France Exhales, Temporarily

 

Yesterday was the second round of the French regional elections, and the National Front was defeated in all three contested districts. (I explained how these work last week.) Nidra Poller wrote a good essay about the FN last year for those who want to know more about the LePen family psychodrama:

While the notoriously provocative father has remained honorary president of the FN, the daughter claims to have banished unsavory ideas and elements that – unfairly in her view – justified its “demonization.” Cleansed of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, racism and other reprehensible traits associated with the “Far Right Populist” strain of postwar European politics, the National Front is claimed to be the West’s only line of defense against Islamization, EU tyranny, globalization, cheap Chinese merchandise, rampant capitalism, the banks, the international oligarchy that exploits the hardworking little man … and what other evils?

According to an investigation published in January 2014 by Frédéric Haziza, Vol au-dessus d’un nid de fachos (Flight over a nest of fascists), the National Front gravitates in a “Populist Far Right” constellation that includes the skinhead Serge Ayoub, the intellectual Alain Soral, the ex-comic Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, the PR wizard Frédéric Chatillon, and assorted like-minded personalities. Members and leaders of these groups fall in and out with each other, conveniently allowing them to disavow specific reprehensible acts or associations, but their core principles are largely compatible: Third Reich nostalgia, Holocaust denial, obsessive hatred of Jews/Zionists, rejection of capitalism and parliamentary democracy.

Gabriel Oppetit notes, correctly, “While the FN is frequently warned about — and for good reason — its economic proposals are rarely decried for what they are: a manifesto for a state-run, nationalistic economy.” This — as he also correctly points out — has been tried in country after country, and has consistently produced economic, social, and political misery.

The party was on top in six of 13 regions in the first-round last week. It didn’t win a single one of the regions in the second round. Sarkozy’s party (Les Républicains) took seven of 13 regions, giving them the largest share. But they couldn’t have done it without the tactical support of the ruling PS. In the three regions where the FN came in first last week, the PS pulled out their candidates, and had they not, it’s impossible to say what the voters would have done. In one region, the PS candidate refused to pull out: Les Républicains took it.

Voter turnout was much higher than in the first round, suggesting the familiar pattern of FN-as-protest-vote followed by a “Now let’s be serious” response. But they came way too close for comfort. That they were kept out by tactical retreat and tactical voting will now give them the argument that they’re the object of a conspiracy.

The relief in France is considerable. But as La Croix put it, it’s a “cowardly relief” — as Leon Blum famously put it in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement. No one thinks they’re gone.

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There are 40 comments.

  1. 1
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  1. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: No one thinks they’re gone.

    A cynic might say they are too useful to the two main groupings. Rather than address the concerns of a growing portion of the electorate they can play the ‘Anyone but Le Pen’ card for the Nth time. But what legitimacy for a president elected from behind in 2017 if the only reason for their final victory is to deny Marine the post?

    Remember when the FN had a natural ceiling of support of 15%? Then 20? Now they have 30% of the (admittedly not terribly important except symbolically) regional vote.

    If the main parties of France let the bad people of the FN have the best arguments – or, at least, if no-one challenges them as arguments – how can democracy be expected to work?

    • #1
    • December 14, 2015, at 1:40 AM PDT
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  2. Contributor

    Again & again, the old lesson–most of leadership is temporizing.

    It’s funny to see a mock grand-alliance in France as well–Germany has been run by one for years now, with much less to worry about than France has with these Le Pen women. It’s as though the only thing that scares the daylights out of people who know politics is an election. But one cannot get the people to shake the habit of demanding some kind of future. & these political classes seem now to have failed to persuade the people that this is the future-

    • #2
    • December 14, 2015, at 1:42 AM PDT
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  3. Contributor

    genferei:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: No one thinks they’re gone.

    A cynic might say they are too useful to the two main groupings. Rather than address the concerns of a growing portion of the electorate they can play the ‘Anyone but Le Pen’ card for the Nth time. But what legitimacy for a president elected from behind in 2017 if the only reason for their final victory is to deny Marine the post?

