The extreme right under the Hollywood era

In The Principles of Representative Government[1], Bernard Manin defined three historical ideal-types of the French representative government. First, between 1789 and 1880, he defined “parliamentarism”, where citizens elected their leaders according to their names (notables) and later to their programs. The Parliament was the center of the public debate and members of Parliament had a huge freedom to vote. Eloquence was the first political virtue in this system where the deliberation was sovereign. Then, the “democracy of the parties” took place from 1880 to 1970, with the extension of suffrage and the emergence of mass parties. The citizens voted less for personalities than for a party which faithfully covered their social identity. MP’ votes became constrained by the party, where the decisions were really made. After 1970, Bernard Manin proposed to define a “democracy of the public” with the personification of power, the dominance of the executive over the legislative, and the rise of polls and media. In this last area of representative government, the citizens vote for a political style and personality. Campaign programs and parties lose their influence on the political decision-making. Leaders govern by image and build social cleavages themselves. The collective discussion takes place in a floating public space, the media, which is not articulated on the decision.

Even if we disagree with these ideal-types which are by definition, quite ideals, the current situation in Western countries seems very close with the last one. Many commentators have noted the growing influence of the media on politics and also the rise of a new figure of politician, the communicator. This figure may have surpassed other figures like economist, lawyer or manager. The programs and the expertise often seem to be overlapped by the communication itself. The 2017 French campaign for the presidency would comply with this analysis. The candidate of the Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélanchon, payed 50.000 to 100.000 Euros for a high-quality hologram, to give simultaneously a meeting in Paris and in Lyon (500 km between)[2]. The technology of communication was an instrument of power itself, directly inspired from Star-Wars! When we look at the other side, Marine Le Pen, the president of Front National and member of the European parliament, used a very innovative way to start her campaign: the “Hollywood trailer”! The campaign clip was published on Youtube on Frebruary 5 2017, made 784.891 views[3] and made the buzz on social networks. In this post, I would like to analyze this campaign video to show what it reveals of the FN strategy on the steps of power. First, I will propose that this video aims at forging particular nation and people in favor of the FN commitment. Secondly, I will focus on how this video illustrates the FN process of “dediabolization” to get a presidential image. Thirdly, I will discuss the program of “dream of civilization” proposed in the video.

I- Inventing the Nation, Inventing the People.

In this part, I will argue that the Nation and the People are mainly defined in this video by the person, Marine Le Pen, who pretends to represent them. As a matter of fact, in politics, the representative people create as much the representatives as the representatives create the represented ones[4]. The ways to create the sense of belonging to a nation have been numerous since the invention of the ideal of nation in XIXth century. Heinrich Von Treitschke[5] and many have used the race, the religion, the language or the geography to define the nation, when others like Ernest Renan[6] defended it as a daily contract of belonging to the same community, with the same principles. The French extreme right has always defended the first definition. However, the nationalist discourses have also defined the French nation by a common history. The reference to Joan of Arc, here by its statue in Paris, is an unavoidable of the FN communication. It takes part in the invention of the French tradition[7] and the French imagined community[8]. The video participates to the “roman national[9] where history is subject to modification, error and forgetfulness in the aim of the construction of the national identity. Then, in her video, Marine Le Pen aims at defining an “other” under the hints of populism. “Au nom du people” (on behalf of the people), pronounced as a threat, paradoxically does not define people. It defines herself against elites, only defined as those who have “lied”, “failed” and “betrayed”. The other is also this “Islamic fundamentalism”, not written otherwise than by its religious reduction. By calling for passions, she quite successfully builds a negative identity based on the suffering and insults caused by this “other”. Now we have shown how Marine Le Pen has contributed to create a particular idea of nation and of the people, we will look at how she tries to give another image of the FN and herself.

II- A Party Like the Others? Back on the Strategy of “Dediabolization”.

