What is at stake when the distance between conservative worldview and nationalist ideology narrows? This can be studied in France.
Right-wingers claim France has "the gospel in its blood": Gallery of the Kings at Notre-Dame Cathedral Photo: imago/McPhoto
In the run-up to the EU parliamentary elections at the end of May this year, democracy and the rule of law are being heckled from two sides. From the far right, there is a threat of a strengthening of radical right-wing and right-wing populist parties on the rise between Finland and Calabria and between France, Poland and Estonia. The success of these parties has different regional or national causes and political-cultural conditions of origin.
The other side of the attack on democracy and the rule of law comes from the political center, but it is just as dangerous as the one from the far right. From the bourgeois-conservative side, the shifting of the boundary between democratically based conservative and populist-right politics is being single-mindedly promoted. In the Federal Republic, this is beginning with the ventilation of new coalitions in the eastern CDU, which no longer rules out a coalition with the AfD after the next state elections.
In France, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen of the "Rassemblement National" (RN) offered "cohabitation" to the wobbling President Macron and his March Movement (LRM), although this would first require converting the crypto-democratic first-past-the-post electoral system into a democratic proportional representation system. The president is silent on this.
The bourgeois-conservative media have long since ceased to be silent about the shifting boundaries between conservatism and right-wing radicalism. eric Zemmour, star columnist for Le Figaro, the largest conservative newspaper, animator of talk shows, and author of a dozen best-selling books that regularly achieve circulations of more than 300,000 copies, has made this boundary shift his trademark.
Devaluation of the rule of law
In his current book, entitled "Destin Francais" ("French Destiny"), he engages in a rapprochement of conservatism and Le Pen or RN with unrestrained glorification of the nation to the point of nationalism sans phrase and equally unrestrained devaluation of democracy, the rule of law and European integration.
Arguing about facts with someone like Zemmour is futile.
As the son of poor Jewish-Algerian immigrants and a naturalized Frenchman, he can afford to make judgments about France, Jews, Muslims, and Europe for which authors with less of an origin discount would maneuver themselves into the political backwaters of radical right-wing cul-de-sacs or face accusations of Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism: "Israel today is the nation that France denies itself to be. A fierce nation, self-assured and imperious." Within the horizon of such sentences lies his proposal to "bomb" residential areas of terrorists in Brussels/Molenbeek (NZZ, 7. 1. 2016).
The shifting of the border between conservatism and right-wing radicalism is not a French specialty. It is only practiced by Zemmour and others in France more radically than in this country. But Zemmour’s thesis that "the main problem is immigration and the concomitant emergence of a second people on French soil" resonated here as everywhere else. Akif Pirincci rhymed it with the catchphrase "Umvolkung" at Pegida’s anniversary rally (Handelsblatt, Feb. 12, 2019). Jasper von Altenbockum asked at the turn of the year in his FAZ editorial with deep concern, "Are we still a people?" (FAZ, DEC. 31, 2018).
In it, he rehabilitated "volkisches Denken" and received the desired response from the right-wing radicals among his readers. In Andalusia, Vox, the radical right coalition partner of the bourgeois-conservative Partido Popular, sees itself as a party of "extreme common sense." In his book of over 500 pages, Zemmour goes to great lengths to let the nation shine in the "hallowed light" of its "greatness even in defeat. The word of the "sanctified light" is to be taken literally, because Zemmour still holds to the rumor from old and quite windy schoolbooks,: "France" had been "Christian to the core" from the beginning and had "the gospel in its blood".
"Rags of the constitutional state"
Of course, when the name for the country appeared and for a long time afterwards, "France" was in fact not an ethnically homogeneous entity, but a mixture of "colorful" gentile associations – Celts, Romans, Gauls, Bretons, Normans, Burgundians and others. Only in the Seine basin did the proportion of Franks who had migrated from the east (!), the supposed original people, amount to around 10 percent in the 6th/7th century, less everywhere else.
Of course, Zemmour, to whom only the uninitiated grant solid historical education, is not interested in such things. "France is defined" for him "by its history" and not by the "rag-tag robes of the rule of law" or human rights. For him, history means above all "wars," "civil wars," and "great men," in short, "an iron hand, whether monarchical, imperial, or republican."
Consequently, he lets France’s fate begin with the baptism of the legendary Merovingian chieftain Clovis in Reims in 496. All that is known of him is that he (perhaps) single-handedly exterminated his male kin. Zemmour ennobles him to the "origin of our nation". The historian Karl Ferdinand Werner judges more soberly: "One must not overlook, however, that a good part of the episodes [about Clovis], which are handed down by historiography, bear legendary features".
To argue with Zemmour about historical facts is futile. For him, "messianic and civilizing France begins with the Crusades, in which "glory in arms" proved to be "the highest art form" that permanently refuted "pacifism" and "the abstract and blind religion of human rights". "Hero of all heroes" of France is Le Grand Ferre, who used his axe for the "royal religion" in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). With this war, the army became "the bulwark of France" for 300 years, as General de Gaulle put it. More often than to the latter, Zemmour refers only to Napoleon. Both pulled "the country out from the edge of the grave by the hair", trusting in the exclusively French doctrine of "concentrated (absolute) and sanctified power" of the pious bishop Jacques Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704), based on salvation history and the Bible.
Army and resurrection
For Zemmour, the army is something like the insurance of national resurrection. When the army loses, as it did in the war against Hitler’s Wehrmacht in 1940 and, in Zemmour’s eyes, against the United States in the Suez crisis of 1956, it always draws strength from it – even to the point of developing nuclear weapons. For, "Our greatest successes spring from our most terrible failures, just as our total disasters go hand in hand with our shining successes." The "French master became a vassal" when "English began to be spoken in the French General Staff" and thus "lost the habit, the desire, the courage, the ability to plan military operations in full independence and to carry them out alone."
This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always from Saturday on the kiosk, in the eKiosk or immediately in the practical weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.
With his idiosyncratic historical pirouettes, Zemmour reduces the distance between the worldview of the bourgeois-democratic-conservative and the nationalist ideology prevailing in Marine Le Pens Rassemblement National. This also applies to current problems such as the treatment of Muslims, whom Marine Le Pen would like to deport and whom Zemmour sees as opponents of war: "When two peoples live on one territory, there is usually war." And since the Socialists weakened the army and abolished the death penalty, France lacked means to "fight beyond democratic laws" (Zemmour).