The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Marine Le Pen and the Problem of Nationalist Politics in Europe

(This post is by Mandos)

Now that French politics are heating up, and France is increasingly likely to put up a Thatcherite against the Front National in the upcoming presidential elections, folks, particularly non-Europeans, might start to wonder what exactly is wrong with the Front National if the worst sort of neoliberal is representing the system. Fillon embodies the worst of Thatcherism while simultaneously embracing a reactionary cultural politics. That said, it’s still likely that left-wing French voters will hold their nose and vote for him over Marine Le Pen. Americans especially, after they read the differences in what they stand for, may be aghast in incomprehension at this, because on paper, MLP is, in many relevant dimensions, better than Fillon.

The problem with the FN is not really MLP herself, and relative to their own politicians–even the left-wing ones–American left-wingers will find in MLPs own program lots to like. I find her domestic economic program and objections to the European system to be mostly in the right direction, even if I don’t necessarily agree with her on how to fix the European-level issues.

The actual problem is one of political context. MLP is only the tip of an ultra-nationalist iceberg that has historically sought a confrontation with France’s large Arab Muslim/North African minority whose presence is a direct result of French colonialism. FN supporters wish to direct and control the inner cultural and religious life of the minority community without concomitantly doing anything about the sources of discrimination, etc., provoking counter-reactionary tendencies in the minority community (e.g., alienated youth joining ISIS or putting on niqabs or whatever), in a cycle of escalation that could make the occasional American race riot seem like a kaffeeklatsch. Even Trumpist America just believes in more reactionary policing.

But aside from that, MLP has successfully and perhaps even genuinely practised a strategy of dédiabolisation, i.e., the adoption of what would, in other circumstances, be a mainstream left-wing program and distancing from some of the more virulent elements of her party–including the very public shunning of her own father, the party’s elder statesman and nationalist ideologue.

The danger you run with movements in Europe with left-wing dirigiste economic programs and nationalist cultural politics is that they will find it hard to follow through on the former and be forced to rely on the latter. This is likely what will face an MLP presidency:

  1. The Syriza Problem: Upon winning power, MLP will be faced with the problem that in order to implement her economic program, she will have to counteract European systems, particularly in the Eurozone. These systems have been tested against Greece, in that they are designed to punish deviants in a manner that maximizes short-term economic damage to the victim while minimizing short-term damage to or even benefiting the countries applying it (i.e. Germany). Even if there is damage done to the Eurozone as a whole by the confrontation, there’s considerable willingness to accept it in the short run to preserve the system in the long run (Americans underestimate this).
  2. The Syriza/Brexit Problem: Disengagement from Euro systems requires massive technical knowledge and specialized staffing–a fact which both the Greece and the UK have discovered. The problem is, as Greece especially discovered, the people who have this knowledge and ability are almost completely Europeanists and convinced neoliberals. Because the Brexit-UK is still very neoliberal, they may be able to get over this problem eventually, but France will not, if the purpose of leaving the EU or Eurozone is to implement an economic-nationalist policy.
  3. Parliament: The most likely outcome in which MLP wins the presidency is still likely one in which she does not control the Parliament, meaning, she will have a confrontation with Parliament that will likely frustrate her ability to bring any of her economic program at all. This is a problem that Trump likely shares to some extent, even if the Republicans control Congress. In this way, she would be forced to rely on her movement’s cultural-nationalist politics, which at the grassroots are still very reactionary.

That is the problem. What the FN says is in many ways less important than how they got there. Many left-wing French have basically no home in French politics, because they know that upon winning power, the FN will have to abandon the key elements of its economic program, while using the reactionary parts to stay in power. Think of the FN as somewhere between Syriza and (ironically) the Turkish AKP. My real-life left-wing French acquaintances believe that this condition risks leading very quickly to, effectively, civil war. Even if a crisis of this nature is eventually averted, the outcome would be a re-legitimization of the very systems in Europe alleged to be failing, a confirmation and return to the consensus of Europe.

You can think of all of this, from Greece onwards, as a stress test of the European system, and despite its economically inhumane outcomes and appearance of further instability, the system is proving resilient to nationalist attack. The loss of the UK is acceptable, as it was never properly integrated, and continental politicians believe that they can inflict sufficient cautionary pain and humiliation on the UK while removing an obstacle to further integration. It could be that Le Pen has the skills to buck the trend. It would be a huge risk.

I am starting to think that their strategy is probably correct, relative to their aims (whether their aims are good is another matter, although they genuinely believe they are). Nationalist politics as resistance to neoliberal economic ideology at the European level is certainly not a sure-fire success, and I still agree with Yanis Varoufakis’ approach, which requires pan-European solidarity to confront and reform pan-European systems, as difficult as that may sound. And there’s a reason why people in Europe are still afraid of the sort of cultural nationalism that the FN represents.


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  1. EGrise

    Interesting post Mandos, thanks for writing it.

    So basically the problem with MLP is not that she is entirely right wing in her views (as I understand it as an American) but that her power base is, and once she loses a fight to an opposition parliament she will have no choice but to turn to her base for support. And her base mostly wants to support bashing Arabs.

    I understand why she would find it necessary to do just that in order to govern. Tell me, was that the problem with Hollande? That he ran afoul of a conservative parliament but didn’t try use his socialist/leftist base, or wasn’t able to? Is that why he’s considered weak?

  2. BlizzardOfOz

    Isn’t there also an inverse to this, namely, as the neoliberals run into popular opposition to their destructive policies, they will fall back on Muslims and other “New Frenchmen” for support? Maybe even try to import more of them to bolster that support?

    It’s almost as multi-ethnic, multi-religious states inevitably divide along ethnic and religious lines.

