The march to unreason seems all but unstoppable across Europe’s political landscape, with French voters admitting the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-foreigner, anti-European Union Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) to the runoff in the two-stage presidential election. She is up against Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 final round. The land of the Enlightenment is turning its back on the very virtues that it persuaded the civilised world to accept.

The respect for facts if not the truth should be second nature for anybody who wants clarity. It was, after all, the unequivocal nature of fact and the insistence on its importance that changed the world. The chief weapon of the 18th century Philosophes—public intellectuals such as Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Antoine Lavoisier, Pierre-Simon Laplace and a host of others, including Robert Boyle and Immanuel Kant—was reason which they used in a process of relentless inquiry to expose the roots of superstition, bigotry and religious fanaticism. Reason also explained the magic behind the mundane, why an apple falls or why a fish can live in water. Their programme was summed up in one Latin phrase by Kant, “sapere aude” (dare to know).

The FN pitch by contrast is a regurgitation of the rhetoric that characterised the demonology of both Brexit and the US presidential election. Like the previous two, it is based on a campaign of slander, half-truths and lies, lapped up by close to 25 per cent of one of the world’s most highly educated societies. More intriguingly, FN is the most popular among people aged 18-34, according to a December 2016 poll. In the UK and the US, right-wing conspiracy theories attract the over-50s, unsettled by the new world’s fluid borders, mobile populations and rapidly equalising social order, all of which threaten their privileges. This segment enabled Brexit and elected Donald Trump. On the positive side, it is a fading generation and younger people may see the world differently and change it. In France the reverse appears to be true, because if the poll is correct FN is a party of the future.

Given the original inspiration for the European Union, which progressed from a common market to a borderless, quasi super-state, France under FN is likely to turn inwards in a retreat from the universality of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” that marks its cultural aspirations since the revolution. This mindset implies a white, Christian France, with Muslims the Other, probably “encouraged” to return home. FN is certain to close all open borders and introduce protectionist measures for the economy, because splendid isolation seems to resonate with the public in more and more of Europe, even as the communications revolution shrinks the globe more than ever before.

The illogic of this incoherent programme does not make it less seductive; the state’s failure to repair the damage caused by the recession of 2008 has convinced many that parties like FN deserve a chance to try out their nostrums. The experts have failed, so why not the mavericks? There is also a distinct sense of dislocation, blamed on globalisation and unchecked immigration, both pet FN bugbears. Add to this the terror attacks starting with the murder of 12 journalists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in January 2015, the shooting of 130 people on November 30, 2015 at the Bataclan concert hall and other places in Paris, the Nice killings of July 2016, down to the Paris shooting of a policeman on April 20, all by Muslims, and it makes for a powerful statement against Muslims and immigration. The attackers in each case were French citizens but they were also immigrants and Muslims who had been radicalised.

It has been exploited efficiently by FN but the attacks have also pushed mainstream parties closer to FN on immigration and terror. Its programme thus seems more like business as usual. But a Marine Le Pen victory means French disengagement from the EU, a mortal blow to European unity at a time when the spectre of strongmen (Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, North Korea, the Philippines and India, to name a few) stalks the world. A French embrace of FN will add one more to the chorus of uncompromising nationalists, further loading a system leaning towards uncertainty.

Nationalist agendas are unlikely to work in an increasingly inter-connected world, as Donald Trump is discovering, but logic is not necessary for faith. Otherwise, how could a practising Christian have voted for and continue to support the Trump presidency?


Related Posts

Post Your Comment

Name *
Mail *

  • New Articles

Yemen: The invisible war

Posted on 6 November, 2017 in Reportage

Set in stone

Posted on 7 September, 2017 in Reportage


Posted in Reportage - 313,708 views

Gift This Magazine

7 September 2017 at 18 : 52 PM

Mission untruth powers up

Posted by in Edit

History, Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering sneered at the Nuremberg war trials after Germany lost World War II, is written by the victor. That is an excessively cynical view but not ...

Read more

27 December 2016 at 06 : 08 AM

Ground Report: From cashless to debtless

Posted by in Web Specials

  The initial announcement that rendered their savings useless came as a shock and spelled disaster to the powerless poor, with no bank accounts and debts to usurers. But ...

Read more