isAt the beginning of 2019, I was teaching French in sixth grade as part of an Erasmus internship when we entered into a discussion on immigration. Some girls spoke with admiration of center-right women, some boys were liberal left, though wary of the excesses of social justice politics on the Internet, while others could be dismissed as “awake.”
They all rolled their eyes when I asked them what they thought of Eric Zemmour, the smiling far-right polemicist and presidential candidate. My students thought he was racist and saw him as an eccentric. They hated Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally but took her seriously. You had to accept that she was part of the political furniture, but this guy was beyond pallor. He had, after all, been convicted of hate speech.
Yet even then he was depressing in the mainstream, writing bestsellers containing Vichy apologies and hateful screeds against feminism and homosexuality. He had a column in Le Figaro where he wrote conspiratorial articles claiming that Christianity made France but that Islam was trying to shatter it. Recently, Zemmour has become a semi-permanent television set. A murky infrastructure of donors and online shock troops supporting him has emerged, and he travels across France to meet fans.
Zemmour’s policy is horribly nihilistic. His ideas come directly from the theory of the “great replacement” of the extremist Renaud Camus of a concerted demographic annihilation of white Europeans through immigration. Although his new book, La France has not said its last word, is slightly tinged with optimism, its conclusion on the so-called renaissance ignores the standard of living and falls into a war cry against outsiders and those who dare to oppose police brutality.
He is often compared to Donald Trump, although politically Zemmour is a different beast. He is, in his own words, engaged in a Gramscian struggle for culture. His strategy seems more thoughtful than Trump’s spasmodic demagoguery.
Polls for the presidential election have shown Zemmour at 15% and 17%, putting him ahead of Le Pen and the likely candidates of the Republicans, the dominant former center-right party which has collapsed due to the rise of the president Emmanuel Macron and successive corruption scandals involving his leaders. A November poll showed it even in the second round against Macron, whose favorite status appears solid. However, with increased scrutiny as his candidacy announcement approached, his campaign began to falter and he fell behind Le Pen. We therefore do not know if this is a real phenomenon or a media fad, but the fact that this extremist is able to pose as a central protagonist of the political spectacle during a pandemic, while the prices soar, reveals a political and media vision. class without vision.
Aurélien Mondon, a far-right researcher at the University of Bath, told me that he had not “bought for a second that this is in fact what people want … If they had more choice and different sources of mediation and political knowledge, that’s not what they would go for.
He described his latest research on opinion polls, which found that when you ask people to name the most pressing issues facing their society, immigration looms large, but when you ask questions on the most important issues that affect their lives, immigration does not come into play. Instead, people talk about jobs, retirement, or health care.
Mondon says it’s because people can answer honestly about their own lives, but they can’t speak for all of their fellow citizens, so they rely on high-profile political knowledge, and the broadcasters providing that knowledge have given up. . He says they hardly speak other than “Islam, Islam, Islam”.
It is often taken for granted that young people are on the left, and most of them are. Left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon received the most votes in the 2017 elections among 18-24 year olds and it is likely that the majority who abstained from holding liberal views, such as the poorest high school students and the richest where I taught. But it was not a liberal centrist or a traditional conservative who came second among young people, it was Le Pen.
There are still echoes of this cycle. In the recent regional elections, 87% of young voters abstained, preferring protest movements to formal politics, but online Zemmour said “the buzz”. It’s important not to overdo things: although growing, the youth movement around Zemmour is tiny. But whether it is Generation Nation (the youth wing of the National Rally) or Generation Zemmour, the online community where predominantly young and male users share links to the nascent fascist YouTube scene in France and debate theories de Zemmour, that these ideas resonate with young people should shame politicians.
This embrace of nihilism, even if it sticks to 20% for Le Pen or divides in favor of Zemmour, and the abstention rate, suggests that a generation has created itself deeply political (as you will tell any of my French friends who teach) but sees no vision of hope for France.
By electoral opportunism, the right converges around Zemmourian politics. Macronists have been working on this for a while; with the debates of the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin with Le Pen and Zemmour revealing a surprising number of points in common between the trio, and the witch hunt of the Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal against the so-called “Islamo- leftists ”in universities.
The Republicans, perpetually terrified by the fragility of their base, are busy proclaiming that Zemmour is not racist. Their presidential candidates draw a remarkably similar stall. They seem to have no idea beyond figuring out how to absorb the far right for electoral purposes. Meanwhile, the laughing stock of the French left offers platitudes, or where there is a concrete program, as in the case of Mélenchon, there is no strategy to overcome the divisions of the left.
The controversial novel by French conservative author Michel Houellebecq 2015 Submission, in which the 2022 elections are won by a Muslim Brotherhood candidate and France becomes a moderate caliphate, captures the tone of French electoral politics well. I disagree, but many have taken the book at face value as an endorsement of the “great replacement” theory. Submission reflects the concerns of France; it satirizes an overwhelming concern among the elite with Islam and the stifling of any vision beyond decline. Mélenchon also appears in the story. He replaces the left, organizing a demonstration that does nothing.
Prices are rising, the pandemic is raging, students are lining up at food banks, but politicians and broadcasters just want to talk about Islam, immigration and Eric Zemmour.
- Oliver Haynes, a City of London University student, was highly commended in the Guardian Foundation’s Hugo Young Prize for Writing Political Opinions in 2021, for this article