Teaser: the Front National beyond the economic crisis?

A very short teaser for whatever I will write on this blog about France after this spring’s European elections. This piece in Slate.fr touches a very interesting and important point: the rise of the FN is not only the result of the economic crisis but the result of a wider crisis of collective self-definition, culture, identity.

A potent brew that one could define as a sense of general, “ontological” insecurity. Economic insecurity, of course. Cultural insecurity as well: a sense that things are not like they used to be, that France is not anymore what it used to be. This is not only a domestic phenomenon: one’s collective self-identification and sense of security can also be drawn, on the one hand from what others think – or from what one thinks others think – of one’s national community, and on the other hand from our perception of the strength, capacity to act, “greatness” of one’s nation. And at the moment, as any Frenchman with an Internet connection and a basic grasp of English would know, France’s reputation and capacity to act is not at all what it used to be. One can very well get the picture that a combination of German-enforced austerity at the European level, China-dominated economic developments, and US-dominated cultural life neutralizes France’s voice in the world. Hence a painful longing for de Gaulle’s policy, “grandeur”, etc. The redefinition of France’s place in the world as a “middle-sized nation” doesn’t go easily, and is part of a prevalent feeling of general insecurity.

The implications of that are not simple for the French political leaders (such as they are today). Blaming “the crisis” holds the prospect that, at some point, the economy will start to pull up again: 1,5% annual growth – problem solved! A wider, cultural crisis, however,  needs to be treated with medicine of an entirely different nature, something able to provide a new collective narrative for a new France.

The FN’s program provides this narrative on a negative basis, by harkening back to a glorious past, to a nationalist narrative, and putting the blame on some parts of the current arrangement: migrants, the EU, capitalism, whatever suits the day and channels public anger and insecurity. Providing a positive narrative to counter that, in the current situation, taking into account France as it is today (multicultural, open, etc) and avoiding the main pitfalls of excluding nationalism won’t be easy. If this doesn’t happen, however, then the FN is here to stay.


PS: And of course, there is a theory for that: ontological security IS a thing in IR theory, documented for example in Brent J. Steele’s book and this article by Jennifer Mitzen. I am not sure this overlaps with what I wanted to explore in this short post, however. The pains of using “theoretically loaded” terms in colloquial conversations…

PPS: While it is still lacking in France, creating of sense of movement and a new narrative seems to be Matteo Renzi’s tactic for Italy. A short-term tactic aimed at sugar-coating Renzi’s first months in power – or a succesfull strategy to actually do the minimum politicians are left with the capacity to achieve: provide a story for the people to gather around? We shall see…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s