The Meaning of Le Pen

by , April 25, 2002
The stunning victory of the French National Front‘s Jean Marie Le Pen over Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has European and American elites in a tizzy. They are right to tremble. For the grandfatherly ex-paratrooper represents everything they hate – nationalism, traditionalism, populism – and threatens the values they seek to ensconce: Euro-federalism, multiculturalism, and rule by a technocratic elite. As the world rushes toward the supposedly inevitable cosmopolitan future of globalized governance, open borders, and a "new world order" dominated by the United States, Le Pen’s upset is a defiant "No!"THE REAL LE PEN

Naturally, the guardians of political correctness have already descended on Le Pen – whom they once pronounced "finished" – as the Hitler-of-the-week. The words most associated with the 73-year-old veteran of French rightist politics, the son of a fisherman who rose from nothing to challenge the Euro-establishment, are most often "demagogue," "racist," "xenophobe," and worse. But I suggest you ignore the background noise, and check out his recent interview with Ha’aretz – the Israeli version of the New York Times – because it rings far truer than the caricature offered up by his detractors. The author is obviously not sympathetic to his subject, and every quote from Le Pen is viewed through the lens of some politically correct academician, who then "interprets" it for our benefit: but still the real man behind the media-created bogeyman shines through.

‘XENOPHOBIC’ – OR PRAGMATIC?

It turns out that Le Pen, far from being a dreaded "xenophobe," is simply saying that France has had enough Arab immigration:

"There is an Islamic population in France, most of which comes from the North African countries. Though some may have French citizenship, they don’t have the French cultural background or sociological structure. They operate according to a different logic than most of the population here. Their values are different from those of the Judeo-Christian world. Not long ago, they spat at the president of the republic. They booed when the national anthem was played at a soccer game [in Paris, between the national teams of France and Algeria]. These elements have a negative effect on all of public security."

At a time when Islamic terrorism is a universal preoccupation, this kind of talk seems less "xenophobic" than practical. It has particular resonance in France, where criminal gangs of North African immigrants dominate whole neighborhoods, and the police do not dare venture into these enclaves, which are, in effect, conquered terrain. Crime is skyrocketing: this was the main issue of the French election, and a major reason for the National Front’s electoral triumph. Le Pen has had the satisfaction of saying "I told you so," as the political mainstream tried desperately to come to terms with the crisis. But Jospin and Chirac are part of the problem, Le Pen argued, and therefore could offer no solution – and many voters agreed.

AGAINST LENNONISM

What’s up with this charge of "xenophobia," anyway? Le Pen is merely saying that France should maintain its distinctive cultural-political identity, and that the immigrant floodtide threatens values worth preserving. Somehow, when the Israelis make the same argument – that allowing the Palestinians the "right of return" would threaten the identity and very existence of the Jewish state – this is not even commented on, except by hare-brained Lennonists who exhort us to "imagine there’s no countries."

Yet, the same leftist nutballs "mobilizing" in the streets against the "fascist" and "racist" Le Pen might find themselves nodding their heads in agreement if they bothered to listen to what he has to say about Bush’s projected invasion of Iraq:

"A war on Iraq is nothing more than a war for American material interests. During the Gulf War, I derided all those who portrayed Iraq as the fourth most powerful army in the world. It was ridiculous: To be one of the world’s most powerful armies, you have to manufacture arms and ammunition. Iraq was crushed, its army was completely destroyed and the sanctions policy caused hundreds of thousands of people to die of starvation."

LE PEN’S AMERICAN PROBLEM

Le Pen and his party opposed not only the Gulf War, but also participated in demonstrations against the Kosovo war. His wife traveled to Baghdad in support of "SCS – Children of Iraq," on a humanitarian mission to thwart the monstrous sanctions that have killed thousands. Naturally, the neoconservative Right hates Le Pen as much as the post-Marxist left, on account of his supposed "anti-Americanism." But "anti-Americanism," by this definition, turns out to be simple patriotism: "I am not a xenophobe," he explains. "I am a Francophile" He proceeds to give us a
Francophile’s view of the world:

"The problem with the Americans is that their disproportionate power makes them undertake policies that aren’t always balanced and well-considered, and therefore dangerous. Today, there is worldwide tendency to dance to the tune of the powerful. I, on the other hand, am a French patriot concerned with the interests of France. Am I supposed to go crazy with admiration for the Americans just because they are Americans?"

