The second round of France’s regional elections is over, and once again a “democratic groundswell” has happened, as it did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election. What this means is that a certain number of voters who had not bothered to vote in the first round, aware of what the Front National really is behind its façade of being just another “legitimate” party, and despite their dissatisfaction with the “legitimate” parties, mobilized against the danger of a Fascist party acceding to real political power. The Front, which according to polls could have won control of six of France’s administrative Regions, won none, and the two major parties now hold power in the 12 mainland Regions, with Les Républicains (LR) holding the presidencies of seven Regions, including the Ile-de-France. The Socialists withdrew their tickets from the election in two Regions where they were in third place to keep the Front from winning.
Front leader Marine Le Pen has reacted by pointing to a “campaign of calumny” organized “in the gilded palaces of the Republic.” This is a reference to the fact that after the Revolution, the Republic took over the most sumptuous palaces in Paris to serve as – for example – the president’s (the Palais de l’Elysée) and Prime Minister’s (the Hôtel de Matignon) official residences, the way a hermit crab takes up residence in the abandoned shell of a dead gastropod and the way Napoléon, according to official legend, declared himself emperor to occupy that function in the name of the people, transforming it rather than destroying it.
Le Pen’s comment has been more or less universally scoffed at and her disdainful reference to the Republic seen as proof that the Front’s true nature is anti-democratic. But it deserves reflection, because it may reveal the true nature of the Republic that has supposedly risen up and defended itself against the Fascist onslaught.
The standard narrative is that the French Republic has brought constant progress, both economically and socially. As such, despite ideological differences, the French people are viscerally attached to it, and Sunday’s groundswell is proof of that. The fact that wealth has continued to concentrate and that the standard of living of the great majority of people has stagnated for some years now, according to that narrative, is the result of “economic conditions” – outside forces, like the natural forces that can result in disastrously poor harvests (which, indeed, set off the Revolution).
But might it not be true that the Republic itself is in fact an instrument of the elite, and that behind its carefully cultivated façade, supported by a culture that has given the world great art and that is indeed deeply ingrained in the people of France and in the very language they speak and write, is a predatory entity which at best will only tolerate relative prosperity for the people it governs? And that is prepared to continue to apply policies that place the burden of austerity on the majority even while wealth continues to concentrate?
In that sense, the Front National truly can lay claim to being no less legitimate than the two parties that have handed power back and forth in France for the past sixty years or so.