In 2011, Eric Zemmour, the author, host and provocateur, was found guilty of inciting racial hatred, and in 2018 guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims. Another court case is pending concerning his televised declaration in 2020 that young isolated migrants were not allowed to be in France, that they were “thieves, murderers and rapists”.
Zemmour, 63, is notorious in France but undoubtedly popular. His books are bestsellers. The most known, French suicide (2014), sold 5,000 copies per day within two weeks of publication, and has since sold over half a million copies. The central argument of the book is that France has been in decline since the 1970s. The main cause of this, Zemmour believes, is the influence of the May 68 generation and their descendants, whose progressive ideas on morality, l immigration and sexual freedom have destroyed traditional French values. This has led to the rise of identity politics, which Zemmour sees as a corrosive Anglo-American import into France.
The argument is similar to that of geographer Christophe Guilluy. The difference is that Guilluy writes from the left about the negative impact of identity politics on working-class communities. Zemmour, on the other hand, is a supporter of the far right, defining traditional French values as belonging to the “bourgeoisie” – the affluent middle classes who are threatened by non-French cultures.
Zemmour claims that left-wing politicians and journalists are now tainted with the moralizing self-hatred of political correctness. The result has been deference to Islam at the expense of French cultural integrity. Unsurprisingly, Zemmour’s heroes are the “great men” of history whose destiny was to save “the Great Nation”; he especially venerates Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle.
Zemmour’s fame is a strange phenomenon of the twenty-first century: he is a media figure rather than the product of the traditional political tribes that dominated French political life until Emmanuel Macron came to power in 2017. Although he is an author (his new book published this month is titled France has not yet said its last word) and was until recently a columnist (he left Le Figaro September 1), he is best known as the host of the commentary show Facing the news on CNews, which is described as Fox News of France.
Zemmour is known for his sarcasm, his unpredictability, his finger strokes and his apparent fearlessness in the face of “the awakened left”. According to journalist Daniel Schneidermann, writing in Release, these qualities made Zemmour France the most “televisual” fascist. A poll released in May 2021 reported that Zemmour had taken CNews to a peak of over one million viewers, overtaking the more mainstream channel BFMTV.
[see also: Michel Barnier: “No way” Eric Zemmour should be allowed to run for the Republican presidential nomination]
Zemmour is a good user of social media, but it was from his television appearances that he gained a cult following among a generation of right-wing youth known as “GZ” or “Generation Z” (the “Z” is for Zemmour). His fans had fun during the pandemic shutdowns by gathering to watch Zemmour on CNews with an early evening appetizer (usually crisps and beer). Generation Z calls it “Zapéro”, and a website offers a guide to Zemmour’s thoughts on immigration, politics, international affairs and education.
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As of this writing, Zemmour has yet to announce his candidacy for the presidency. Rumors that he could run began on June 28, the day after the second round of the French regional elections. These were characterized by a historic abstention rate (66%) and disappointing results for the main contender, Emmanuel Macron, leader of La République En Marche! (LREM), and Marine Le Pen, head of the National Rally (RN).
As the election results fell overnight, as many as 10,000 posters suddenly appeared across France on political party signs during the elections, with the slogan “Zemmour President”. The posters showed a photograph of Zemmour, soberly dressed as a statesman, and a website address calling on him to run for office. Responsibility for the posters was claimed by a group of his supporters, “Les Amis d’Éric Zemmour”, and celebrated by Generation Z activists. Zemmour’s impetus to enter politics has grown: it now seems that and mysteriously well funded) can become a reality. Rumors escalated after Zemmour recently announced his departure Le Figaro, as well as its show on CNews.
Zemmour was born in Paris in 1958 in an Algerian Jewish family who arrived in France at the height of the Algerian war of independence (1954-62). He is married to a prominent lawyer, Mylène Chichportich, who is 62 years old and was also born in Paris, in a family of Tunisian Jews. Both grew up in a France considered by the Jews of North Africa as a haven of peace. This largely explains Zemmour’s love for the grandeur of the French past. Chichportich is intentionally discreet when it comes to her husband’s public activities and distances herself from her work so that she can maintain her own professional identity. They have three children who are also protected from their father’s work.
