France’s far right has always interested me. At one time, it was a strong force in the Fourth Republic, but really had its heyday during the uncomfortably remembered Vichy regime of the 1940s. And we all know how that one turned out. (When the opposition shoots the right-wing Prime Minister by military firing squad, you know that’s going to equate to decades in the political wilderness.)
Since 1945, France has been the poster child of a Western European welfare state. Heavy state regulations into one’s daily life, followed by economic decisions that do anything but create economic growth. Mostly the country is dominated by socialist thinking, since this is where this odious political movement originated, but there has always been a very hidden undercurrent of conservative action that is mostly supressed by the media, popular culture, and ordinary people not wanting to rock the boat or appear a bit strange.
Sometimes the French far right really rears its head, as it almost did in 1961 during the only real military coup ever attempted against a modern Western government, but most of the time it just exists as something to be ignored by metropolitan audiences.
So this column by Eric Margolis reminded me that real conservatism and its far right brother are not dead in France, but rather are alive today in 2012 and growing stronger. In fact, the column pointed out that Marine Le-Pen’s notorious National Front is not a revival of fascist Vichy France, but rather the latest incarnation of the French hard right:
But the National Front – xenophobic, racist, violently anti-Muslim, and anti-Europe – is poison to moderate French and many members of the UMP. To no surprise, UMP may split, or disintegrate, over the issue of joining forces with the National Front, seen by many French as a reborn fascist movement. In fact, it’s not really fascist, but an avatar of the old 1940 far right, ultra conservative, ultra Catholic Vichy movement.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen is clearly calculating that June elections will see the UMP crushed. This, in turn, may lead to massive defections of former UMP deputies to the National Front. Meaning that the National Front could become Frances official opposition to the ruling Socialists.
It will be interesting to see where the National Front winds up in the June elections. The economic calamity that is called Europe will not solve itself by then.
And if the conservative French hard right gains some significant power in the National Assembly, the world economic and political situation might just get a lot more interesting.