Now that Mario Renzi’s misguided Italian referendum has sunk to its inevitable ignominy, the French presidential election is the next major event on the global political scene so as a result Marine Le Pen has been in the news with increasing frequency lately. This is hardly a bad thing; from the right’s perspective, she’s possibly the best debater of an excellent crop of talent, both quick of wit and vastly knowledgeable regarding the ills of the modern world.
One video came to my attention lately, an interview from BBC’s HARDTalk with Stephen Sackur:
Several points stand out:
BBC’s overweening bias
Even by BBC’s historically low standard, Stephan Sackur’s rude and biased conduct stands out. Sackur begins the interview by parroting the Beeb’s company line re: Brexit, pushing the establishment’s attempts to sabotage Britain’s decision, and otherwise ignoring the results of the Brexit vote.
Worse yet, Sackur comes off far more interested in the well-being of ‘migrants’ than he is the rights and liberty of his fellow countrymen; of course given the tactics BBC have employed to propagandize in favor of ‘migrants’ – examples here and here – this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s paying the least attention.
And it’s pathetic how mindlessly Sackur falls back into the glib ‘division’ trope. Madame Le Pen rebuts this with the obvious answer; namely, the people dividing France are the ones implementing policies (immigration, trade, EU integration) that go against the will of the French people.
The fallacy of using the native-born terrorist to justify laxity in immigration.
This is an argument one hears whenever circumstances permit its deployment. The Orlando/Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack was the last major occasion for its use in the US (See: Wikipedia’s description of Omar Mateen as ‘American’, Charles Blow’s NYT column describing Mateen as ‘our monster’, Miami Herald’s story extolling the Mateen family’s ‘American dream’, Alternet’s post characterizing Mateen as ‘uniquely American’, ABC’s story describing Mateen as a ‘US-born citizen’, etc, et al).
These arguments are invariably used as a sort of check-mate against the quite reasonable questions raised regarding the wisdom of mass immigration from the Muslim world (The same basic argument is also used when favorably comparing the crime rates of Hispanic illegal immigrants to that of their Anchor Baby spawn).
The lapse of logic in such a premise is hard to overstate. If the second and third generation of a population become more susceptible to radicalization or criminality than their original immigrant forebearers, that speaks to a quite profound failure of assimilation (more on that in the next section); without a history of demonstrated success assimilating a specific culture, you instead have a situation where radicalization is already occurring and you are introducing elements who, if anything, stand to exacerbate and accelerate that radicalization.
Even more stupid though is the utter blindness to the phenomena of cumulative effects. If one accepts Mao’s dictum that the people are the sea the guerrilla swims in, then the hookah bars, falafel stands and halal markets of the urban MENA enclave are the environment where the budding jihadist bides his time until he finally shoots up a gay nightclub, bombs a cross country run or drives his car through a crowd. Even if it’s only a small minority of the recent immigrant community that are actual Islamists – although there is data that casts suspicion on even that assumption – expanding the communities that already harbor hostile or criminally inclined demographics is simply bad public policy (This doesn’t only apply to MENA immigrants: see the story of MS13’s de facto colonization of Brentwood, Long Island).
It’s the equivalent of a doctor who, upon delivering a diagnosis of emphysema, encourages the patient to continue smoking – after all, since they’re already sick, it won’t be the next cigarette that causes illness!
Madame Le Pen makes frequent mention of a system of political thought referred to as ‘communitarianism‘, a term unfamiliar to Americans but roughly analogous to what we would call ‘progressivism’. The thumbnail sketch is that communitarianism is the outgrowth of various schools of of thought popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century but, unlike Marxism and various schools of Anarchism, it was focused more on sociology and less on economics.
Communitarianism does share one trait with its more familiar contemporaries, a sunny optimism regarding the innate plasticity of human nature; in the communitarian’s eyes, the individual is dependent upon their community and radically so, even deriving their very identity from their relation to it. Working out from this perspective, like the communists, they view the forming of a properly ordered community with an almost Utopian zeal; unlike the communists, they primary concern themselves with law and education and less on production and material wealth (In that sense there is a significant Venn overlap between communitarianism and the concept of popular democracy as described by the American John Dewey).
