We are all French

Article published on July 21, 2002
community published
Article published on July 21, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Behind Le Pen's achievement there is a radical crisis concerning the concept of state and nation. After the elation of Chirac's triumph these problems remain. For other European states as well as France.

The danger was avoided. Such seems to be the reaction of the ruling class and the French public on first reading the results of the second round of the Presidential elections, that confirmed Jaques Chirac's success (82%) and Jean-Marie Le Pen's defeat. Relief certainly but also satisfaction about a widely successful mobilisation - this is true - and thanks to which there are political margins from which to construct a real programme of reform.

But the danger is not over; in fact it is only just beginning. And this Republican gathering on May 5th must be seen as the first electoral response by French society to the political earthquake on April 21st that had seen the leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reach the second round of the Presidential elections.

The problems of France today - more or less hidden for 20 years and only really exploding 2 weeks ago - are essentially two: on one side the very roots of the nation and the state, and on the other the identity of the Left.

A vote for Le Pen is, to a good degree, a vote of identification, an expression of repulsion in the face of the new: a prevailing novelty (the criminality that rages in the suburbs) having otherwise not necessarily materialised (rural France's paranoia that fears seeing it some day invaded and urbanised). It expresses in pathological terms, a real inability of the ruling class to win the real challenge of the 21st century, that of a multi-racial society that knows how to devise new forms of immigrant integration. Le Pen's achievement - that in any case rose from 4,800,000 votes in the first round to 6,000,000 in the second - reveals in effect a deep crisis regarding the concept of a multi-racial nation, and, moreover, regarding the idea of post-modern state sovereignty, based on the delegation on the part of the Nation-State of a good part of their powers to an illegitimate and undemocratic Europeanised entity.

As far as it is concerned, the Left is suffering from an inability to resolve the crisis of the multi-racial nation and of the post-modern state. This inability seems to condemn it to a choice between 'remaining' right-wing and 'becoming' right-wing - caused by the fact that Social Democracy has for some time dramatically abdicated from its mission to represent change and progress, limiting itself or setting itself up as the champion of preservation (of the old school social state), or to promote, with words, the so-called 'globalisation of human nature', and by action, the same liberal idea that the Right always champions as an alternative to the status quo.

But the opportunity to recall itself as a force of change, as was given by the defeat on April 21st, risks being wasted with a probable victory in the legislative elections on June 9th and 16th, made possible because the 4 million members of the electorate that were party to the mobilisation of the National Front can be - at least in part - 'won' by a Left that is the real inspiration the anti-fascist 'tremor' against Le Pen. A victory that would do nothing but support the 'gallant' interpretation of these election results - already favourable in Jospinite socialist circles - according to which the unexpected results of this strange electoral spring should be attributed to an unfortunate accident, due more than anything to a small guilty favourable astral circumstance - among other things - of the excessive fragmentation or ineffectualness of the electoral campaign.

But behind such reactions, more method than substance, hides the confusion in the ideas of progress and evolution, the hiding place of the reformist approach, and the decrepit conservatism of a socialist ruling class that, still not thinking that the time for revolution has come, is ready to 'provinicialise' itself and to withdraw, more than to consider how Le Pen's followers. That is to say, the political climate that currently pervades France - a climate of quiet after the storm - certainly does not aid reflection and self-criticism, because anti-fascism, however noble, remains a negative idea and not - at least in 2002 - purposeful.

It remains still for French public opinion to understand what no one has wanted to say out loud: Le Pen has made us waste time, he has made us believe, deceived us, that the real political debate was 'whether' and not 'how' to make Europe, to integrate immigrants and reform the state. Politics, for a moment, was becoming simple again, an inane feeling of anachronistic brotherhood seemed to embrace us all, in oblivion of the complexity and deification of the many who shouted 'no' to hate, xenophobia and intolerance.

The anti-Le Pen mobilisation must not become the political alibi of non-change or of unrisky drifting. The dramatic crisis of the Nation-State and of the French Left remains. And these concepts are double useful: not only to explain the achievement of the extreme Right and the defeat of Jospin, but also to stimulate answers that the Left and French society together must introduce if they don't want this 'drainage ditch' of the French electorate, revealed by Le Pen and established on April 21st, to grow more serious and to stretch at the next electoral meeting.

The future of every society and European State - everything more or less involved in the future of Social Democracy and in the crisis of state foundations - depends on innovative answers. On answers made not only through rhetoric and discussion and conservative statements, but through laws and farsighted measures: when a country is threatened, as a state and as a nation, it is necessary to immediately mobilise all its forces - political and intellectual - to reflect on the fundamental principle. It requires launching a new social contract between the French and the immigrants, based on incentives, the right to vote, and the right to reciprocal cultural integration. And it requires the election by universal suffrage, of a Constitutional Assembly called to rewrite the Republican rules in this newly created context. An Assembly that can, under construction, propose a pact to all the other European states: the admission, in the first article of the VI French constitution, of the inviolability of the attachment of France to the EU - in exchange for an equivalent alteration to all the national constitutions, and to the convening of a constituent European Assembly that can design the contours of future European democracy and establish the rights of its citizens.

Even if not through electoral force, the fear of 'the other', the mistrust of Eurocracy in Brussels, the crisis of the ruling classes are all common problems throughout Europe. On April 21st chance chose for these problems to be dramatically revealed in France, just as on September 11th the United States suffered an attack that in the future could happen again in Europe. Because of this, paraphrasing what the editor of France's most influential newspaper wrote in a sign of solidarity, today we should all in Europe feel French; because the challenge of democratisation of continental institutions is mutual, as is the integration of the immigrant population. Let's dare for change.