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The French election could signal trouble for European liberal democracy

What is currently labeled “far-right” and “extreme” might become mainstream

French President Emmanuel Macron celebrates his reelection with supporters in Paris on Sunday. Associated Press/Photo by Christophe Ena

The French election could signal trouble for European liberal democracy
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On Sunday, prominent leaders throughout the European Union breathed an audible sigh of relief at the news that France’s technocratic president, centrist Emmanuel Macron, had won reelection to another five-year term. The margin seemed comfortable (58.5 percent to 41.5 percent) but was still close enough to signal that all was not well with Europe’s governing liberal consensus.

After all, Macron had benefitted from his leadership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but still significantly underperformed his 2017 margin of victory. Meanwhile, his challenger, Marine Le Pen, was hamstrung by a somewhat awkward history of ties—real or apparent—to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Not only that, but Le Pen’s National Rally party was uniformly maligned in the media as “far-right” and “extremist” and laden with decades of baggage from its previous leadership by Le Pen’s openly racist father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Yet under his daughter’s leadership, the party’s electoral share has steadily increased.

In 2012, Le Pen managed just 17.9 percent of the presidential vote in the first round. Five years later, she cracked 21 percent, earning second place and the right to face Macron in the second round, but she failed to gain any additional traction and went down to a 66 percent to 34 percent defeat. This year, she picked up another 7.5 percentage points, and some polls in the past month had suggested an even closer result. Though many French citizens could not bring themselves to vote for Le Pen, many more refused to pull the lever for Macron, at least in the first round of voting. Turnout this year was the lowest in more than five decades.

What could lead such a large proportion of French voters to prefer a supposedly “extremist” figure, plagued by ties to Putin and anti-Semitism, over a winsome, attractive, and (mostly) competent leader governing from the political center? To answer this question, we need only look at a graph of France’s foreign-born population. After holding almost steady at 7.3 percent from 1975 to 1999, the immigrant population began ballooning around the turn of the millennium and is now variously estimated at between 10 percent and 13 percent. Although France refuses to keep official data on its citizens’ religious affiliation, polls and estimates suggest the dominant share of these newer immigrants are Muslim, representing a profound challenge to France’s historic Catholic faith and its more recent secular identity.

The National Rally party has argued against the dominant policy of “ever-closer union,” insisting that France must be free to govern its own affairs for the benefit first and foremost of its own people.

Rather than seeking to shore up its porous borders, French leaders this century have doubled down on the utopian vision of a borderless world, ceding ever more sovereignty to unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg. Although no longer calling for France to withdraw from the European Union, the National Rally party has argued against the dominant policy of “ever-closer union,” insisting that France must be free to govern its own affairs for the benefit first and foremost of its own people.

The people of France have for many centuries been a distinctively French people—with their own language, religious and moral values, and culture—and a large and growing number of French citizens are concerned enough to take measures to ensure it stays that way.

For decades, mainstream political leaders and their media allies have consistently maligned such commonsensical concerns as “racism,” “bigotry,” and “xenophobia.” And to be sure, Le Pen’s party, especially under her father’s leadership, has provided a harbor for cranks and conspiracy theorists. Still, at least 41.5 percent of French voters no longer buy these slurs.

The late Sir Roger Scruton, one of the great thinkers of modern times, argued that oikophilia (love of the homeland) is an even greater power than xenophobia (fear of the foreigner). The French political class is filled with globalists and internationalists who seem to have forgotten this truth. Pan-European technocrats have eroded French borders and culture for decades, and the French people have taken notice. If Macron does not get the message and forge a more patriotic path in his next five years in office, “far-right” might just be mainstream by 2027.

Brad Littlejohn

Brad Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a fellow in the Evangelicals and Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He founded and served for ten years as president of The Davenant Institute, and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute–Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, S.C., with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

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