    The legitimacy is not democratic. It’s the EU that legitimates politics. This is a waiting game–if the future comes soon enough, they’re safe as houses. & if not–well, no one knows really–that’s the problem with crises–they’re such hellish unexpected things…

    Remember when the FN had a natural ceiling of support of 15%? Then 20? Now they have 30% of the (admittedly not terribly important except symbolically) regional vote.

    These things are symbolic only until they’re not symbolic anymore. The problem with these empty forms is that forms may have a causative power & instead of staying nice & empty, might fill up with meaning. No one seems to know what that meaning or any meaning might be. You’re right to worry about what this says about democracy, but in France, De Gaulle’s partisans enjoyed long victories for a long time simply because the only real opposition was the unbearably honest Communist faction. This sort of thing works. It may be that no faction in France sees any future…

    • #3
    • December 14, 2015, at 1:59 AM PDT
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  4. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    genferei: A cynic might say they are too useful to the two main groupings. Rather than address the concerns of a growing portion of the electorate they can play the ‘Anyone but Le Pen’ card for the Nth time.

    Which of the FN’s concerns do you think they should be addressing? Which one would you address first — the re-nationalization of major industries? Price-setting? An across-the-board wage increase for French workers?

    • #4
    • December 14, 2015, at 2:01 AM PDT
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  5. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Which of the FN’s concerns do you think they should be addressing?

    I think they should be addressing the concerns of FN’s voters, which is a different thing.

    Nevertheless, I acknowledge it is difficult for any French politician from the major parties to make the case against a dirigiste economic policy, since they’ve all been at it for generations.

    • #5
    • December 14, 2015, at 2:37 AM PDT
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  6. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Titus Techera: The legitimacy is not democratic. It’s the EU that legitimates politics.

    Not sure what you mean by “legitimates.” Say we use Weber’s typology of legitimacy — unless you’ve got a better one. The legal authority here is without doubt France. The moment they declared a State of Emergency, they said “Never mind, ECHR.” As far as I’ve noticed, no one in France who’s concerned about the State of Emergency is fretting about it on the grounds that it wouldn’t pass muster with the ECHR. They’re appealing to their own laws (and their own history).

    Traditional authority? France has “always existed” in everyone’s mind, but very few people are old enough now to remember a time when Western Europe wasn’t a basically peaceful and united entity. The EU has quite a bit of legitimacy now, too — although it lost a lot because the single currency was such a disaster.

    Charismatic authority? France is vulnerable to that, and so, obviously, is every country.

    • #6
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:06 AM PDT
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  7. Contributor

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Titus Techera: The legitimacy is not democratic. It’s the EU that legitimates politics.

    Not sure what you mean by “legitimates.”

    Mr. genferei was talking about the diminishing democratic legitimacy of the kind of electoral politics you call ‘now let’s get serious’ second round ballots with markedly decreasing turnout.

    I mean to point out that there is no democratic legitimacy attempted or required for French politics to continue as it’s been since, let’ say, de Gaulle’s ambitions for the future of France were defeated by more practical political classes.

    In general, I believe elections do little to make or break a democracy. They are a form especially vulnerable to meaninglessness–electoral victory is not its own justification. When elections matter, it has little to do with the fact that they are elections: Among your own people, a few times elections have played the part of prophecy, seeming at least the cause of tremendous change. But the elections themselves neither called forth the political factions nor satisfied them.

    So far as I understand French politics, no faction offers a view of the future that anyone could recognize or fail to recognize Do you believe France has in a meaningful sense French politics? When have French politicians made an issue of the distinction between French & EU politics? Surely, you do not mean the Euro is going away in France!

    Concerning the State of emergency & ECHR: In what does the action’s seriousness seem to you consist?

    • #7
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:21 AM PDT
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  8. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    genferei: I think they should be addressing the concerns of FN’s voters, which is a different thing.

