On the eve of François Hollande’s 2012 election as President of France, thousands of jubilant people gathered at Place de la Bastille in Paris. This gave observers an overview of the Socialist Party’s clientele. Indeed, images of the event showed many people brandishing the flags of other countries, perhaps their “countries of origin,” as the phrase goes. It brings a few questions to mind: Might it have been a prodrome of an ethno-nationalist conflict? Whose election were they celebrating? And who is Hollande?
A victory by default
Hollande is nothing more than a symbol of French technocratic incompetence. Even though he is a graduate of three of the best schools in France, and has a sly and calculating personality, until recently his political career had been rather insignificant. He was always seen as the technocrat that no one ever really wanted as a Minister; so, almost by default, he wound up as President.
With no significant experience, Hollande has almost no international stature and remains undecided on all important policy issues. In short, he is arguably the worst President elected in the history of the Fifth Republic.
Hollande’s victory was wholly unexpected and was the result of numerous accidents, including the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Only 40% of all registered voters supported Hollande and he received nearly 49% of all votes cast. About 1 million votes separated him from Nicolas Sarkozy (while more than 2 million voters chose to cast blank ballots).
In addition, the massive mobilization of France’s Muslim electorate virtually assured Hollande’s victory, with 93% of them supporting him, according to a survey by market research firm OpinionWay. In the French Overseas Departments, where many locals live off of state subsidies and yet are qualified to vote in French elections, citizens voted en masse for the left.
In contrast, more traditional conservative voters on the French right had been demobilized; many of them were disenchanted with the French political right and simply preferred to abstain from voting (perhaps accounting for the blank ballots).
Hollande’s victory is also the outcome of two other phenomena: the gradual conquest of all local authorities in France by the left and the loss of the Senate in 2011 (which had been in conservative hands since the first senatorial election of the Fifth Republic in 1959).
Now, after less than a year in office, Hollande seems adrift. He remains unable to manage his colaition of Communists, Socialists, and environmentalists, and his popularity is at its lowest. The French had learned to hate Nicolas Sarkozy so much that now, despite having a new President, they can find no esteem for Hollande.
Like François Mitterrand thirty years ago, Hollande was elected on a promise of “change.” Even his slogan was similar: Hollande’s “Change Now” (Le changement c’est maintenant) echoed Mitterrand’s “Change Lives” (Changer la vie) from the 1981 election. In office, Hollande even acts like Mitterrand: He began by distributing money he didn’t have in the name of equality and justice.
Hollande is now in full “denial-of-crisis mode,” as described by The Economist just before the election. But despite all the problems currently facing France, Hollande and his coalition of the left continue to use two typical tactics: First, they blame rich people—and the right—for all of France’s problems; second, they divert attention away from the country’s real problems and attempt to seduce progressives with social policy reforms—focusing on gay marriage, euthanasia, and granting the right to vote to all immigrants.
Hollande’s electoral victory was really a victory by default. He won not because he was the best candidate or the candidate with the best ideas but because his opponents on the right were demobilized (and, to a certain extent, demoralized). His victory symbolizes above all the defeat of the French right.
Autopsy of a defeat
In the beginning of the presidential elections, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his conservative Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire or UMP) achieved a tremendous rise in popularity by reaching out to the “invisible people” (i.e. middle-class whites not living in Paris). They had long been neglected by French politicians and the media. Indeed, Sarkozy tried to stay in touch with his party’s popular, working-class base by breaking taboos and changing the usual political rhetoric.
Although as President Sarkozy had been very unpopular, he managed a great political comeback during the elections and received a little more than 48% of the votes during the second round of voting in June. To achieve this, Sarkozy ran an aggressive campaign that many liberal political commentators dismissively called fascisant (fascist). This contributed to an increasingly negative and unpleasant political climate. But many other observers have argued that the defeat of the French right can simply be attributed to the economic crisis.
Sarkozy’s greatest mistake, how-ever, was displaying his bravado and expressing what was perceived as dis-respect for the status quo—his “desa-cralization” of power. Long steeped in a kind of inertia, the French estab-lishment was not ready to accept the zealous reformist spirit exhibited by Sarkozy.
In addition, it must be recognized that there is, lamentably, a considerable distance between Sarkozy’s words and actions. He argued for more border controls but then said “yes” to the treaties that are now dismantling them. He promised growth and employment but then ratified the treaty transferring budgetary control from the French state to unelected bodies (such as the Brussels Commission and the Court of Luxembourg). And on immigration, Sarkozy was anything but conservative: In ten short years, France naturalized more than one million foreigners (in a country of 65 million inhabitants).
However, to be fair, the French right may not have had sufficient control of the levers of power to truly reform the country during Sarkozy’s presidency. The Minister of Education, for example, Xavier Darcos, had a clear vision of the educational reforms needed to end the dominance of the ideology of 1968, and his cabinet was composed of competent and well-intentioned counselors. But all their reform attempts were doomed to failure because they clashed fundamentally with the corporatist interests of the powerful Ministry of National Education (Ministère de l’Education Nationale) and its one million employees.
