Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front Party (Front National), has launched her campaign to be the next President of France and she has done so with unflinching ferocity. At her rally in Lyon on Sunday she stated that “what is at stake in this election is the continuity of France as a free nation, our existence as a people”. She is asking the French people to not only prepare for an election, but also for an ideological battle against an imminent existential threat.
So, what could possibly be heralding in the end of freedom and French identity? According to Le Pen, “Financial globalisation and Islamist globalisation” together “aim to bring France to its knees”. Le Pen’s rhetoric of fear has struck a chord in the hearts of many disillusioned and disenfranchised French citizens. Indeed, the Front National is as close as it has ever been to holding power.
But are we really entering a new era of populism, heralded by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump? In much the same way as cliff edges are known to instil a desire to jump, this political precipice might just have the same mesmerising effect, so let us step back, and explore the most constructive options available to us.
There is undoubtedly huge change happening in Europe. Unprecedented numbers of refugees have fled from insecurity and conflict to Europe and indeed concern about immigration is the most common reason given for supporting Le Pen. French citizens are being implored by Le Pen to stand strong and fight against demographic change, but is it not more fitting in our present context to accept that human beings have moved and will continue to move across borders? Perhaps having acknowledged this we will be better able to work towards facilitating a peaceful, sustainable and managed internationalism.
Populations and other groups will naturally reimagine themselves and try to consolidate their identity, especially in challenging times. However, this can be balanced out through emphasis on our common human story. This is not to deny the importance of national and religious heritages but instead to view them within a broader context that perhaps better facilitates unity and empathy. Calls for change cannot be condemned. Instead we must condemn those who promise to liberate one group at the explicit expense of another.