Posted on May 13, 2011

Marine Le Pen, France’s (Kinder, Gentler) Extremist

Russell Shorto, New York Times, April 29, 2011

[Marine Le Pen has] come to dominate French newspapers and chat shows, where she is depicted variously as the new face of European bigotry or a herald of a new European political realignment.


When I asked Le Pen to identify something from her childhood that formed her, she said, “20 kilos of dynamite.” In 1976, when she was 8, a bomb tore off the front of the family’s apartment building in Paris while they were asleep. “I realized politics could cost you your life,” she said flatly. As the daughters of a greatly reviled politician, she and her two sisters grew up in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation–taunted by other children and shunned by teachers. “Our childhood was marked by a sense of injustice concerning our father,” her sister Yann Marechal wrote me in an e-mail. “We were the victims of many forms of attack,” Le Pen told me, “of virulent press campaigns and a lot of reprobation from the elites. That forged my character, and it also strengthened me.”


Le Pen may not become president, but some would argue that she has already succeeded. “Even if she never wins an election, when you release this kind of thinking into society, modernizing the packaging of racism, the consequences go on and on,” Patrick Lozès says.

The advances made by the National Front and other parties in Europe today–the Swiss People’s Party, the Northern League in Italy, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands–are all based on the combination of anti-immigrant stances plus economic populism and national patriotism. Mainstream parties across Europe have not found answers to this movement, for which the term “far right” seems increasingly inadequate. “We could be looking at a great realignment of the political positions in Europe,” Laurent Bouvet [a professor of political science at the University of Nice who studies France’s far right] says. “It’s a new populism. Marine Le Pen could lead it.” {snip}