, and this could bring it to power. However, how long will the hate speech (anti-elite, anti-migration, anti-parliament, anti-Europe, anti-journalism, etc.) disguise an inconsistent economic and social program? Even more decisive and disabling seems to be its lack of a proper religious anchorage. Indeed, this is a terrain where the extreme right is currently thriving worldwide. Will Marine Le Pen be seen in Notre Dame, as Matteo Salvini did before in the Duomo of Milan, taking the oath jointly on the Bible and the Italian constitution? The tension between the two extreme rights in the French political field undoubtedly plays out on the religious terrain.

These two political entities come from very different political backgrounds despite their family ties. The first one, a US-origin neoconservatist force, was transposed to France in the early 2000s. The other, a nationalist and populist force, got established in France during the nineteenth, and particularly the twentieth century. We will first analyse the history of the Front National (II) and then that of French neoconservatism (III) before drawing up a picture of their union (IV) and doing a partial analysis of the tensions this generates.

II. A look back at the history of the Front National

A. The Front National, its origin and evolution

At the time it was born in 1972, the FN was based on the revanchists of French Algeria, and some monarchists and nostalgics of Pétain[9] and the 1934 leagues, all of whom dreamed of overthrowing the Republic. After years of a highly fragmented right-wing extremism reduced to a small extent—in particular by the cleansing and disapproval of the collaboration—and surviving only at groupuscule dimension (GUD[10], Occident[11], Ordre nouveau[12], Jeune nation[13]; some of which would join the FN), the issue was to create a mass party for action (identified with Doriot[14] and the Italian MSI); one likely to enter the legalism of the electoral game, at least in appearance. The party attracted several kinds of activists: Poujadists, traditionalist and fundamentalist Catholics, neo-Nazis and was characterised by an oratory style that appealed to violence in line with a totalitarian style. Among its founders, Francis Duprat[15] claims to be a Lenin-like revolutionary[16]. Direct action is part of the (neo-fascist) groupuscule culture inherited by the FN. Disciple of Doriot, former communist and collaborator Victor Barthélémy[17], for example, has made several references to Mussolini. In addition, the symbol of the Italian MSI neo-fascists (a green-white-red flame) has been transposed into blue-white-red for the FN.

The programme was simple: society must be organised according to “natural” rules. A hierarchical order is natural if it reassures the legitimate, non-transferable authority. This order opposes “constructivism”, egalitarian individualism and modern contractualism. Thus, the natural authority affirmed is that 1) of the owner over their property (of the craftsman, the peasant, the entrepreneur over the fruit of their work), 2) of the father over his children (education as well as the budgets for culture and health need to be privatised), 3) moreover, inhabitants are rooted in the territory as their vital space, a territory that generates a natural, ethnic and cultural identity. Furthermore, “Nature” is regarded as the standard of the Good and the Beauty. It constitutes a hierarchical order just like the Church or the army. Since men are neither good nor perfectible, a hierarchical authority is necessary. This somewhat rustic common sense is far from the neo-conservative economic theories of the Institut Turgot[18] or Atlantico[19].

B. The dédiabolisation of the FN

During the 1980s, the fact that the FN entered the representative system, its rise and growing importance on the national political scene and the break—at least on record—with, among others, those who were nostalgic for Nazi Germany were quite remarkable events. Nevertheless, some past legacies have remained to this day: the exaltation of Catholic virtues and the “promotion of the French family”, the condemnation of “secularist, Masonic and leftist sectarianism” and of the laws allowing abortion[20]. Abortion was conceived as genocide and and it was seen necessary to destatize an education perceived as Marxist. SOS Racisme[21], MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples)[22] and LICRA (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme)[23] were labelled as anti-French lobbies, while feminism were the result of the Marxisation of the mind. Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary were always called to the rescue, but within a more neutral rhetoric that moves away from that of fascist or National Socialist mass parties. It was the end of the appeal to violence, despite the ambiguities and diverse positions taken by subgroups or individuals.

Since the mid-2000s, pro-colonial and, at times, royalist topics, nostalgia for the collaboration and anti-Semitism seemed largely exhausted subject matters. The French far right seems to have broken with the non-conformist reactionary utopia (Doriot), even if the idea of a radical transformation of society, of a break necessary to return to the past, of a revolution in the etymological sense still persists. The Republic was no longer the object of imprecations, although the recent rhetoric of Frontist “republicanism” did little to hide its discourse of national identity in the non-republican right-of-blood sense. Mostly, the party moved from anti-Semitism to anti-Islamism. There has also been a shift from ultraliberalism to an “anti-system” critique of globalisation, from the praise to NATO and Reaganism to an anti-American sentiment and praises to Vladimir Putin.

Alain Soral[24] is said, among other things, to be at the origin of Marine Le Pen’s speeches (“republicanism”, “people of the workers”) (Albertini and Doucet, 2014, p. 281), while at the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be actively exploiting the ideological background partly undone by the FN, with the help of Maurras’ follower, Patrick Buisson. The dissemination of extremist language and values has been very broad and constitutes an ideological victory. “[…] FN leader and his favourite topics—immigration, lack of public safety, national identity—have ‘contaminated’ the French political agenda so deeply that the discussion is built around them” (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 394). Nowadays, even Macron’s LREM uses an analytical framework partly coming from the RN (Grange, 2020).

Since the election of Marine Le Pen as president of the party in 2001, several shifts have taken place, which turn right-wing extremism into neo-populist nationalism, whose activists or supporters are partly former workers or people from certain modest middle classes. These social groups were driven out of working-class or socially mixed structured urban neighbourhoods and relegated either to remote “urban” areas or to areas mainly occupied by immigrants, their competitors in the labour market. At the same time, there has been a notable shift, a form of reversal taking place within the FN. Anti-Semitism has given way to an anti-Muslim discourse[25] and anti-communism is fading in favour of an anti-globalisation rhetoric (even Brecht, Marx and Michea have been quoted). The left-right landmark has been knowingly blurred. This nationalist, protectionist anti-liberalism contrasts with the libertarian neo-conservative hyper liberalism, which is generally pro-European, even if it is a Europe with “Christian roots”, a federation of nations.

Over the past decade, the electorates of the UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire, now Les Républicains) and the FN have seemed less and less disjointed (Fourquet and Gariazzo, 2013). Both parties have been getting closer on matters related to identity and immigration, but increasingly diverging on social and economic issues.

“The stances taken by different leaders of this conservative current, whether the new general secretary of the party, Laurent Wauquiez, or the leaders of the Sens commun movement, deliberately refuse to choose between the FN and the PS and seek to develop a doctrinal body able to attract an electorate potentially seduced by the FN to the UMP–LR and to the parliamentary right” (Brustier and Escalonga, 2015, p. 525). Right-wing extremism has been thus ideologically absorbed by a government party[26].

The collapse of the middle classes and the social suffering of the “blind spot of globalisation” (the working classes of developed countries) (Guilly, 2014) created an invisible mass in distress, which has been left outside the social game and political discourse. In all regions, the Frontist vote is over-represented around large metropolises, in the suffering peri-urban areas, and extends towards small towns and rural areas (Guilly, 2014, p. 58). The working classes, the unemployed, the young people excluded from employment, the low-income retirees, middle-class declassed, the petit blanc, choose the Front National, which has become the Rassemblement National. This success is partly caused by the weakness of social discourses among progressive parties and the disappearance of the communist party.

III. Another extreme right: the transposition of American neoconservatism to France

The so-called neoconservatism in the United States has long been a realistic doctrine that aspired to international military and political influence, therefore, to the hard power of the American State apparatus. From Reagan’s presidency, but especially after 2003 under G. W. Bush, the prevailing objective—fuelled by the evils of counterculture—has been the inner remoralisation of America, together with a theological approach to politics. The goal was to cause panic in an already restless public opinion after 9-11 and to gain strength through soft power. God has chosen the US of free enterprise to fight Evil. The forms of action and slogans of evangelist and Catholic groups in the United States have been implemented in extreme Catholic groups and tradismatic movements (traditionalists and charismatics) in Europe. As in politics, as in Religion the catholic new conservatives, thought of themselves as a morally exalted, outsider group, standing in judgment over a sinful nation (Allit, 1995).

A. GRECE[27] and the Club de l’Horloge[28]

The new intellectual right comprises the Club de l’Horloge —founded in 1974 by Henry de Lesquen[29], Yvan Blot[30] and Jean-Yves Le Gallou[31]— and GRECE (the “new atheist right” according to the FN), which operated independently (the FN incorporated some of its ideas between 1988 and 1992, before breaking up in 1992-93) (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 373).  It sought to rebuild an essentially neoliberal right based on the elites and think tanks, far from the insults and questionable jokes of FN members—although there are some deserters between different groups and the FN. The aim was to preserve Western values, to criticise Christian idealism and weakness in a somewhat Nietzschean tone and to establish a “cultural counter-power” (Alain de Benoist). It was this rather peculiar right that would meet the powerful current of neoconservatism coming from the United States at the beginning of the millennium.

“Convinced that the best tactic for taking down an adversary is to turn their weapons against them, GRECE adheres to the theories of the left […] On the other hand, within the reference system built by GRECE is Gramsci, who supposedly ‘demonstrated’ that the conquest of political power requires that of cultural power” (Chebel d’Appolonia, 1996, p. 320). Club 89[32] created by Alain Juppé worked in parallel (but has also written a joint report with the Club de l’Horloge) offering a more realistic and statist approach to take power—the concept of “national preference” was born in this context and later taken on by the FN.

The Club de l’Horloge and GRECE subsequently showed a significant evolution towards criticism of economic liberalism and condemnation of Occidentalism. In any case, the complexity and versatility of the doctrines make the work of GRECE difficult to analyse. But this right-wing extremism was the first to fraternise with the neoconservatism from across the Atlantic. They were both “cold” political trends originated in private circles or groups, far from the anti-intellectual nature and bloody nationalism of the FN. Hence, “the issue is no longer to take power, but to provide an ideological, philosophical and cultural basis able to guide (or contradict) decisions”, as stated by GRECE (Favard-Jirard, 2008). “The Nouvelle Droite[33] went to (ideological) war with a package full of masks, lamps, cotillions and pamphlets […] The murderous theories of yesteryear, those that had thrived in the France of the Barrès, Maurras and Déroulède, would be carefully removed from the limelight, without being put back permanently […]. Therefore, GRECE members’ speeches include multiple references to Che Guevara, Blanqui, the Brigate Rosse” (Maricourt, 1993, p. 33). Despite the differences in the discourses, some of the characteristics of the Nouvelle Droite and GREECE are used by the new French conservatism represented by Marion Maréchal.

