Two Roads for the New French Right

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen; drawing by James Ferguson

Last February the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held its convention in Washington, D.C. This annual gathering is a kind of right-wing Davos where insiders and wannabes come to see what’s new. The opening speaker, not so new, was Vice President Mike Pence. The next speaker, very new, was a stylish Frenchwoman still in her twenties named Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

Marion, as she is widely called in France, is a granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front party, and a niece of Marine Le Pen, its current president. The French first encountered Marion as a child, beaming in her grandfather’s arms in his campaign posters (see illustration on page 46), and she has never disappeared from the public scene. In 2012, at the age of twenty-two, she entered Parliament as the youngest deputy since the French Revolution. But she decided not to run for reelection in 2017, on the pretext that she wanted to spend more time with her family. Instead she’s been making big plans.1

Her performance at CPAC was unusual, and one wonders what the early morning audience made of her. Unlike her hotheaded grandfather and aunt, Marion is always calm and collected, sounds sincere, and is intellectually inclined. In a slight, charming French accent she began by contrasting the independence of the United States with France’s “subjection” to the EU, as a member of which, she claimed, it is unable to set its own economic and foreign policy or to defend its borders against illegal immigration and the presence of an Islamic “counter-society” on its territory.

But then she set out in a surprising direction. Before a Republican audience of private property absolutists and gun rights fanatics she attacked the principle of individualism, proclaiming that the “reign of egoism” was at the bottom of all our social ills. As an example she pointed to a global economy that turns foreign workers into slaves and throws domestic workers out of jobs. She then closed by extolling the virtues of tradition, invoking a maxim often attributed to Gustav Mahler: “Tradition is not the cult of ashes, it is the transmission of fire.” Needless to say, this was the only reference by a CPAC speaker to a nineteenth-century German composer.

Something new is happening on the European right, and it involves more than xenophobic populist outbursts. Ideas are being developed, and transnational networks for disseminating them are being established. Journalists have treated as a mere vanity project Steve Bannon’s efforts to bring European populist parties and thinkers together under the umbrella of what he calls The Movement. But his instincts, as in American politics, are in tune with the times. (Indeed, one month after Marion’s appearance at CPAC, Bannon addressed the annual convention of the National Front.) In countries as diverse as France, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Italy, efforts are underway to develop a…

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