Zemmour does not make much of his Jewishness. He described himself as “a Frenchman of Berber origin”, and is hated by many in the French Jewish community. In 2019, in an interview with writer and showman Bernard-Henri Lévy, Zemmour defended Marshal Pétain’s collaborationist government during World War II, claiming that Pétain’s regime saved many French Jews. This sparked outrage among historians and Jewish organizations and ended in a lawsuit. Zemmour was acquitted due to the ambiguity and context of his wording, fueling new anger among the Jews. Sabrina Goldman, lawyer for the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, claimed that Zemmour is “in fact a Holocaust denier.”
On August 26, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, announced that he was running as the presidential candidate of the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) party. Barnier is perhaps less well known in France than he is in Britain and haughtily dismissed Zemmour as a mere “journalist” and “a hypothetical candidate”. In a recent interview with the New statesman, Barnier said, “I have nothing to do with Zemmour. We don’t have the same feelings, beliefs or history. When asked if Zemmour should be allowed to stand for the LR nomination, Barnier replied, “No way.”
Zemmour editor Albin Michel let go in June, saying Zemmour was “changing status” to become a politician rather than a writer. Zemmour has gathered the support of intellectuals, in particular the group close to the magazine Current values. Zemmour’s most influential supporter is novelist Michel Houellebecq, who has been pictured with Zemmour at events hosted by Current values; in 2020, he hailed Zemmour as “the most interesting avatar” (ie a symbol of hope) for “Catholics and non-Christians”.
Zemmour spoke out in defense of the theory of ” the big replacement“(” The great replacement “), popularized by the white supremacist author Renaud Camus. This is a widely held far-right conspiracy theory that argues that, in a few generations, the white Judeo-Christian civilization of Europe will be replaced by “another civilization”: that French universalism will be replaced by the universalism of Islam (this is the plot of Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Submission). In the August edition of Paris Match, Zemmour predicted that by 2100, France “will be an Islamic Republic” if the influence of Islam in the country is not stopped.
Although it has been the subject of renewed interest within the far right, the theory of “the big replacementIs one of the fundamental principles of the history of French fascism. His intellectual origins go back to the Catholic journalist Edouard Drumont, who in 1886 wrote a bestseller entitled Jewish France (“Jewish France” – French suicide of his time), which predicted the destruction of the nation by the Jewish people. The idea was also linked to the writings of Maurice Barrès, an extremist nationalist who, a few years after Drumont’s book, claimed that France would be overwhelmed by the “barbaric” sons and daughters of immigrants.
Zemmour is a provocateur who loves outrage, but he is not stupid. He understands the story and how to diffuse these old ideas in a contemporary and less toxic way, exploiting the fears and fault lines of modern France on immigration, race and poverty. It has rich but mysterious backers (one of them, according to Release, is Charles Gave, a businessman and a strong supporter of ” the big replacement“). According to recent polls, Zemmour’s position as a politician is 11%, tied with left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. These numbers may change if Zemmour declares his candidacy for the presidency.
The politician who has the most to fear from Eric Zemmour is Marine Le Pen. Le Pen made the strategic decision to “detoxify” the RN and rename the party to make it more acceptable to the center-right, as well as to working class voters. This led to the formation of dissident groups from the RN, such as Les Patriotes, led by Florian Philippot, Le Pen’s former director of strategy. From the point of view of these diehards, his strategy fails.
Zemmour hopes to exploit this fracture in the RN. Perhaps seeking a political deal, Robert Ménard, independent mayor of Béziers in southern France, invited Le Pen and Zemmour to a dinner in the city on September 3. Zemmour declined, calling instead for “public debate.” If an agreement could be reached between Le Pen and Zemmour, they would together constitute an electoral force.
In private, close friends of Eric Zemmour report that he is courteous and spiritual, with a deep knowledge of the history of France. Its flaw is its desire to attract the attention of the public. If Zemmour’s ego gets the better of him, and he decides to go it alone, he may well be seen as a wrecker rather than the savior of the French far right.
[see also: Emmanuel Macron has been exposed as a false liberal idol]