Well, uh, yes, Monsieur, that is if you’re going to co-exist with the US in a world where "you’re either with us, or against us," as the American President and his international amen corner ceaselessly remind us. Le Pen’s nationalism  is bound to conflict with their vision of a world in which the only sovereignty that matters is American.

TRUTH VERSUS PROPAGANDA

Practically every news story on Le Pen’s upset, by at least the second or third line, reminds us that he once said the Holocaust was an historical "detail." But not quite. Here is what he actually said, when pressed, not in reference to the Holocaust per se, but to the question of whether or not gas chambers were among the Nazi methods of extermination:

"In a book of 1,000 pages on the Second World War, the gas chambers take up 10 to 15 lines. That is a detail."

Taken in context with an earlier statement, in which he opposed French "hate crime" laws that make "holocaust denial" a crime, Le Pen’s real position clearly has nothing to do with "holocaust denial," and the truth shines through even the rhetorical murk of this LeMonde Diplomatique rant:

"This is not a matter for the administration or the courts. It is a purely a question of historical research …. All reasonable people accept that Jews died en masse in the Nazi camps. What "revisionist" historians are disputing is the method of extermination …. These are matters for specialists and must be settled by historical methodology."

LE PEN ON ISRAEL

The great irony of the charge of "anti-Semitism" leveled against Le Pen and his followers is that they were the first to point to the danger posed by the real perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence in France – Arab immigrants. Le Pen is also very pro-Israel, because, as a nationalist, he can well understand the impulse that motivates the Zionist project. Asked if he thinks the military campaign that Sharon is waging in the territories is justified, he neither condemns nor approves it, but takes Sharon’s self-identification as an Israeli patriot as a given:

"This is the policy that he declared. He is not betraying the commitments that he made. He said from the beginning, `I will wage war,’ and he is waging a war with all the risks that involves. History will show if he was right or wrong."

Asked if he can "understand the complaints in Israel about the ‘hypocritical’ European reaction," Le Pen’s answer underscores his natural empathy for Israel’s fight for self-preservation:

"Certainly. After all, I got a similar reaction during the war in Algeria, when I served in General Massu’s 10th division. We were called upon to fight the terrorism of the FLN (the Algerian nationalist movement that fought against French colonialism). The intelligentsia at home criticized our actions. It’s very easy to criticize from the armchair in the living room. I completely understand the State of Israel, which is seeking to defend its citizens."

As for French, European, or specifically French intervention or mediation, he opines that the West should probably stay well out of it:

"All the efforts at mediation are not effective. I wonder if international influences might be harmful to negotiations, if they aren’t pouring fuel on the fire. There is a need for a direct understanding between Israel and the Palestinians."

GO, LE PEN, GO!

Like a true nationalist, however, Le Pen looks at the Israeli-Arab conflict in demographic terms, and wonders how long a few million Israelis can hold off a billion Muslims and not be absorbed. Gee, I wondered the same thing in my last column, in which I (citing a post by Emmanuel Goldstein on his "Airstrip One" blog) speculated on the "orientalization" of Israeli society. Say, Jean Marie, if you’re out there, lemme give you a shout-out, and I’ll just say this: Go, Le Pen, go!

I say this without endorsing some of his kookier views, like paying women to stay home (if we have to pay them, we’re lost, anyway), or agricultural subsidies (even the French libertarians of the 1760s, the Physiocrats, who pioneered the development of free-market economics, made an exception when it came to agriculture: what is it with the French and their farms?) In very broad terms, however, Le Pen represents a phenomenon I have written about in previous columns: market nationalism.

POUJADISM REVISITED

Although, in the French case, the emphasis is definitely on the second half of that phrase, you have to remember that Le Pen started out his political career as a Poujadist: he was one of several elected to the French legislature in 1956, the youngest ever elevated to that august assembly. And that makes all the difference….

Pierre Poujade’s Union in Defense of Merchants and Artisans was what today would be called an "anti-government" movement — a militant group of small shopkeepers and rural folk who resented government taxes and regulation. At the time there was a great outcry from the leftist-socialist establishment (on both sides of the Atlantic) that Poujade was a "fascist" and a "black reactionary." But that is utter hogwash, as Murray N. Rothbard pointed out in his trenchant 1956 article on the subject:

"The first thing for Americans to realize: don’t fall blindly for the cry of ‘fascist.’  Remember how the leftist press is always ready to smear anti-Communists and anti-Socialists or anti-internationalist Americans with the ‘fascist’ label. Poujade himself strongly denies that his movement is fascist. He points out that the fascists did not come from the middle classes, but were usually former socialists from the ranks of the workers."

