In the just-concluded 2022 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right party National League (RN), failed to defeat Macron, who is seeking re-election, in the second round of voting. 23.15% and 41.45% of the votes set a historical record for the party. Public opinion has widely commented that this is an election with “no losers”. Behind the substantial increase in the National League’s vote rate is the further development of the far-right tendency of some French public opinion.
The far-right ideological trend in France has a long history. There have always been many far-right political forces in the past and present, and they have been undergoing changes in differentiation and reorganization for a long time. The National League is the most representative far-right political party in the past half century.
The origins of far-right thought in France
The left and right flanks of French politics have their origins in the Revolution. In the summer of 1789, the newly formed National Assembly held a vote for a constitutional convention, in which delegates were divided over the respective powers of the king and the representatives of the people. In order to facilitate the counting of votes, the participants were asked to line up on either side of the president of the parliament. Those seated on the left supported giving more powers to the national representatives, while those seated on the right advocated giving the king more powers. Later, there was gradually a statement of “left and right” separation. Over time, this arrangement has become a tradition, vividly presenting the distinctive features of the French political landscape for more than two centuries.
As an integral part of right-wing politics in France, extreme right thought first appeared in the early 19th century. During the restoration of the monarchy after the fall of Napoleon I (1814-1830), the French media used the expression “extreme right” extensively to refer to the royalists in the lower house of parliament, because these members sat on the far right of the parliamentary seat. As supporters of the restoration of the monarchy, the extreme right-wing forces strongly rejected the Charter of 1814, believing that the approval of the Charter by the Restoration King Louis XVIII was a weakening or even a betrayal of the monarchy, and a compromise to the revolution. Since then, far-right forces have drifted away from forces such as the moderate liberal right.
During the Second French Empire (1852-1870), the extreme right thought was dormant, and then reborn in a new form during the Third Republic (1870-1940). In 1899, relying on the far-right position platform “French Action” magazine, the writer Moraes launched a political movement in the intellectual circles, calling for “conversation with the Jews, Protestants, Gringos and Freemasons who threatened France. Four Allied Groups Fight”. Despite French Action magazine’s royalist tendencies, the far-right advocates of this period have gradually moved away from theocratic monarchy and the old counter-revolutionary ideology. It can be said that by the end of the 19th century, a relatively complete system of extreme right thought in France had initially formed. At this time, although the expression “extreme right” in France continued to point to the royalist movement that loved a return to the monarchical tradition, it also began to point to fascist tendencies. Later, the two forces gradually merged, and both showed strong nationalist demands, held an anti-Semitic stance, and at the same time resolutely opposed Marxism-Leninism. After the First World War, under the influence of European extreme nationalist movements, especially the German Nazi movement and the Italian fascist movement, many far-right organizations emerged in France. For quite some time after 1936, the term “fascism” became synonymous with these extreme right movements.
In the electoral politics of France in the 1930s, the far right was extremely active, accounting for a certain percentage of the political share. The far right became popular in France during the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944. After the Second World War, the French far-right movement was still active, and the Algerian war stimulated the development of far-right ideology, and many far-right movement organizations such as “Youth Nation” and “New Order” appeared successively. The initial creation of the National League was driven by the “new order” that advocated the fascist national revolutionary movement at that time. In 1973, the “New Order” was outlawed for its violent nature.
Birth of the National Front
The National League was established in October 1972, initially named “French National Front” (“National Front”, FN), and changed to its current name in June 2018. Its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen served as party chairman until In 2011, his daughter Marine Le Pen took over. Today, many people habitually call it the “National Front” because the term “front” is easier for people to recall its far-right nature.
The establishment of the National Front was originally aimed at electoral politics. Political scientist Dezee analyzed that the creation of the National Front followed the four-fold logic of the “New Order” movement: first, the “logic of competition”, occupying the far-right political space, claiming to be “the concrete embodiment of the unity of French nationalism”; second It is the “logic of transformation”, which wants to redefine the mode of action to facilitate participation in political elections; the third is the “logic of cooperation”, which is intended to cooperate with some famous people with unique thoughts and behaviors to expand political resources; the fourth is “the logic of rationalization” , trying to correct people’s perception of its “extremism” by convincing people that they strictly obey the law.
Jean-Marie Le Pen became the leader of the National Front as a result of “election guarantees”. He was the first person to be sought by the New Order movement, not only because he was an active fighter in the revolutionary movement, twice elected to the National Assembly, but also because he was considered insightful and visionary, compared to other far-right Politicians represent a more law-abiding, moderate image. The “New Order” also wanted to gradually disappear from the public eye through the establishment of the National Front, and sought to win seats in the 1973 National Assembly elections. In that year’s election, the National Front led its campaign platform with the slogan “Defend the French”, which clearly expressed its xenophobia.
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen concedes defeat in a speech in Paris on April 24, 2022.