    That’s the FN’s platform — why would they be campaigning on it if they didn’t want to appeal to their voters?

    • #8
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:29 AM PDT
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  9. Inactive

    A lesson for Trump (and now Kudlow) followers: In the lead for an early round, but destroyed in the last round, the one that counts.

    • #9
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:32 AM PDT
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  10. Member

    I think the entire west is going to go through a “legitimacy of the state” problem.

    Can the state really be legitimate if there is a solid third that is completely outside of a “consensus?” Especially when the “consensus” is on deep fundamental ideas on the nature of a people and a state?

    Majoritarianism is a piss poor ideology to base a nation on.

    • #10
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:48 AM PDT
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  11. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Titus Techera: Mr. genferei was talking about the diminishing democratic legitimacy of the kind of electoral politics you call ‘now let’s get serious’ second round ballots with markedly decreasing turnout

    Markedly increased turnout on this round, and taken immensely seriously.

    I mean to point out that there is no democratic legitimacy attempted

    Of course there is. These were real elections.

    or required for French politics to continue as it’s been since, let’ say, de Gaulle’s ambitions for the future of France were defeated by more practical political classes.

    I’m confused again — the “practical classes?” Are you talking about the Algiers Putsch?

    In general, I believe elections do little to make or break a democracy. They are a form especially vulnerable to meaninglessness–electoral victory is not its own justification. When elections matter, it has little to do with the fact that they are elections: Among your own people, a few times elections have played the part of prophecy, seeming at least the cause of tremendous change. But the elections themselves neither called forth the political factions nor satisfied them. So far as I understand French politics, no faction offers a view of the future that anyone could recognize or fail to recognize Do you believe France has in a meaningful sense French politics?

    Of course it does. I’m simply confused here.

    When have French politicians made an issue of the distinction between French & EU politics?

    Constantly. When don’t they?

    Concerning the State of emergency & ECHR: In what does the action’s seriousness seem to you consist?

    This is what it means.

    • #11
    • December 14, 2015, at 3:53 AM PDT
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  12. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    genferei: I think they should be addressing the concerns of FN’s voters, which is a different thing.

    That’s the FN’s platform — why would they be campaigning on it if they didn’t want to appeal to their voters?

    Yes – their platform to appeal to the concerns of the voters. There are other platforms that might appeal to their concerns. Failing to address (the realities of) immigration/separate communities (for a variety of reasons) or the precariousness of modern working-class life (because any attempt at letting the market – that is to say, all people, not just the technocrats – improve things is met by a middle-class spasm) lets lunatic suggestions like those of the FN command the field.

    • #12
    • December 14, 2015, at 4:28 AM PDT
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  13. Member

    “while the FN is frequently warned about — and for good reason — its economic proposals are rarely decried for what they are: a manifesto for a state-run, nationalistic economy.”

    Sounds like Trump. These groups support the administrative state, centralization of the economy, state allocation of power and resources, why do we call them “right”, because they are nationalistic and racist? What is right wing about racism when combined with central economic control? So the Soviet Union was far right? Mussolini’s and National Socialist’s fascism were labels applied by our war time ally to the groups fighting over the same intellectual space and population base. Now in Spain they were right wing but Spain was a side show important to the ideological struggle, but not the core of the thing.

    • #13
    • December 14, 2015, at 5:00 AM PDT
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  14. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    genferei: Yes – their platform to appeal to the concerns of the voters. There are other platforms that might appeal to their concerns. Failing to address (the realities of) immigration/separate communities (for a variety of reasons) or the precariousness of modern working-class life (because any attempt at letting the market – that is to say, all people, not just the technocrats – improve things is met by a middle-class spasm) lets lunatic suggestions like those of the FN command the field.

    Have you looked at the platforms of the other parties?

