Le Pen’s Impatience

Rhys Jones

‘I see my country falling,’ Marine Le Pen recently announced on American TV. ‘It makes me impatient … It’s impatience that motivates me today. Quick! Quick! Quick! Quick! Let’s put our beautiful, coveted country back on its feet.’ The word déclinisme entered the dictionnaire Larousse last year, and though the far right has been exploiting the spectre of decline since the 1970s, it seems to have acquired a new note of urgency. Asked why she had chosen to contest the Nord-Pas-de-Calais seat in the French regional elections of 2015 instead of focusing her energies on the approaching presidential race, Le Pen retorted: ‘The situation degrades so rapidly, that wherever I can act, I must do so at once.’

France is now entering its 17th month in a state of national emergency. The heavily armed police on the street corners of Paris or Nice look more like an expectant than a pre-emptive force. And as l’état d’urgence becomes the new normal, so déclinisme has acquired the attributes of a race against time. This is Le Pen’s pitch: France must outpace its enemies, before they overwhelm it. ‘There is no more time to lose.’

In her messianic presidential campaign video, she promised the French – ‘these impetuous people’ – that she would ‘return France to complete order in five years’. A referendum on the European Union to ‘reinstate French sovereignty’, seal the nation’s borders and quell the domestic terror threat would happen even faster – ‘within six months’.

These tactics are lifted from the Trump playbook. Donald Trump triumphed last year in part by manipulating the US electorate’s perception of time. According to his campaign, the various crises confronting the state – immigration, terrorism, economic dislocation – were piling up, bringing on terminal catastrophe. A border wall would be built ‘in the first hour’ of the presidency; millions of undocumented migrants would be deported on ‘day one’. Urgency justified haste.

Le Pen applauded this haste during a recent campaign visit to Moselle. Citing Trump’s ludicrous boast that he had single-handedly – and in a single tweet – stopped the Ford Motor Co. transferring a $1.6 billion investment deal from Michigan to Mexico, she marvelled: ‘In one tweet, Donald Trump succeeded in obtaining more changes in the US than Sarkozy and Hollande managed in ten years.’

In Le Pen’s view, Trump’s tactics have acted like electroshock therapy, discharging sudden, salutary volts through the American body politic. The increasingly familiar terms of French public life – l’immobilisme, société bloqué, l’impuissance – suggest that France may require similar treatment. The French seem to agree. A staggering 80 per cent of the electorate now say that, to remedy the present stagnation, they would consider voting for a leader ‘ready to change the rules of the game’.

But there are two factors that could potentially put the brakes on Le Pen. The first is the electoral hiatus provided by a two-round voting system. The French get a fortnight before making their run-off choice, time for heads to cool and tempers to calm.

The second factor is more intriguing. In the US, Trump’s opponents ceded the language of urgency to him. ‘Let our legacy be about planting seeds in a garden you never get to see grow,’ Hillary Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention last June. In France, however, Emmanuel Macron has identified the source of Le Pen’s appeal: it is frustration with the ‘société bloquée’, he has said, ‘which nurtures populism’. Like Le Pen, he wants to unclog the system, ‘to give it agility’. This week, for the first time, Macron edged ahead of Le Pen in some of the first-round opinion polls (he’s long been expected to beat her in a second-round run-off).

Complacent talk about the need to slow down failed in the US. It will fail in France, too. Should Macron stall before the second round, there will be no one to outpace Le Pen’s rhetoric of speed. Haste may take her all the way to the Elysée.


  • 12 March 2017 at 3:07pm
    Bob Beck says:
    The emphasis on speed is a little remiscent of the Futurists, though they were also retailing a sort of optimism about a technological future, instead of bewailing the supposed inevitability of doom and catastrophe if they weren't listened to.

    As for impatience: demagogues like the le Pens and Trump are often impatient with democracy, on the grounds that it isn't, by their lights, "efficient". And not just that sort of demagogue -- when certain "deficit hawks," who pass as mere fiscal conservatives, insist that government should be run along business lines, they're saying much the same thing.

  • 13 March 2017 at 9:47am
    farthington says:
    Don't wish for Macron.
    He is a zero, groomed during his entire 'career' (quote unquote) to be a frontman for neo-liberalist forces (Henri de Castries contemplating a ministerial position, what?) and Atlanticist forces amongst the French elite.
    His several roles under Hollande have been disasters.
    Macron at the Élysée will push France further into déclinisme tout de suite!
    This month's Le Monde Diplomatique (English as well as French editions) highlights the powerbrokers behind his rise.
    Time to re-watch Being There.

    • 14 March 2017 at 12:27am
      Bob Beck says: @ farthington
      Personally, I'd vote for Chance every time, if the only other likely winner was a crypto-fascist who promised "complete order".