The mode of action of the Nouvelle Droit is similar to that of the think tanks on the other side of the Atlantic. For a long time, however, this was a neo-pagan movement, neither Christian, and certainly, nor Catholic. This is why American neoconservatives have long struggled to make a real alliance with these groups. “What is left of this attempt at renewal? Simply, and this is not a small thing, the irruption of ideas that the Nouvelle Droite helped spread, popularise in the intellectual debate […] The rehabilitation, against the Jacobin republican model, of religious and ethnical communities […] The introduction of American communitarians into France as well as of a set of works around Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger; a renewal of the economic positions of the rights, in an anti-materialistic sense in the case of GRECE, and in an ultra-liberal sense in the case of the Club de l’Horloge” (Maricourt, 1993, p. 176).

Some (namely, the populist extreme right) made use of the common themes (the fight against homosexuality, feminism, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, parliamentary democracy) to defend the Nation or French identity; others (neo-conservatives from big cities or western Paris and other gentrified spaces) used them to defend the Christian commandments (hidden under terms such as “natural order”, civilisation and even “human values”) and to support the contentment with a Christian Europe (Manent, 2006).

B. One of the legacies of Pétainism

What brings the ideology of the “National Revolution” and neoconservatism closer together is the reactionary utopia of the “natural order” (the natural neoliberal character of the market, social and family order) successfully combined with industrial rationalisation (as far as Vichy is concerned). In both cases the imposition of a new economic and social order responds to roots more counter-revolutionary than traditionalist. A reactionary revolution aimed at society, by instrumentalising the State: such was the paradox both in 1940 and 2010. In 1940, the prerequisite was the repeal of the 1875 republican constitutional laws—some neoconservative currents dream of this even today, although they will not admit it. To this they add, among other things, the challenge to the programme of the National Council of Resistance.

Despite having a different socio-historical and economic context, their common ground is to impose a radical social transformation, a change in the meaning of institutions (what is currently called a “state reform”), whose aim is to impose market rules on public institutions. The instrument for this institutional change is an unusual anti-republican State with a strong executive power, a State that transforms society through administration to inculcate or impose its “moral values”. “Vichy left traces where the traditionalists had a free pass: the family, public morality” (Paxton, 1999, p. 138).

It was in the context of defeat and occupation, under the threat of an even more fatal fate, that Vichy has imposed a new counter-revolutionary social order. It is under another form of threat, i.e., the social crisis in fact generated by an economic crisis, that neoconservatism is trying to impose itself today. Likewise, a civil war, critical events or disorders may be the source of a new divine surprise [34] that some neo-conservatives are secretly calling for.

“On the one hand, extreme right-wing thought is based upon the affirmation of an immutable “natural” (or divine) order to which all human societies must conform […]. And on the other hand, against the course of the universal decadence of human things, its political project aims at establishing a “new order”, rebuilding a deeply degraded and perverted social edifice on new bases […]” (Janin, 2009, p. 150).

The bottom line is that the establishment of this “new order” is not “natural”. Like in Pétainism, the instrument to restore the intermediate bodies, the political role of fathers of large families and the defence of corporations is the state or the administration. Similarly, the return to values is carried out within a state framework: “family” values are set by the state.

The proposal to return to the foundations (love and family, meaning and spirituality, discipline, authority) is presented as spontaneous and popular but, on closer look, seeks to impose such values by law and the state. This is a particular brand of reactionaries (the Pétainism of 1940, the Printemps français[35] and Sens Commun at present). It is neither traditionalism (which would simply like to reinvest the religious, moral or cultural past and operate in continuity), nor conservatism in the sense of immobility and perpetuation of existing institutions. This particular form of extremism is adorned with the rhetoric of rupture: the return to “values” would be innovative. The “new paradigm” is something different from a return to the past. It is a religious and political revolution.

Therefore, the neoconservative extreme right seeks to review the achievements of the French Revolution, May 1968, the welfare state and republicanism, with the aim of “returning” to the social (and political) role of the church. In the words of Bernard Antony:

“Thirty years after May 68, we must develop the necessary cultural counter-revolution. The fight will be hard! But we have already had some successes: in 1996 the celebration of the fifteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, last 9 November the trial of communism, France has a universal destiny” (Mendès-France and Praz, 1998, p. 229).

C. Return to religion

Despite some common ideological elements, this mixture of populist nationalism and traditionalism is nevertheless quite different from the neo-conservatism that came from the United States. Neoconservatism in the United States has been transformed and greatly strengthened by its alliance with the Tea Party and evangelical movements. It grew from some small think tanks to a large political movement. A similar but more troublesome attempt has been taking place in France since the 2000s. The circles of the new intellectual right, including the Club de l’Horloge, have attempted to create a larger and more popular movement by returning to the religious tradition. But French Catholicism is not evangelism. It retains strong traces of Gallicism as well as of social Christianity. In addition, the French society seems much less willing to retain or return to religion than the American society. Then, in a context of secularisation and thanks to the action of certain extreme-right bishops, a return to religion movement was launched in France by means of another American import: the charismatic movements.

The charismatic movement, which appeared as an exotic variant of Christianity, heterogeneous to the theological culture of the Church of France (evangelical Christians practise a literal reading of the Bible)[36] and to the Catholic institutions of Europe, has remarkably grown in importance within the church itself. This movement, which perceives itself as capable of saving a church in decline thanks to the vocations of the new evangelization, has served as an incubator and support for the protest movements. Its more recent manifestations range from the LMPT to the politicisation of the Sens Commun movement, linking the traditionalist Catholic branch of the FN to the neoconservatives.

The reactionary currents (LMPT, Les Veilleurs[37]) that manifested themselves on the French streets in 2012 and 2013 do not represent a reactionary intolerance or a simple attachment to the past. They are syncretic and come from several sources. These groups have worked on their language elements for a decade or two within the Nouvelle Droite think tanks and prayer and evangelisation circles. They show great activism, sometimes even within academic institutions, and have stood out for their numerous publications, and specially their intense online presence.  They evoke a dogma or unitary metaphysics such as novation, a re-enchantment revolutionising the supposed disenchantment of modernity, a return to myths and beliefs.

This re-enchantment is assimilated to post-secularism [38]. Dedicated to materialism, scientism and reductionism, modern secularism would be impoverishing for humanity, an “anthropological rupture”, “a subtractive story”. Human nature would require belief, presented as a form of fundamental impulse, an intuitive and spontaneous search for “re-enchantment”, an irrepressible conviction, a taste for the “wonderful”. Faith and belief would be an individual and collective evidence. In this simplistic scheme, the break with superstition, the modern scientific progress, is regarded as loss (“the loss of meaning). In response to the question: what is modernity? Henri Guaino (2016) answers[39], “[…] surrogacy, euthanasia, gender theory, denunciation, communitarianism, suppression of notes or cursive writing, commodification of the world. But what is this modernity before which everything must give way?” Capitalism is virtuous, but it is the defeat of morality, the weakening of religious practices, consumerism and the relaxation of morals, which, since May 68, has transformed social and economic activity into disorder and immorality.

The return to moral values (in fact religious and if possible Catholic) is presented as the only answer to the culture of death and the need for meaning that has emerged at the very heart of postmodernity. This return is therefore quite frequently linked to religious fundamentalism. Following René Rémond, this would mean considering that a past moment of the institution is an eternal model (Camus and Lebourg, 2015, p. 183). Fundamentalism refers to all those who fight against the political and social openness of Catholicism by any means including denunciation; then, the adversaries of any openness who confuse devotion to the past with loyalty to the Lord. (Poulat, 1969, p. 78).

The neo-conservative return to religion is very selective. Spiritualities without institutions, clerics or churches, non-Christian forms of faith, beliefs without monotheistic transcendence are left aside, as well as many currents within the Church itself, social Christianity, among others. Not to mention, agnosticism or deism. Non-fundamentalists are designated negatively by default and are violently fought even today

But what characterises fundamentalism (Protestant, Muslim or Catholic) is that it is less a spiritual search or a religious movement than a political process. The aim is to politically embody and literally realise religion in society by political means (with some preferring violence to politics). The fundamentalist conception of faith implies an absolute truth of dogmas. It does not allow the possibility of religious convictions confined to the private domain (this is the secular ideal), nor the possibility of praying in Assisi next to devotees of other creeds. Originally close to traditionalism—the aim being that liturgy and the organisation of the church stay the same—and inner to Catholicism—in opposition to liturgical progress, modernisation of the dress code and language of worship, etc.—fundamentalism supports a political return to an anti-modern past that confuses politics with religion. At present, its Catholic neoconservative version wants to prevail through cultural and political influence rather than violence.

D. Intellectuals, philosophers and other extremist influencers

In the last decade, an unseen “new paradigm” has silently become dominant in France, hidden by the downfall of entire branches of the human sciences in French research and public universities. However weak its intellectual coherence—despite a self-proclaimed superiority—this new paradigm is ideologically coherent—challenging modernity and the Enlightenment, proposing the end of state and institutional secularity—and, of course, has consequences on French public policies. In fact, the definition of natural moral rules, the idea—between cognitivism and Thomism—that there are social rules inscribed in our neurons and the notion that there are “social essences” that do not derive from contractualism or history has led to sophisticated expressions of the Vatican’s views as well as to radical evangelism. For example, regarding the state of the embryo. They have also led to justify neoliberal economic arguments that fiercely opposed the public service of education, as well as any tax or state regulation on the economy (Roucaute, 2005; Folscheid, 2002; Nef and Livet, 2009; Delsol, 2002; Delsol and Grimpret, 2008; Nemo, 2002).

The warhorse of neo-conservatives, as will be explained in detail further on, is the return of religions to the societal space. “God is for everyone! The Catholic faith must open up to public debate and it is not good to send everything back into the private sphere” (Clavier, 2013). They postulate that secularisation or secularism (the latter being the recognition and guarantee of respect for any individual conviction, which neoconservatism denies) would be the bearers of a true crisis for French or European society. A claim that is far from being demonstrated; on the contrary, we may presume that the crisis is linked to the capitalist world economy or to the lack of clarity of progressive socialism.

The Christian religion, the return to the Christian roots of France and Europe, would be destined to rescue true freedom and true democracy (Ratzinger, 1994, p. 50). The liberticidal tyranny of the State, the legal subjectivism “without territory” and social Darwinism would lead to anomie, suicide, relativism. Therefore, tradition, borders, limits should be proposed as a counterbalance. The family and its values then rise against the state, pornography, surrogacy[40]. Relativism and the the culture of death derived from May 1968 is destined to be overthrown by a new and traditionalist “May 68” (Bès de Berc, Durano and Roktvan, 2014). According to this rhetoric, the negative and nihilistic Parisian philosophers do not understand that there is a “failure of the soul”, a “repression of God” (Allan Bloom, Pierre Manent), and that republicanism is oppressive (it even leads to foeticide).

