You don’t have to read the historical tea leaves much to comprehend we are in the final days of the French Fifth Republic.
Vacillating between republican decadence and military strongmen the past quarter of a millenium, the present Élysée regime finds itself under siege on all sides.
Grappling with rising Islamic insurgency at home and diminishing international prestige abroad, all at the same the French economy is being “streamlined” under the knife of Macron’s neoliberalism.
The Gilet Jaunes protests of 2019 amounted to an underreported civil rebellion which under the right circumstances could have felled the Macron government in the style of Ukraine’s Euromaidan. Similarly, the scale of anti-French racial violence is at a rate which can only be appreciated at a street level, as Catholics go to Nativity Mass under armed protection.
It is amid this political putrefaction that the character of Eric Zemmour steps up, a 63-year old TV presenter turned surprise defender of the French people with his forthright denouncements of demographic replacement.
“The first problem is France’s destination and demographics. The invasion of migration. We have a big problem and we absolutely have to solve it, otherwise France in 20 years will no longer be France, but an area like Lebanon with communities fighting each other”
Potent words for a man with respectful poll numbers and drawing the largest crowds in recent French history for his rallies.
Opinions on Zemmour within the radical right are sharply divided between those regarding him as.
- A welcomed albeit imperfect political phenomenon to push the envelope on the issue of demographic replacement.
- Those who see his debut as a cynical pincer movement to stymie the rise of a genuine nationalist government in France.
Rhetorically at least it is hard to fault Zemmour, even if under the French electoral system his splitting of the vote potentially impairs Madame Le Pen.
With Zemmour we see the ultimate normalisation of the simple demographic truth as to where French and wider European societies are veering at increasing pace. The Republic’s colour blind census bureau hides most of the harsh reality but in Paris itself, as well as in other various cities, the French themselves are well in the minority.
My first encounter with Zemmour was when a copy of his Le Suicide français landed on my desk as an undergrad. Not merely outlining the brutal realities of French multiculturalism, the book is also surprisingly anti-American in the Gaullist sense, and even goes as far as to criticise some of the Allied-imposed narratives of the French experience in WW2.
While the Front National took decades to foment, Zemmour’s political arrival appears to have come almost overnight, with keen support from many within the tent of the French establishment like the media mogul Vincent Bolloré or the corporate kingpin Henri de Castries.
Unlike the perpetual glass ceiling which the Le Pen dynasty has faced, Zemmour sits pretty just within the bosom of the French establishment as a media sanctioned contrarian.
On the crucial point of Zemmour’s ethnicity one has to appreciate the minacious future ahead of France’s Jewish population (currently decamping from the French Republic at an extraordinary rate) as the prospect of Islamist-fueled state failure increases.
The Likudnik elements within that community fear the prospect of the BDS-inspired anti-Israel Left and Islamism more than anything on the radical right, and are thus more tolerable of rising ethno-nationalist rhetoric among Europeans than a decade ago.
A secular Jew with a self-declared appreciation of France’s Christian heritage, Zemmour takes with him an obvious racialised dislike of Arabs owing to the expulsion of his family of Sephardic jews from Algeria.
No one doubts for a New York minute the likelihood of Zemmour to betray the constituency of French patriots who back him if he is given a whiff of power, but the general impact he will have on French and European politics is very much welcomed.
Speaking to French nationalists, they see the Zemmour wave, however contrived it might be otherwise, as being on the whole positive, if only for the simple chance of capitalising off his energy when he crashes upon the rocks of disappointment.
In the aftermath of MAGA lessons are to be had in not granting figures like Zemmour a blank cheque.
Though, for all the anticlimax of Trumpism, one appreciates the man for destabilising the United States drastically and shifting terms of discourse rightward on more nativist and latently identitarian lines. Zemmour acts in a similar manner for France.
The American Right found itself politically marooned upon Trump’s undoing, without any of the organisational and lobbying structures to support or redirect their efforts once their God Emperor failed to live up to their inflated expectations.
Driving any prospect of an organised national movement into the dirt at Charlottesville, the Right retreated into either GOP entryism or increasingly ambiguous ideological territory in the subsequent years. They have been ironically saved by the political accelerationism of 2020 which set American decline in stone.
The French Right, with all its institutional appendages and various political organisations, is not in the same position and is willing and able to pick up the torch when an inevitable Zemmour let-down occurs.
Germinated across 250 years of intermittent republican rule and consisting of aspects of the French Catholic Right, the military, the civil administration, as well as the former aristocracy, there is in effect a nationalist government in-waiting when the inevitable transpires and the French Republic expires.
As France teeters, who actually occupies the Élysée Palace is an almost mute point as the political future of France is decided outside of the political arena. In certain respects it is better the Right loses the election this time around so that the poison chalice of governance is handed one more time to a neoliberal administration.
At home we may face our own Zemmour in the form of a confected nationalist opposition playing on issues of identity once demographics become too hard to ignore. For all the cynicism these occurrences must be utilised for all their worth if only to operate as a ginger group as the wider culture shifts.
Regardless, the French Republic, at least in this iteration, is on its last legs with Zemmour warts-and-all being a safety valve for an elite which is fast losing control.
The French Right shouldn’t expect Zemmour to be a knight in shining armour, but they shouldn’t whinge without preparing an alternative political option once he flunks and France really sparks off.
L’avenir est beaucoup plus proche qu’on ne le pense…