The curious French defeat

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By DANIEL AFONSO DA SILVA*

If Marine Le Pen wins a majority in the French legislature in the election at the end of June and the beginning of next month, the French political class will be left to recognize the legitimacy of an extreme right-wing prime minister

The dissolution of the French National Assembly, on June 9, 2024, imposed a curious defeat on France. Curious, much more than strange. Curious because everyone knew, but no one wanted to hear or see the structural, historical and irresistible rise of Marine Le Pen's National Regroupment (RN). President Emmanuel Macron, with his decision, put an end to the game. The inconsistency of the variability of weights and measures in approaching the problem has reached its limit.

It has been nearly fifty years since French public opinion condemned this political tendency in the abstract, but endorsed it in practice. During this entire period, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his party – the National Front (FN) – and later Marine Le Pen – at the head of the RN – are seen, by the press and political corporations, as the incarnation of Satan and all their earthly abominations. But, at the same time, this same press and these same political corporations provide an audience, seat and shelter for this front.

The decision to dissolve the French legislature served to expose this moral, intellectual and political dissonance. The president therefore asked the French for “clarification”. Confirmation type. The entirety of society thus succumbed to despair. First in the decision and then in the repercussions. And now we just have to wait,

On the night of June 9th, as soon as the consolidated results of the elections for the European Parliament were released and the RN's score was, honestly, devastating compared to the votes collected by the Macronist party – Renascimento, previous Working –, the French president decided to dissolve the legislature in France.

The decision, in itself, has long, historical and deep legal support that dates back to the times of the French Revolution, when this provision was established in the French constitutions. However, the clearly untimely manner caused immense astonishment.

Putting it into perspective, since the 1958th century the hypothesis of dissolution has been raised and practiced among the French. But it was after the XNUMX Constitution – in force until the present – ​​that this device gained the clear quality of stabilizing the regime.

Faced with the immense instability of the Fourth Republic, established after the liberation of France from the Nazis of the Second World War, when inaugurating the Fifth Republic in 1958, General De Gaulle filled the act of dissolution with meanings and meanings. That stopped being simply a political act and became the choice of the last chance for the survival of the regime itself.

Initially, the meaning of the dissolution became clearly an attempt to rehabilitate the presidential margins vis-à-vis of the legislature. While its decisive meaning was to provide the President of the Republic with full and exclusive powers to decide on the dissolution in moments of acute precision.

It was like this in October 1962 and in May 1968 when General De Gaulle used the device to expand his means of action. It was also like this in 1981 and 1988, when President François Mitterrand won the presidential elections and took power with a frankly contrary Assembly. The fifth dissolution occurred in 1997, under President Jacques Chirac, but was not as successful. The majority block in presidential support ended up losing its majority in the Assembly and was forced to summon the leader of the opposition – in this case the Socialist Party (PS) under the presidency of Lionel Jospin – to lead the country's government.

Now, in 2024, we are therefore facing the sixth dissolution. Surely the most unexpected, confusing and dramatic of all.

The president decided on it for very concrete reasons. Its vector came from the European vote which showed that 31,37% of French voters gave preference to the RN compared to 14,6% for President Macron's Renaissance party, 13,8% for the PS of former president François Hollande, 9,8 % to A France Insubmissa (LFI) by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 7,2% to Os Republicados (LR) by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 5,5% to Ecologists by Sandrine Rousseau and 5,4% to Reconquista by Éric Zemmour.

From any point of view, it was an overwhelming victory for the RN over the others. A victory projected since the day before. So much so that Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella – president of the party and winning candidate in the European elections – had been demanding the need to dissolve the legislature in the event of confirmation of their award. And, more, consequently, the change of prime minister – read: the government of France.

No one, however, imagined that 1. the RN's expectations would be met and 2. that President Macron would follow the plan of dissolution. But it was all like that. The most curious thing is the decision of the French president.

It was curious because, unlike other occasions – 1962, 1968, 1981, 1988 and 1997 – there was no preparation of public opinion or voters in general. In this way, they were all caught in contrapasso, contradança and contrapédo. Including the main leaders of the French political class in perplexity.

President François Hollande and President Nicolas Sarkozy considered the decision, to say the least, risky. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin – who held the role, in cohabitation with President Jacques Chirac, after the 1997 dissolution – has been calling the decision complete nonsense. Dominique de Villepin – former secretary general of Elysium and main guarantor of the 1997 dissolution –, as a good diplomat, he says without saying and affirms without stating that this dissolution expresses true irresponsibility with the capacity to put at risk the entirety of the political regime supported by the 1958 Constitution.

The complexity of it all led to the French party system collapsing. No party emerged unscathed from the announcement of dissolution. Except, of course, the RN.

The Renaissance, the nucleus of Macronism, began to isolate the President of the Republic and exponent of the party, Emmanuel Macron. The LR – with a Gaullist and Chiraquian wedge – simply exploded when its president, Éric Ciotti, proposed an alliance with Marine Le Pen's RN. The PS, in deep entropy since the beginning of President François Mitterrand's reign in 1981, lost even more its strength and amplified its internal war between leaders. Jean-Luc Mélenchon's LFI embarked on a pitched battle for the leadership of a left front against the RN and against Macronism, but has only encountered cliffs of bitterness and desolation. Not even Éric Zémmour's Reconquista went without scratches. The internal divergence reached such levels that the central committee decided to expel the dissenters.

