Critically assess the main themes underlying the ideological discourse of the Front Nationale party in the 1980s and 1990s in France Essay

‘The Front National is the most controversial political party in contemporary France. Since its electoral emergence in the mid-1980s, the party has dominated the French political landscape, setting the agenda and forcing other parties to position themselves on a whole range of issues and debates. The National Front in France provides a fascinating enquiry into the particular type of nationalism it embraces. It explores the value system of the movement and explains the way in which Front National ideology has been formulated and articulated in the 1980s and 1990s’ (Davies 1999).

The party, founded in 1972 by Jean Marie Le Pen, had undergone a pejorative period during its first decade, as a result of several conflicting issues within the party and not only. Recruitment problems, rivalry on the extreme right and extremely low and unsatisfactory electoral results were a few of the fundamental hurdles experienced by the early movement (Hainsworth 2000: 18, 19). In the presidential race in 1974, Le Pen had merely achieved a 0. percent of the votes, and to his disgrace, he failed to obtain the necessary 500 signatures of mayors and councillors that were compulsory in order for him to be able to run for Presidency in 1981 ( Knapp and Wright 2006 : 39).

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The breakthrough of the party occurred when Le Pen’s managed to score 10 percent votes in the 1984 European elections, results that gave The National Front the highly yearned national reputation. Subsequently, in 1986, the party acquired 35 seats in the Legislative elections; these accomplishments lead to Le Pen scoring 14 percent in the Presidential election in 1988 (Davies 1999: 3).

In the 1997 Legislative election, Front Nationale had pooled almost 15 percent, which entitled the party to retain 132 candidates on the second-ballot run-offs (Hainsworth 2000: 19). The end of the Front National rule took place in 2002 when the voters had had enough of the strong policies supported by the FN; Le Pen’s opponent, Jacques Chirac had won the Presidential race with a staggering 82 percent result – it is said that more than 70 percent of these votes were casted especially against Le Pen.

As Davies (1999: 18) states, for three decades, the main ideas and beliefs behind the ideology of the National Front had remained the same. A few of the fundamental concepts were the ideas of nation, nationality and nationalism – Le Pen considered the nation to be ‘a beneficial and irreplaceable reality’ (Le Pen cited in Davies 1999: 18). The policies that brought the party’s votes were founded on major problems -as seen by Le Pen- such as immigration, security and unemployment.

Le Pen managed to put the blame for the economical demise on immigration – he claimed that the North African families that had settled in France were endangering the security of the ‘true’ French people as well as the immigrants themselves (Morris 1994:147): ‘When women and men of different ethnic and religious backgrounds mix, immigrant nationals find themselves uprooted, severed from their traditions, just like the French living in the immigrant neighbourhoods who feel like foreigners in their own country. Immigration is therefore a major source of insecurity’. Le Front National, 2008 cited in LaMontagne and Stockemer 2010)

Le Pen used lines such as ‘two million unemployed equals two million immigrants too many ‘ to emphasize his belief that not only do the immigrants endanger France’s security, but they are also to blame for the high unemployment levels(Morris 1994 : 147). As Marcus states, for the National Front, immigration represents ‘an omnibus issue , a matrix through which most other issues can be contextualized : unemployment , law and order, culture, the economy, social services, education and so on’ ( Marcus cited in Hainsworth 1999: 24).

He also points out something undeniable about Le Pen : ‘Le Pen has skilfully picked up and manipulated the issue of immigration, using it as a focus for the Front’s appeal. The immigrant has been resurrected as the traditional scapegoat for all France’s ills’ ( Marcus cited in Hainsworth 1999 : 24). As previously mentioned, the idea of nation is vital for the French society – it implies roots, identity, tradition, culture and patrimony, values that are to be appreciated and exalted.

Therefore, Le Pen along with the party opposes the transnational and globalizing forces in Europe – they are believed to weaken the nation (Hainsworth 2000 : 27). The National Front is pro Europe , but anti- EU; the party believes that the fundamental basis of the European Union should not have just economical origins – there are more common and relatable ties between the European countries than just the economic ones , such as civilisation , cultural identity, history and religion. Wagner states that the European Community ‘needs a soul’ (Davies 1999 : 100).

An example is given by Pierre Milloz, who talks about a French company that moved the centre of its operation to Brussels and subsequently changed its official language to English. Le Pen’s response to this example is that it is an extremely dangerous circumstance : ‘We know that certain ideologies think that Europe is only a stage on the road to an internationalist future… however, we think that Europe is geographically, historically, culturally and ethnically defined.. Europe will be European if there are Europeans conscious of being so’ ( Le Pen cited in Davies 1999: 100,101)

The National Front believes that the perils that threaten nation states and Europe are the same : Communism (before its collapse) and Third World Immigration – the party claims that ‘there will be no Europe if there is no vocation to become a nation’ and that it should be searching for ‘soldiers and heroes’ (Davies 1999 : 105). Another threat to the nation an it’s national identity is identified by Le Pen : the decline of the French population. The party puts the blame this time on the French women; they believe that a woman is supposed to ‘ produce babies’.