  3. Polk

    “FN supporters wish to direct and control the inner cultural and religious life of the minority community without concomitantly doing anything about the sources of discrimination, etc., provoking counter-reactionary tendencies (e.g., alienated youth joining ISIS or putting on niqabs or whatever) in the minority community”

    If they dont want to be discriminated against, they should go back to their own countries where they make the laws and determine values. French Gov should exist to protect and foster the welfare of the french people. It is not a flophouse for whoever feels like showing up. It should not exist to play referee between multiple hostile peoples.

    The arrogance of going to a foreign country and demanding that tolerate you and change to conform to your way of life!

    The French dont want to “direct and control the inner cultural and religious life of the minority” they want to direct and control their OWN inner cultural and religious lives. And they understand that they will never control their own destiny if they constantly have to tend and make space for hostile peoples in their own land.

  4. Hugh

    France is not Greece. The concept of a modern united Europe is essentially a French one (the Schumann project). Le Pen is a French nationalist, economically, culturally, and in foreign affairs. She wants to leave both the EU and the EZ, return to the franc, put the central bank under direct government control, have France chart its own economic course, leave the command structure of NATO while remaining a member (a state of affairs, I think, similar to that of De Gaulle), move closer to Russia and away from the US, and end most immigration, support for immigrants, both legal and illegal, deport illegals. Le Pen would also end citizenship based on birth in France and the policy of re-uniting families of immigrants. Another central issue of Le Pen and the FN is what is called “laïcité” or secularism. It is a much more powerful and pervasive concept than the American variety and one supported across the political spectrum, so not just, or entirely, a cover for racism on the right.

    But speaking of racism, it is important to admit that racism was an essential aspect of the FN when Marine’s father Jean Marie founded the party, as well as anti-semitism, which has a long history in France (see for example, the first part of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism), and conservative Catholicism. While Marine has sought to soften the first two of these positions, or cast them in more politically acceptable forms, you can still see the conservative Catholicism in her opposition to abortion and gay marriage. I guess you could call this laïcité for some but not for all.

    One of the FN’s slogans is “neither left nor right” which in many ways captures the populist nature of the new FN under Marine Le Pen. It is a populism remarkably similar to that which won Trump the Presidency. It is a story of the French version of the Rust Belt, of unemployment due to globalisation and subsequent de-industrialization, of French workers being written off and their concerns dismissed as racist whining by the Socialist party, which like the Democrats in the US, should have been championing their cause. And this feeds into the anti-immigrant argument of “If you can’t take care of those of us who are already here, why are you letting more in?”, except, of course, as a means to depress the wages of what French workers remain. I haven’t looked at the exact percentages, but I would guess there is something in France like the 80/20 split we have in the US. So if you are a young French urban professional with a good job and prospects, Europe, open borders, and a single currency might look like a good deal to you, but if you are out of work in some gutted town in the Pas-de-Calais, Europe looks more like a hoax and a scam. Again much like the Democrats in the US, the Socialist party in France self-destructed because it was elitist and neoliberal and fundamentally and deliberately sold out its base.

    The two big areas where the FN is silent is the maghrébin populations, like those north of Paris, living in public housing ghettos, suffering discrimination, police harrassment, and with no future. These are French citizens and they are hurting every bit as much as the “white” non-Moslem workers of the Pas-de-Calais. The other zone of silence revolves around Germany. A confrontation over the EU and the EZ necessarily means a confrontation with Germany, and as one of the two poles of the French-German alliance which created these institutions would spell the end of both. Additionally, a Francexit could well make the negotiations for Brexit substantially easier. And even the threat of one could lead to substantial reforms and policy changes leading to more national control of borders and the economy.

  5. MojaveWolf

    Mandos, thanks for the very well-written and thought-provoking post. This fits with what little I had heard about Le Pen here and there (her father and her niece seem to have awful politics, but she seems to be a genuinely different person)(apologies for constant use of “seems” and such qualifiers; given how bad the American media is I really want to be careful about taking hard positions on people and countries I have no direct info from, especially when there are very conflicting views and a lot of people I respect seem to have a very different take from mine). Ignorant as I am, I had picked up on where the FN was in the past. But MLP seems like a different animal, and there could be hope she could lead it in a new direction.

    Having read a fair amount here and Naked Capitalism and related links (and weirdly enough, having a pro-EU family member who’s a fairly high level bankster that side of the pond), I’m genuinely undecided on whether the EU can ever work, or what the appropriate fix is. I know I don’t like the way it is going now, and I might be more willing to gamble on a change of direction than most. Not my country/continent, though.

    LOL at the Syriza/AKP comparison. The only common denominator nationalism, albeit very different forms? I’m assuming that’s where the FN comparisom comes into play, or the AKP stuff comes from the traditional FN & not Le Pen herself? (tho, if purely for rhetorical purposes, you picked a good association–is there anyone outside of Turkey who doesn’t loathe Erdogan & the AKP?)

    OTOH, discounting the civil war scenario for the moment, sounds like the worst Le Pen can accomplish is failing to buck the status quo, which will rule unimpeded anyway if she doesn’t win?

    After having watched an interview with MLP and read up on her a bit more (as opposed to the traditional FN, where I take everyone’s point) . . . outside of Bernie, I would prefer her to every single one of the US candidates this go round. I can only wish our Democrats would take such a committed pro-choice stance, and buck their own family members to do so. Likewise re secularism and her willingness to buck her party’s traditional base on gay rights. She’s either way smarter or simply more committed to her convictions or both than most of our guys are. And her opponent sounds godawful.

