With people throughout the western world either enraged by or inspired by Marine Le Pen, it is well to remember that on the whole she is an isolated and quintessentially French phenomenon. What’s more is that France is no longer a major geopolitical power and Marine Le Pen knows this.
France is unique in that in spite of being one of the oldest established states in Europe, her late modern history tells a tale of a constant political and cultural identity crisis. This identity crisis remains partly unresolved and that itself is one of the reasons that Le Pen is experiencing the popular success that she is.
Between 1789 and the present day, France has been ruled at various times by five very different Republics, one Bourbon Monarchy and one July Monarchy, two Bonapartist empires, and a Vichy State.
Debates between those agitating for the virtues of liberal republicanism versus conservative republicanism, Catholicism versus Laïcité, post-colonial Islamic citizens versus semi-homogenous Franco-Europeanism, NATO style foreign policy versus third-way, pseudo-non-aligned policy, continue to rage.
This is all highly interesting if one is fascinated by French history, culture and politics, but is it relevant for the wider world? The answer is no and increasingly the aforementioned questions facing the French are as much a response to internal developments as they are to a metaphysical crisis about France’s increasingly irrelevant role in the wider multi-polar world.
The current President Francois Hollande and his immediate predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy, sought to answer these questions by adopting a NATO style foreign policy combined with a specific interest in interfering in the post-colonial affairs of Francophone states. This explains France’s military intervention into Mali, an operation conducted with all the chauvinism of a neo-colonial war (albeit a putatively short one) and it also explains why France seeks to intervene in Syria which became a French mandate after the First World War.
President Sarkozy’s lust for French glory to be attained via NATO was one of the reasons he led the public relations campaign for the war against Libya which thanks to Wikileaks, we all know was really Hillary Clinton’s war and not his, David Cameron’s nor Barack Obama’s.
I personally think that Jacques Chirac was the finest President of the French Fifth Republic. Domestically he presented himself as a kind of neo-Gaullist figure who embraced French independence from America and Britain’s wars abroad whilst maintaining a mixed economy at home. If anything, Chirac has been vindicated by the fact that countries which have in the past had successful experiences with neo-liberalism, are now rejecting such liberalism or what the French call ‘Anglo-Saxon economics’.
Like most French presidential candidates, Le Pen has offered her own unique solution to the perpetual French political identity crisis. Contrary to claims in the western media, it is not fascism and parts of it are not even remotely right-wing.
Le Pen is best described as someone who combines Gaullist style patriotism with some elements of Vichy statism and a heavy dose of liberal (in the French sense) republican Laïcité. She sees the test for citizenship as being ideological rather than ethnic or religious and this is not surprising given the fact that the French can, with some justification, claim to have invented an ideological basis of citizenship, something which Ataturk’s Turkish Republic adopted in the 1920s.
In this sense, she is vehemently secular, opposed to a great deal of conservative censorship efforts over even the most obscene forms of expression and is neither racist, anti-Semitic nor anti-gay. She is a classic French liberal Republican on such matters. On the other hand, she is anti-NATO and opposes the EU in its current federalist, Atlanticist, neo-liberal form. She doesn’t however oppose the idea of European culture as something which manifestly exists, the way that many if not most British Eurosceptics do.
In this sense, her views on European identity are more in line with those of Geert Wilders and the Dutch Freedom Party than they are with UKIP who seek a post-colonial British identity which is cooperative with but separate from anything derived from Europe. Donald Trump is clearly more sympathetic to the British Eurosceptic view on such matters.
A Len Pen France would likely disengage with Atlanticist institutions, form pragmatic agreements with non-European foreign powers, including a Trump led America and also Russia. She would also end France’s fixation with her post-colonial identity crisis by being less actively engaged in Francophone colonies and ex-mandates. Her idea of citizenship would doubtless inform immigration law, but not in ways that are surprising to those who understand the uniquely French view of man and citizen.
All of this of course means little to the winder world as France in spite of the protestations of many French politicians, is an increasingly irrelevant state. Her permanent veto on the UN Security Council is an insult to countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt and even Japan and Germany (given that it has been many years since the end of the Second World War).
The problem with the French is that they do not have a word for Vergangenheitsbewältigung, (the German term meaning overcoming the past). This is why many in France still cannot admit to the savagery they committed in Indo-China and Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s.
If Le Pen becomes President, it will of course change the nature of the EU, but I do not think it would be the end of European cooperation. It would simply change the nature of the EU and in ways similar to how it will likely change anyway. Something seismic may happen by the standards of the Junkers of the world, but if it does, Le Pen will be a symptom of a process which is already begun rather than a unity instigator.
Le Pen like France itself is a convenient reference point for a western media that can find Paris on the map, even though the rest of the multi-polar world increasingly ignores Paris and her minor relevance in the grand scheme of 21st century geopolitics.