Sigrid Conrad, who worked for the FN, stated that the ‘babies are not just for ourselves but for France’ ; this statement emphasizes the fact that nation and nationality are seen as ‘functions of blood, genes and racial origins’ (Davies 1999 : 121). Another peril brought by the decline of the native French population is that it gives the immigrants the opportunity to settle a lot easier in France – these immigrants might be ‘used’ to solve the demographic problem ( as suggested by the UDF ).

The National Front strongly opposed this idea – they believed that immigrants would destroy the national identity of the country , as only ‘pure’ French know what French culture is and only inborn people could fully understand the history of the country – therefore, the immigrant’s children , having a different background and being raised within a different culture, do not represent the answer to the demographic issue , they would only make matters worse (Hazareesingh, 1994: 144-146).

The idea of ‘family preference’ is predominant within the Front’s ideological discourse; as Le Pen stated in his speeches : like my brother more than my cousin, my cousin more than an acquaintance, my acquaintance more than a stranger, a stranger more than a foreigner’ (Le Pen in Hazareesingh, 1994:146). He supported the French traditional families and the party started several campaigns that claimed benefits for those who respected the traditional values – this was a way for promoting natality.

Needles to say the immigrants and immigrant families could not benefit from such campaigns – the whole purpose of these was to support the indigenous French women to have more babies (Davies 1999 : 126-128). Apart from immigrants, divorce is also to be blamed for the decline of the French population- it is the ‘unhealthy symptom of a decadent society’, an ‘unnatural , un-Catholic and immoral’ act (Davies 1999 : 129). As it has previously been emphasized, the FN is most ‘out of touch’ with the French electorate when it comes to subjects that relate to moral concerns.

Even though 66 percent of the French public believes that the liberalization of abortion is a good thing, none of the Front’s leaders seem to agree with this point of view. On the one hand, we can see a moral opposition to this statement and on the other we can notice that the party believes that French citizens are ‘engaged in demographic warfare with non-French immigrants’, who are more fertile than French citizens. (Declair 1999 : 120).

The party has even reinforced legislation in order to create a maternal salary ‘for those women who will provisionally give up their professional lives in order to raise their children’, arguing that this would help decrease the number of abortions (Passeport pour la Victorie 1988 cited in Declair 1999 : 120). The Party is as opposed to contraception as it is to abortion – but the latter is believed to be a direct physical threat to the very existence of the French nation : ‘Killing the child is killing France’ (Davies 1999 : 130).

Another highly debated issue was the one regarding the morality of homosexuality. A graver homophobic tendency is depicted in the Front’s attitude compared to the rest of the population – a mere 24 percent of the National Front’s elite agree that homosexuals are ‘like other people’ , in contrast with the 54 percent of the French population who support this belief (Declair 1999 : 121). Le Pen views homosexuality as highly unnatural and against the ‘fundamental values’ of a family , as well as it is another reason for the decline of the French births.

When asked whether he thought of homosexuality as of an offence, he replied the following : ‘Homosexuality is not an offence, but it must not be a privileged status either. For all evidence shows that it constitutes, in relative terms, a biological and social anomaly, and in these conditions I believe that it should not occupy the higher moral ground, nor seek converts. I believe that this is not just a question of common sense, but also a question of decent taste’ (Le Pen cited in Davies 1999 : 132).

The idea that homosexuals are to be blamed for AIDS is highly underlined in the National Front’s discourse: the virus is highly and mainly spread throughout homosexuals and because of them ; moreover , the party does not agree with the idea that homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals as they represent a threat to the society and to the purity of the French blood. Homosexuals therefore represent the dysfunctional part of the French community, along with the immigrants (Davies 1999 : 131-134). It has been widely argued that the National Front is either a fascist or a populist party.

There are populist trademarks within the Front Nationale’s ideological discourse. One of the reasons it is argued that the FN is a populist party is the use of scapegoats as a central idea of the discourse – issues such as immigration , security, decline of the population – all of these represent unrealistic problems within the French society. Le Pen wanting the individual to live long and prosper within a traditional, religious and historic community is another way of expressing populism ( Atkins and Tallet 2002 : 262-264).

On the other hand, Fysh and Wolfreys(2001) argue that Jean Marie Le Pen cannot be seen as the ‘leader of a normal party – part of the political game’. They raise a point which is, indeed , worthy of our attention : ‘ The FN has made its appearance in a country with mass unemployment, a social crisis, bankrupt politics; it has built a mass base on a personality cult and exploitation of a ready-made scapegoat; many of its leaders are psychotically anti-semitic; others have records of terrorism or other forms of violence.

It is a new party , largely excluded from positions of power’ . However, the idea that the National Front is a populist movement is far more applicable – the party is not a revolutionary organization – fascist organizations have the tendency of turning the society upside down by setting up a totalitarian regime ( Atkins and Tallet 2002 : 264). Its ideological discourse is based on the well being of the nation – therefore its disregard towards immigrants, globalisation , the European union, abortion, contraceptives or homosexuals.

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