    Lunatic ideas ideas come from a lot of places: You don’t have to be economically insecure to hold them; if the problem were (merely!) fixing poverty, we wouldn’t find that so very often, terrorists aren’t one bit poor. And every democracy — as we’re seeing now in the US — has to wrestle with the question, “Do we try to somehow address or appease the concerns of the people in our country who are nuts,’ or do we say, “That idea is so bad that it should be stigmatized (although expressing it shouldn’t be illegal) in a civilized country?”

    Lots of Americans deeply, deeply believe that the biggest threat to human existence is global climate change. They don’t believe this because they’re poor. They believe it because it’s nuts. How much more costly pandering do we have to do to ease their sense of millenarian panic?

    The working class took a huge hit during the crise, although nowhere near so much as the Greeks. The Syrian conflict — for which France is probably least responsible of all, given that they had the planes ready to go on the runway as soon as the word got out that Assad had used chemical weapons, only to be at the last minute quashed by Obama — has also placed huge strains on the fabric of French social life; and France alone just can’t cope with it, although it would be an eager part of a more serious coalition. They need the help of countries like Turkey to control that border, which means they should have been more serious about bringing Turkey into the EU years ago — however difficult it would have been, and how costly, to bring them up to the accession standards — long ago, and they should have insisted relentlessly on Turkey adopting the political and legal acquis instead of negotiating for years with them in bad faith.

    But if you asked me what is exactly the program designed to harm the French working class — and reduce France to utter economic ruin and permanent economic significance, it would be, “State control over the commanding heights of the economy, leaving NATO, entering an alliance with Putin, and exiting the bulk of the EU treaties that support trade and the free movement of people.” (The Euro is the disaster I don’t know how anyone can undo.)

    And the genie of anti-Semitism their election would let out of the box should not ever, in my view, be taken lightly — not in this country, not on this continent. Some ideas are anathema for a very good reason. That’s one of them. Don’t be fooled by the ‘de-diabolization” business. It’s all for show. Their base is as anti-Semitic as it is anti-Muslim.

    • #14
    • December 14, 2015, at 5:39 AM PDT
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  15. Member

    How do you isolate and stigmatize a third of a country, and not have it bring the whole house of cards crashing down around your ears?

    • #15
    • December 14, 2015, at 5:47 AM PDT
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  16. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Guruforhire: I think the entire west is going to go through a “legitimacy of the state” problem.

    The West, heck — what about the Middle East?

    Biggest crisis in a very, very long time for the whole world.

    • #16
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:00 AM PDT
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  17. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Guruforhire: How do you isolate and stigmatize a third of a country, and not have it bring the whole house of cards crashing down around your ears?

    That’s what everyone in France is asking themselves today. They sure succeeded in sending a message — the question is, “What’s the right response?”

    • #17
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:01 AM PDT
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  18. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Don’t be fooled by the ‘de-diabolization” business. It’s all for show. Their base is as anti-Semitic as it is anti-Muslim.

    What proportion of the third of the electorate trying to ‘send a message’ by voting FN is anti-Semitic?

    • #18
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:17 AM PDT
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  19. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: And every democracy — as we’re seeing now in the US — has to wrestle with the question, “Do we try to somehow address or appease the concerns of the people in our country who are nuts,’ or do we say, “That idea is so bad that it should be stigmatized (although expressing it shouldn’t be illegal) in a civilized country?”

    To be fair, nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and national control over trade, immigration and foreign investment have been majority – or significant minority – positions for most of the West since there was anything that could be referred to as the West. It is true that Corbyn’s desire to reintroduce Clause IV is seen by right-thinking people as evidence of his insanity, but should it be ‘stigmatized’? What about being a postman who calls for the violent overthrow of the Republic: should that prevent one from being a semi-serious candidate for President? (I’m inclined to think ‘yes’ – but I am evidently in a tiny minority.)

    • #19
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:27 AM PDT
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  20. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The Syrian conflict … has also placed huge strains on the fabric of French social life

    Really? Please explain.

    • #20
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:28 AM PDT
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  21. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The Euro is the disaster I don’t know how anyone can undo.

