By Bernard-Henri Lévy
Before the second round of France’s regional elections on Sunday, most predictions suggested that five, perhaps six, of the country’s regional governments would fall into the hands of the National Front (FN). But the French people pulled themselves together and turned out to vote in much greater numbers than anyone expected. The result is that a xenophobic, racist party, one hostile to everything essential to the spirit and greatness of France, was defeated in all of the contests that it was supposed to win.
Some will express surprise at this strange country, which is never so great as when it is on the edge of a cliff. They will worry – and they are right to worry – that a situation of extreme peril, a veritable threat to the nation, was required before the French recovered their senses and took the path of reason. And they will regret that the French are not the prosaic sort of people who know how to be themselves at normal cruising speed, without having to hear a cannonball whistle past. But that is how it is.
And I, like many others, will not try to hide my satisfaction at seeing the smug scoundrels of the FN break down and resume speaking in their historic register, with their authentic voice, which is one of hatred and mob rage. This, truly, was a victory for the republic – a triumph of popular resistance.
The French turned out, en masse, to say that they did not want to see the Le Pen gang take possession of their regions. That is the most important lesson from Sunday’s vote, and it is a reassuring one. But what caused the nation to right itself?
Obviously, nothing happened between the elections’ first and second rounds that addressed the “malaise” of the French people. Nor was any particular promise made in response to the “hard questions” raised by FN voters just a week earlier. No. What we saw, instead, was a moral surge among the French – an act of self-defense by the body politic.
Between the two rounds, the following simple idea sank in among the electorate: The National Front can revamp its façade all it wants, but it has never been, is not, and can never be a normal party. For how long have France’s moral and political authorities been telling us that “stigmatization” of the National Front doesn’t work, that it strengthens the party instead of weakening it? Well, that was wrong 20 years ago, and it is still wrong.
It cannot be repeated often enough that when the moral left and right have been strong, when groups like SOS Racisme set boundaries that are bright and clear, the FN has been contained electorally. But when those boundary lines are blurred, when the dikes crumble and the antiracist watchdogs allow themselves to be intimidated or lower their guard, the FN tries to make itself at home.
The same is true today. The happy surprise of the regional vote owes absolutely nothing to accommodations with the FN by major parties that supposedly “heard the message” of “angry” voters (rhetoric that they relentlessly drummed into us). On the contrary, a sufficient number of voters came to understand that in that very anger – in its spokespeople and in the words used to express it – lurked a threat to the republic, to democracy, and to the nation’s fundamental values. That is the second lesson.
What awaits us tomorrow? How can we be sure that the FN wave, having receded, will not regain strength and break with even greater destructive force in the upcoming presidential election?
Better “unemployment figures” will be required, no doubt. Faster “growth,” certainly. We will also need “efforts” and “gestures” directed toward the one-third of people under 30 and the nearly one-half of industrial and service workers who are said to have expressed their “frustration” and “anxiety” by voting for the FN. Fine. But none of that will ever be a substitute for leaders taking the moral high ground and restoring to our public discourse its lost luster.
No strategy will work if it is implemented by mediocrities who, in a political comedy as dishonorable as it is vain, rush to the television studios to declare, hand over heart, that they have heard the voters “loud and clear.” The key will be for French leaders to say – as loudly as possible and as often as necessary – that there is no answer to the “hard questions” as the FN poses them. And, like it or not, it must be said not only to the FN’s leaders, but also to its voters.
There have been other times in France’s history when entire segments of the electorate have ejected themselves from the game, without the rest of the players rushing over to beg them to get back on the field. Georges Clémenceau, Jean Jaurès, and Raymond Poincaré, at the outset of the twentieth century, did not pander to the nearly half of the electorate that, during the Dreyfus Affair, had exiled themselves from the republic.
Nor did Charles de Gaulle have any qualms about telling the proponents of French Algeria that, in the end, he did not understand them. Nor did Pierre Mendès France in the 1950s hesitate to tell the Communists that he didn’t want their votes to support his government.
France must now recall these great moments in its republican tradition and hold them up as a model for today’s leaders. For what will be needed to hold the territory that the republic nearly lost to the FN is political courage of a sort that, for the moment, is in short supply.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His works include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism,” and “American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville.” He writes the Bloc-notes column at Le Point. © Project Syndicate.
Good for France. Gives me hope that we will reject the far-right Republican agenda here in America.
So happy and relieved that the sanity and courage of the French people prevailed. I just hope and pray that our good citizens . . . regardless of their party. . . will do the same.
