As night fell in France, sighs of relief resonated through the French political class. The “Republican Front”– put together by the center-right and center-left coalitions — had saved the day.
Not more than a few minutes after the results filtered in and after the last fateful prayers were made, pundits both from the left and the right were quick to claim credit for the magical solution that had salvaged French democracy and French republicanism from the totalitarian threat of the Front National. A cacophony then ensued, a mix of apologies made by the French political elite, a promise to change fundamentally the way things were done and politics in general, while at the same time offering no clues whatsoever to how that might be done.
One of the crispiest mea culpas of the night came from none other than Emmanuel Valls, the current socialist prime minister of France. In his allocation he said, as he has said at every occasion in the past week, that “there would be a radical change in French politics and especially within the Socialist Party.” The question that must be asked is what change does “change” entail?
Looking at the past decade of French politics, from Chirac to the 2007 election that put Sarkozy in l’Élysée to the Valls government, the difference in policy between the three governments, between “center-right” and “center-left” are almost indistinguishable. The past 15 years of French political life has been dominated by the securitarian psychosis.
Securitarinism is a socio-pyschological defense mechanism that uses the façade of security to hide a deep sectarian withdrawal that has been occurring within the prominently white de-industrialized communities of France. The withdrawal is a direct consequence of the disorientation that successive brutal reforms, carried out by both the political left and the political right, have caused. They have eroded the neuralgic center and the symbolic cartography that French working class communities had of themselves and their immediate environment.
There’s a startling correlation between the topology of the deindustrialization processes and the topology of the growth of the FN vote share. The French northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the prefect example of this distressing pattern. Once a working-class bastion of the French left with traditionally strong workers movements, it was hit hard by the French industrial down-turn and outsourcing. Today, it is the region where the FN has seen its most spectacular implementation.
The sectarian withdrawal that has occurred in many traditional working class communities in France isn’t solely the result of the economic downturn or of economic ultra-liberalism, although they are among the main causes. Another primordial reason is the implosion of traditional left-wing mass organizations and their mutation into agents of the same securitarian tradition, embracing an ultra-liberal and neoconservative unorthodox agenda, a conglomeration of all political stripes into a unified thread of the extreme-center.
The securitarian trend has been embodied by pretty much every single minister of the interior, the equivalent of our Minister of Public Safety, for the past few decades. This securitarian drive has taken control over every aspect of French political life.
In fact both ex-President Sarkozy and the current prime minister Valls, one a nominal socialist and the other nominally an ultra-liberal conservative, both used their passage through the hallways of the French ministry of the interior as launchpads for their ascendant political careers. Valls in many ways emulated the “Sarkozy blueprint” of being an overtly outspoken and outlandish minister of the interior as way to fast track his political stardom.
The state of emergency that has been imposed on France since the attacks of last month is yet another chapter of the securitarian regime. It has completely taken control of the entire French apparatus, an apparatus that was already predisposed to stifle any form of dissidence.
In reaction to the uber-militarization of French society, the fabrication of a perpetual state of war by the French political elites and the deconstruction of all the societal structures at the foundation of the French republican experiment, the right-wing FN appealed to the most sectarian impulses of the most marginalized and impoverished sections of the French population. Where left-wing movements are no more, a frenzied populism, a forced marriage between a rampant xenophobic rhetoric of economical nationalism and anti-liberalism and desultory social Keynesian economical theory, has filled the void.
For the past few decades the French republican experience has been missing in action. Last night after the ecstatic champagne flow, the final ce n’est qu’un aurevoir of a moribund elite, dried out Marianne, the allegory of the values of French Republic could still be heard cringing. The mortal blow that the FN was supposed to have dealt to her bosom didn’t occur; only for her defenders to stab her in the back, while they murmured the words: égalité, liberté, fraternité!
* Featured image: Xavier Bertrand of the center-right Les Republicains speaks after defeating National Front leader Marine Le Pen in northern France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais (source: ibtimes)