The return of the anti-Dreyfusards is possible – The Hindu

Posted By on April 18, 2022

For many French citizens, Marine Le Pen is no longer viewed as a danger to the historical values of an egalitarian France

For many French citizens, Marine Le Pen is no longer viewed as a danger to the historical values of an egalitarian France

The political confrontation between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election in France is far from being a done deal. Many political figures on the Left and the Right, such as the socialist, Anne Hidalgo, the communist, Fabien Roussel, the candidate of the Republicans, Valrie Pcresse, and the environmentalist, Yannick Jadot, on the side of the French ecologists, have called to vote for the outgoing President.

Yet, the right-wing candidate, ric Zemmour, despite his disagreements with Marine Le Pen, called for a vote for her. However, let us not forget that according to the calculation of the votes in the first round (in this election, it was on April 10), French voters seem to generally lean towards the anti-establishment sentiments represented by political leaders such as Jean-Luc Mlenchon and Marine Le Pen. A number of commentators and journalists believe that a large proportion of French voters will end up voting for Mr. Macron in the second round (on April 24), for the same reason as in the French presidential elections of 2017 because for them the victory of the far right is unbearable. But one also needs to take into consideration all those who will abstain, vote blank, or vote for Ms. Le Pen.

The truth is that the forces of the extreme are getting stronger with each presidential election in France. Jean-Luc Mlenchon obtained more than twice as many votes as Yannick Jadot, Fabien Roussel and Anne Hidalgo. As for Ms. Le Pen, the weaknesses of the traditional Right in France lifted her vote from 21% in 2017 to 23.15% now. Therefore, while the French political parties are not totally dead, traditional politics in France, either on the Left or on the Right, has taken a severe blow.

Consequently, what attracts the French to Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mlenchon is not always their programmes, but their populist way of presenting them. Both Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mlenchon play in different ways on the register of the French identity. In fact, they both invite the French to rethink the identity of France beyond the fixed frameworks they are used to seeing it. It leads them to understand that the French identity is always a work of transformation.

If they are present more and more in the hearts and the minds of the French voters, it is because they each claim another form of republican universalism, different from the traditional Right and the traditional Left in France. Mr. Mlenchon does not deny the radical equality of all French citizens or the secularity of the French State, but he criticises the hegemonic vocabulary of the French political culture by placing accent on the dangers of structural racism in France.

In other words, according to Mr. Melenchon and his party, the La France Insoumise, though France is a country where democratic procedures do exist, it is a national entity where political participation is not sufficiently diversified. It is interesting to see that with Marine Le Pen also, the populist speech becomes the main vehicle of communication. However, she uses French white catholicity as an identity marker, beyond a claimed anti-hijab secularism. Her use of a hidden non-inclusive vocabulary veils a hierarchical vision of French society, which is not pronounced explicitly.

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However, the populist discourse of Marine Le Pen has found more echoes among the French population than five years ago. This is certainly a big change in the French political mentality, which was always alert and alarmed by nuanced forms of fascism, racism and anti-Semitism. The surprising gains for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election this time shows once again that France is losing its fierce Dreyfusard syndrome.

What the Dreyfus case showed us for more than a century was that the doctrine of equality before the law was still so firmly implanted in the political conscience of the French that a single miscarriage of justice, like that of the Jewish Alfred Dreyfus, could provoke public indignation. It goes without saying that Georges Clemenceau, mile Zola, Marcel Proust, Anatole France and many other writers, journalists and advocates of human rights who defended the wrongfully imprisoned Dreyfus were not seeking a contextual truth, but embraced a universal notion of truth. That is why the French noun, intellectuel, was coined and gained sociological prominence beyond the Dreyfus affair.

It should be noted that Zola is never mentioned by Marine Le Pen, as she considers him to be too far left and pro-Dreyfus. Also, Marine Le Pen usually values herself as a populist against what she calls the system that is evil and represents evil for the French people. Immigration is obviously another favourite theme for Ms. Le Pen, which is often described as the result of globalism. Also, against President Macron and his idea of European unity, Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Rally, present a defiance towards the European Union, in the name of a national sovereignty whose contours are never clearly defined.

Even if Marine Le Pen does not win the second round of the French elections and Emmanuel Macron remains President of France for five more years, the main question which remains would be about the political mentality of French society. We are morally and politically entitled to ask if the dream of Marine Le Pen has become that of a significant portion of the French population?

Certainly, for many French citizens today, the name of Marine Le Pen is no longer viewed as a danger against the historical values of an egalitarian France, in love with liberty and fraternity. For many French citizens, Marine Le Pens political promise to reserve the priority of employment, social aid and social housing for French people does not call into question the great principles of equality and fraternity of the Republican contract.

Also, in the current Ukrainian crisis and the political proximity of Marine Le Pen to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, her arrival at the Elyse Palace would mark an even more serious break with the political architecture of the European Union. The radical Right in France has never been so close to victory, but French politics has also never had such an uncertain future. If it ends in the victory of Marine Le Pen, almost 130 years after the victory of the Dreyfusards at the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, the anti-Dreyfusards will be in power again.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Non-violence and Peace Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana

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The return of the anti-Dreyfusards is possible - The Hindu

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