Therefore, a necessary re-enchantment is imposed: a return to emotions, meaning, faith, to the real life of the real people (muted by intellectuals, lazy and evil Marxist teachers, and by the forced secularisation of institutions). People from the suburbs would be in need of meaning, their poverty is spiritual in principle. Suffering and social unrest derive from a failure caused by atheistic modernism, hedonism (related to consumerism), individualism (related to selfishness), by secularism and relativism fundamentalists and even by capitalism (when bosses and managers are no longer Christian).

This rhetoric of “re-enchantment” and “new paradigm” is not traditionalist, it is post-post-modern and neo-reactionary. A rhetoric that strives to bring back the work of critical thinkers (such as Foucault, Bourdieu, Barthes, Debord, G. Anders) and democrats who criticised modern democracy in the name of the ideal of modernity (such as Tocqueville, Marx, Proudhon, Nietzsche, Zyzek). It maintains Nietzsche’s challenge to the Enlightenment and Kantian morality, but not his criticism of Christianity. Philosophical works are instrumentalised and sometimes read in contrast to their clearest doctrines. These neoconservatives do not hesitate to affirm that modern rationalism would have engendered fascism, Nazism and communism. According to them and from a philosophical point of view, “another Enlightenment”—a Christian one—could triumph over the Enlightenment and modern ideals and define the roots and identity of Europe through another Reason (which could be that of Maurrassism or neo-Thomistic rationalism). In this context, Scottish contributors to the Enlightenment are valued and studied within philosophy.

An outstanding example, among many, is provided by Pierre Manent, who recently expressed his anti-contractualism and direct opposition to democratic modernity. The positive, irreversible and decisive rupture of modernity is understood here as a loss, a subtraction, an error, a fortunately reversible break. The social contract, the natural law (in the modern sense) and human rights must be erased. A “new paradigm” regards religion and prejudice as something necessary for social life and favours “culture” and contextualisation over universal truths.

Neoconservatism therefore differs from traditionalism, conservatism, reactionism. Already a successful movement in the United States, neoconservatism has been transferred to Europe since the 2000s, initially through think tanks and some inconspicuous groups and by the “conversion” of intellectual elites, particularly those from philosophy and the humanities. In its attempts at seduction, it has resorted to topics such as the re-enchantment and the return to meaning, values and beliefs in established institutions (CNRS, ENS, EHESS as well as in external offices (IPC[41], IUP, Collège supérieur de Lyon[42], “Université” catholique de l’Oues“). It also spread in the press, magazines and shows of scientific dissemination and discussion, and on the street thanks to movements such as Le Printemps Français, Jour de Colère[43], Les Veilleurs or Sens Commun. After several attempts (François Fillon’s candidacy for the 2017 presidential elections), the movement is currently looking for a new political anchor in France, well aware that it would be better to operate by internal transformation, subversion of traditional political parties (the Republican Party in the United States is a good example), than by creating an ad hoc party. It should be noted, however, that while the nature and processes of neoconservatism are similar in Europe and across the Atlantic, the doctrinal content is different, among other things, because of French political history. The transposition is, therefore, a translation, a transformation.

The—carefully designed—pastel colour ideologies and demonstration materials of the LMPT after the Printemps français, the misleading headlines, the sites and organisations with kind façades, all those young dynamic activists of the “return to meaning”, the words of freedom, humanism, transdisciplinarity, spirituality, the seminars of logic or philosophy of science, they all hide a major ideological undertaking. The latest proposal for “human ecology” or “integral ecology” (Bès de Berc, Durano[44] and Roktvan, 2014)[45], a proposal that is barely ecological but entirely neo-conservative, is quite representative of the subject of our reflections.

Like right-wing extremism in general, neo-conservative thinking is, is controversial in all its expressions; garnished by a rhetoric of break: “anthropological” divorce is condemned by the “natural” law [46]. The “change of civilisation”[47] would require a “cultural struggle”. Neoconservatism then develops antitheses (the “loss of meaning” opposed to “true values”, the “culture of death” opposed to Christian faith) strategically arranged to define its perspective by means of opposition. Relativism and materialism (Delsol, 2011) (consumerism, communism) are indeed a threat to Europe and French society. To restore these “true values” would be to overcome a social and spiritual crisis. For neoconservatism, this restoration goes through the elites miraculously rediscovering the “common sense” of the “French people”.

“Restoration” is a desire to annihilate the emancipatory ideals of the Enlightenment, as reinterpreted during the Glorious Thirty. It transposes a scheme developed in the United States to France but expressed within a particular framework, previously defined by French right-wing extremism. The transposition has some distinct characteristics. Like its source of inspiration on the other side of the Atlantic, French neoconservatism advances in disguise, within the framework of a cultural war, hence the euphemisms. It proceeds in three stages: 1) evoking a “crisis of meaning” (o disguise the imposition of a return to religious dogmas), 2) alerting to the danger of a supposed “anthropological break” (thus denoting the extension of legal equality to sexuality), 3) proposing a “new paradigm” (to hide its intelligent design or pseudo-scientific apologetics). The Movement has denounced as naive the ideas of the “empire of good” or the “political correctness” (modern ideals of social justice, the beatitude according to P. Muray[48]). It is the Christian religion, with its emphasis on the importance of evil and the fall that could bestow a little density and complexity to the human condition.

E. Think tanks and the media, extremism 2.0

In France, as in the rest of the world, the far right is currently using alternative channels to those preferred by traditional organisations. Formatting opinion involves a large number of associations, think tanks, institutes with vague and apparently neutral names, that difficult to relate to right-wing extremism. The very name of the school opened by Marion Maréchal in Lyon, Institut de sciences sociales, économiques et politiques (ISSEP), is inexplicit, even if the stance of its founder does not leave room for doubt.

Publications, think tanks, institutes and associations, websites, blogs play an intermediate role between that of the University and simple militant media. The political question is only present in an indirect way and never immediately visible. They address taxes, ethics, education and, through these specific social concerns, the public is turned towards neoconservatism. This is also the case of certain think tanks or prayer circles (focused on conjugality, the relationship between the sexes, psychology, etc.). Methods proven by the new evangelisation or by Opus Dei recruiters are transposed here. Their websites and entertainers are personable and present well-chosen arguments, followed by requests for donations and then, invitations to make a more specific commitment.

Many examples can be mentioned: Institut de formation politique[49], SOS-Éducation, Espérance banlieue[50], Contribuables Associés, Sauvegarde des retraites or institut pour la Justice, IFRAP (Foundation for Research on Administration and Public Policy), Institut des recherches économiques et fiscales (IREF), Créer son école of Anne Coffinier[51] (near the LMPT), Foundation pour l’école turned Liberté pour l’école, Espérance banlieue, Santé, Nature, Innovation (SNI, where Professor Henri Joyeux has long been a scientific expert), etc. Invisible in the public domain, these organisations have a modus operandi and funding sources inspired by the American extreme right. They benefit from significant private donations (in 2014, SOS-Éducation received 1.5 million in donations), corporate funding and even commercial activities (file and email list rental, etc.).

French neoconservatism wants soft power and strives to persuade, to form opinion, to guide actions through ideology (Grange, 2017). Hence, the important presence of extremism in the media: CNews channel has just entrusted a daily programme to É. Zemmour. TV Libertés and PolonyTV, on their part, reflect extremist positions picturing them as innovative. LCI broadcast Eric Zemmour’s speech at the “Convention des Droites” in September 2019 and invited journalists of L’Incorrect (founded by Jacques de Guillebond[52], a close friend of Marion Maréchal). We may add Valeurs Actuelles, FigaroVox, Causeur[53], the Atlantico site (led by a close friend to P. Buisson), Le Comité des orwelliens[54]and many others.

Tweets, sites, blogs, social media messages are effective ways for constant campaign, especially among the under-30s, the new target of the far right. The Veilleurs (now Les éveilleurs d’espérance) was created in 2013 by P. Nicolas and J. Sevillia[55] from the LMPT, like Padreblog (by Abbés Grosjean[56], with 30,000 followers on Facebook), they target a student elite (e.g., those from the Higher Normal Schools where F.X. Bellamy, M. de Jessey, M. Durano were trained, as well as many others who studied under the guidance of Father Armogathe, Paul Clavier[57], Pierre Manent, Rémi Brague[58], J.L. Marion[59] and others).

IV. Meetings, tensions and alliances

Some organisations from the classical extreme right or Catholic traditionalism have concluded with neoconservative movements and taken up their methods. Ichtus[60], for example, is one of the heirs of Jean Ousset‘s Cité catholique[61]. The Fondation Saint-Pie-X[62] has also evolved giving birth to Civitas[63]. The objective, however, is no longer the past monarchical restoration or theocracy. The Institut Ichtus clearly defines the present goal: “It is not the Church that imposes its power, but the State that responds to an invitation to order society in a way that promotes the salvation of souls”. State and church are not in the least confused with each other, but the former is supposed to implement the values of the latter. This political project of a non-denominational or non-theocratic State—but an indirect instrument of a Church that regains power over morals, intellectual life and society—is at the heart of French neoconservatism in its alliance with classical Catholic reactionism.

The alliance of the the Nouvelle Droite and Catholic fundamentalist traditionalism was made through the charismatic movement. This has given birth to the “tradismatics”, hyper-modern animators of La Manif pour Tous, who seek a union between classical-style extremism and neoconservatism.

Could we say, however, that in France in the extreme right identity and partisan (RN) and the neoconservative movements are willing to enter into an alliance? They seem to disagree on some points, even at the ideological level. For example, the RN supports secularism (it is certainly more prone to denounce Muslim street prayers than Civitas parades) as part of “identity republicanism”, while those surrounding Marion Maréchal despised this idea. There is also a great difference regarding the way of seizing power. The RN proclaims a degree of political voluntarism like no other party in France, while neoconservatism is linked to the “intellectual rearmament”, the cultural war, and wants to influence political life either by transforming right-wing parties from within or by becoming the “adviser of princes”. Both, however, want a return to a Christian or Catholic “French identity” within the framework of the “clash of civilisations”. The differences, therefore, concern their strategies to access power, their timetables and the persons who are supposed to incarnate such power.

Given their groupuscule operation, the flow of deserters among groups and their fluctuating alliances, it is difficult to map these movements.  Ideologies often merged.  The RN, whose political future largely depends on its ability to embody social unrest, frequently develops arguments that contradict its own social discourse (e.g., J. Bardella’s compliments to D. Trump for the tax cuts in favour of corporations and the wealthy in autumn 2019).  The populist extreme right (RN) and neoconservatism (Sens Commun, Marion Maréchal, F.X. Bellamy) agree on key points, even if one and the other advance in disguise. The “Convention de la droite” convened in Paris on 28 September 2019 was supposed to focus on the “alternative to progressivism” (a theme of neoconservative tone). Instead was opened by Eric Zemmour’s virulent anti-Islam speech, whose words were very close to the discourse of the RN (the “great replacement”, Islamisation of the streets, extermination of the white Catholic heterosexual male).