The USA is a nation of reasonable, brave patriots who may panic and act out of fear “in the moment” . . . demonizing the “Trumped Up Enemy”. But, ya know what. . . we are better than that! We are much better than that! When the moment comes, when we are put to the test. . . all alone with our better judgement and conscience in that voting booth, I pray that our voters will move away from the madness of fear and support leaders who use moderate, reasonable judgement and wisdom in their decision making.
Sure, we are all frustrated with our corrupt political leaders at EVERY level of government. The horrific “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court essentially made “bribery” of elected officials legal. Yes, we need to take our citizen’s power of the vote back from the wealthy lobbyists. However for the present, we may need to settle for the least corrupt person for EVERY office.
Trump is selling the “bill of goods” that he is immune from that corruption. . . really? Does any wise voter really think that a person who believes that the office of President of the USA is a dictatorship. . . one where he can throw the Constitution, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Geneva Convention, the UN, NATO alliances, etc. out the window. . . and then do what he damned well pleases. . . should be elected to the Presidency? Do you really think that Mr. Trump has made his billions completely on the “up and up” without being corrupted and essentially selling his soul to the devil? Really?
Each of our elections is extremely important . . . let us come to sane, courageous moderation before we make those choices.
[email protected] says
Ms. Le Pen is the woman Palin just said she admired so much. What does that tell you about Republicans?
Sherry, are you trying to say that Hillary Clinton isn’t a corrupt liar? Her husband was giving a speech In Colombia, for half a mil, I believe, on the same day she was there doing favors for their government. Hillary Clinton said publicly for a week the Benghazi attack was the result of “the video,” but sent an e-mail to Chelsea saying there was an Al Qaeda style attack the night it happened. The next day she sent a message to a foreign dignitary explicitly stating “we know” it had nothing to do with the video. Of course, we discovered all this from the emails she tried to hide from the public, but thanks to Judicial Watch, we’re finally exposed. Sure, Donald Trump bought politicians; we know this because HE told us in his campaign. He needs nothing else from them, and refuses to take their money. He’s reached the top of Maslow’s needs hierarchy, and is, I believe, doing this for the people and his own self actualization. Hillary ain’t there yet.
I revise my statement. . . obviously, “the vast majority of voters are” better than that!
The top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is “Self Actualization”. . . NOT “Self Aggrandizement “! Mr. Trump is a Very Dangerous Narcissistic Megalomaniac who has put our entire country at grave risk by putting us at odds with well over 6 BILLION people who live in almost every country in the world!
Like I said. . . “the vast majority of US voters” are better than that!
Sandra Reynolds says
Outsider, this post is about Trump, not Clinton. Sherry is not speaking of her nor is she defending her. Save your ranting about Clinton for another day. You will have plenty of opportunity for that in the next year.
Thanks so much Sandra Reynolds! Raising a little consciousness and appealing to our higher angels is sadly sometimes very difficult, in this culture.
May this festive holiday season be filled with great peace, love and joy for all!
Actually, Sandra, I can make any point that is relevant to the discussion. Her description of Trump aptly describes the current president, who was overruled by the entire Supreme Court on at least one occasion. That ought to tell you who is attempting to dispense with the constitution. And I would argue this post is about Clinton, since she will be the Democratic nominee, and I’m reasonably sure most commenters here will not be voting for any Republicans. And here’s a fine example of the “trumped up enemy” you speak of:
@outsider. . . LOL! LOL! LOL! WOW just WOW! . . . if thegatewaypundit and other twisted conspiracy theory sites are what you rely on for your view of the world, that explains so much about your posts here! From now on, I’ll just “consider the source” of your information and perspective and give your words the “appropriate” amount of attention. I suspect Sandra will do the same.
I’ll stick to “fact checked” (what a concept!) PBS News Hour, and the input I receive from my dear friends who actually live in France and several other countries in Europe.
These are times that test our courage, ethics, integrity, honesty, compassion, love of fellow human beings and resolve to move away from fear and hate towards peace. With that in mind, I wish for you the wisdom and courage to open your mind and find actual truth. . . in order to create happiness and peace in your own life.
Best Wishes to all for the blessings of great peace, love and joy in this festive season! What happened in France is really wonderful news!
How predictable; a supposedly educated and not just a little haughty liberal ignores the facts and destroys the messenger without giving one iota of thought to the possibility that this could be what’s wrong with “radical” Islamists. We are told regularly by your ilk that the radicals have “high jacked” Islam, but when someone points out a “highjacker” of the peaceful religion some choose to bury their collective heads in the sand, which is kind of perplexing when the goal is supposedly to rectify what’s wrong with Islam. So, is it your contention that the Imam in the VIDEO does not exist or that he has not said these things? I would also point out that my coworker who grew up in France has a completely different perspective than your friends in Europe; perhaps he has a better grasp on reality than your friends do.