    Again, very good article with much to think about and I wish I had the time to dig further, but at this point I’m near certain that if I were in France I’d unapologetically vote for her. (you can now thank your lucky stars I am not French!) Or maybe if I were I’d see things differently. There are a lot of facts on the ground that you can’t pick up from media–at least not from media as it currently exists and filters to the US–and I think a lot of it will come down to the same thing it came down to in the US this time and in 2008 — the people who like how things are going will overwhelmingly vote status quo,and those who don’t will overwhelmingly vote for change (whether it happens or not, that will be the vote), unless they think the change is horrible. She doesn’t seem horrible. Her opponent does.

  6. Actually I asked a left-wing French friend just now about how he felt about the Fillon business, and he told me that he really doesn’t care either way if Fillon or MLP win, as long as it isn’t Sarkozy or Hollande. MLP is marginally more dangerous because of the people she empowers, but is likely to be hamstrung politically anyway once she gets into government. It depends on how the French Parliament elections go, and there’s a short gap between presidential and parliamentary elections, meaning that people could vote MLP for president and anything else for Parliamentary control. Possibly even the ideal situation.

  7. Hugh

    I have a comment in moderation. Not sure why.

  8. BOO: Mainstream French politicians decided in recent times to cut loose the Muslim vote and the Muslim vote is no longer reliably theirs, especially after Hollande’s disappointing performance. One change in the dynamic is that with MLP’s program of dédiabolisation More Muslim French than previously are willing to vote FN in an echo of Hispanic Trump voters.

    Still, these are not the ones who tend to be trapped in the urban-planning disasters of French cul-de-sac suburbs, who often simply don’t vote. These are the places where the civil war is likely to happen, if it happens.

    Multi-ethnic states can definitely work if one large ethnicity is not scapegoated by the majority and/or used as a lever by nationalist politics to gain leverage. As soon as MLP thought that some portion of the Muslim vote was gettable, she dropped some of the nationalist rhetoric. But silly things like the burkini ban are still reliable rabble rousers.

    It’s possible that in another decade, the FN would have made a full-transition into being an old-school social democratic party. That time, however, is not now.

  9. Hugh: posts go automatically into moderation if they trip a relatively stupid statistical alarm,I think, and it’s impossible to trace what coefficient your post tweaked. I just up-moderated your comment (I seem to have just gained the power to do so for posts I’ve written, at least).

  10. Polk: the people in question mostly weren’t and certainly aren’t meaningfully immigrant any longer. They are French, but they have an immigrant history. However, their problems are more the product of French society than anything else. The form of victim-blaming in which you are engaging is not constructive; quite the contrary, it exemplifies an attitude that has exacerbated the problem.

  11. Grise: there are two oppositions. The European system, and domestic politics. MLP would be faced with both. Neither are easy to defeat.

    Hollande came roaring in as though he would do something different from Sarkozy, one of whose unpopular characteristics was an unseemly obsequiousness towards Angela Merkel. After election, I recall that Hollande dashed off to Berlin to, as they say in German, read them the Levites. Instead, they seem somehow to have told him to fermer sa gueule, to shut his trap as they say in French. The bravura disappeared, Hollande collapsed into ineffectiveness and sullen compliance.

  12. MW: the Syriza/AKP joke was because Syriza is/was a left-wing populist party that ran afoul of being in conflict with the European system but having no natural partners in Europe and no technocratic expertise to execute a separation, but at least it was socially speaking, nominally left-liberal and capable of holding together a social consensus without repression. The AKP on the other hand is fully in control of the national levers and capable of implementing an authoritarian program by exploiting internal social divisions. FN would be in Syriza’s position of having no natural sympathizers within the Eurozone, at least, and no support from the econo-technician class, but reliant on exploiting social divisions to stay in power.

  13. Hugh: France is not Greece, but much non-French European media sees it basically as Greece writ large, far from being the founding power of the EU, and in fact Greece was very much a kind of practice-France, particularly vulnerable because it was caught in the vice of the banking collapse, but nevertheless structurally similar to France in its truculent refusal to implement labour market reforms. So even if France is not Greece, enough particularly German Eurocrats believe very much that it really *is* mega-Greece (since the only issue to them is reformability), and they’d be willing to have a Greek-style confrontation with it if they had to. Which they may not. While France’s leverage is orders of magnitude above Greece’s, the technical problem of a Frexit is still there.

    More likely in the medium-term future is a forced Italexit. That is an accident just waiting to happen.

  14. Tom

    France’s problem with Muslims is entirely due to a wrong interpretation of secularism. Secularism doesn’t mean attacking religion, it means shutting up on religion. Burqa bans and favoring the Catholic Church are the exact opposite of Secularism.

    As for AKP, they are not authoritarian, they have vastly expanded the eligible electorate, struck down the many racist and authoritarian Kemalist Laws, and completely overhauled the economy from a basket case into an industrial one. Furthermore, they rooted out the reactionary forces from the government in the wake of the coup and broke the ability of the military to intervene in politics.

  15. Tom: France is not “secularist”, it is “laicist”. Laicism is about disestablishment of the Catholic Church by actively restricting the public role of institutional religion. It was in part a response to the Church’s use of its involvement in the state to suppress religious minorities, ironically. You are right that it has become an authoritarian and hypocritical construct. French critics call politicians who make use of laicist argumentation to favour Catholic culture catho-laïque, which if you know how to pronounce French is a hilarious pun. Aside from the hypocrisy, the underlying problem with laicist ideology is that it is not the appropriate tool for the control of “non-institutional” religious forms, where the practice stems from the personal conviction of the believer rather than the structure of an organized institution.

    AKP made very positive strides in Turkish society, and their accomplishments are sold short. Kemalism had authoritarian elements that did discriminate against large portions of Turkish society. AKP did preside over a great deal of economic development in Turkey. The Gülen movement is probably a pernicious state infiltrator, rather than only a spiritual service organization, although it does have genuine characteristics of the latter. The failed putsch probably was a real thing.

