Monday, April 23, 2012

The Meaning of Le Pen

Francois Hollande may just win the French presidency on 6th May, and break the habit of the Centre-Left of losing elections. In fact, one could argue that the Centre-Left parties, across the developed world, can offer an useful alternative perspective to pandering of bankers that the Right wing Neo-liberal incumbents seem to limit their imagination to. Their promises always seem to be what Gandhi described as, in an altogether different context, 'a postdated cheque on a failed bank': Often, this metaphor seems literal. Views of Centre-Left, men like Mr Hollande, do indeed sound very different, and therefore, promising.

However, I am waking up not just to the news of Mr Hollande's first round victory, but also the rather expected but still disappointing surge of the Far Right, in the figure of Marine Le Pen, in the French election. She indeed managed to come third, with 18% or so of votes, a greater proportion of votes than her father ever won. Indeed, she couldn't make it to the run-off as her father did; but her surge will surely push the rather desperate Nicolas Sarkozy into a love affair with the chauvinists and bigots. If this wins him the Presidency, that will effectively mark the end of French ideals, though France, admittedly, have always harboured deep disaffection for its migrants.

It is a time when Anders Breivik is giving his justifications for mass murder in a Norwegian court, and the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, is trying desperately to hide her gross incompetence by demonising the migrants. The lack of courage in European politics to face up the fact that the post-war economic model has failed and will need changing is obvious, and now threatening the fabric of ideas which makes Europe relevant to the rest of the World. A Le Pen presidency of France, which will become plausible if Sarkozy can win this time around by stealing her rhetoric, could indeed be the end of Europe: However, the ending could come much sooner.

Europe is relevant to the rest of the world as a land of ideas. As the newly industrialised countries stumble into development, and the wide rift between the landless rural poor and city tycoons threaten the society as a whole, it is a combination of American showbiz and European ideas, such as universal health care and education, secularism etc, keep the show going. Europe may not be an economic idyll anymore, but it is the still the continent of ideas people around the world looks at.

I know the gross generalisation implicit in this and know of the bad behaviour of the Europeans across the world. However, we generalise as we must: In the sphere of ideas, genocides and coups, as macabre as they may be, are matters of detail, an exception not the rule. We shall know France for its high republican ideals rather than its activities during the Algerian War or its intention to use Nuclear Weaponry in Dien Bien Phu. However, as evidenced today, these details always make a comeback and corrupt the high ideal rhetoric: This is a great risk for the rest of the world, which is already devoid of most high ideals anyway.

However, I must sign off by being an optimist: By hoping that despite the current state of seize, France will still win. The France we know of, the land of High Ideals, the France of revolution and of revolutionary intent, of equality, of creativity and imagination. This particular day, it seems that this France is kneeling down, unable to overcome the fear of unknown - a sad spectacle for a country which has represented the new and the bold in our world. France, in a sense, is the fountainhead of the image of the modern world; Le Pen's advent is a betrayal of everything that means.  

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