The 2013 demonstrations and failure of La Manif pour Tous are practically forgotten, as is the unfortunate incorporation of F. Fillon to Sens commun in the fall of 2016. Despite the disastrous candidacy of F.X. Bellamy in 2019 and the difficulties brought about by the infiltration of the LR, overall it seems that although with decreased street and media visibility, extremism, far from being extinguished, is a fundamental movement. It is a movement that, from now on, will have a considerable weight in French political life, even if it is impossible to know yet how it will achieve this, whether through a “bloc of rights” or through the Rassemblement National.

Behind the supporters and charismatic leaders of the two shades of brown that we have described and behind the Le Pen family saga hides the forest of national and international social networks, true vectors of neoconservative proselytism as well as digital nationalist populism. The elements alien to French political life have weight and will be critical in the future. Right-wing extremism exists all across Europe, in Austria, Hungary, Poland, and the alliances forged within this framework will be decisive.

* Translated by Jean-Marc Gaillard, Association CPCL (France).



Albertini, D. and Doucet, D., 2014. Histoire du Front national. Paris: Texto.

Algazy. J., 1984.  La tentation néofasciste en France, 1944-1965. Paris: Fayard.

Allitt, P., 1995. Catholics intellectuals and conservatives. Politics in America, 1950-1985. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Baverez, N., 2003. La France qui tombe. Paris: Tempus Perrin.

Barrès, M., 1897. Les Déracinés. Paris: Fasquelle

Barrès, M., 1902. Qu’est-ce que Monsieur Émile Zola ? Je le regarde à ses racines : cet homme n’est pas un Français. In: M. Barres, 1902. Scènes et doctrines du nationalisme. Paris: éd. du Trident. pp.12-41.

Bès de Berc, G., Durano, M. and Rokvam, A., 2014. Nos limites pour une écologie intégrale. Paris: Ed. Le Centurion.

Broudel, P., 1970. La Cagoule. Paris: Albin Michel.

Brustier G., 2014. Le Mai 68 conservateur. Paris: Les éditions du Cerf.

Brustier G. and Escalonga, F., 2015. La Gauche et la Droite face au Front national. In: S. Crépin, A. Dézé, and N. Meyer, eds. 2015. Les Faux-semblants du Front national. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po. pp. 505-528.

Buisson, P., 2016. La Cause du peuple. Paris: Éditions Perrin.

Burrier, Ph., 1992. Le fascisme. In J. F. Sirinelli, dir. 1992.  Histoire des droites en France, tome 1. Paris: Gallimard. pp. 603-652.

Camus, J.Y. and Lebourg, N., 2015. Les Droites extrêmes en Europe. Paris: Seuil.

de Jouvenel, B., 1941. Après la défaite. Paris: Plon.

Clavier, P., 2013. Quand un philosophe ose parler de Dieu. Le Figaro, [online] 11 December. Available at: https://www.lefigaro.fr/mon-figaro/2013/12/11/10001-20131211ARTFIG00612-quand-un-philosophe-ose-parler-de-dieu.php [Accessed 12 December 2013].

Chatel, L., 2014. Civitas et les nouveaux fous de Dieu. Paris: Temps présents.

Chebel d’Appolonia, A., 1996. L’extrème droite en France. De Maurras à Le Pen, Paris: Complexe.

Delsol, Ch., 2002. La république, une question française. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Delsol, Ch. and Grimpret, M., 2008. Liquider Mai 68. Paris: Presses de la renaissance.

Delsol, Ch., 2011. l’Âge du renoncement. Paris: Cerf

Favard-Jirard, M., 2008. Vous avez dit : METAPOLITIQUE ? Entretien avec Jacques Marlaud. Novopress, [online] 9 December. Available at: https://fr.novopress.info/ [Accessed 8 August 2009].

Folscheid, D., 2012. Sexe mécanique. Paris: La table ronde.

Foruquet, J. and Gariazzo, M., 2013. F.N. et U.M.P., électorats en fusion. Fondation Jean Jaurès, [blog] 13 Septembre. Available at: https://jean-jaures.org/nos-productions/fn-et-ump-electorats-en-fusion [Accessed 12 May 2014].

George, S., 2007. La pensée enchaînée. Paris: Fayard.

Grange, J., 2017. Les Néoconservateurs. Paris: Agora Pocket.

Grange, J., 2020. Le vicomte, Jeanne d’Arc et le Président. Mediapart, [online] Available at: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/juliette-grange/blog/040920/le-vicomte-jeanne-darc-et-le-president?userid=615670c4-f76c-418b-bc4f-89ab750e1df2 [Accessed 2 January 2020].

Guaino, A., 2016. La Sottise des modernes. Paris: Plon

Guilly, Ch., 2014. La France périphérique. Paris: Flammarion.

Janin, J., 2009. L’Imaginaire du complot. Discours d’extrême droite en France et aux États-Unis. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Leloup, D, Battaglia, M. and Laurent, S., 2019. De SOS Education à la « santé naturelle », voyage dans la galaxie conservatrice des Laarman. Le Monde, [online] 19 October. Available at: https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2019/10/19/de-sos-education-a-la-sante-naturelle-voyage-dans-la-galaxie-conservatrice-des-laarman_6016120_3224.html [Accessed 20 October 2019].

Manent, P., 2006. La Raison des nations : réflexions sur la démocratie en Europe. Paris: Gallimard.

Maricourt, T., 1993. Les nouvelles passerelles de l’extrême droite. Paris: Manya.

Mendès-France, T. and Praz, M. 1998. Une tradition de la haine. Paris: Méditerranée.

Michéa, J.C., 2011. Le complexe d’Orphée. Paris: Flammarion.

Nef, F. and Livet, P., 2009 Les Objets sociaux. Paris: Hermann.

Nemo, P. 2002. Quatre thèses au sujet des rapports entre Libéralisme et christianisme. In: J. Hülsmann and M. Laine, eds. 2002. L’Homme libre. Mélanges en l’honneur de Pascal Salin, Éditions. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. pp. 452-474.

Nora, P., 1964. Les deux apogées de l’Action française. Annales Économies, Sociétés, Civilisation, 19, pp. 129-139.

Ollivier, Ch., 2018. Le Républicain Thierry Mariani marche presque seul vers le FN. Le journal du dimanche, [online] 24 April. Available at: https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/le-republicain-thierry-mariani-marche-presque-seul-vers-le-fn-3632930. [Accessed 1 March 2019].

Ousset, J., 2012. Pour qu’Il règne. Poitiers: Editions Dominique Martin Morin.

Paxton, R., 1973. La France de Vichy, 1940-1944. Paris: Seuil.

Poulat, E., 1969. Intégrisme et catholicisme intégral. Paris: Casterman.

Ratzinger, J., 1994. La religion chrétienne au secours de la démocratie. Communio, 115, XIX, pp. 50-62.

Rémond, R., 1982.  Les Droites en France. Paris: Aubier Montaigne.

Rogger, H. and Weber, E., 1965. The European Right: A historical Profile. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Roucaute, Y., 2005.  Le Néo-conservatisme est un humanisme. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Sirinelli, J.F., Histoire des droites en France, t. I. Paris: Gallimard.

Sternhell, Z., 1999. Maurice Barrès et le nationalisme français. Paris: Pluriel Fayard.

Tettamanzi, R., 1999. Esthétique de l’outrance. Idéologie et stylistique dans les Pamphlets de L.F. Céline. Tusson: Éditions du Lérot.

Weber, E., 1990. L’action française. Paris: Pluriel.

Zemmour, E., 2014. Le Suicide français. Paris: Albin Michel.



[1] La Manif pour Tous (LMPT): founded in 2012, it is a collective of Catholic and conservative associations, supported by the French episcopate although they are officially non-denominational. It has organized large protests against same-sex marriage and adoption. Its best-known spokesperson was Frigide Barjot that later would break with the movement as a consequence of the increasingly reactionary and far-right drift of it. It became a political party in 2015.

[2] Sens commun: movement created in 2013 within the protests against same-sex marriage. This movement, which emerged from La Manif pour Tous, has joined Les Républicains party, supporting the most reactionary and neo-conservative candidates (François Fillon in 2017).

[3] Wauquiez, Laurent (born in 1975): politician, deputy and several times minister in right-wing governments. Ephemeral president of Les Républicains between 2017 and 2019. He represents the most right-wing line of the party, very close to traditionalist Catholic movements.

[4] Bishop Marcel Lefebvre opposed the Vatican II Council (1962/1965). He advocated the continuum of Latin office, was against any progress within the Church, as well as any relationship with any other religion thus creating a dissident movement (Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie-X). He was excommunicated in 1988. Today, his movement and the Curia seem to be getting close again.

[5] Bellamy, François-Xavier (born in 1985): essayist and politician, former student of the École normale supérieure of Paris. Member of European Parliament four Les Républicains. Ideologically close to the radical right-wing and the Catholic fundamentalist tendencies (La Manif pour Tous, Les Veilleurs, etc.).

[6] Ciotti, Éric (born in 1965): politician of Les Républicains, member of the National Assembly for Alpes Maritimes. He represents the far right wing of the party.

[7] Buisson, Patrick (born in 1949): political scientist and journalist, influenced by the ideology of Maurras. He has been campaigning for a very long time for the Union des droites. He has been an advisor to many politicians, in particular Nicolas Sarkozy.

[8] Mariani, Thierry (born in 1958): politician, deputy and minister, moved from the Right to the Rassemblement national for which he is currently a European deputy. He militates for the Union des droites.

[9] In l’Heure de Vérité, on French TV, in 1984, Jean-Marie Le Pen said, “Pétain was unfairly overwhelmed”.

[10] GUD: Groupe Union Défense, an extreme right-wing student organization created in 1968. Has drawn attention to its violent actions against left-wing parties. Was very active in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front national.

[11] Occident: Extreme right-wing group founded in 1964 under the influence of Pierre Sidos. Nationalist, racist, counterrevolutionary and anti-republican, this group celebrated collaboration with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944 in the name of defending the West. It was rebuilt under the name Ordre nouveau, although some of its members have migrated to the GUD.

[12] Ordre nouveau: Far-right nationalist political movement, which replaced Occident in 1969. Future ministers Gérard Longuet and Alain Madelin were among the leaders of the movement. The movement participated in the founding of the FN in 1972. After a violent confrontation with the Ligue Communiste, the movement was dissolved in 1973. Most of the members left the F.N. in 1974.

[13] Jeune Nation: Nationalist group created in 1948 and dissolved in 1958, which frequently participated in violent demonstrations.

[14] Doriot, Jacques (1898-1945): journalist and politician, after passing through communism, he joins fascism. He was a staunch supporter of collaboration with Nazi Germany, he fought on the Eastern Front as a volunteer in the SS. In 1944 he took refuge in Germany and a year later he was killed by the allied air force.

