The Le Pen phenomenon

By Pantelis Boukalas

The country of the Enlightenment saw the darkness of intolerance, of racism and of a fierce populism which borrows slogans from the repository of fascist rhetoric. The high percentage garnered by Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme rightist party in the French presidential elections was indeed a political and a cultural shock, not only for France, but also for all of Europe. But the problem is not one that can be dealt with by moaning and incantations. Nor is it one that can be solved by the resignations of a number of politicians whose governance failed to block the rise of the National Front. Political parties in modern democracies thought it wise to declare the end of history, or at least the transcendence of traditional dividing lines. Hoping that this would help them appeal to broader constituencies, they jettisoned their ideological baggage, denouncing it as a sad relic, and merged. However, this sort of conflation is always for the worse. Their debunked visions were replaced with administrative techniques, plain management, and non-politics. And though the politicians who advocated the catch phrases about the end of dividing lines wished to show that the era of ideological conflicts was history, a considerable number of voters, aided by the lack of political divisions, soon concluded that «all politicians are the same» (meaning, all corrupt, as they had changed for the worse) and elected the one who used the easily accepted language of the most vulgar Manichaeism. The vacuum created by the discrediting of politics and the disregard of ideas has been filled with popular rhetoric which, fueling public concerns (about immigrants, the non-white population and integrated Europe), succeeds in portraying its ranting as consistent discourse - moreover, as radical. Le Pen is not alone in Europe. And it is hard to believe that Greece does not risk infection.