    However, that all that is true, does not excuse Erdoğan’s current political turn, up to his most recent attack on the editors of Cumhuriyet, who cannot possibly be Gülen agents. Or the reversal on the Kurdish rapprochement policy, etc. Etc. Etc. That Turkey and AKP are headed in an alarming totalitarian direction right now is undeniable.

  16. Some Guy

    Thanks Mandos, definitely food for thought.

    I had to laugh at this, though:

    “despite its economically inhumane outcomes and appearance of further instability, the system is proving resilient to nationalist attack.”

    Is the part where the Black Knight says, “It’s just a flesh wound” as Britain gets chopped off?

    One thing I think is worth mentioning – even if France was the size of Greece and had the same leverage and vulnerability as Greece, they would be in a far better position simply from being able to learn from the example of Greece, and from the depleted reserve of international goodwill for the EU (both within and outside of Europe), with everyone having seen what happened to Greece and now seeing it happen again to someone else.

    Final thought – if there is already this much tension in France, I can only imagine what a serious bout of Thatcherite austerity (not accompanied by a surge in oil production and a plunge in interest rates, a free floating currency and still relatively favourable demographics) might do to the place. Are you sure the bigger risk of civil war does not stem from Fillon?

  17. Giacomo

    > I still agree with Yanis Varoufakis’ approach that requires pan-European solidarity to confront and reform pan-European systems, as difficult as that may sound.

    This is a ridiculous argument. It proves the author doesn’t know what the EU and the Euro are about.
    There’s no chance whatsoever that the EU institutions can be changed.

    Leaving the euro is very difficult but France is not Greece. If a country like France says “we’re going to leave, let us know whether you want to cooperate”, the eurozone countries should cooperate for their own sake, otherwise they will take as much damage as France as the eurozone will blow up.

  18. Daize

    Decent article Mandos; I assume you are living in France like I am or have ALOT of French friends. From my point of view Fillon vs Le Pen is almost the exact repeat of the choice given to Americans: pro-corporate neo-leiberalism vs. nationalism, and I will vote as I would have in the USA if I were a citizen there; for Trump/Le Pen. Fillon is simply much much worse. The socialists can be completely discounted for these elections; Hollande has destroyed his own party, and the French have been pissed off with all their politicians for decades anyhow. Now they are really fecking pissed off.

    As to comparing France to Greece if Le Pen were to be elected; as many other posters have mentioned, there is virtually no comparison and the negotiations could not possibly ressemble each other, which shoots down one of your main propositions as to how a Le Pen presidency would end up. France is the seond most important Euro economy, Greece is a tiny backwater.

    But, in any case, despite Le Pen having way more support than Fillon or the Left, she is still a long shot because of the majority requirement and the run-off elections after the first round. In the run-off, it is still probable that everyone who did not vote Le Pen, will hold their noses and vote for Fillon. A lot can change from here until May though, and Le Pen definitely has a real chance.

  19. Richard

    I posted this in another thread:
    Thing is, median wages in France (unlike the UK the past decade or the US the past 4 decades) has been improving impressively (French government has traditionally been much more willing to put their thumb on the scale to save jobs compared to Anglo countries). So why would they turn populist? Granted, youth unemployment is high.
    Think France may be going through their Thatcher/Reagan phase. People take for granted the benefits of a strong welfare state and because of crime/social issues, put in power a right-winger who dismantles said welfare state. Inequality then soars. Scapegoating right-wing populist demagogue then wins.

  20. Richard

    So France is a giant Greece because Germany thinks it is a giant Greece?
    Even though Greece was a fiscal basket case due to rampant tax evasion but France has been able to keep a strong social democratic welfare state running impressively and delivering gains to ordinary people (besides the young) up to now? OK.

  21. EmilianoZ

    If France is to go out of the EU she has to do everything she can to take the whole Mediterranean with her: Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. All those countries have the same problem: a currency that’s much too high for them and that’s crippling their economy. In the long run they will all benefit from getting out and all getting out at the same time is better.

  22. So, on the France-is-not-Greece file: yes, France is not Greece. It’s big. I used to think it was big enough to make a difference. But I’m beginning to doubt that, and, yes, more importantly, Germany clearly doubts this, which is what is driving their behaviour and their willingness to risk the possiblity of anti-Europeanist politicians coming to power in France. That is, they think the can control it. A year ago, I would have thought that that was insane. And y’all may be right: France might have the weight to either break or change the Eurozone and the EU. But…I’m starting to doubt this.


    If France is to go out of the EU she has to do everything she can to take the whole Mediterranean with her: Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. All those countries have the same problem: a currency that’s much too high for them and that’s crippling their economy. In the long run they will all benefit from getting out and all getting out at the same time is better.

    That of course is the thing. Spain has voted more than once over a period of a year only to return a Parliament that clearly signals that a majority of Spanish voters want some improved version of the status quo. An overwhelming majority, considering that the C’s are even neoliberaler than the mainstream parties. The vote for change in Spain does not rise to more than 20-ish percent. That’s with still-ludicrous unemployment.

  23. Billikin

    Channeling the ghost of my high school English teacher:

    “Politics” is singular. It is not the plural of “politic”, which is an adjective.

  24. anonymous coward

    Nationalist politics is not the problem. Europe is the problem, national assertions of local, native majorities and their interests are the long overdue solution to that problem. You’re welcome. It would have been vastly preferable if the left could have faced the problem and provided the solution. Sadly their heads are still so far up their own asses they think their appendices are the arms of the Milky Way. They have conceptual problems that go even deeper and are antecedent to being sellouts to capitalism and Neoliberal expediency.