Unlike Jean-Marie Le Pen was called the “devil of the Republic”, Marine Le Pen has understood she needed to change the image of the extreme right to attract voices and media. Jean-Marie Le Pen collaborated with Ordre nouveau which gathered monarchists and nationalists in a fascism inspired from the Movimento Sociale Italiano (close to Mussolini)[10]. He has used a well-known xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric until today. He created the Front National in 1972 when Ordre Nouveau was forbidden by the government. The FN flourished for the 2002 elections, but collapsed in 2007. On January 2011, Marine Le Pen was elected president of the party and began to spread a more “respectable” speech. That is why she temporarily distanced herself from her father’s most controversial speeches, such as about abortion, and had troubles with him[11]. That is why she has surrounded herself with experts of politics, communication and administration, such as the enarch Florian Phillippot in 2012. That is why she has distanced the party executives close to her father[12]. In the video clip, it means that she does not talk about any crusade against Islam. She does not even talk about the buses Florian Philippot wanted to implement to bring back refugees in Middle-East. No, she talks about sovereignty and civil liberties which are much more attractive when they are not defined. Then, she shows herself as the “normal” person, who drives a boat and drinks a coffee, and who is a mother worrying for her children. Finally, even if she opposes her to the previous state leaders, Marine Le Pen completely complies with the French presidential role. As we expect from this function, she is theatralized by carefully working on legislative texts and calmly participating to media and institutional meetings. Most of all, she represents herself to the rudder of the ship France, embodying the strong and resolute leader, close to De Gaulle’s definition. All those elements are part of the Marine Le Pen’s strategy to look presidentiable through this video. Finally, we will focus on the “dream” proposed by Marine Le Pen to involve the “disenchanted” of politics.

III- The Dream As a Political Project?

The most powerful part of this video is to recreate a vision and a sense to politics, may not be the one we like. This vision is attractive because it gives the illusion of absolute and infinite truth. This vision is strengthened by the pictures and the music of the video, accelerating and intensifying, which draw a real epic plot and touch our cultural imaginations. The words are heavy and target the heart: “to not submit […] against criminal impunity”, “proud France”. However, do they have a deep mean? She uses the attractive terms of “France durable” and “France juste”, which are exactly extracted from socialist and ecologist slogans. Once again, all content is in the unsaid. Finally, I will dwell on the “choice of civilization” defended by Marine Le Pen in her own humbleness. What is this civilization? Even Samuel Huntington was unable to give us an appropriate definition. Does it mean it would necessarily lead to the “clash” with others? Is restoring order in France an authoritarian program when even all the liberties defined in the French Revolution would be removed? Are protection and independence synonymous of an autarky which would asphyxiates and leads France to moral, economic, political and social decline? The strength of this image of civilization is still to make us dream of the great empires of the past. But it forgets the details, both tears and blood, that history keeps us in mind.

To put on a nutshell, we have analyzed, through Marine Le Pen’s campaign clip, tree dimensions of her strategy of conquering power. She presents her imagined nation and people in the way to support her. Then, she “dediabolized” the party to make it acceptable for the electorate and the media. Finally, she presents a blurry program which lets you to believe everything, and especially what makes you dream. It is a powerful “trailer”, which might make you want to watch the entire “movie”. I would just claim it is not only a virtual issue, although it is presented as this. Now, we must think about the real effect of this kind of political communication. Does it only convince the already convinced Lepenists? Or does it convince those, very many, who have not stable and clear opinion?

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[1] MANIN Bernard, The Principles of Representative Government, Cambridge, 1997.

[2] http://www.lepoint.fr/presidentielle/l-hologramme-bluffant-de-jean-luc-melenchon-05-02-2017-2102605_3121.php

[3] Youtube. 28.02.2017 at 17.57

[4] https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/podzim2010/SOC251/um/10_1_10-Bourdieu.pdf

[5] VON TREITSCHKE Heinrich, Historische und politische Aufsatze, Leipzig, 1836.

[6] http://ucparis.fr/files/9313/6549/9943/What_is_a_Nation.pdf

[7] HOBSBAWM Eric, RANGER Terence, The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, 1983

[8] ANDERSON Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New York, 1983.

[9] http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2017/02/02/les-historiens-montent-au-front_5073668_3232.html

[10] ALBERTINI Dominique, DOUCET David, Histoire du Front national, Tallandier, 2013.

[11] http://www.rtl.fr/actu/politique/front-national-et-maintenant-que-peut-esperer-le-president-d-honneur-jean-marie-le-pen-7785848519

[12] http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/le-scan/couacs/2015/05/27/25005-20150527ARTFIG00248-un-cadre-du-fn-denonce-la-purge-des-proches-de-jean-marie-le-pen.php

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