Across the public sphere, the French right is ideologically subjugated by the left, a result of its own cowardice and conformism (a sentiment echoed by many, including Marine Le Pen, President of the National (Front National or FN). For example, although the UMP is the largest political party on the right, even it dares not go against current taboos and the ideology of political correctness. As such, it cannot really be said to embody any of the heroic ideals expected by conservative voters. Even back in 2007, then President-elect Sarkozy had made surprising ministerial appointments as signs of his government’s ‘openness.’ These included Bernard Kouchner (a strong symbol of the Mitterrand era) as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Rachida Dati, a notorious incompetent, as Minister of Justice.
In the end, conservative politicians like Sarkozy betrayed the French right in order to please the dictatorship of the French political left and assuage the collective, politically-correct mind.
In France, the right has always apologized for being “the Right.” Philosopher Chantal Delsol even speaks of “the crime of being on the right.” But there is a huge discrepancy between the political ambitions of party leaders on the right and the will of the right’s grassroots—that is, those most directly affected by the country’s problems.
If any of this is to change, there must be a radical change in strategy in order to build a conservative majority. Politics does not consist of simply sending signals to an electorate on the eve of an election but of embodying principled politics founded on facts, rather than faddish ideologies.
The self-destruction of France
The social and economic consequences of ten years of a so-called ‘right-wing’ government have been catastrophic. The state redistributes €600 billion per year through social spending and the tax burden in France is now among the highest in Europe (56%). Increasingly, French economic policy is subject to the requirements of trade unions and pressure groups concerned solely with the defense of corporatist interests. “Egalitarianism, interventionism, and protectionism” could well be the motto of France today.
But there are numerous other social challenges. Immigration costs France nearly €80 billion every year, including €59 billion in social costs. Immigrant unemployment is double the national rate and nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants receive state medical assistance. And, according to some studies, 60-70% of all criminal offenders are of foreign origin.
While France’s immigrant population continues to grow, anti-racist activists and the socialist majority in government successfully prevent any debate on the issue. Furthermore, proponents of “open borders” have shifted the entire debate from the sphere of politics to morality. Nobody dares to challenge this moral dictatorship.
France is clearly self-destructing. The traditional requirement of “republican assimilation” has been forgotten, replaced by the vague concept of “integration” and the utopian ideal of a multicultural society, in which French national identity is diluted. Eric Besson, Sarkozy’s Minister of Immigration and National Identity, once even controversially asserted that there are “no native French.” But few people seem concerned.
Reconstructing the right
In order to stage a recovery, the French right must take a clear political line on many issues. More importantly, ideologically, it must be more attuned to the concerns of its conservative base. In the end, the rebuilding of the French right will depend on whether or not it defends the nation against those who threaten it: the unelected, power-hungry bodies outside of France (such as the EU), as well as the “community-organizing” forces undermining the country from within (such as special interest groups, minority organizations, LGBT lobbies, Islamist groups, etc.).
A true conservative political majority can still be found in France, a country whose culture remains a product of Western civilization and which is populated, at its roots, by people who are not of the left. Politicians of the right should reach out to these long-forgotten French constituencies and embrace their local culture, their regional traditions, and their traditional customs.It is also necessary to talk to the “suffering France”—the working France—long ignored by the media and ostracized by France’s middle class. Unfortunately, for a lack of sensible options, this huge electoral reservoir has preferred to turn to Marine Le Pen—or to simply abstain from voting.
An authentic French right could rely on the people’s residual common sense, which is resistant to media pressure. Polls show that French voters want the opposite of the politically correct: They want less immigration, more punishment of criminal offenders, fewer taxes, and schools that reward merit.
However, the French right is handicapped by its total lack of credibility. To win back the hearts and minds of the French electorate, the right will have to be courageous. The “moral fence” erected around the FN by the entire political class, in an attempt to marginalize it, is a political stupidity. Under these circumstances, the French right seems to face a Cornelian dilemma: It can neither win without the FN, nor can it win if it allies itself with the FN. But fundamentally it is a question of principles and UMP leaders should be courageous enough to break through the artificial fence around the FN—and propose a “union of the right.”
Such a union of the French right should also meet the expectations of conservative French people. However, they have many reasons to feel exasperated: ongoing economic problems, three million unemployed people, growing insecurity and concerns over immigration, the imminent legalization of “gay marriage,” and a media class that seems very disconnected from the concerns of the average French person.
While the French right continues to flounder, the Socialists have been able to consolidate a lot of power. Across the country, many French legislators seem motivated by a terrible desire to destroy traditional France; some have even been involved in legislative efforts to deny the country’s cultural roots and denigrate its glorious history. And they have largely succeeded because of the absence of any anti-socialist thought in the public sphere.
Politicians of France’s authentic right must face these challenges and vigorously oppose this socialist group-think. But a quick glance at the current jabbering political class suggests that any such efforts may be in vain. Not one courageous and visionary French politician seems to exist. They all either have been condemned to silence or were eliminated long ago by the French political system.
In his 1811 letter to M. le Chevalier, the French conservative thinker Joseph de Maistre said that “every nation has the government it deserves” (“toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite”). This has been and continues to be painfully apparent in today’s France. But in the meantime, la France éternelle still awaits the providential man it deserves—that principled leader who will be courageous enough to lead a conservative counter-revolution.