On February 22, 2018, 28-year-old Marion Maréchal took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. The niece of National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, one of France’s most infamous politicians, her appearance was not without controversy. Nevertheless, her speech touched on unique and important themes that rarely surface at American political conferences: surrogacy (she decried the idea that we have the right to “rent a woman’s womb”), dehumanizing economic models (that create “slaves in developing nations and unemployed in Western countries”), and Islamization (she noted that “France is in the process of passing from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the little niece of Islam”). The crowd loved it.
Michael Dougherty in National Review observed that hers was “the speech of a modern right-wing French Catholic,” in marked contrast to Marine Le Pen’s “French secularism and statism.” Rod Dreher also penned an appreciative review, referring to her “dynamic speech.”
In February 2020, Maréchal was one of the featured speakers—alongside Dreher, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, British commentator Douglas Murray, among others—at the second ‘National Conservatism’ conference in Rome, organized by Yoram Hazony’s Edmund Burke Foundation. (The first conference, which I attended, was held in Washington, D.C. in July 2019.)
Photo: Image courtesy of the Edmund Burke Foundation.
Maréchal’s speech in Rome was again very well-received, with Dreher calling it “marvelous” and Titus Techera noting that “the most beautiful speech of the day was given by the most beautiful speaker, the young and lovely Marion Maréchal, the queen in waiting of the French right.” Only Douglas Murray was somewhat reserved, noting that Maréchal’s “family politics remain ugly and sinister to me.”
Maréchal’s family politics are where the controversy arises. Her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is the founder of France’s National Front but was ejected from the party by his own daughter, Marine, in 2015. She has since attempted to move the party into the mainstream by purging it of its more extreme members—those accused of anti-Semitism, racism, and Pétainism—and changing its name to Rassemblement National. For Marine Le Pen, this “de-demonization” of the party has also included embracing abortion on demand and government recognition of same-sex unions, as well as denouncing corporate power and globalization to appeal to populists of all stripes. (Her niece, on the other hand, has vowed in the past to defund Planned Parenthood.)
Marion Maréchal was first elected to the French National Assembly in 2012 at the age of 22 as the member for Vaucluse’s 3rd constituency. She was one of the youngest parliamentarians in modern French political history and soon began to be seen as the rising star of the French right. Many see her as a far more interesting politician than her aunt, especially—as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry put it—because “the Marion line” often runs contrary to the secularism of Le Pen and “against every sacred cow of French politics.”
But Maréchal disappointed many in 2017 by deciding not to seek re-election and resigning her position as regional councillor, stating that she wished to spend more time with her family. (Her marriage to businessman Matthieu Decosse, which lasted two years, produced a daughter, who was then three years old.) But Maréchal’s resignation from politics has not slowed her down. That same year, she helped found L’Incorrect, a conservative magazine that serves as an outlet for many of her idea. In May 2018 she launched a private school, the Institut de Sciences Sociales, Économiques et Politiques in Lyon.
When in 2018, she formally dropped the surname ‘Le Pen’—which she had inherited from her mother Yann, one of Jean-Marie’s three daughters—the move was widely seen as preparation for a possible presidential run in 2022. Although she has insisted that she is not ashamed of her maternal family name, Maréchal is the name she received from her adoptive father Samuel.
Her biological father, Roger Auque, who passed away in 2014, was a well-known journalist, diplomat, war correspondent, and Israeli spy. Maréchal’s paternity only came to light rather recently, and in 2013 Maréchal successfully sued L’Express newspaper for invasion of privacy for publishing these facts about her father, winning £7,200 in damages. (Interestingly, her personal history has contributed to her pro-life convictions: in 2016, while opposing a law that would censor pro-life websites, she noted that “I am myself an accident.”)
Maréchal is, in short, one of the most interesting people on the political scene today. And as speculation about an eventual political challenge to Macron rises, and she increasingly appears at major conservative conferences around the world to articulate “the Marion line,” I myself have become more interested in finding out what she believes and exploring her views in-depth. So, I requested an interview—and Maréchal kindly agreed.