  25. Hugh

    Germany ($3.5 trillion), the UK ($2.6 trillion), and France ($2.5 trillion) are the 4th, 5th, and 6th largest economies in the world by GDP. As you can see, together France and the UK have a much larger GDP than Germany. Both are much bettered connected diplomatically to the rest of the world than Germany. So I am at a loss as to why anyone would think that Germany would be the one calling the tune if these two, and if these two, likely Italy (8th at $1.8 trillion) and others, chose to leave or significantly renegotiate the basis for the EU and the EZ.

    Meanwhile Merkel is facing a populist backlash in Germany over her dopey immigration policies. So Germany is neither as powerful nor as monolithic as supposed.

    By point of contrast, Russia is the 12th largest economy by GDP at $1.3 trillion. So if we were to say that the US, China, and Japan are first tier, Russia would be third tier.

    And why in the world bring up a tinpot dictator like Erdogan in this discussion?

  26. markfromireland

    @ anonymous coward November 23, 2016

    Yes to all of that in particular your first and last sentences.

  27. Hugh: Merkel is not really facing much of a backlash. If you think that backlash to her refugee policies is what will sink her, you’re not paying attention to German politics.

    The size of the economy turns out not to be at issue here, but rather the balance of discomfort and existing interdependency. France can only disengage from the Eurozone at great cost to itself. At great cost to everyone else, yes, but particularly to itself. As long as the system is in a position to inflict greater cost on the entity trying to change the terms of the relationship than on the intransigent party, the intransigent party can do whatever it wants, more or less.

    There has to be true unanimity in France to bear the cost of the Eurozone breakup. But France, yes, is not Greece. The pain isn’t nearly as bad as the pain in Greece. So that unanimity is going be to very far from present. Consequently, France can be made to swallow, at least, the status quo.

    That was the genius of the design of the Eurozone, it turns out.

  28. And if you think that Erdoğan’s rise is irrelevant to all of this and teaches no useful lessons whatsoever, you are really not paying attention.

  29. anonymous coward: nationalist politics is the problem. Insofar as humans have (1) nuclear weapons and (2) the technological capacity for single countries or regions to change the planetary environment through industrial activity, nationalist politics conducted by “native majorities” is simply unaffordable. Quite the opposite, in the long run, such reinforces psychological tendencies towards division of the identity of Self and Other that a technological society cannot really afford.

  30. different clue

    I wonder if French Republican Laicism is a kind of totalitarian substitution for ethnic consciousness. I wonder if it was invented and engineered as a way to force all the peoples of France into a strictly uniform monoculture in order to pretend France has no problem with Racism and Communalism because Races and Communities have been exterminated from cultural existence and everyone in France is a Francophone Laicistani. Or will be compelled to become one.

    And yet the majority ethnic group in France will not be entirely denied its self semi-conscious existence. Self-appointed spokesfolk for that group sometimes speak of it as “France Profonde” . . . from what I have read. All the people and Peoples in France might benefit if the Cultural and Political Establishment Overseers in France gave themselves and everyone else permission to speak of this “France Profonde” demographic as . . . Franco-Frenchians. And then all the other Peoples in France would gain permission to speak of themselves as FrancoArabs, FrancoJews, FrancoBasques, FrancoBretons, etc. etc. Once that psychic truth were allowed to emerge from underground, then all the persons and peoples of France could work on creating a Broad Upland of Shared Civic Space operated as a Neutral Social Territory based on non-discrimination for members of the Franco-Thisians or against the Franco-Thatians.

    If the Peoples of France could reach this level of psychological and social truth and civility, then they would be in a position to work together to solve France’s economic problems either within EUrope or against EUrope, whichever seems indicated.

    Because if France can get itSELF together in every way and at every level, France is big enough and strong enough to tell EUrope to go to hell and then to make EUrope go there.
    France can very well grow enough food to feed all the people in France a nutritionally adequate diet, even if it wouldn’t be as much fun any more. And given that fact, if France wanted to leave EUrope and the Euro, France could leave ugly, and burn the motherfucker down to the ground on their way out the door.

  31. markfromireland

    @Mandos: Not for the first time you’re engaging in the sort of “project fear” that’s proved to be spectacularly unsuccesful It’s your political tin ear manifesting itself again. Really it’s a damned shame that the expression “rootless cosmopolitan” got so badly fucked over by Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili and his followers because it describes you, your attitudes, and your resultant utter blindness perfectly.

    All you have to offer is a variant on Belloc who said it far more elegantly and concisely than you ever will:

    “And always keep ahold of nurse
    For fear of finding something worse”

    Go back and read what you’ve written – there is no difference none whatsoever between the arguments and excuses being advanced by the European neo-liberal elite and what you’ve posted here repeatedly both as comments and as full postings.

  32. markfromireland

    @Different Clue

    No, not really – the principle of laïcité long predate the current political era, they go back to the Revolution, but were never the basis of revolutionary and post-revolutionary “nation building”.

    (Please be aware that by “nation building” I mean the fostering of national unity by indigenous governments rather the sort of “nation building” imposed by America arms on such defeated adversaries as Germany and Irak.)

    French “nation building” centred around language rather than religion and has done since the Revolution and the writings of Henri Grégoire. Grégoire persuaded the revolutionaries that the French spoken and written in Paris was the soul of the nation (despite the fact that only about 3 million people could speak it) and that in order for demcracy to flourish that:

    1) The various dialects of French should be standardised to the usage of the Ile de France.
    2) The languages spoken in different parts of France such as Breton, Occitain, were to be abolished.

