Commentary. The rise of the National Front is a warning sign. Europe must combat 21st century fascism.

The black heart of France

How did we get to this point?

To begin with, there were social and economic causes: the abandonment of the lower classes, of the proletariat workers and of the metropolitan suburbs by the socialist left, which even in France endorsed post-neoliberal democracy.

This had devastating consequences: insecurity and unemployment, wage deflation and reduced social protections, rising inequality and an oligarchic centralization of powers. The betrayal of the social bloc by the mainstream left has been (since the late ‘90s) all grist to the mill of the fascist right, which filled the void with its own populist rhetoric.

When she calls upon the “people” to rise up “against the elites,” Marine Le Pen appropriates a historical theme of the left: the labor movement, the struggles for the emancipation of labor and social justice. The problem is that she gets away with it, winning converts to the National Front party, because there is no one on the left who can credibly appeal to social struggles in defense of the lower classes.

A second factor is the problem of security. The attacks this year have reinforced fears, which the right exploits by offering recipes for safety that are simple, hasty and radical. The violence also awakened emotions rooted in the belly of the country. Deep down, France is largely reactionary, nationalist, imperialist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic.

The military story of World War II, the role played by Charles de Gaulle in the coalition of the enemies of the Third Reich, forgets the ugly history of collaboration and zealous participation of Vichy France in the Holocaust. It also ignores that between the 19th and 20th centuries, France was the country most deeply imbued with racist rage, especially against Jews. But history has a hard head, and this belly has remained pregnant, although it has been able to skillfully hide it.

Today, after eight years of social crisis and under the pressure of ISIS, this black heart is expressed without reticence, despite heavy inconsistency with France’s political and democratic culture, and legitimized by a unanimous desire for effective responses to economic problems and to the Islamist threat.

Hence, the discourse widens beyond national borders. The theme is the European social-economic plan. Everywhere in Europe, austerity feeds desperation and panic, sowing distrust of politics and pushing the masses into populist, extremist positions. And it is pan-European in relation to the “terrorism emergency” in which we’ve lived for 15 years. Without thereby indulging in deterministic reductionism — without deleting the responsibility of the terrorists and their political and religious agitators — it is impossible to deny the short circuit between the terrorist escalation and the “democracy” wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa: wars whose firm geopolitical roots strongly suggest that the chaos today (acts of war, balkanization and terrorism) will continue for some time.

In short, the economic and geopolitical agendas of European leaders will not change. Real change would result in prices that are not compatible with the bottom lines of private enterprise nor with Europe’s fight against the Evil Empire in the new Cold War. In France, every indication is that, notwithstanding the election shock, nothing will change. So let’s go back to the obvious prediction of Marine Le Pen’s future success with the National Front.

The advance of the French neo-fascist, racist and xenophobic right will not stop. It may experience episodic setbacks. But it will be difficult to reverse a three-year trend that has seen the National Front rapidly expand its influence on the French political scene. One cannot even exclude the nightmare possibility that the heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen will enter the Elysée in 2017.

The price of the diabolical consistency of Western leadership is fascism — special laws, states of emergency, Big Brothers. And note that fascism here is a metaphor: What would (or will) 21st century fascism look like? No one knows. Not even its confident spokeswoman.

So we are playing with fire. Our “ruling classes” do not understand, or maybe they are just inadequate.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is quite right in saying that “if Europe does not change, it is likely to become the best ally of Marine Le Pen.” But even this seems only a phrase concealing an opposite intention. Renzi embodies — economically, socially and in foreign policy — the European mainstream that pretends to deplore, but in fact can not resist, the temptation to cash in on the commercialized celebrations of the French vote and its “reforms.”

The politicians are clever to make themselves appear only as irresponsible: It hides the fact that the game has gotten pretty damn serious and dangerous.