[15] Duprat, François (1940-1978): politician and essayist, defender of the negationist theses, influential member of the FN. He has published in far-right newspapers and magazines. He died in the explosion of his car, a case that has never been clarified.

[16] Duprat was the first one to use the term “national populism” (Camus and Lebourg, 2015, p. 211).

[17] Barthélemy, Victor (1906-1985): politician who went from communism to fascism and collaborated in the Parti Populaire Français of J. Doriot. He was a Supporter of French Algeria in the 1950-60s. He participated in the creation of the FN with J.-M. Le Pen in 1972.

[18] Institut Turgot: Ultra liberal think tank that disseminates information online. Opposed to any form of state regulation in economy or education. Spread skeptical arguments about climate change.

[19]Atlantico: online news site created in 2011. Representative of a neoconservative movement inspired by the United States.

[20] Condemned in the Present journal, a forum of fundamentalist Catholicism within the FN.

[21] SOS Racisme: association created in 1984 to confront the rise of racism promoted by the FN of Jean-Marie Le Pen. The slogan is “Don’t touch my buddy”. The objective of the association is to build a “mixed republic” which ensures equality for all.

[22] MRAP: Created in 1949 by former deportees to concentration camps. Currently close to many organizations of the left and extreme left without ever appealing to violence, very active in the reception and regularization of undocumented immigrants.

[23] LICRA: founded in 1928. Association combating racist and anti-Semitic acts and statements, in particular by bringing cases systematically to court.

[24] Alain Soral (born 1958): extreme right-wing essayist and ideologue who maintains a very popular blog “Égalité et réconciliation”. Several times he was condemned for racist and anti-Semitic remarks, negationism and apology for war crimes or against humanity. Close to the FN of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

[25] The two kinds of xenophobia are sometimes juxtaposed within the same organisations but the stigmatisation of Muslim immigrants normally prevails, despite the survival of an anti-Semitic rhetoric. We have also observed some connections between different fundamentalist movements (Muslims and Catholics, also Jewish traditionalists) in the movement against same-sex marriage.

[26] In September 2016, L. Wauquiez, member of Les Républicains, launched a petition against “Cazeneuve’s plan to distribute Calais immigrants in our regions”, just after FN’s Steve Briois founded an association of mayors called Ma commune sans migrants (My city without migrants).

[27] GRECE: Created in 1969 among others by Alain de Benoist. Group elitist and technocratic, Europeanist but politically anti-liberal, which has had an influence on many political figures and journalism until today.

[28] Club de l’Horloge:  Political club created in 1974 (Carrefour de l’Horloge in 2015) that brings together theorists of a very technocratic extreme right (many important public officials), economically liberal and non-Catholic. It served as a study center for many right-wing politicians and for the FN.

[29] De Lesquen, Henry (b.1949): important public official and then a far-right journalist, president of the Club de l’Horloge. He was convicted several times for his racist and hate speech and for denial of crimes against humanity.

[30] Blot, Yvan (1948-2018): important public official and politician, member of GRECE, then co-founder of the Club de l’Horloge. In 1989 he passed from the Gaullist party (RPR) to the FN. When Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the direction he returns to the UMP.

[31] Le Gallou, Jean-Yves (1986-2004): important public official and politician, member of GRECE and co-founder of the Club de l’Horloge. He has gone from the centrist right to the FN. He developed the concept of “national preference”, he is in favor of the “remigration” of families of foreign origin, defends the thesis of the “great replacement” and approaches the negationist circles.

[32] Club 89: think tank founded by Alain Juppé in 1981 to bring together right-wing thinkers and politicians. In 1989, the Club 89 published a joint report with the Club de l’Horloge, with which he has maintained links since 1982.

[33] T.N.: The French expression is kept to differentiate it from the Anglo-Saxon “New Right”.

[34] Expression used by Maurras on 9 February 1941, in a reference to the defeat of 1940 and the “National Revolution”.

[35] Printemps français: political movement resulting from the Manif pour Tous founded in 2013 by Béatrice Bourges, advocating peaceful civil disobedience in the name of the preeminence of religious morality over republican law. Collaborates with various far-right or traditionalist associations.

[36] “The Christian fundamentalist is convinced that, being the word of God, every word in the Bible is literally true, and that they are on Earth to act as guardian and propagator of this truth” (George, 2007, p. 135).

[37] Les Veilleurs: youth movement derived from the Manif pour Tous, whose mode of action is to occupy public space permanently by reading texts from literature or philosophy. They seek a visible militancy against the evolution of modern society (marriage for all, abortion, contraception, “atheistic” capitalism, etc.). The Veilleurs have dissolved into Les Éveilleurs d’Espérance, more politically organized.

[38] Die Entzauberung der Welt is an expression that Max Weber borrows from Schiller. Within the Weberian framework, Christian monotheism, and particularly Protestantism (this being its accomplishment) is responsible for emptying the world of magical powers and supernatural forces.

[39] Guaino, Henri (born 1957): important public official and right-wing politician (Les Républicains). Adviser to President Sarkozy, he defends a line of sovereignty in the economy and nationnalist in the ideological plane, not without shades of racism.

[40] Houellebecq and Chantal Delsol are called the rioters to the rescue (Michea, 2011).

[41] IPC: Free Faculty of Philosophy and Psychology founded in 1969 (with the name of Institute of Comparative Philosophy). Institution of higher education that claims “Christian values”, closely linked to traditionalist groups and openly creationist academics.

[42] Collège supérieur de Lyon: Philosophy teaching institution for advanced students. The teachers are mostly right-wing Catholics, close to traditionalist circles (F.-X. Bellamy, T. Anatrella, J.-L. Marion, etc.). Its objective is a re-Christianization of the student elites in order to prepare them for the main competences of the public function.

[43] Jour de colère: Demonstration organized on January 26, 2014 by a group of far-right organizations, anti-tax, Catholics and traditionalists (Civitas, Alain Soral, Collectif Famille Marriage, etc.). The protest that began demanding the resignation of President Hollande then continued with anti-Semitic slogans and violent clashes with the forces of order.

[44] Durano, Marianne (born in 1991): philosopher, co-founder of Limite journal. She denounces contraception (“putting the woman’s body under chemical control”) in the name of integral ecology and “natural feminism”. Committed to the creation of Les Veilleurs, she defends a conservative vision of “Catholic natural law” and a communitarian approach to society.

[45] See Limite journal.

[46] The supposed “anthropological break” of same-sex marriage. Instead of calling attention to the fact that an extended definition of marriage is contrary to dogma, the church disguises its reasoning by removing it from the religious sphere.

[47] In Le Mai 68 conservateur (2014), the work that finally justifies the movement, Gaël Brutier gives credit to the idea of the church leading the defence of Western civilisation.

[48] Muray, Philippe (1945-2006): novelist and essayist, he is a critic of the moral principles that prevail in the modern world, such as anti-racism, the rejection of homophobia or sexism. An argument that the extreme right uses to denounce what is “politically correct”

[49] See Leloup, Battaglia and Laurent, 2019.

[50] Espérance Banlieues: a network of schools without a contract with the State, financed by Fondation pour l’École, which claims “traditional” values (salute to the flag, sometimes single-sex lessons, etc.). Many observers have pointed to the links of this network with right-wing parties and traditionalist Catholic movements.

[51] Coffinier, Anne (born 1974): educated at ENS, Sciences Po and ENA, she is an activist for an education outside of state control. Founder and president in 2004 of Fondation pour l’École and Créer son école. Foundation that was recognized as of public utility by F. Fillon, then Prime Minister. Close to the traditionalist circles of the Catholic Church (Famille chrétienne).

[52] De Guillebon, Jacques (born 1978): (b. 1978): journalist who writes for the right and far right press. Linked to Marion Maréchal since 2013, co-founder of Limite journal at the time of L’Incorrect.

[53] Causeur: online magazine created in 2007. The title is a parody of the feminist magazine Causette, with an extremely reactionary editorial line. Causeur was noted for a petition in defense of prostitution parodying the slogan of SOS Racisme (“Don’t touch my bitch”).

[54] Comité des Orwelliens:  Collective of “sovereignist” journalists founded in 2016 who, under the pretext of defending “freedom of expression”, promote the ideas of the neoconservative ultra-right in the media.

[55] Sévillia, Benoît: son of Jean Sévillia, he founded with his brother Nicolas the “Éveilleurs d’Espérance” of Versailles in 2015, a neo-conservative political movement that propagates reactionary ideas through digital media. Near Marion Maréchal.

[56] Grosjean, Abbé Pierre-Hervé (born in 1978): Catholic priest known for his blogging activity (Padreblog). He spreads a traditionalist and ultra-reactionary Catholic message to the younger generations through the use of modern media.

[57] Clavier, Paul (born in 1963): scholar, philosopher, long teacher at ENS. Specialist in “rational theology”. Defender of modernized creationism, a position that under the pretext of separating science and religion gives the last word to the latter.

[58] Brague, Rémi (born in 1947): scholar, philosopher, member of the Catholic Academy of France. Defender of a theological-political conception of society with an anti-secular and anti-republican vision.

[59] Marion, Jean-Luc (born in 1946): philosopher, scholar, academician, he defends the conception of a philosophy that is at the service of faith. He insists on the importance of religion in politics and on the fact that only the communion of believers is the foundation of society. He supported F. Fillon in 2017.

[60] ICHTUS (Cité catholique): organization founded in 1946 by Jean Ousset to spread a Catholic vision of society. He defends a traditionalist and anti-republican conception of Catholicism. Many political leaders attend their trainings (F.X. Bellamy, L. de la Rochère, Ch. Beigbeder). It is a very influential organization in the spheres of political power.

[61] Ousset, Jean (1914-1994): Maurrasian-leaning essayist and activist, Under the Vichy regime during World War II, Ousset became the chief of the research bureau of Jeune légion,. In 1946 he became one of the leaders of Cité catholique, a group that seeks to establish a Christian social and political order following the model of Salazar in Portugal or Franco in Spain. He approaches Opus Dei in the 1960s. When he died, two movements shared the ideological heritage: Ichtus and Civitas.

[62] Fraternité sacerdotale (Fondation) Saint-Pie X: founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1970, a society of traditionalist priests opposed to the Second Vatican Council. In 1975 it lost its recognition by the Vatican after the suspension of the bishop. La Fraternité has built a network of “counter-Church” with places of worship, priests, and specific schools. It defends an ultra-traditionalist vision of Catholicism, rejects interreligious dialogue and defends counterrevolutionary positions in politics.