      Hell: I'd vote for Peter Sellars, despite his being dead lo these many years.

    • 14 March 2017 at 1:43pm
      Tanvyeboyo says: @ farthington
      This is more infantile, left-wingism of the most pitiful sort. I have met Macron and your description of him is reminiscent of past, loony right anti-semitism and nativism; 'frontman for neo-liberalist forces .... and Atlanticist forces amongst the French elite'. What dated nonsense. No one who reads Le Monde Diplomatique quite takes its 'gauche caviar' line too literally.
      Sarkozy was possibly your caricatural candidate of 'neo-liberalist forces and Atlanticist forces amongst the French elite'. I hope you paid 2€ to get rid of him. He's gone, you miss him!
      And what is 'neo-liberalism' any way? It's lazy language in French and doesn't translate very well. There are millions of self-employed in France. People talking of 'le liberalisme', (spit on floor), seem to consider us second-class citizens.
      Are you some sort of 'neo-conservative' of the left or right? After 1940 a lot of them ended up on the same side and it wasn't the left.
      Macron is the only honest, serious democrat we can vote for. I'm campaigning for him, who do you support? Maybe Le Pen, 'la politique du pire' and then the 'Grand Soir'. The Left used to say that France has the stupidest Right in the world. They should take a look at themselves.Stupid and very unlikely to get elected until they find another Machiavelli-like Mitterand.

  • 14 March 2017 at 2:21pm
    Adam Bunting says:
    Suppose for a moment that Marine is elected. That is only the first hurdle she must tackle. In June the two-stage elections for the Assemblée Nationale will prove a huge barrier to any progress for France's extreme right. At present Marine can count on just two 'députés' in the Assemblée. How many more might be elected in June? I would like to bet on no more than a handful. Marine's hands would be tied by a hostile parliament and France would continue to stagnate. Macron is France's best hope now the merde-encrusted Fillon is out of the running, to all practical purposes.

  • 14 March 2017 at 2:41pm
    BGokay says:
    No doubt, there are many local conditions that have given rise to these right-wing authoritarian characters. Whether it is in the creeping electoral gains of the far right, including Donald Trump's recent victory in the US Presidential elections, President Duterte's explicitly strongman persona, Sisi’s heavy-handed dictatorship in Egypt, or Erdogan’s strong grip of all institutions in Turkey, withdrawal from democracy and openness, and a defiant illiberalism is proving to be a winning formula in many states today. A strong hostility and intolerance projected by such politicians to universal principles of social and legal justice, freedom of movement, or refugee status, are capturing the attention of voters, many of whom are desperately looking for scapegoats for their economic and social problems, and therefore adopting a simplistic language of 'urgent' solutions and immoderate sentiments. And a xenophobic nationalism is the critical cement holding up all these authoritarian regimes and movements, both in the global West and global East. Twenty-five years have passed since Fukuyama declared the ‘End of History’, ‘unipolar moment’ for the ‘New American Century’. Rather than achieving an era of harmonious growth and prosperity, global system is struggling in the midst of a serious structural crisis. All the unresolved tensions of the past century are re-emerging with volatile vigor on the surface of global system. Every major crisis in the past produced political polarization, with the strengthening of the militant left and the far right, and a squeezing of the discredited ‘centre’. In this phase of global geopolitical dislocation, there is a profound intersection and interaction between contemporary politics and historical experience. So far the right-wing authoritarian parties/ groups have seized the ground of critical opposition to the status quo that should be occupied by the left. Successive defeats of the workers movement by neoliberalism over decades – with the resulting destruction of working class industrial ‘bastions’ – have seriously weakened trade unions and the left organisations. And once your enemies occupy your political space it is often very hard to win it back.

    • 17 March 2017 at 9:04am
      Sock says: @ BGokay
      Having all but fallen asleep while reading this post my eyes opened a little wider on reading this sentence:

      "So far the right-wing authoritarian parties/ groups have seized the ground of critical opposition to the status quo that should be occupied by the left."

      Why *should* the Left occupy the ground of "critical opposition"? I fail to see there's any logical reason dictating that the Left occupy this space.

      And to lump Trump in with the likes of Duterte, Sisi et al is adolescent nonsense of the first order.

  • 14 March 2017 at 3:46pm
    XopherO says:
    If either Macron or Le Pen is elected, more power will lie with the Prime Minister and the majority coalition in the Assembly (probably dominated by Les Republicains), because neither will have much representation there, which is not to say either would be completely powerless - but very different from Trump. (The Mitterand 'cohabitation' froze any attempts at major legislation.) Fillon is in more trouble over cash donations/payments (and expensive clothes!) and seems less likely to make it to the vote. A lot may depend on what the left decides to do - vote against Le Pen, or abstain - in the second round. Abstentions might let Le Pen through, but it is still not very likely.