The official history of the National Front deliberately highlights the role of Jean-Marie Le Pen as the party’s sole founder, in order to hide her fascist origins. In fact, Jean-Marie Le Pen advocated “French first”, strongly advocated extreme nationalism and racism, and advocated that “immigration is the greatest insecurity factor in French society”, and his political views were not moderate. The National Front he led It has also been regarded as a “cancer” by French public opinion.
The rise of the National Front
The National Front had been on the fringes for more than a decade after its establishment, but starting in the early 1980s, it gradually emerged in French politics by holding high the banner of “anti-immigration”. It made continuous breakthroughs in local elections, National Assembly elections and European Parliament elections. It won ten MEP seats in 1984, and in the National Assembly elections in 1986, it formed a parliamentary group of 35 members with other political parties. In 1989, he won the mayoral position for the first time. This success has benefited considerably from the wave of political protests manifested by the entire right-wing electorate after the Socialist Party came to power in 1981, as well as the serious policing and immigration problems facing French cities. Influenced by the National Front, other political parties have also had to pay attention to immigration since the 1990s, and immigration has gradually become one of the key issues in French electoral politics. At that time, a new political term “Le Pennization of ideas” appeared in France, which refers to the French people’s gradual acceptance of some of the issues raised by Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In the 1990s, the status of the National Front in French politics further rose. Not only did it continue to target the immigration issue, incite racism and xenophobia, but it also criticized the corruption, governance and corruption that existed in the traditional left and right parties, the Socialist Party (PS) and the RPR (RPR). and other issues to make targeted claims. In the 1995 municipal elections, the National Front won the mayoral positions of several large cities, and its influence continued to expand. By the end of the 1990s, however, the intra-party divisions experienced by the National Front affected its record in political elections.
In 2002, with 16.86% of the votes, Jean-Marie Le Pen defeated the left-wing candidate, then-Prime Minister Jospin, in the first round of the presidential election, and successfully advanced to the second round of competition against then-President Chirac. The result shocked the political arena in France and even Europe, sparking demonstrations against the National Front in many places in France, and Chirac refused to talk to him in a televised debate. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s staged victory sparked “solidarity” in French society, with the overwhelming majority of candidates eliminated in the first round calling on their supporters to switch their votes to Chirac, making Jean-Marie Le Pen Pang received only 17.79% of the votes in the second round of voting, the lowest in the history of the French Fifth Republic in a presidential election. In 2007, Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for president again, but failed to reproduce the “brilliant”.
Political strategy for de-demonization
The 2002 presidential election made French society realize that far-right parties could indeed govern, and contributed to a social atmosphere against far-right ideology. In the following years, the National Front’s vote rate in many elections continued to decline, and it also faced severe financial and intra-party division problems. In this context, the National Front had to consider self-renovation. However, the continued fermentation of the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 European debt crisis has re-inspired the far-right sentiments of the French people.
In 2011, Marine Le Pen won the party election, succeeding her father as the president of the National Front. Since then, she has adopted a “normalization transformation” strategy aimed at “de-demonizing” the National Front, including: gradually moving away from the most controversial positions on issues such as anti-Semitism and anti-immigration, and adopting more “decent” politics discourse, and turned to discussing more social issues; expelling some of the most radical party members, including her father. This series of operations has significantly increased the popularity of Marine Le Pen and the National Front. Subsequently, the National Front has achieved good results in a number of political elections. After the 2014 municipal council elections, Marine Le Pen even declared that French politics had entered an era of “three parties”.
The decline of the traditional left and right Socialist Party and the Union for Popular Movements (UMP, renamed the Republican Party in 2015) also created conditions for the rise of the National Front. In the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen ran for the second time and successfully entered the second round. Although he was eventually defeated by the centrist candidate Macron who held the banner of “non-left and non-right”, he also achieved the best record of the National Front with 33.9% of the votes in the second round. On June 1, 2018, the National Front officially changed its name to the “National League” to inject new vitality into the whole party. According to Marine Le Pen, the new name contains the word “alliance”, which conjures images of solidarity and cooperation. Benefiting from the name change strategy, the National League became the biggest winner in the French political party circle in the 2019 European Parliament elections, surpassing Macron’s Republic Front (LREM) party.
After five years, Marine Le Pen once again faced Macron in the second round of the presidential election. Although she was eliminated again, her vote rate and political influence increased significantly. Behind this, it is natural that French society and public opinion have an increasingly obvious tendency towards extreme right development. In the 2022 presidential election, the far-right “rookie” Zemur and his “Reconquest” party also have a high-profile performance.
Although the National League has achieved remarkable results in political elections, it has always faced a practical dilemma-a major breakthrough has not been achieved in the local political map of France, and it is even gradually shrinking. The results of the three local elections for the provincial and regional councils are a reflection. It can be seen from this that the National League as an “issue party” has its influence and appeal, and can be a political tool for expressing dissatisfaction, but the French people still lack confidence in its governance capacity.
Marine Le Pen said in her conceit speech that she sees a hope in the 2022 presidential election, testament to the general desire for change. There is indeed a general desire among French people for a profound change, which the far right sees as a rare political opportunity.