This is all very benign sounding, but there are two very pernicious ideas which have grown out of communitarian thought, the first being multiculturalism, the second being positive rights. The relationship between communitarianism and multiculturalism is fairly straightforward. If people are really so dependent upon the community for their identity, if human nature really is so endlessly plastic, then things like culture and ethnicity shrink in relevance; a properly ordered community will simply assimilate whoever is placed into it in a plug-and-play manner, while any failure to assimilate is due to shortcomings in the community and NOT attributable to the element being assimilated.
Thus through such a shallow concept of culture does the idea of the ‘glorious mosaic’ which the multiculturalists are held in such thrall to arise; accepting a trivialized ‘culture’ limited to clothing and food and music while either denying more troublesome matters like women’s rights, respect for private property and belief in pluralism – in the apt words of Madame Le Pen, “Multiculturalism brings multi conflicts” – hand-waving away conflicts or contradictions with an insistence that society just isn’t welcoming enough.
The communitarians’ love of multiculturalism would be tolerable if it were their only error, but they compound that with an even greater one: the rejection of classical liberalism’s and traditional Christianity’s concept of natural rights (which the communitarian disparages as ‘negative rights’) with a more expansive and intrusive concept they refer to as ‘positive rights’ (good background here).
In the natural rights model, rights originate in the individual and for the most part delineate forms of interference that the individual should be protected against. The individual has the right to bodily autonomy and integrity: therefore they are empowered to use force in self-defense (and expect any state authority to defend those rights). The individual has the right to private property: therefore they are empowered to buy and sell as they see fit and not be stripped of property without compensation (and expect any state authority to protect these rights through measures like the enforcement of lawfully binding contracts). The individual has the right to a freely formed conscience: therefore they are empowered to express themselves or ignore contrary expressions as they see fit (and expect that no state authority will either prevent expression of, or mandate deference to, any particular point of view). The individual has the right to freely associate: therefore they are empowered to determine the extent of their associations, religious, commercial, social or whatnot (and expect any state authority to protect them from actions that either prevent a desired association or impose an undesired association). And, critically in terms of a debate on multiculturalism and immigration, civil society in all its variegation is protected to the extent that it represents the sum total of individuals’ voluntary choice.
The concept of ‘positive rights’ as espoused by the communitarians turns all this on its head and predictably so, given its base assumptions. The community has the obligation to provide the material necessities of life (food, shelter, medical care): therefore it is empowered to dispose of the material wealth of the community as it sees fit in pursuit of that obligation. The community has the obligation to provide security: therefore it is empowered to amass the means necessary (and potentially deny such means to competing interests) to carry out that obligation. The community has the obligation to cultivate a ‘diversity’ of opinion: therefore it is empowered to censor certain points of view while protecting others. And, critically in terms of the debate on multiculturalism, the community has the obligation to guarantee inclusion: therefore it is empowered to regulate association as it sees fit to carry out that obligation.
Given the above, it’s easy to see the attraction ‘positive rights’ holds for the political left. In America various leftists have waxed ecstatic on the wondrous benefits of positive rights, Barack Obama (here and here) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (here, here and here) prominent among them.
Marine LePen’s attractive and effective interview demeanor
Unlike Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen takes care not to seem unnecessarily combative or harsh in her interactions, no doubt due to the baggage le FN is already weighted with; unlike Trump, who as a true outsider, fights both his own party as well as his opposition, le FN already bears a decades-long history of extreme rhetoric. And her cheerfulness is all the more admirable when contrasted against Sackur – truly a horrible interviewer and nasty personality – and his conceited hectoring.
This cheerful persona is on full display in another recent interview, this one done with the BBC’s Canadian sister network, the reliably leftist CBC:
If it wasn’t for her supercilious smugness, one could almost feel sorry for the interviewer; in the manner of a boxer who falls to the canvas after a fusillade of blows and unsteadily regains their footing only to be pummeled into submission again, the CBC interviewer works through her list of attack points only to find each soundly rebutted, her opponent beaming as she calmly dismantles every argument made against her.