An American debut
In her 2018 speech to CPAC, Maréchal had declared that “[w]ithout nation, and without family, the limits of the common good, natural law, and collective morality disappears, as the reign of egoism continues.” Rod Dreher had noted that Maréchal was much more “traditionalist” than her American counterparts, “focusing on natural law, religion, and culture.” Interestingly, her analysis sounds very similar to the sorts of things Yoram Hazony and his colleagues at the Edmund Burke Foundation have been saying at their ‘National Conservatism’ conferences. So, I asked her to elaborate on this point further.
“The project of the individual society … is still the subject of a consensus among the French ruling class,” she told me. “Almost all the media as well as a large part of the political world or corporations are united around the idea of progress. They share a childlike fascination for the future that drives them to wipe out the past. They share this tendency to abstraction, they despise the real world by subjecting reality to great ideological principles, [and] they continue to aim at universalism to the detriment of the particular and the local.”
In Maréchal’s view, the media, politicians, and corporations are united around a “contractualist vision of the nation where the individual freely chooses his or her membership and transforms his or her desires into rights without any consideration for the community and the common good. They have all adhered to the relativism that denies the existence of a truth, the relativism that transforms principles into mere ‘values’ and morality into opinion.” (This synopsis, of course, is true not only of France but of the entire West.)
Interestingly, Maréchal pinpointed American progressives as part of the problem, noting that “our [French] elites” are particularly susceptible “to American influences,” especially with many of them increasingly receiving an education in the United States. As a result, these elites, she said, “are importing a model that until now was foreign to us: a racial vision of society. This is how we saw the ideas of ‘positive discrimination,’ ‘decolonialism,’ ‘white fragility,’ and quotas flourish everywhere in the public debate. This approach produces eternal victims, who by the mere fact of their origins are locked in resentment and a claiming posture that further dislocates the cohesion of the nation.”
Irreligion and social disintegration
The decline of religion has also contributed to social disintegration in France. “The Catholic Church, marginalized by the small number of practicing Catholics and by the profoundly anti-clerical DNA of the French left, no longer plays the role of cement in French society,” she told me. Additionally, “[t]he social fractures between metropolises and their peripheries, fuelled by crazy economic and land-use planning policies, are erecting an increasingly impenetrable wall between populations that no longer understand each other. All of these phenomena contribute to an increasingly individualistic and dislocated society.”
Add to that the fact that in France, “the Catholic religion has become a rather bourgeois religion with a predominantly left-wing Church (although it is more discreet on this subject today),” and “[t]he Church no longer plays a structuring role in French society.” Instead, Maréchal observed, “the popular religion is Islam or materialism. Let us add to this the existence of a form of anti-clericalism fueled by the French left and which has expressed itself exclusively against the Catholic religion since the revolution. This further reduces the Church’s authority or influence.”
There has been violence, as well: “For several years now we have seen an explosion of anti-Christian acts,” she noted. “In 2019, 1059 anti-Christian acts were recorded against 154 anti-Muslim acts. Every week Christian churches and cemeteries are ransacked or desecrated in media indifference. At the same time, we are witnessing the increasingly conspicuous and assertive presence of Muslim practices in the public space. In this context, the French see their Christian heritage as an identity refuge that allows them to define themselves in the face of the alterity of immigration, Islamic claims, or in the face of the post-national and therefore necessarily un-Christian left.”
“I will give you an anecdotal but significant example,” Maréchal told me:
“[E]very year at Christmas time, polemics break out over the willingness of some mayors (Rassemblement National most often) to install cribs in the town halls. These mayors defend a cultural and centuries-old tradition. Systematically the left and the state attack them and sue them for not respecting the separation of Church and State. An intransigence that is obviously not found for the halal food in canteens or street prayers! However, surveys have shown that 71% of French people were rather in favour of the presence of Christmas cribs in town halls. With all due respect to the left, Catholicism is part of the DNA of French identity, be it in the customs, the names of our villages or even our institutions. The separation of the spiritual from the temporal, and its correlative laicity, is contained in the social doctrine of the Church! The French are increasingly aware of all this.”