What was true in 1956 in regard to the Poujadists is even truer now when it comes to Le Pen. For the supposedly "fascist" leader, in calling for halving the tax rate, is being true to his roots as a French populist with a decidedly libertarian streak, as Rothbard’s description of the Poujadist program makes clear:

"Banded together in the Union in Defense of Merchants and Artisans, they were led by Pierre Poujade, a bookseller from the little southern French town of St. Céré. Winning election to the local council, the young bookseller persuaded the council and the town’s merchants to refuse tax payment and resist inspection of their books by the central government. Successful resistance spread the idea and the movement to neighboring towns, and finally to a large portion of France.

"The Poujadist belief in direct action by the people is dramatically revealed in one of their favorite devices: ‘packing’ every auction for tax delinquency. Defying the desperate auctioneers, one Poujadist would then buy the store for a few cents, and give it back to the grateful shopkeeper."

This is "fascism" only if you’re some Euro-weenie intellectual who vaguely remembers something from Adorno – or was that Wilhelm Reich? – about how fascism is the effusion of the "enraged bourgeoisie."

EURO-REVOLUTION, PART DEUX

Speaking of which, I wrote on that topic – the enraged bourgeoisie, that is – specifically in regard to Europe, back when the famous gas tax revolt swept the continent in September of 2000:

"What we are witnessing in Europe is nothing less than a revolution, a radical reaction to the consolidation of continental socialism – a reaction that goes beyond the ballot box and takes the fight against the Eurocrats to the streets. As even the idea of national sovereignty is erased, and the rule of the managers and corporate planners seeks to rationalize European social and economic life into prescribed patterns of political correctness, the intended victims of this new order – the small business owners, the independent truckers and lorrie drivers, the Belgian hauliers, the French farmers, the fishermen – in short, ordinary people throughout Europe – have been thoroughly radicalized by the stubborn arrogance of their socialist elites."

This is precisely what is fueling the Le Pen phenomenon. The revolt against the European elites by ordinary bourgeois Europeans has once again erupted, and it looks like the French run-off election is going to be … very interesting.

ANOTHER SURPRISE?

The conventional wisdom, naturally, is that Le Pen doesn’t stand a chance, the polls show a Chirac landslide, blah blah blah. But the polls were wrong before, and, who knows, but they could be wrong again. Certainly Chirac, whose Clintonian scale of corruption has been mercilessly exposed in a series of financial scandals involving kickbacks, is vulnerable – and he is making himself even more vulnerable by refusing to debate Le Pen. This sense of entitlement displayed by the political class seems, to the ordinary French citizen, to be entirely unearned. By arrogantly refusing to debate, Chirac is tempting fate  – and certainly he deserves to lose.

LE PEN VS. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Ledeen gives us the conventional neocon wisdom on l’affaire Le Pen:

"In any event, we will not have to worry about Mr. Le Pen for more than the two weeks until the runoff. When Mr. Chirac is reelected, he will have to lead his country in a very new Europe, but not the center-left Europe so long imagined by most of the intellectuals and fashionable politicians. Through no particular merit of his own, Mr. Chirac will be a major player in a center-right Europe that will be more suspicious of the mounting power of the European bureaucracy in Brussels, less inclined to dissolve national identities in a new continental union, and keen on retaining more initiative in national legislatures."

"Through no particular merit of his own" indeed! Is that why anti-Le Pen commies, who took to the streets immediately after the election returns came in – overturning cars and smashing store windows – carried placards proclaiming "Vote sleaze, not fascist"?

Le Pen is not merely "suspicious" of that monstrosity in Brussels, he is unalterably opposed to it and has vowed to take France out of the EU altogether. Instead of waiting for the monster to be born, he wants to kill it in its crib. In that battle, there can be no compromise, no neutrality: you are either with the defenders of national sovereignty (including libertarians as well as nationalists), or you are with the Euro-crats.  Let us hope and pray the French voters have the wisdom and the courage to choose the former.

Read more by Justin Raimondo