[63] Civitas: Association created in 1999. Led by Alain Escada, a Belgian Catholic national politician. The movement had its heyday in protests against same-sex marriage. It is a traditionalist far-right, petainist and anti-immigrant Catholic lobby that has had very close ties with la Fraternité Saint-Pie-X until 2014. Since 2016, it is a political party that militates for the re-Christianization of France and Europe. It created the Coalition pour la vie et la famille, a far-right European anti-abortion and contraception group.


Francesca Ippolito, Gianluca Borzoni and Federico Casolari (eds.), Bilateral Relations in the Mediterranean: Prospects for Migration Issues (Cheltenham: E. Elgar, 2020)

The Mediterranean has been at the centre of many heated discussions about migration-related issues in recent years. Especially since the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 there is a growing number of publications addressing migration and its attendant issues in this region. The anthology Bilateral Relations in the Mediterranean: Prospects for Migration Issues brings together 14 contributions covering various aspects of bilateral relations in the Mediterranean. Whilst most of the contributions approach the topic from the perspective of the legal discipline, the anthology also incorporates historical and political aspects as well. This work, furthermore, incorporates several levels of analysis and discusses various actors dealing with migration issues in the Mediterranean, such as nation-states, the European Union, and International Organizations.

The book is divided into three chapters. Chapter 1 addresses the topic on the level of the nation state and consists of five sub-chapters covering Spain, Greece, Malta, France and Italy, respectively. Chapter 2 addresses supranational forms of legal bilateralism, consisting of four sub-chapters on relations between EU and Mediterranean countries, Southern Mediterranean States, the EU partnership framework on migration, countries in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, and EU-Turkey cooperation. Chapter 3 investigates Horizontal issues of migration management covering five sub-chapters on soft law and shared responsibilities in the Mediterranean, the negotiation process for a Euro-Mediterranean free-trade area, the rhetoric of human rights in EU external relations in the Mediterranean, and fighting irregular forms of migration.

By incorporating case studies from different countries and on different levels, this book provides a comprehensive overview over issues of migration in the Mediterranean. This comparative approach and broad perspective is a significant strength of this publication, and it allows the anthology to pinpoint central issues of migration in the Mediterranean today. Also, this interdisciplinary and transnational approach enables the editors to take a big-picture perspective on issues around migration in the Mediterranean.

A few key challenges and important recommendations for policy makers become apparent when reading this book: The first central challenge that emerges from this analysis is the increasing informality when dealing with migration issues. This issue is emphasized by Casolari (2020) and Di Filippo (2020). The second central issue that becomes apparent is a lack of agreement in crucial definitions across different EU member states. This poses challenges to decision-making, which is especially noteworthy in the context of emergencies where quick decisions need to be taken. Facts such as that there is a lack of definitions on terms such as “Place of Safety”, as shown by Papastavridis (2020: 237), are most concerning, and it is thanks to the book’s comparative approach that these key challenges become evident.

The issues discussed in this publication are very timely. This anthology has been published in 2020, but several of the contributions were updated since 2017. This in itself is not a limitation, but there is a patent lack of information on up to which point in time the data in this anthology apply. This would have been good for readers to know and would make engaging with this book easier, e.g., leading the reader to consult additional sources in order to be better informed about the most recent developments.

Despite this small limitation, this book is a very valuable read, in my opinion. As someone who is not from the legal discipline, I nevertheless found this anthology very easy to access and insightful because the contributions are written in a very comprehensive and clear manner. I would thus recommend this book to all academics working on migration as well as to policymakers dealing with migration issues.



Casolari, F. (2020) The unbearable ‚lightness‘ of soft law: on the European Union‘s recourse to informal instruments in the fight agains irregular immigration. In F. Ippolito et al. (Eds.), Bilateral Relations in the Mediterranean: Prospects for Migration Issues (215-228). Cheltenham/ Northhampton: Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781786432254.

Di Filippo, F. (2020) Fighting irregular forms of migration: the poisonous fruits of the securitarian approach to cooperation with Mediterranean countries. In F. Ippolito et al. (Eds.), Bilateral Relations in the Mediterranean: Prospects for Migration Issues (301-315). Cheltenham/ Northhampton: Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781786432254.

Papastavridis, E. (2020) Search and rescue at sea: shared responsibilities in the Mediterranean Sea. In In F. Ippolito et al. (Eds.), Bilateral Relations in the Mediterranean: Prospects for Migration Issues (229-249). Cheltenham/ Northhampton: Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781786432254.




Lorenzo Vidino (ed.), De-Radicalization in the Mediterranean. Comparing Challenges and Approaches (Milan: Ledizioni LediPublishing, 2018)

In its very long history, the Mediterranean region has witnessed a remarkable share of cruelties and bloodshed, ranging from warfare to slave trafficking. In its recent history, jihadist terrorism has been adding its own gruesome contribution to this sorry record of human misery and misfortune. The book hereby reviewed, published under the aegis of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), comprises nine chapters dealing with the responses taken by State authorities on the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in the Middle Eastern region at large, in order to pursue effective counter-terrorist prevention and retaliation, i.e. “[c]ountering violent extremism (CVE)” (7).

The first chapter, penned by the book’s editor, tackles the paradoxical case of Italy. Despite being an active NATO member involved in foreign military actions alongside the US and a centrally situated Mediterranean country—indeed a veritable hub for migratory fluxes and an “iconic” location of Western Christendom—Italy has experienced hardly any jihadist terrorism on its soil and has contributed far less than the other major European countries in terms of radical fighters leaving its soil in order to join rebel groups in Syria or elsewhere (13). This paradox is explained by highlighting the long experience and well-tested expertise of Italian legislators, governments, courts and security bodies with regard to both internal terrorist groups and powerful organised crime, as well as the thorough use of “lengthy surveillance operations and pre-emptive raids” in conjunction with speedy “deportations” of persons that are deemed “a threat to national security” even when the courts lack damning evidence that could warrant judicial “prosecution” (15). Vidino concludes that, despite its success, Italy’s CVE approach is not designed to deal with homegrown jihadist terrorism, which might well grow in the future as the Italian Muslim community grows in numbers, and to deploy preventive measures in schools, prisons and communities where radicalisation could occur.

Vidino’s concerns sound most reasonable as soon as the reader starts considering the content of the second chapter, which deals with the long history of “international religious extremism” inside Italy’s western neighbour, France (24). Between the 1980s and the 2010s, the Gallic nation has suffered a remarkable number of violent attacks and contributed thousands of foreign fighters to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). For a long time, the prevalent approach by the French authorities was forcefully retaliatory, but as of the mid 2010s ‘soft-power’ prevention and de-radicalisation programmes started emerging as well. Prisons, online communities, professional bodies, public administrators, civic associations, select neighbourhoods and Islamic worship centres have been targeted by a number of initiatives, both at the national and departmental levels, aimed at fostering the appreciation for the secular founding values of the French Republic, the identification of potential contexts of radicalisation, and the de-radicalisation of individuals and groups gone astray. As to “the legitimacy and effectiveness of these initiatives”, it is too soon to pass judgment (31).

The third chapter offers a perplexing picture of a country that, like Italy, had an extensive counter-terrorist know-how built in its institutional history and organisations but that, like France, has suffered much more carnage and exportation of volunteer fighters to conflict zones in MENA: Spain. After the shock of the 3/11 attacks in Madrid, existing procedures were thoroughly reviewed at all levels: legislative, governmental, judiciary, of policing and intelligence. Above all, more resources were poured in, which translated into more trained individuals dealing with CVE. Also, uniquely in the international context, the shifting of public investments meant that Spain adopted “an advanced model to acknowledge the moral and political significance of the victims of terrorism and effectively protect their rights and the rights of their families in the case of dead victims, including material compensation.” (46) Finally, ‘soft-power’ preventive measures started being implemented too as of 2012, analogously to the French case.

The fourth chapter outlines the CVE policies developed in MENA. The experiences of many countries are thus sketched very briefly and only in connection with specific issues (e.g. anti-radicalism online platforms, big-data screening, religious policies, foreign fighting, etc.). Some significant results of this comparative study are: Algeria’s being the country contributing the fewest foreign fighters to the Islamic State in Syria (probably the result of Algeria’s hard-nosed repression of fundamentalism during its “Black Decade”, 1991—2002; 65); Tunisia’s being the one contributing the most (possibly because of the relocation of Algerian extremists into that neighbouring country during the Algerian civil war); the widespread use of uncompromising, direct State intervention in the interpreting, teaching, preaching, publishing, broadcasting and financing of the Islamic religion (e.g. Saudi Arabia’s proposed “reform” of the “religious curriculum” by 2030; 66); and the intentionally “ambiguous” and open-ended wording of new counter-terrorism legislation, which can help the governments of these countries target potential terrorists as well as “silence critics and imprison activists.” (67)

The following and concluding five chapters examine in finer detail the CVE measures and approaches developed in five specific countries in MENA: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. While the policies pursued in all these countries but Jordan present considerable overlaps—Jordan’s uniqueness being its focus on creating a buffer zone along its border with Syria and preventing radicalism to cross it in either direction—the tone and the character of the contributions are anything but alike. The chapters about Morocco and Egypt offer an invariably dispassionate, comprehensive account of the many hard- and soft-power strategies implemented over the years, the former stressing interestingly how individual “psychological vulnerabilities” explain chiefly the radicals’ “captivat[ion] by violent extremism” (89). On the contrary, the chapter about Tunisia discusses at length the social and sociological premises of this captivation, and it suggests that without concrete progress in the State’s good-governance levels (e.g. reducing unemployment, improving the rule of law, transparency and accountability), radicalisation is bound to persist. Any critical spirit is, instead, absent in the chapters about Jordan and, above all, Saudi Arabia, both of which read somewhat like ministerial communiques reporting, respectively,  Jordan’s “foreign policy priorities” (133) and Saudi Arabia’s supreme role in “upholding Islam and Islamic law, which makes it the archenemy of all radical and terrorist groups claiming to hold a monopoly over the understanding and application of Islamic law and faith.” (139)

Together, all these nine chapters grant the reader an exhaustive account of the tools instituted and utilised by public authorities all over MENA and much of Southern Europe over the past two-and-a-half decades. Scholars in police and security studies, international politics and relations, and counter-terrorism are bound to find the volume of interest. The overall focus, it must be noted, is on nitty-gritty hard- and soft-power approaches implemented in each country or group of countries. Although references to colonial experiences, U.S. military interventions, and strategic interests or conflicts are sketchily present here and there in the volume, no serious geopolitical or historical aetiology of fundamentalist terrorism is to be found.