Maréchal does believe that a pushback to the progressive agenda has begun. “[I]f political correctness continues to paralyze the minds of the ruling class, this is no longer the case for a large part of the peoples of Europe, including the French,” she said. “The trauma of the terrorist attacks has accelerated this awareness. Let us recall that since 2012 more than 250 people have been killed by Islamists in France.”
Despite the fact that France is viewed as an overwhelmingly secular country, nearly a million people—and many more by some counts—took to the streets of Paris to protest same-sex marriage in 2013, and similar protests erupted in response to gay adoption several years later. Maréchal herself participated in some of these protests. Why, I asked, despite the decline of religious faith, can issues that most people consider to be primarily religious still animate the French and provoke such an overwhelming response?
“Although practising Catholics are a minority in France, barely more numerous than practising Muslims, they constitute a network that is well established in society and relatively homogeneous,” she replied.
“These rather conservative people are not used to taking to the streets. The last time they [did so] was to defend the private school system threatened by the socialists in the 1980s. The demonstrators of 2013 immediately understood that voting for same-sex marriage would open up a Pandora’s box: adoption of children, medically assisted procreation for female couples and then surrogate motherhood for male couples. To overturn the principle of marriage as the framework of the home and natural filiation was to move towards the commodification of the child and even the mother. And that is precisely what is happening.”
“I will go even further,” she continued:
“The legalisation of medically assisted procreation for female couples, which is currently being debated in France, opens the door to eugenics. Until then, this medical assistance was reserved for sterile heterosexual couples. By opening this possibility to all women, the condition of infertility is logically removed since these women have no reproductive problems. Tomorrow, therefore, it is likely that couples, including heterosexual couples, will end up resorting to these practices simply to select their embryos. Initially certainly for understandable reasons: to preserve their child from genetic diseases, for example. Then little by little, as human nature is naturally inclined to abuse what it has at its disposal, we could perfectly well imagine that couples resort to medically assisted procreation to choose the sex of their child or the colour of their eyes. As this market is also particularly profitable, a society ruled by the optimisation of the selection of children is opening up.” In short: “French Catholic conservatism wanted to defend human dignity by refusing to integrate Man into the commercial sector.”
Maréchal’s take on the so-called “New Right”—which is often conflated with populism and nationalism—is also fascinating. “The term populism is used as an anathema in public debate,” she told me. “It is synonymous with demagogy. It is accused of stimulating the ‘low instincts’ of the people such as racism or xenophobia. It is not invoked to define a current, but rather to disqualify the opponent morally. Personally, I reject this negative moral charge with regard to this term.”
To her mind, such terms are too simplistic:
“In reality, this rise of ‘populism’ in Europe and in the world covers a more complex reality. This populism of the people is a response to the elitism of the elites. In the word populism, there is the word people but there is also the word politics. Populism is a call for the great return of politics. In today’s democracies, people often feel that politics is reduced to management. The government of men has been replaced by the administration of things. Citizens feel dispossessed of their choices in favour of judges and experts. Electoral systems are locked to prevent genuine opposition from being fairly represented, referendum results are flouted or ignored. All this fuels abstention and political crises.”
By way of example, she pointed to her aunt, Marine Le Pen, “who arrived in the second round of the presidential election [and] obtained only eight MPs in the following parliamentary elections, not even enough to form a parliamentary group. The French regime suffers from a paradox. This President of the Republic has the most important powers in the West, yet he is condemned to inaction for lack of political legitimacy. The two-round presidential election has become a default election and the last legislative election mobilized less than one voter in two.”
Although the term populism is generally applied by the media to those on the right, Maréchal pointed out that in Europe, it “can be right-wing or left-wing. It is more a style than a doctrine. If we were to raise common characteristics, we could find: the charismatic leader, the denunciation of the elite system, the defence or even idealization of the working classes, the call for direct democracy rather than representative democracy. In France, the current government considers Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s extreme left and Marine Le Pen’s national right to be populist.”
As for herself? “For my part, I find myself quite comfortable with the term ‘national conservatism’ developed by Yoram Hazony,” she told me. “This current can be found both in Marine Le Pen’s party and in the right-wing party Les Républicains (formerly Sarkozy’s UMP). It is an identity-based conservatism, attached to Catholicism, concerned about fundamental freedoms, sovereigntist, and protectionist.”