    It wasn’t until the Third Republic that these efforts to stamp out linguistic differences were systematised but that they were successful is undeniable. There are if memory serves me correctly something in the region of twnty to twenty-five identifiable indigenous minority languages in France. But the numbers speaking most of these languages are tiny and so far as I know even where there is relatively large number who speak a language (for example Occitan about 1½ million) in everyday usage those same people use standard French when writing or when dealing with officialdom and when dealing with people from outside their immediate environs.

    The use of language as a nation building tool was and remained pretty much standard until very recently as the history of your own country shows. If you can get your hands on it David Simpson’s book The Politics of American English, 1776-1850: David Simpson: 9780195056433: Books is still IMO the best around on the American experience. It’s about twenty years since I first read it and nothing I’ve read since has Simpson’s depth or clarity.

  33. Richard

    different clue:

    I mean, that’s a nice theory that if French people simply acknowledged that they are different, they would get along better and achieve great things (and it’s not as if all white French people think of themselves as “white French people”, nevermind the French from Arab countries, sub-Saharan Africa, etc.), but I have to ask: How well has that worked out in the US?

  34. markfromireland

    @ Mandos November 23, 2016

    “And if you think that Erdogan’s rise is irrelevant to all of this and teaches no useful lessons whatsoever, you are really not paying attention.”

    Instead of being a shallow and condescending prick why don’t you treat Hugh and the rest of us to some of your pearls of wisdom and explain why and how Erdogan’s rise is relevant to all of this and teaches useful lessons. Or is that yet another one of the many apsects of discussion, debate, and elucidation that are seemingly utterly beyond you?

  35. MojaveWolf

    I realize Thanksgiving in the US has highly problematic origins, but I want to take the beginning of Thanksgiving to thank all you people here, or, well, most of you people here, even some of the ones I don’t always like, for an intelligent, interesting discussion in which I’m learning things. I almost never agree w/Mandos but this is a good post and I’m learning a lot from his comments here. I frequently agree w/Mark from Ireland and also frequently can’t stand him, but these are some informative comments and I’m learning a lot from reading them. Likewise Hugh, Different Clue and a lot of other people in this thread.

    (Don’t worry, this has a point beyond complimenting y’all before I go back to wanting to scream at people all the time)

    Cause, I came home just now and checked this thread, and I checked twitter. This thread, really interesting and informative debate. What do I find out on twitter?

    People are arguing about whether Bernie Sanders using “but” instead of “and” means he’s a white supremacist.

    Anybody making that argument is insane, and full of idiocy, and I don’t thank you for anything. Speaking of insane idiocy,

    My SO directed me to this post at Naked Capitalism, where the very second comment seems determined to validate my parody of certain types of leftwing discourse the other day.

    Congratulations to you all on being sane, and thank you for it. None of this means I won’t at least briefly be wanting to kill all of you by next week, but for right now, I’m very appreciative of the lot of you and thank you for an intelligent discussion about real issues.

  36. Tom

    A Syrian Aircraft (L-39) bombed Turkish Forces around Al-Bab a few hours ago and killed 3 TSk soldiers.

    Turkey has responded by having artillery cross border fire at SAA positions and has amped up its air cover and deployed EW assets and deployed its few cruise missiles.

    Only time will tell if this cools down.

  37. Tom


    Turkey has vowed massive retaliation for the Syrian Airstrike in the next few hours and has ramped up its shelling of SAA Forces across the border and moved air defense systems into Syria.

  38. MFI: It should be obvious that from the beginning, and for a very long time, I am first and foremost opposed to almost every kind of nationalism, including allegedly deracialized “civic” and “linguistic” nationalisms, which generally still nurture at their cores the spores of majoritarian racial consciousnesses and thus the seeds of domination.

    If that is a characteristic I share with Europhile neoliberals, so be it. I arrived at that conclusion long before I was aware of their opinions on the matter. But as it happens, I have also long thought that there is a place for economic protectionism and immigration controls under particular circumstances: I am not a dogmatic free-trader, which the neoliberals are. You seem to be accusing me of clinging to an existing structure for fear of a new order, and that is not the case. I am actively in favour of the gradual abolition of nation-states, and always have been.

    From that I can segué into your demand that I explain what Erdoğan has to do with anything. I have followed the Turkey-EU accession more or less closely for many years. While I thought it was unlikely to succeed, the very possibility that it might have succeeded I took as very positive, because it was one further step in the erasure of the artificial divisions of Europe and Asia, Occident and Orient, etc, etc.

    The EU accession process is very much a political instrument to incentivize particular social and political reforms upon certain countries. In the absence of the accession process, many countries at the border of Europe would be led in other directions, in particular further away from the ideas of human universalism enshrined in the EU project. One of the things that I blame neoliberal ideologues for is pushing an economic agenda on the EU that needlessly created economic stresses and resentments that are resulting in the resurfacing of national-particularist value systems.

    When the EU accession process looked like it might lead to, if not full membership for Turkey, material benefits for Turkish citizens and greater political significance for Turkish politicians, Turkey had an incentive for beneficial political reforms. When EU leaders removed the fig leaf that the accession process might proceed, Turkish leaders have looked for other ways to inscribe their names in the history books and obtain other forms of geopolitical influence for Turkey. Who would have imagined that removing the incentive for political reform, indeed, providing the reverse incentive (e.g. the awful EU-Turkey refugee pact) would result in an accelerating reveral of political trends?

    The constant headlines from Turkey’s backslide ironically feed back into racialist/culturist European nationalisms, for example through the use of Turkey in the Brexit campaign. Or in German politics, where (in my opinion) the deterioriating relationship with Turkey is likely in the long run to have a bigger direct effect on German politics than the immediate effects of the refugee crisis.