Defense of Citizenship
Starting at 16:00 in, Madame Le Pen makes a very rational, commonsense defense of the concept of citizenship against the interviewer’s vapid (and tacitly race-baiting) assertion that ‘all men are equal’.
The four pillars of sovereignty
Starting at 24:30, the conversation turns to the EU. Beginning with the eminently reasonable observation that “A people can only be happy when they are free”, Madame Le Pen makes the very natural extension that national sovereignty is an essential component to the individual’s pursuit of happiness and thus reaches the inevitable conclusion that the entire edifice of European politics – the EU, the Euro, Schengen – is contrary to the liberty and happiness of the French people.
In a very systematic way and with Aristotelian logic, Madame Le Pen outlines what she calls ‘The Four Pillars’ of sovereignty; Territorial (National authority to determine who enters your country and control your own borders in accord with the natural right to free association): Monetary (National authority over your own currency and its exchange rate vis a vis that of other nations): Economic (National authority over your own tax and public finances): Legislative (National authority to determine your own laws and national discretion to determine the best means for enforcement).
Communitarianism (Parte Deux)
Madame Le Pen argues yet again against this pernicious worldview, even going so far as to treat it as a punchline in reference to Islamic immigration (“Are we speaking of the Member of Parliament who went to Saudi Arabia and returned singing the praises of communitarianism?”)
And finally, the French anti-racism public service announcements shown at 28:30 were absurd. Madame Le Pen was right to treat them with disdain.
The last interview comes to us through the largess of the Qatari royal family, Madame Le Pen making an appearance on, of all places, Talk To Al Jazeera.
The interview is from 2012 (in other words, before Bataclan, before Nice, before Charlie Hebdo/Hypercacher siege, before the murder of Father Jacques Hamel) which makes the interviewer’s insistence on the unlikelihood of Salafist extremism among French Muslims extremely ironic. Also, coming before Frau Merkel threw Europe’s borders open to the MENA world, Madame Le Pen’s reference to ‘anarchic immigration’ is prescient.
‘The Roma have their own nation – let them stay there.’
Madame Le Pen’s simultaneous defense of France’s traditions of both secularism and Catholicism seems contradictory on the surface but, given the Church’s role in the development of natural rights theory, is actually quite robust and wise. For example, her assertion that Muslim populations seek to undermine secular law through a gradual imposition of sharia principles is borne out by both the interviewer’s defense of secretly imposing halal dietary practices (beginning at 4:00) and the example of Great Britain.
Likewise Le Pen’s argument in favor of the so-called ‘Burka ban’ (beginning 9:30) is eminently reasonable; apart from being a violation of France’s Law of 1905, it is actually an insidious attempt to normalize the subjugation of women, as the treatment Muslim males mete out to women in Western dress demonstrates. (Also in relation to the Law of 1905, I will simply note in passing that France’s suppression of the Catholic Church ultimately created a vacuum now being occupied by a non-Western worldview that’s even more hostile to the principles of secular modernity. Whoops!)
Madame Le Pen’s characterization of the EU establishment as ‘world champions of debt, unemployment and insecurity’ (6:30) is both apt and hilarious. “Schengen is a failure. Frontex is a failure,” she declares, again with prescience, later.
Carrying on her defense of her traditional national culture against the modernist concepts of communitarianism and multiculturalism, Madame Le Pen asserts simply (beginning 15:30), “I believe it is to the benefit of the world that France remain France.” (Somehow one struggles to imagine Obama saying the same of America, or Merkel saying the same of Germany.) Madame Le Pen’s frankness regarding the possible financial costs of this is also quite admirable, especially her call to resist the ‘wall of money’ trade and investment policies of neoliberal globalism.
Finally, to end this all on the firmest possible note, let us go to 19:00 and watch the interviewer’s quite hypocritical defense of the Roma – I can’t recall Al Jazeera‘s sponsor Qatar ever offering refuge to Europe’s downtrodden gypsy population – and revel in Madame Le Pen’s curt reply: “The Roma have their own nation – let them stay there.”