Liberty and the common good
One of the ongoing debates on the American right is between traditionalist conservatives and libertarians over the limits of liberty and the role of government in promoting the common good. I asked Maréchal—who frequently criticizes unfettered freedom—whether she thought liberty in the West had gone so far as to become a destructive force. “As a conservative, I love freedom as much as the liberal, but I love it differently,” she noted. “I love freedom surrounded by limits and even prohibitions, by hierarchies patiently shaped by civilization and which, in my opinion, are the condition for social cohesion and harmony. The State is not there to be the producer of this framework; it is the expression and guarantor of the framework built by society.”
In Maréchal’s view, the liberal project is doomed to failure:
“There is a profound inconsistency in the liberal model: in a society where the desires and freedom of each individual prevail over the community and over common morals, then social harmony can only exist in a society that is very homogeneous culturally and even ethnically. Yet it is precisely on the basis of individual freedom that the liberal model promotes the free movement of people and multiculturalism. This is the arena in which society is confronted with different lifestyles, all kinds of demands, opposing ‘values.’ Democracy thus becomes the playground of active and minority lobbies. The liberal model therefore contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction—because it is the bedrock of the inability of individuals to coexist and therefore of chaos.”
When I asked Maréchal whether those on the ‘New Right’ needed to be wary of who they formed coalitions with, she was both blunt and practical:
“In France, there are no political parties that are dangerous for democracy, unlike in other European countries. Personally, I am campaigning for the French right-wingers to get out of their sectarian party logic and build an anti-Macron political front. Since the socialist presidency of François Mitterrand, the left has instituted a form of intellectual terrorism that prohibits any alliance between the parliamentary right and the national right. This ban allowed the left and the centre to maintain power through unnatural alliances. Yet this same socialist left was for a long time allied with the communists! It’s time to get out of the prohibitions posed by progressives and build coherent coalitions.”
As we neared the end of the interview, I asked her: what are the greatest threats to Europe and the West, and how can we effectively push back against them?
“The first major threat is demographic but also cultural,” she replied. “In just thirty years, the world’s population will increase by 2 billion people. In 2050, India will have 1.66 billion inhabitants, China 1.36 billion, Africa 2.5 billion. And us? we will stagnate at 500 million. In France, some projections analyse that the indigenous French will be a minority on their territory around 2050, i.e. tomorrow. We see all over the world [that] multicultural societies are, unfortunately, multi-conflictual societies. Moreover, with very few exceptions, wherever Islam is in the majority, sharia law is applied more or less strictly. Let us add to this that Muslim immigration is today the breeding ground for the development of Islamism and its terrorist counterpart, which is leading to real cultural secession and threatening civil peace. In France, 152 districts are in the hands of Islamists according to intelligence services.”
She then noted:
“A French Islamic republic, even a sovereign one, would no longer be France, which is why the demographic issue is a vital struggle. This situation is all the more complicated because European law and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights are pro-immigration. The Schengen Area promotes the development of illegal immigration and the right of asylum is diverted to become a true mass immigration road. The answer will have to be strong and fast if we don’t want the script already played. And this answer must be legal and cultural but also psychological: it is necessary to psychologically re-arm the French to get them out of historical amnesia, repentance, and self-hatred.”
It is with such clear statements—which demonstrate both that she knows what she wants to conserve and what she wants to protect her nation from—that Marion Maréchal has captured the attention of conservatives not just in France but around the world. She has an extraordinary talent for articulating where both the right and the left have gone wrong—and how they have both betrayed the people and the common good. She has also shown herself willing to break philosophically from her family—not in simply dropping the name Le Pen but in deciding to champion the religious France of her forebears, not the secular France of her aunt. She speaks like a visionary because she genuinely has a vision—and anyone who writes her off as just another reactionary has not listened carefully to her words and is profoundly mistaken.
Jonathon Van Maren has written for First Things, National Review, The American Conservative, and is a contributing editor to The European Conservative. His latest book is Patriots: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Pro-Life Movement.
A revised version of this interview appears in the Summer/Fall 2020 edition of The European Conservative, Number 17: 22-27.