The Rhetoric of Identity in Right- and Left-wing Populism: A Brief Survey

Among all the theoretical contributions on the topic, I will rely on the approach which classifies populism as a political style, marked by a set of rhetorical and discoursive practices. In this sense, it seems possible to find some connections even between apparently opposite positions when it comes to the adoption of a common populist strategy and its communicative codes. Within this discursive pattern, shared by a politically heterogeneous group of actors, contemporary politics tends to rely more intensively on the logic of othering, namely a process through which the affirmation of one’s own identity depends on the positioning in an opposite front compared to the one of the different enemy. The us vs them rhetoric showed itself efficient because, by simplifying public space, it allows an immediate identification of the individual with a collective front, in addition to a clear discovery of her/his political rival. But how does populism make the spreading of this discursive divide concretely operational? Benjamin Moffitt has persuasively claimed that the appeal of populist rhetoric results from the adoption of a series of narratives, actions and linguistic choices through which populist parties establish a privileged communicative bond with their public. Under these terms, populism as a political style achieves a performative act, and through its discoursive practices ties in a political relationship which «typically consists of a proclaimed relationship with the ‘public’, an us/them attitude and […] a period of crisis and mobilization» (Moffitt 2016: 31).


Laclau: the Populist Construction of Political Identity

Among the most discussed theorists who adopted and developed this interpretative approach we may find Ernesto Laclau, who based his research precisely on the performative features detectable in populist political discourse. In his well-known On Populist Reason the Argentinian scholar proposes an original reading of the phenomenon as he starts wondering: «why could some political alternatives or aims be expressed only through populist means?» (Laclau 2005: 17). The identity crisis that, on different levels, is affecting the traditional actors of the political arena is self-evident: but what are the trajectories of possible evolution of this crisis? Is there any social rationality behind populism? Would it be possible to take advantage of its impetus?

Setting himself apart from the many scholars and policymakers who deem it a pathological disease of contemporary politics, Laclau considers populism an occurrence to study in the light of social dynamics in the process of community building, as a natural process of articulation of the various issues, inscribed in the grammar of the political itself; that is, a natural expression of the political character organic to each individual. From this point of view, populism refers to «a constant dimension of political action which necessarily arises (in different degrees) in all political discourses, subverting and complicating the operations of the so-called ‘more mature’ ideologies» (Laclau 2005: 18). From this constructive approach, which evaluates the performing acts achieved by populism through its discoursive and rhetorical practices, we could try to draw an analytic framework in order to understand the nature and legitimacy of two political movements featuring a different ideological baggage but linked by a common political style.


The New Heroes: Right-wing and Left-wing populism

In particular, it aims to consider how the current political background tends to shape up in a dichotomic distinction between right-wing populism and left-wing populism, evolving from the traditional right and left positions. Populism is no longer to be understood as a distinctive feature of both extreme right and left: its historical developments, indeed, «followed the inner opportunities offered by the particular dynamics of competition» (Tarchi 2015: 71), so as to generate different outcomes in different backgrounds (that’s the case when we compare European and Latin American populisms). To make my point clearer, I will rely on the contributions by two scholars which are expressly fitting in the explanation of this approach, both based on the interpretative structure of Laclau’s populism: the political theories of Alain De Benoist and Chantal Mouffe. In fact, they have been trying to sketch a populism vision rooted, respectively, on the traditional values of the right and the left through a bunch of very close discoursive practices and namely through the us vs them logic. The first pattern which leaves the mark of populism on the political outline provided by De Benoist and Mouffe is precisely the rhetoric of antagonism, which must be understood as the ground of the associative practice. The expression of the different souls that make up a community must depend, according to this logic, on the grouping of issues and positions along a frontier, which would set up the conditions for a dialogic struggle for hegemony (in Gramscian terms). The need to resort to populist discoursive strategies arises, according to De Benoist and Mouffe, when the demands of the various social groups of a given historical society become aware of their public role and ask for the building of new frontiers in order to articulate themselves and express their own political identity, positioning on one of the two sides of this frontier.


The Populist Democratic Revolution

The institution of a new antagonistic frontier serves as a tool to guide public opinion and comes in response to the tendency to occupy the central stage of the political spectrum that marks, according to both De Benoist and Mouffe, most traditional parties in many European democracies. This process reveals itself through the rise of anti-establishment, grassroots movements who claim their political autonomy and the satisfaction of their demands, while their ideological roots may equally be right-wing or left-wing. The democratic balance is broken, according to the analysis of both theorists, when centre-right and centre-left parties merge into a dominant ideology which «argues that there’s no alternative to the neoliberal order and that the break-up of people in the global market is the only horizon of human history» (De Benoist 2017: 29). They identify this unifying tendency as a direct consequence of an ‘original sin’: the surrender of the traditional left to the laws of globalisation.

Speaking of which I find quite meaningful the analysis of the French philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa, who maintains that the convergence of the right and the left towards a undefined program starts right when the left moves away from its ideological origins, joining the cultural values and codes of liberal society such as «cult of modernisation to the bitter end, mandatory and permanent mobility (both geographically and professionally) and moral and cultural transgression» (Michéa 2005: 45). Framing his analysis on a revision of the political history of French socialism, Michéa argues that the left persuaded itself of the impossibility of overcoming capitalism and renounced to the traditional connection with the working-class movements (Michéa 2005: 122). The ‘treason’ of the left converts it into a political entity incapable of grasping and meeting the needs of the various social groups that used to refer to it, through a «progressive dissolution of the socialist ideal of a society without social classes […] in the liberal night when all of the cows are grey» (Michéa 2005: 28). In the meantime, that portion of the right which does not accept any loosening of its positions to converge towards a centrist perspective, finds in populism a perfect discoursive frame in order to broadcast its most relevant purposes, often extreme in their shapes.

As a consequence of the homogenisation of the political offer, the democratic principle of a free and responsible choice between two opposite alternatives fails and citizens get deprived of the concrete chance of expression of their beliefs. This is why Mouffe demands the necessity of a democratic revolution, which would appear on stage with the rise of «new social movements» and from the «questioning of many other forms of inequality» (Mouffe 2018: 51), something that requires a new identity partition in the political scheme. The Belgian scholar takes this binary logic straight out of the definition of the ‘political’ developed by Carl Schmitt, according to whom a political community finds its identity when confronting the otherness of an enemy, whose existence comes into being «when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity» (Schmitt 2007 [1932]: 28).

The antagonistic dimension becomes an interpretative key of every aspect of the political life inside a given community, therefore requires the establishment of a series of novel politically opposed borders, which would distinguish a new us from a new them. Namely, the precise discoursive setting populism rests on. Both right and left-wing populisms build their political proposal aiming to respond to the unsatisfied demands of society, re-articulating community along a frontier. As Silvio Waisbord argues, this kind of Manichean storytelling is fostered as well by the evolution of contemporary media, more and more characterized by the communicative modality named post-truth. Denying the information model which refers to the existence of a one and only rational, empirical and demonstrable truth, post-truth assumes that «we cannot overcome subjectivity and that diverse publics lack shared norms and values» (Waisbord 2018: 4). According to the aforementioned perspective, populism looks at this fragmented and multifaceted portrait of reality and therefore chooses to highlight the alternative political choices, insofar as expressions of different souls which don’t deny each other, but clash in an hegemonic war for dominion.


France 2017: A Case Study On Populist Construction of Identity

A very clear, practical example of the meaningfulness of this theoretical approach is supplied by contemporary French politics. Recent Presidential elections held in April 2017 saw the lining up on one side of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing figure, fuelled by a well-prepared populist rhetoric; on the other, Jean-Luc Mélenchon tried to bring back together some pieces of the French left. France Insoumise took advantage, as well as Le Pen’s Front National, of the proclaimed effectiveness of populist rhetoric to present itself to the voters; an ideal case to show how two forces so distant as to their ideological origins can share a discoursive strategy. Both parties defined a collective identity – us – made up of strong symbolical meanings and created an enemy to fight against. The us pictured in  such a storytelling is represented by the people, which should be understood in term of a collective and autonomous political subject, structured around a series of cultural and linguistic features.

The myths of homeland and of the drapeau tricolore bleu, blanc, rouge lies at the heart of the Front National’s (now Rassemblement National) political rhetoric and it’s no surprise that Marine Le Pen labelled herself «the candidate of the people» (Le Pen 2017). Similarly, Jean-Luc Mélenchon fills his storytelling with metaphors taken from the natural world, suggesting the existence of a people anything but artificially built but constructed around innate and emotional boundaries: «take a listen everybody to the whistle coming from our ranks […] like the sound of wind blowing through leaves, like the one of rain on stone. This sound hasn’t a name, but a signal, the one of the strength of the people when it burst into history» (Mélenchon 2017). On the other side of the frontier, the portrait of a them with deliberately liquid boundaries and unidentifiable in a single social group: the enemy is sketched as the symbol of an external domination, applying a strong political and financial pressure over the people. A collective them occasionally embodied by the ruling class of the country, the financial oligarchy, the technocratic bureaucracy of Brussels and many more options.

This binary logic of counterposing the two fronts therefore leads to an identification process based on nationality; namely, a discoursive practice appealing to the attachment to homeland and its values in emotional terms. The political discourse is then framed not only to deliver its storytelling but to push citizens towards its internalization through a shift which involves the emotional level, in order to strengthen the bond with a collective external entity. Chantal Mouffe deems that this ‘sentimental’ blueprint is fundamental for an effective political discourse and finds its justification directly in Freudian psychoanalysis: way before speaking of rational choices, it is fundamental to get in contact with the irrational side of the individual, to the «strong libidinal investment operating in the forms of identification» (Mouffe 2018: 85). Here we may find the reason why of the myths of the France Fière, la République, the flag and the defense of the national idiom, recurring in the discursive practices of both Rassemblement National and France Insoumise, as a plea to the emotional sphere of each individual.


A Common Style with Many Variations: The Value of Ideology in French Populism

While we can assert that a faint line runs between left and right-wing populist discourses, both adopting a language equally aimed at identifying a frontier defined by an emotional connection to the nation, it is not necessarily true that populism flattens the ideological stances cherished by its actors. Mouffe herself remarks that the same discoursive practice of dividing public space in two opponents could be developed in the light of different ideological criteria. When right-wing populism builds its concept of ‘nation’ not merely in patriotic but nationalistic terms, it implies that we should exclude from the collective us immigrants and people belonging to different cultures, none of which would find her/his own space in the national storytelling pattern. According to her, instead, the project for a left populism should extend the democratic horizon towards everyone opposing the hegemonic domination of the oligarchic and financial establishment, including in the project «workers, immigrants and the precarious middle class, as well as other democratic demands such as the LGBT community» (Mouffe 2018: 27).

Drawing on this outline, all through the 2017 presidential campaign the alignment of the two parties along a frontier showed up to be divergent in many topics and mostly when the identity discourse went through the immigration issue. Le Pen’s right-wing populism maintained a coherent approach with the most radical conservative tradition on this matter, putting the safeguard of the French cultural baggage and the highest standards of national solidarity over the opening of society to multiculturalism. Resorting to the motto «rétablir les frontières nationales et sortir de l’espace Schengen», even through the militarisation of borders, Le Pen stands against ius soli as well: «L’acquisition de la nationalité française sera possible uniquement par la filiation ou la naturalisation» (Front National 2017). Instead of seeking for compromises and practical solutions to the integration issues, right-wing populism rather goes for a neat rhetoric according to which every single hole in the wall endangers community as a whole.