    Past damage can’t be undone, but for any (large) individual currency, the announcement that one is leaving, the settling of an appropriate exchange rate, and a few laws aimed at transition seems simple enough. The transition to the Euro, when the technology of everyday transactions was so much less sophisticated, seems much more complicated.

    • #21
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:34 AM PDT
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  22. Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire: How do you isolate and stigmatize a third of a country, and not have it bring the whole house of cards crashing down around your ears?

    That’s what everyone in France is asking themselves today. They sure succeeded in sending a message — the question is, “What’s the right response?”

    A peaceful nationalism with a focus on France being French. Which will repair the social trust and reduce to a large extent anti-semitism and unfortunate economic ideas. But that would require a backing away from the ridiculousness that is the current multicultural delusion that is elite western opinion.

    There can be no common administration of disparate peoples. Common administration requires to a very large extent near total buy in on some deep cultural axioms, and social norms.

    Some diversity is good, too much is very very very very very very very (did I say very) bad. Cultural homogeneity of a commonly administered people should probably be about 90-95%. Nations are the geography controlled by a people, and a people is a common culture. States are the common administration of a nation and people. Nations and states aren’t arbitrary, and we need to stop pretending that they are.

    The little self-delusions of the west are great, if they are never tested to any meaningful extent. I would rather we got to a place where we could all pretend the emperor has his clothes on.

    • #22
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:49 AM PDT
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  23. Member

    I believe that this desire to return to a place where the emperor can strut around like daffy duck (or for that matter just about any male Disney cartoon character), is the stated desire of various writers at the weekly standard. There seems to be a desire to return to the post-war consensus, if a consensus ever really existed beyond there being a post war toleration.

    To return to the post war consensus we have create the conditions for it to exist, which is high social trust. This exists with primarily cultural homogeneity, and credible institutions. (the former feeds the later, but corrupt institutions can also hurt the social trust as well)

    Either we return to lying to ourselves, or we get to play cowboys and Indians with live ammunition. No good things come from scenario 2.

    The swedes were pretty happy when they were 97% swede. Perhaps we CAN learn from them. As in, given sufficient cultural buy in, even deeply feminist and socialist, social norms can be largely fulfilling.

    • #23
    • December 14, 2015, at 6:56 AM PDT
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  24. Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Guruforhire: How do you isolate and stigmatize a third of a country, and not have it bring the whole house of cards crashing down around your ears?

    That’s what everyone in France is asking themselves today. They sure succeeded in sending a message — the question is, “What’s the right response?”

    Yesterday was the right response. A large majority don’t want these policies. End of story.

    • #24
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:11 AM PDT
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  25. Contributor

    In defense of the rootless elites–when there was an obvious active French nationalism, it was quite anti-Semitic. That a new one would be otherwise is not obvious to me–I don’t see quite why the previous one had to be anti-Semitic either, to be honest, but I am not sure that lack of reason is a guarantee of change.

    • #25
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:12 AM PDT
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  26. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    genferei:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Don’t be fooled by the ‘de-diabolization” business. It’s all for show. Their base is as anti-Semitic as it is anti-Muslim.

    What proportion of the third of the electorate trying to ‘send a message’ by voting FN is anti-Semitic?

    Here’s some research on this by Nonna Meyer. Do you read French? The key part is this, my translation:

    capture_d_ecran_2015-12-03_20.48.49Figure 2: Perception of Jews and Muslims by party, divided into FN/all other parties. So, 45 percent have no problem with the phrase “dirty Arab”; 36 percent have no problem with the phrase “dirty Jew.” 73 percent think “Muslims aren’t French like the rest of us; 35 percent think “Jews aren’t French like the rest of us.” 76 percent have a negative opinion about Muslims; 38 percent have a negative opinion about Jews. 86 percent think Muslims don’t integrate well; 30 percent think Jews don’t integrate well.

