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National Rally

As goes the far-right, so goes the republic.

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Jordan Bardella
Sunday Morning / July 7, 2024
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A second round of exceptional parliamentary elections wrapping up today could put the Fifth Republic of France in the hands of nationalist, far-right parties for the first time since the Nazi era. The National Rally (RN) has historic ties to racism, antisemitism, anti-immigration and Russia.

When President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party was recently trounced in the European Parliament election, it was National Rally's president Jordan Bardella who dared him to dissolve parliament. Macron gambled that French voters would rally around a dissolution of government, turning out in droves for the balanced view in a snap national election. Lest Macron’s presidential decrees were careening toward a vote of confidence, the first round of votes on Sunday flushed 67% of registered voters forward who sidelined his centrist party and coalition. It's the end of an era.

While 49.5 million registered voters reshuffle the 577 members of the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament, the "France First" mantra could shake up EU projects, Franco-German relations, the Russo-Ukrainian War and NATO.

However, rather than play out his final three years in office as a lame duck, Macron appears to be inviting Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party to the forefront of public life. “Throw her to the wolves,” England’s Queen Mary instructed her heir apparent. “Let her see what they are like.”

Jordan Bardella, 28, National Rally’s president with no governing experience says, “I wish to be prime minister of daily life.” In fact, a populist wave is spreading across daily life in key European nations and the United States. Mainstreaming the far-right requires citizens to form coherent positions which translate into candidates and wins. Let us then make windows into men’s souls.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Bardella’s recent political ascent is notable for its rapid pace and connection to his roots in Seine-Saint-Denis, a multicultural suburb of Paris where he experienced various socio-economic challenges as a child. The son of Italian immigrants, Bardella is cast growing up in social housing beset by poverty and drugs. In truth, the family was fairly well-off; he dropped out of the prestigious Paris Sorbonne University; and is the nephew by law of National Rally's doyenne Marine Le Pen.

Though his bio resonates with many voters who feel disenfranchised from the nation, his youth, media savvy and seemingly mild manner offer a new look and lease on Rassemblement National. As to that spectrum of political thought that seems to many radically conservative, ultra-nationalist and authoritarian — some history.

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

A fanciful tale is told about the excess and extravagance of a French King Louis XVI and Marie Antionette triggering the French Revolution. Historically, rather, it was an interlinking economic recession, social disruption, and rampant plague called Tuberculosis that left the nation abruptly unemployed, impoverished and unmanageable. A perfect storm eerily on par with modern times.

The First French Republic followed, but it’s fifth incarnation and present will likely take the EU’s second-largest economy into unchartered territory. Macron will likely be forced to appoint Bardella as prime minister in coming days, and not since Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher has the future of a nation been so characterized by such a polarizing and forced power-sharing marriage.

It was King Louis XIV, let us recall, who eliminates medieval feudalism to establish a centralized state under an absolute monarch. France stretches 10,000,000 sq kilometers at its peak in 1680, and the seat of government the Palace of Versailles.

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King Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles

Provincial nobles are compelled to the Court of Versailles each year for surveillance; to prevent them from developing their own regional power; and centralize government around a command economy.

Annual visits to Versailles become a veritable trade show, quickly germinating into cottage industries for elites. Wool is being woven into tapestries, silks are spun into haute couture, sugar into confections and pastries, and cotton into 400,000 uniforms for an unprecedented royal army. Louis effectively creates the fashion industry as we know it, but economic growth lags behind other European nations who permit and encourage entrepreneurial initiative.

By the end of the century, one-third of France’s 26 million people are out of work as France struggles to transition from an absolute monarchy to an economy-based society. In particular, when the Bourgeoisie (middle class) become synonymous with materialistic values and conservative politics, the Proletariats (working class) take umbrage with the crown and ruling class hoarding the nation’s wealth.

King Louis XVI inherits an unpopular government, a culture of rebellion, and a cost of living crisis. Like Macron, he reshuffles his cabinet, but dismissing his finance minister (Jacques Necker) for publishing the royal budget was a turning point.

Storming the Bastille follows; a National Assembly is formed by commoners (Third Estate); and the National Convention and its first president becomes the de facto head of state. Or as Marine Le Pen calls her clean cut, TikTok star protégé, "my prince."

French Renaissance

While France is the 7th largest economy in the world today, their PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) ranks much further behind at #26. In fact, France’s GDP, divided by their population, means that most of their 30 million working people today live modestly on incomes of €2,340 per month, according to INSEE. Of their 64 million people, only 3 million are millionaires. LVMH founder Bernard Arnault's $193 billion fortune confirms that the real wealth in France is held in the hands of a very few. To the remainders is a revolutionary zeal, and the distinction of being amongst the first nations to form a republic in the modern era.

National Rally’s three main pillars purport to boost purchasing power by cutting taxes, exerting more authority over schools, curb undocumented migration and open the coffers. Bardella explains,

Our country’s calling is not to be the world’s hotel. I have seen lost areas of the French Republic become conquests of Islamism. I have felt like you, and like millions of French citizens, the pain of becoming a foreigner in your own country.

The snap election is set to usher in a period of uncomfortable cohabitation between a hard-right prime minister in charge of the domestic agenda and a liberal president overseeing foreign affairs. And yet, it seems as though we've seen all this before.

Today, France is the most indebted country in Europe, owing more than $3 trillion, 110% of its GDP. Already running a deficit, National Rally wants to reduce the retirement age to 60; raise the minimum wage; lower individual taxes; and increase the pension bill. The coffers are empty. They'll need to borrow more.

Last month, French stocks lost $210+ billion as investors sold off French government bonds. Financial contagion can spread across the bloc, e.g., the Eurozone Crisis of 2012. A collapsed euro would compromise the Schengen Area: 26 European countries where goods, services, and capital move freely within the borders of the eurozone. The EU is the second largest economy in the world, and disorderly sovereign defaults effect the global banking system and economy. It won't be planned, though trailheads and clues are scattered through history.

If the French Revolution presented the world with three powerful ideas — Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité — of these none were complete in and of themselves. They found their inspiration arriving sequentially, one after the other, in a solemn single file. Colonizing the world wreaked consequences for occupiers, including: systemic racism, cyclical poverty, and economic inequity. Democracy, dear reader, isn't the cake or dessert. Its best when served in courses.

The majority of young adults, 18-24, intend to cast a ballot for Bardella today, and a quick search of the Folk Theory of Democracy explains why Bardella’s nearly 2 million TikTok followers are rallying around calls for an "absolute majority." As the second youngest prime minister in history, Bardella purports he'll “restore faith in France and its greatness," lest, as the last king of France, he misreads the mood of the country.

The public at large now demands to be a part of the collective project. Scattered in small pieces across the City of Paris, let us not forget the last loud minority to mistake a reshuffle for a coup actually took the castle.

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