Yes: scorched earth.

Everyone apparently lost. But, in the president’s view, the people won: “I've decided to redo the choice of your parliamentary avenue” [I decided to give them the choice for their parliamentary destiny again], he justified.

It might even be. But everything is much more complex than that. And everyone knows.

Like it or not, President Macron is the president of France. And, in this condition, he is clearly the most well-informed citizen of the country's reality and perhaps Europe's. Furthermore, he is far, far from being a restricted bureaucrat or technocrat with vulgar and frivolous gestures. This is, on the contrary, a subject with acute vision and capacity for abstraction, anticipation and prospecting. Added to this, he has the best and most comprehensive data at hand. Data that says things that perhaps no one wants to see or hear.

And no one wants to see or hear that it's past time to make a mea culpa general overview of the place of RN in the French, European and global political landscape. And for reasons, above all, moral. But also on a historical, political and intellectual level.

In this sense, said and done without remorse, President Macron, with his decision to dissolve the French legislature, bequeaths to the French the moral and intellectual weight of the country's inevitable reckoning with itself.

Something very bad affects the entire political reality of the country for forty or fifty years and no one wants to hear or see it. But now, faced with this true social chaos in France after the dissolution of the legislature, there will be no way. We'll have to see.

And, when you see it, you will have to overcome the Damocles dilemma that suggests two things: either the RN is legitimate or it is not. Either he is, in fact, fascist, Nazi, Nazi-fascist, denialist and full of cretins, or he is not. Either you deserve respect from society or you don't. Either you have the legitimacy to govern the country or you don't.

Look, none of this is simple. Never was. For better or worse, France remains one of the largest democracies in the West. And, therefore, it remains an unavoidable existential paradigm for many regimes. Including, amazingly, for Brazilians. In this sense, the French urgently need to overcome their malaise. A malaise that today has two names: FN/RN and the Le Pen family.

Perhaps it was President François Mitterrand who was the first to draw attention to the need to treat all political tendencies believed in in the country well. Including and above all the most indigestible and most different. Even though they are indigestible and too different.

By scouring President Mitterrand's actions, it will be possible to locate his permanent nods to the then Front National (FN) of Jean-Marie Le Pen under the argument that it was a legitimate party, consistent with the dictates of the Fifth French Republic and completely supported by the provisions of the French Constitution of 1958.

You see, the then French president acted like this with Jean-Marie Le Pen's FN and not the crazy, opportunistic and, who knows, ideologically invertebrate, RN Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen.

Without evoking an overly exhaustive digression, it is worth remembering that the root FN – the one that President Mitterrand gave way to – came from a typically extremist lineage to the right that, by convention, came to be considered “extreme right”. Firstly, due to its historical link to the anti-revolutionary movements of the 1870th and 1871th centuries, which fought against the effects of the burial of old traditions, privileges and conveniences promoted by the French Revolution. Then, for his mental alliance with the ultranationalists and ultraconservatives after the French humiliation in the Franco-Prussian war of 1920-1930. Further, for his total or partial participation in the extremist movements of the XNUMXs and XNUMXs; and, said without contrition, in its, therefore, internalization and accommodation of fascism, Nazism and Nazi-fascism in France. Until the issue of Algeria took place and gave rise to the affirmation of the party, the FN, with Jean-Marie Le Pen at its head, and its genuinely controversial reading of the country's social, historical and spiritual reality. A reading, in many aspects, typically, yes, with fascist, Nazi, Nazi-fascist and similar airs. Which was gaining legitimacy within French popular preference. So that President Mitterrand understands it as legitimate, achievable and viable. Read: worthy of an audience. Understand: worthy of being voted on. Recognize yourself: capable of governing and presiding over the country.

In line with this, President Mitterrand himself materially offered this audience, this dignity and this recognition to the FN and its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Considering that the ends justify the means and that in politics it was necessary to talk and negotiate with everyone, including el diablo. In such a way that the tacit acceptance of the FN and Jean-Marie Le Pen in the political, party and decision-making game was, with all this, expanded and accelerated.

President Mitterrand died in 1996 and was unable to see the complex cohabitation between right-wing president Jacques Chirac and socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin following the disastrous dissolution of the French legislature in 1997. Likewise, he did not experience the arrival of the FN and from Jean-Marie Le Pen to the second round of the French presidential elections in 2002 against Jacques Chirac. A shocking, disconcerting and revealing moment of French political reality.

Looking back, that second round was historically inevitable – as the arrival of the RN candidate, Marine Le Pen, in the second round of the French presidential elections in 2017 and 2022 was also historically inevitable – and no one wanted to hear or see it.

The reasons for this indifference were – and continue to be – many. But the foundations of the predictability of the disorder had – and continue to have – at least three very concrete and palpable reasons.