    And the negative sentiments about Jews have increased since Marine Le Pen took helm to “de-diabolize” the FN. France now legally tracks the growth of anti-semitism, conducting surveys to examine whether people hold anti-Semitic beliefs, and if so, what kind. The Front’s tend to be the racially-based Nazi type, the Jews-control-the-banks and the media type, the Jews-are-excessively-powerful type, the “double allegiance” type, the Holocaust-denial type, and of course the anti-Zionism type. In a scale from 1-6; more than half the FN supporters score over 3; of them, a great many go all the way up to 6. Members of the other parties rarely make it over 3 and are usually closer to 1.5.

    As for “negative image of Israel,” which is often a good proxy for anti-Semitism, FN supporters agree in markedly higher numbers the other parties — 5.7/9 compared to 3.7/9 . Consider how high that is given that the most Muslims in France don’t vote FN. (Some do — they go out of their way to court them.)

    82%, when asked, say they’re racist (including 43% “somewhat” and 39% “somewhat”) compared to 25% among the other parties and 16% percent among the left parties. (This is not the politically-correct “I confess my white privilege” kind of statement, either. It’s the real blood-and-soil stuff.)

    So no, strictly speaking, their base isn’t as anti-Semitic as it is anti-Muslim, but that’s new — the elder LePen wasn’t anti-Muslim at all, just anti-Semitic — and either way, I don’t see any reason why a party that stands out for the marked anti-Semitism of its base should be legitimized. Many once tried saying, “Let’s be respectful of these ideas, maybe there’s something reasonable about them that we can work with.” It wasn’t a success the last time around.

    • #26
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:20 AM PDT
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  27. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    genferei: t is true that Corbyn’s desire to reintroduce Clause IV is seen by right-thinking people as evidence of his insanity, but should it be ‘stigmatized’?

    Yes! As should the company he’s been keeping and defending. To say that I believe in freedom of expression is to say I don’t think the state should prevent him from saying these things, not that I don’t think some ideas are somewhere between bad and evil and that those who express them should be stigmatized.

    What about being a postman who calls for the violent overthrow of the Republic: should that prevent one from being a semi-serious candidate for President?

    Yes. Very yes.

    (I’m inclined to think ‘yes’ – but I am evidently in a tiny minority.)

    • #27
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:31 AM PDT
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  28. Member

    One cannot be a Zionist without first accepting the moral legitimacy of ethno-nationalism. Just sayin’. Its one of them a priori things.

    This I think is the issue that twists western intellectuals into a pretzel more than any other.

    • #28
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:35 AM PDT
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  29. Member

    CB: Here’s some research on this by Nonna Meyer.

    I don’t really know what research that conflates answers from 2003 to 2014 might mean, except that it means little when talking about the vastly different number (and makeup) of people that voted in 2015.

    I do wonder about research that relies on only 458 FN voters (see elsewhere in Meyer’s article). These answers are supposed to support the conclusion that FN voters are uniquely intolerant. Questions include:

    • Immigrants are a source of cultural enrichment.
    • It is necessary to give non-European foreigners who have been in the country for a certain period the right to vote in municipal and local elections.
    • There are too many immigrants in France today.
    • Many immigrants come to France for the welfare benefits.

    Is one really beyond the pale (a loaded term, I know) for holding (or denying, in the case of the first two) any of these beliefs?

    It seems to me the conflation of quite reasonable opinions with detestable ones that gives the space for the Dieudonnes of the world to flourish.

    • #29
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:54 AM PDT
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  30. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Marion Evans: Yesterday was the right response. A large majority don’t want these policies. End of story.

    Not the end of the story at all. It didn’t win any races, but it did as well as it ever has before in voter support. Now they can retreat into vocal opposition without the hassle of actually having to govern anything and show results. There are circumstances under which this could put them in a position to contest the presidential elections in 2017. Unlikely, I think, but even a modest chance of LePen being in charge of the force de frappe has to be taken as a serious concern.

    • #30
    • December 14, 2015, at 7:56 AM PDT
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