    • 14 March 2017 at 6:42pm
      Tanvyeboyo says: @ XopherO
      I agree that we are inching (what's that in cm?) back to the 4th Republic and parliamentarianism.
      But the people also choose their representatives and some form of sensible coalition is possible that leaves the hard and extreme left and right on the fringes where they belong.
      It would make a change from the 'godillots' of the right and the futile 'frondeurs' of the left. Parliament might turn out to be useful, unlike Westminster which really doesn't want to have any say about Brexit procedure. (Come back Oliver Cromwell!)
      The French president can still dissolve parliament once per mandate, no 'Long Parliament' in Palais Bourbon. Keeps their attention. The President would then get an 18th century style plebiscite.
      Oh mon Dieu, never mind the 4th Republic, it's back to Louis Philippe or Napoleon III!

  • 15 March 2017 at 1:49pm
    patrick hutchinson says:
    Good to see some pretty high level, nominally French-written, comments in English here! Obviously Rhys Jones is right: Le Pen, like Gert Wilders and all the others, is certainly a symptom of - and not yet a planified remedy to, let's hope! - Disaster Capitalism (or a new phase in 'Shock Therapy'...)

  • 16 March 2017 at 7:39pm
    trishjw says:
    Now that Wilde lost heavily in the Netherlands Wednesday, let's hope the French do the same to Le Pen. Trump may have won here but not in popular vote. There he lost by 3 million. We just need to get rid of the Electoral College.

    • 17 March 2017 at 2:31pm
      XopherO says: @ trishjw
      You need to get rid of the Electoral College. The UK needs to get rid of the even more undemocratic first-past-the-post. The French system makes more democratic sense even though not perfect. It should keep Le Pen out (and her poll rating has been falling lately) and ensure a fairer membership of the Assembly - it is even less likely she can make up much ground here, compared to last time. Macron seems to have recovered from his foolish (though just) comments about the Algerian War. It looks increasingly likely he will win. Probably the best of a bad job in current circumstances.

      For all its problems the French economy is healthier than the UK - much higher productivity and innovation. The UK has the systemic connected problems of weak investment, weak R&D, poor productivity, low wages. A vicious circle. Plus an endemic hatred of taxation. How on earth anyone can believe the UK can do better outside the EU is beyond belief. It is already sinking towards 'developing country' status (what used to be called Third World), snuffling about for foreign investment under unfavourable turnkey contracts etc - ie drifting even further away from a high investment, heavy R&D, high wage economy. It will never match France for health care and social security. The slogan and belief that 'Britain is Best'(when it is rarely true) has done the damage. No need to invest to be better!

    • 18 March 2017 at 3:56pm
      XopherO says: @ XopherO
      Just as a coda to what I wrote here. Of course, those leading the Brexit campaign, both politicians and the media, are those who have helped generate the British aversion to taxation, and want less social protection for workers. They also relied on the slogan 'Britain is Best', fooling millions. Why can't people say 'We are one of the best at..' if there is evidence, or simply 'We want to be one of the best at...' The French don't claim to be the best country in the world, they simply claim that they are best country at being French! And have no great desire to impose Frenchness on anyone else, other than those that come to live in France - not much support for multiculturalism! Oh, and of course that French cuisine is best, which is arguable, but less so these days. Generally they don't think their Frenchness is being threatened by EU membership, more by immigration from outside the EU. The Brexiteers introduced a lot confusion in some folks minds between EU and non-EU immigration. To me they seemed to be arguing that they wanted to reduce EU (nominally Christian) immigration so we could have more non-EU (Muslim) immigration. Bizarre. I can't see a pro-Frexit vote. The French complain about everything, they always have, even when things are good. In fact when polled recently, a big majority said they felt their lives were indeed good despite the recession.

  • 28 March 2017 at 1:45pm
    victorsmart1 says:
    The rise of populism challenged one of the EU technocrats’ implicit core assumption: that voters wanted prosperity, jobs and peace. If these were delivered, or so it was thought, then those at the top would be forgiven their remoteness and lack of democratic accountability; voters’ grievances would simmer away quietly but harmlessly. Quite why this calculation came to a juddering halt in most of Europe just now, rather than during the financial crisis of 2008 or the round of Eurozone crises, merits more detailed explanation. (Greece which saw centrist parties suffer was a clear exception). For, paradoxically, the economic prospects of both the EU (and also the US) are comparatively benign at this moment when populism, identity politics, and economic nationalism are on the march.

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