    This deterioration of the European project is surely an offshoot of terrible economic policy and terrible foreign and security policy, and not a necessary characteristics of the European project itself. So no, I definitely do not agree that “indigenous” projects of “nation-building” are more a way forward than a sign of backsliding into potential chaos, as they very visibly are. On the other hand, no trend lasts forever, and the present period of decline and nationalist resurrection was probably baked in when economists adopted free trade/free capital movement ideology as non-negotiable dogma rather than instrument.

  39. different clue, Richard:

    I agree strongly that France would be better off if it were to acknowledge its existing internal divisions rather than attempting to shoehorn everyone into a single national identity with a false attempt at “colourblindness” supported by the “laicist” national myth/identity. Then, under the understanding that most involved are still French citizens, they could at least have a discussion about constructive solutions to their political conflicts that don’t involve targeting groups for seeming to “stick out”.

  40. Richard

    And I ask again: How well has that worked out in the US?

  41. different clue


    Thank you for the information and the details and the source. Things to think about. Question: in the more recent past till right now, how much is Laicism being used in France as a tool of nation-uniformitizing and nation-polishing anyway? Or is this just a pretty theory I don’t want to surrender yet?


    It worked well in the US until the age of Free Trade. When enough people are driven deep enough into economic despair, they lash out in all kinds of survivalist bitterness. As a wise man named “Floyd the Barber” is supposed to have said: ” If you got ten dogs and three bones, something is going to go wrong. And we ain’t got but three bones in this hood.” Now expand that to the whole country . . . except the upper 10 percent of credentialistic meritocrats who support the Free Trade DLC Democrat Party of today . . . and you see why Trump got himself elected.

    Also, accepting the basic fact of separate free-standing national groups within US borders is living in truth. Now . . . how will the different free-standing national groups live with eachother and with the Dominant Society? Linguistic unity can be maintained within the Dominant Society by continuing to keep English as AN official language even in those parts of the country where it is not THE official language. Various kinds of boat-person Americans who wish to talk to eachother will eventually learn English to do so.

  42. Richard: France has some of the same problems that the USA has, but the difference is, it’s politically possible to talk about it in the USA, whereas no discussion of constructive solutions is politically possible in France, other than ones that involve coercion of members of the minority (which doesn’t work).

  43. Lisa

    There is another simpler thesis (following Occam), the financial elites have decided to ditch democracy, not that there was much of it left after the so called left parties (everywhere) got co-opted and corrupted economically.

    The smarter one (not that many) went for the neo-liberal parties that tried to maintain some sort of social order and throw a few fig leafs to the poorest and most marginal, the stupid have gone full right wing authoritarian (and soon totalitarian) and will tear society apart to maintain their endless theft.

    Their tool of this are (as always) right wing parties, always the best for fooling the proles, making the middle classes feel all warm and fuzzy and pushing neo-liberal economics, you could call it Mussolini style fascism, with elements (at least) of the National Socialist racism.

    Doubling up on the ‘psychological wage’ the lower class whites been bought off with for decades now. Reaganism or Thatcherism all over again, only even nastier and boy were they nasty to non-whites, women and LGBTI people back then.
    The last gasp of the neo-liberal economic order.

    Anyone who has even two functioning neurons has to laugh at the idea of right wing parties doing anything for the poor and working classes…since when have they ever done that? And I get astonished at the naivety of people thinking that could ever do so.

    The ‘great betrayal’ has already been started by Trump, the ending of what little is left of the US health and social security systems, even more tax cuts for the wealthy, any infrastructure spending that might happen will disappear into the maws of the corporations and wealthy, leaving little or nothing for the proles. Environmental protection gutted and all the sorry rest.

    Meanwhile the racism, sexism (etc) from the political elites will drive ever higher, to keep the proles (especially the Authoritarian ones) stirred up and feeling all good and ‘brave’ beating up minority women.

    When you see the Australian Immigration minister sounding off about certain ethnic migrants who came here 40 years ago, you know something is up. While, of course, no one talks about the real issue, the huge volume of migrants (and not the irrelevant mix) Australian is taking in. So both sides, being neo-liberal economically and thus pro huge populations, will not talk about that. Instead the right will bash certain ethnic groups (to appease the racism proles) the so called ‘left’ party will frame that as racist (which it is of course)..result: everyone nicely distracted from the real issue.

    Nice tag teaming.

    Meanwhile the right wing groups in society, both secular and religious will use this opportunity to push their agendas onto society. The right wing churches (Catholic and evangelicals leading the charge of course) will push their sick and twisted* versions of sexuality and gender relations and (deliberately) stir up attacks on women and LGBTI people while giving (as always) tacit (at least) nods to their fellow right wingers racism..

    I also laugh at the proles signing up to this drivel, jumping on right wing party bandwagons ..morons… where were they when many were fighting within the left parties (to stop them being co-opted by the wealthy) I ask? Nowhere of course. Get them mobilised to create unions, impossible, stir them up to beat up small Asian women and 75 year old gay men …easy.

    You look at those who protest and fight against the neo-liberal economic order , who are they? Not a single one of the authoritarian, religious right wing people. You will see a lot of left wing people, feminists, LGBTI people and minorities doing it.

    The boys (and it is always boys) at the top will all nod to this as the proles tear themselves apart. Same old, same old.

    As a thesis… fits the facts far better than any of the drivel I have read so far and has predictive power.

    *After studying this for some time, along with all the horrible data from the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse (etc), I have come to the conclusion that child sex abuse is built into the very DNA of such religious organisations. The only thing that ever stops them is secular society regulating them.

  44. Richard

    Different clue: I gather that you’re not a minority.

    African-Americans being lynched for roughly a hundred years and having to struggle even for the right to the vote probably were not of the opinion that everything was awesome that whole period before free trade came along.

  45. Richard

    Talk is great, but I am an empirical type of guy.