On the other side, France Insoumise sets out the limits of its frontier fostering a strong patriotic pride but still tracing its identity border along a more inclusive line, strengthening its own idea of national identity through the need to integrate outer elements in the horizon of the country: «France is a political community, not an ethnic reality. It’s therefore the existence of a common destiny who should ground access to nationality» (Féraud and Senon, 2017: 23). A left-populist social model needs to be based on shared but not exclusive cultural elements, which could be imparted to individuals and social groups who want to join the community. In his fight against political élites and financial oligarchy Mélenchon includes migrants as well, since they become the first victims of the common enemy, instead of being its instrumental allies. The only immigration to fight against is the one which comes through the «free trade routes» and gets abused as regard to the lowering of «wages and putting an additional pressure on social rights» (Mélenchon 2018).

In sum, both Front National and France Insoumise share a common, divisive rhetorical pattern, while pursuing partially different ends and targeting somehow diverse segments of public opinion in terms of ideological belonging.


Speaking of Left-wing Populism: A (Momentary) Conclusion

Laclau argued long ago that «between left-wing and right-wing populism, there is a nebulous no-man’s-land which can be crossed — and has been crossed — in many directions» (Laclau 2005: 87). Until recently, right-wing populism proved to be more efficient in leveraging the emotional sphere of many citizens and drawing an identity narrative which expressed people’s frustration for its exclusion from political life. According to Chantal Mouffe this is the place where the challenge for a left populism lies: the aim should consist in the adoption of an alike rhetorical pattern supporting an identity discourse set to build a collective opposition to the historical hegemonic élite while inclusive of any social force oppressed by the actual dominion, driving this emotional identification towards «better and more egalitarian perspectives inside the national tradition» (Mouffe 2018: 85).


De Benoist, A. (2017), Populismo. La fine della destra e della sinistra, Bologna: Arianna Editrice.

Eatwell, R.; Goodwin, M. (2018), National Populism: The revolt against liberal democracy, London: Pelican.

Féraud, B.; Senon, É. (2017), Livrets de la France Insoumise, Respecter les migrants, régler les causes des migrations: https://avenirencommun.fr/le-livret-migrations/.

Front National (2017), 144 Engagement Présidentiels. Election Présidentielle – 23 avril et 7 mai 2017: http://www.rassemblementnational.fr/pdf/144-engagements.pdf.

Laclau, E. (2005), On Populist Reason, London: Verso.

Le Pen, M (2017), Tweet, April 23, 2017: https://twitter.com/mlp_officiel/status/856223578957766656.

Mélenchon, J-L. (2017), Défilé pour la 6e République – #18mars2017, Youtube video, March 18 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3153&v=b5atq_VZd2M.

Mélenchon, J-L. (2018), Tweet, August 25, 2018. Web. January 1 2019, https://twitter.com/jlmelenchon/status/1033399841752317957?lang=it.

Michéa, J-C. (2015), I misteri della Sinistra. Dall’ideale illuminista al trionfo del capitalismo assoluto, Vicenza: Neri Pozza.

Moffit, B. (2016), The Global Rise of Populism, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mouffe, C. (2018), For a Left Populism, London: Verso.

Schmitt, C. (2007 [1932]), The Concept of the Political, edited by G. Schwab, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Tarchi, M. (2015), Italia populista, Bologna: Il Mulino.

Waisbord, S. (2018), The Elective Affinity Between Post-truth Communication and Populist Politics, Communication Research and Practice. Web. January 19 2018, https://doi.org/10.1080/22041451.2018.1428928

Piketty’s Capital. The Revival of Political Philosophy, Political Economy and Social Sciences in the Light of the Declaration of Human and Citizens’ Rights in the French Revolution of 1789

Piketty’s Capital in Twenty-First Century has posed a totally new platform for the discussion of the economy and capitalism. Piketty has reinvented the classical political economy founded by Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations. Piketty has shown via massive historical research how growth and inequality have developed since 1793. Piketty’s conclusion is that the French Revolution did not change the existing inequality either in the medium or in the long term. Piketty’s prediction is that a new form of global capitalism will arise, patrimonial capitalism, in which inequality will develop further and the 1% of the World population will control 95% of all wealth in the World.

Continue reading Piketty’s Capital. The Revival of Political Philosophy, Political Economy and Social Sciences in the Light of the Declaration of Human and Citizens’ Rights in the French Revolution of 1789

Dogancan Özsel (ed.), Reflections on Conservatism (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011)

Against that revolution Edmund Burke wrote his Reflections that are taken by several of the authors in this collection to the origin of conservative thought. Burke emotionally abhorred the practices of the revolutionaries but, more theoretically, he abhorred the very idea of the attempt “to obliterate their former selves.” Underlying the Reflections are the convictions: that one ought not break with the past in the way that the revolutionaries of 1789 intended; and, perhaps less clearly, that one could not break with the past in that way. Tocqueville continues: “I have always felt that they were far less successful in this curious attempt than is generally supposed in other countries and than they themselves at first believed”. In other writings, e.g. on taxation in America, on the East India Company, on slavery… Burke clearly did not suggest that traditional practices and ideas were necessarily good and to be retained. He opposed neither liberty nor change. What he opposed was the revolutionary idea that it was imperative to break utterly with the past before the radically new and perfect invented future could be imposed from above. “The conservative emphasis on the importance of tradition and established order, which entails mutual obligations and duties for all [is] … opposed to that illegitimate order which is simply established by violence and comes with no obligations on the part of its rulers ..”.(Andreasson, 100) supposes not merely tradition but good tradition. It is as purblind to suppose the past to have been entirely bad as to expect a newly invented order to be entirely good. A tradition is the ambiguous fruit of greed and power and of many good ideas and practices that have stood the test of time. To winnow the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish the good from the bad, to discover what ought now to be done or not done are the unavoidable and enduring elements of argument.

Conservatism is not as clear as revolution. Hence Levante Nagy, in the first essay in Reflections, thinks of it as an “essentially contested concept”. Different people use the same term differently, such that if someone claims to be a conservative the listener does not yet know what precisely is claimed. That this is so is borne out in several valuable essays that examine the conservative tradition in different countries. Gergely Egedy writes of “The [Patrician] Conservatism of Jósef Antall” in Hungary, Kasper Støvring of “Cultural Conservative Traditions in Postwar Denmark”, Dogancan Özsel, Hilal Onur ?nce and Aysun Yarali of “New Trends in the Political Discourse of the Turkish Military: Marching towards Radical Conservatism?”, Agnès Alexandre-Collier of Sarkozy’s

UMP, Peter Dorey of “A Conservative ‘Third Way’ …” in the United Kingdom after Thatcher and William Miller of “Current Trends in Conservatism in the United States”.

In Turkey, the radical conservatism of the military that would preserve what Ataturk established in a fairly recent revolution (239 but passim) is far removed from the conservative traditions in Denmark, where some “conservative intellectuals are preoccupied with the necessity of a cultural community of common mores and customs, which are interpreted from a national perspective” (282). The Danish traditions are not wholly identical and are unlike the conservatism of Jósef Antall, the first Prime Minister of Hungary after the collapse of communism, who “In keeping with the Burkean traditions of organic change … made it clear that his government would try to implement the necessary and painful changes by ‘relying on our historical heritage’ instead of copying mechanically a foreign model.” (257) (It is worth noticing that to speak of social change as “organic” is to speak metaphorically; see, Rose on Hegel 111-115) In many of the post-communist central European states, initial euphoria at the removal of a crippling lack of freedom was soon tempered by the discovery that the new freedom brought with it new, not entirely welcome, responsibilities, uncertainties, and risks. In the older democracies, when the trauma of the second war had abated, and a welfare state established, the difference between “conservative” and “socialist” parties became far greater in rhetoric than in practice; and, in those democracies where violent (revolutionary) civil strife erupted what drove it was often based more on an image of traditional cultural identity than on a difference between conservatism and socialism although the (conservative) recovery of the past was often expressed in socialist rhetoric.

A great advantage of the collection is that beside studies of the particular countries and states stand theoretical studies and interpretations – Peter Dorey on “The Importance of Inequality in Conservative Thought” concentrating largely, but not exclusively, on contemporary writings in English and on the United Kingdom; David Rose on the influence of Hegel; Stefan Andreasson’s “On the Nature of Anglophone Conservatism and its Applicability to the Analysis of Postcolonial Politics” and John Varty on Adam Fergusson.

Giorgio Baruchello’s “What is to be Considered? An Appraisal of the Value of Conservatism in the light of the Life Ground.” discusses the contemporary Canadian environmentalist John McMurtry and Gerard Casey’s “Conservatism and Libertarianism: Friends or Foes?” Both are concerned with values, that is, with what is to be conserved or brought about. The values they discuss are neither the same nor necessarily wholly incompatible. “McMurtry’s life ground entails that a good economic system: (1) must secure the provision of vital goods for as many citizens – ideally all of them – for as long a time as possible – sustainability being no short-term goal; and (2) it must generate the conditions for a fuller enjoyment of life along the same spatio-temporal coordinates.” (Baruchello, 309) Someone who thinks of himself as a conservative might very well agree with that ideal – or might not – but to think of it as a specifically conservative ideal is to give yet one further twist to the meaning of that essentially contested concept. A particular libertarian might well accept the ideal, but qua libertarian will ask how it is to be achieved, for the libertarian qua libertarian concentrates on the value of freedom over against coercion, particulary state coercion.

The freedom valued by the libertarian is not unfettered; it is freedom from coercion, particularly state coercion, to do or not do what does not damage another. The libertarian rule: “do not agress against another” is, in fact, the second of Ulpian’s precepts of justice: “hurt no-one” (Justinian Institutes I.I.3 Digest It does not follow from the injunction to love of one’s neighbour – which is to an extent the positive expression of “hurt no-one” – that people ought to be coerced into doing so. The basic libertarian value is the repudiation of coercion when the intended action does not harm another. The repudiation of coercion is the fundamental libertarian value but libertarians must have others also and two libertarians may well have different values: “One more or less certain way for to prevent its [libertarianism’s] collapse into libertinism is for it to adopt the cultural core values of conservatism [once one has determined what those values are and found them to be good] and this libertarians are free to do. Conservatism, on the other hand, is always at the mercy of the questions – whose tradition? Which customs? What habits?” (Casey p.53) Every human is born and educated into a tradition, which it is wise to examine and to keep what one finds good, unwise unthinkingly to try wholly to abandon, and unwise blindly to accept in all it details. That having been said, the basic moral question remains: what am I to do in the world in which I find myself?