One of a conceptual nature. Another of a political nature. And the last one comes from historical perception.

On a conceptual level, since the Mitterrand years (1981-1995) it was very clear that the FN was not really an “extreme right” party, despite being allied to an entire extreme rightist tradition.

The FN was not conceived as such because if it had been so, it would have been banned in terms of the laws and political conveniences imposed by the French Constitution in force in the country.

To put it bluntly, since its registration the FN was recognized as legitimate and disconnected from Mussolini's fascist party and Hitler's Nazi party, even though its practices and intentions could evoke or give the idea of ​​evoking, directly or indirectly, their unquestionable alma mater immediate source of inspiration, which was never denied, was Mussolini's fascist party and Hitler's Nazi party. As a result, there was an unquestionable conceptual emptying of the term “extreme right” in France.

In terms of the 1958 Constitution and the French institutions of the French Fifth Republic, “extreme right” was essentially a thing of the past. Old fashioned. Buried in 1945 with Mussolini and Hitler. And, therefore, without any valence after the liberation of Paris in 1944.

So it was soon understood that a party – in the explicit case of RN – with Nazi or fascist inspiration only had inspiration, but was, in fact, neither one thing nor the other. Quite the opposite.

It was – as long as it concerned the dictates of the Fifth Republic – a legitimate, frequentable and politically viable party like any other.

Hence the acceptance passi passu of the FN in the French political landscape. And, with the encouragement of President Mitterrand, its comprehensive naturalization.

See, you can't say it wasn't because it was, President Mitterrand endorsed el diablo – Jean-Marie Le Pen and the FN, as politically viable.

It is enough to resume all its support for the entire evolution of the FN from 1982, 1984 and, essentially, from the legislative elections of 1986 and the presidential elections of 1988.

The socialist president's love affair with this political tendency was clear. And, as a result, the acceptance and naturalization of RN in the political space was broad and – almost – total. Transforming the Le Pen clan into a historical reality without appeals within the French democratic reality.

This is because, faced with the evident emptying of the concept of “extreme right” following this endorsement, the FN – and, later, the RN – gained space in the popular imagination and structurally modified the political cartography and electoral demographics of the country.

Perceiving and analyzing only the results of the European elections, one quickly notices that the FN/RN only made progress, on average. Going from 11% of the vote, and therefore popular preference, in 1984, to 11,7% in 1989, 10,5% in 1994, 5,7% in 1999, 9,8% in 2004, 6,5% in 2009, 24,9% in 2014, 23,3% in 2019 and, now, almost 32% now in 2024.

The forcefulness of this movement cannot be underestimated. A sincerely tectonic movement within the political, social, cultural, intellectual and moral reality of French society.

But that is exactly what – the belittling – has been done in the last forty or fifty years in France. The FN and RN were underestimated. And, perhaps, he was underestimated by the illusion of the existence of a world in rose and without contradictions. A world that does not require an examination of conscience nor a daily plebiscite face to face with oneself.

Otherwise, see.

If the FN/RN were an “extreme right” party – as the entire French and global press has reported since 1984 – that party, let it be said again, should be banned and its leaders arrested and exiled.

As this was not what happened – that is, as the FN/RN was not banned nor its leaders harassed – other, not pleasant, considerations now arise that lead to the following dilemma.

  1. Or perhaps the enforcers of the French Constitution have always been wrong – which does not seem reasonable as a perception.
  2. Or the entire French public opinion is frankly and strongly mistaken and harboring illusions – which seems to be the most consequential thing to recognize.

Seeing all this crudely like this and turning coldly to President Macron's unexpected decision to promote the sixth dissolution of the French legislature under the Fifth Republic, one realizes the gravity of the situation. Which, in essence, as you can see, does not simply concern the RN's score in the Europeans. But to a pile of dilemmas, realities and illusions.

The dean of the PS, Lionel Jospin, as soon as he understood the nature of this recent dissolution of the legislature, went public to explain that he had never considered the FN nor the RN – and, therefore, also, Jean-Marie Le Pen nor Marine Le Pen – as “extreme right” segment nor harmful to French democracy. Otherwise. He always recognized it as legitimate and viable.

Therefore, if the RN gains a majority in the French legislature in the election at the end of June and the beginning of next month, the entire French political class will be left to recognize the legitimacy of a prime minister from the RN. In this case, surely, Jordan Bardella. And, therefore, a government entirely forged by Marine Le Pen and her associates.

It is clear that, in the event of the RN's victory, President Macron will still have two alternatives. None of them satisfactory. The first would be to ignore the legislative result and try to build a government absorbed by the Assembly. Which would be democratically suicidal. And the second – even more complex and dramatic – would be to resign and hand over the presidency of the Republic to the popular choice again. The days will tell.

For now, simply admit it: sad France. Immersed in dilemmas. Overlapped in defeat. Curious defeat.

*Daniel Afonso da Silva Professor of History at the Federal University of Grande Dourados. author of Far beyond Blue Eyes and other writings on contemporary international relations (APGIQ). [https://amzn.to/3ZJcVdk]

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