    So is there evidence that the American way is better when it comes to results?

  46. different clue


    You are correct insofar as I am not black. I thought you were talking about the few decades from just after WWII till now. Since my mind is literal and linear, you might have to tell me when you are thinking of centuries, so I will know what timeframe you are asking about.

    But thank you for this opportunity to think through my thinking further. Would the French approach have worked better here? The banning of ethnic consciousness and culture? Would Black Americans have been able to work towards freedom better if the Elite Governators insisted that “there is no such thing as black and therefor no such thing as racist discrimination against black people, because there is no such thing as black people” . . . ? All while practicing that kind of discrimination while pretending it is impossible because no discriminatable-against target even exists? Because that’s what they do in France. And is it working out better there than it was working post WWII here before the Free Trade Bonfire of the Jobs and Industries?

  47. Richard

    different clue:

    You seen unaware that in the decades after WWII, there were lynchings of black people in the US. Also that well after WWII, African-Americans were disenfranchised from voting in large parts of the US.

    Finally, have there been lynchings of black and brown people in France? Systemic disenfranchisement of black and brown people from voting in France?

    Please point that out to me as I must have missed them.

  48. Richard

    So, different clue, I’m curious:
    Were you really unaware that African-Americans were lynched and many of them denied the right to vote well after WWII had ended?

    What country are you from?

  49. Richard:

    I am in favour of empiricism on social questions, but it is possible for a narrowly empirical mindset to miss the forest for the trees. The tribulations of US blacks start on a much earlier time frame from a much much worse position — literally abducted chattel slaves in rural areas over whose fate a massive war was fought, giving them formal liberation but entrenching resentments that have not completely subsided. Inside a society in which it is possible to talk openly about racial conflict, many measures were introduced to directly deal with the issues, and those measures had definite positive effects. That the work is far from finished does not negate the value of the approach.

    French Arabs do not start out from a position of chattel slavery, but for sure violence, including lethal violence, has been historically and relatively recently been perpetrated against them, as well as discrimination and neglect. I am personally acquainted with multiple second and third-generation French Arabs who are actually successful, and suffice it for me to say, the success was bought at a steep price in a system oriented against even the more favoured of them, as well as being against considerable odds, compounded by a constant fear that their children will have to prove themselves all over again in the same way. And those are the lucky ones.

    The social-democratic character of the FN’s current policies (was not always the case) holds little water for them, because FN victories validate a narrative in French politics that explicitly excludes them, even if it may provide immediate material benefits.

    This is the problem with the refusal of the French mainstream to allow a discussion of France’s social conflicts on ethnic and cultural lines. The field is ceded to the most intolerant and extreme groups who actually address the conflicts, even if their answers are terrible. In the USA, relative to where things began even a few decades ago, things are comparatively less tense, even with police shootings and BLM, etc. Talking about and understanding the problem is better than not. In France, social scientists cannot ask questions about racial disparity, it is generally estimated.

  50. But the irony is that mainstream French politicians have conceded every philosophical point to the FN on the matter of minorities, in their attempt to shore up support among FN-trending populations. So now French voters have a choice between chauvinistic neoliberals and ultra-chauvinistic people currently running under old-school protectionist social-democratic economic policy. The relevant question is the one we were arguing above: the actual leverage France currently has inside the Eurozone and the capacity/willingness of it to depart the Eurozone and the EU. My estimate of this has sunk over the past year or two even as the prospect of the confrontation has risen. We shall see. All futures remain possible, no one should make a definitive prediction of a Le Pen or Fillon win or anything that follows.

  51. Lisa

    As expected it is open season now on transgender people, we are at the very front line of the ”Trump Affect’ , where it is now socially ok to spout hatred.

    I’ve been reading and commentating at Moons of Alabama for years now, never once have I ever seen an anti-LGBTI comment. Now, post Trump, we have had two anti-trans ones in a week or so.
    As in: “last hospital for transsexual cats.. ”

    Wonder when the rest of their bigotry comes out such as in “last hospital for niggah cats….” or “last hospital for whore’s cats….”.

    There is a simple equation, with about a 99% correlation:

    Transphobe = Homophobe = Misogynist = Racist.

    Trans people are the canaries in the coalmine, because many who are homophobes/racist/etc find it socially unacceptable to say so, but for trans people (at the bottom of the totem pole) well that’s still ok these days, so people spout or show their unacceptable racism (etc) via acceptable trans hatred (hence why trans women of colour have the highest murder rates in the world).

    Going to be a rough few years, but as I have said here in Australia where we have a wave of LGBTI hatred (especially for LGBTI kids) coming out from our ‘religious’ organisations and right wingers, better to see your enemies out there in public instead of being like cockroaches scuttling away in the dark.

  52. Lisa

    Ah the ‘Great Betrayal’ continues:

    Donald Trump Insists That Wages Are ‘Too High’

    “In an interview Wednesday morning on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, the co-host Mika Brzezinski raised the topic again, which gave Mr. Trump the chance to clarify his remarks from the debate. She pointed out the current minimum wage, saying, “Donald, nobody can live on that.”

    Mr. Trump responded: “Our taxes are too high. Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries.””

    This sums it up:
    President Johnston:
    LGJ was once asked why poor and middle class Republicans vote against their own interest, this was his response.
    “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better that the best coloured man, he won’t know you are picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you’.”

  53. Lisa

    The ‘Great Betrayal’ Part Two:

    BREAKING: GOP Announces Privatization Of Medicare And The Details Are TERRIFYING

    “Basically, Ryan wants to shift the burden of extra health care costs away from the government and onto Americans, all while generating revenue for big businesses in the process. Like most of his Republican colleagues, he doesn’t want to help anyone — he wants to make a profit.”

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