Last November, when the French presidential election looked like being a contest between François Fillon and Marine Le Pen, I said this:
… it will also be a test for the right – not so much in France, but in the Anglosphere, where so many alleged free-marketeers and even libertarians have ranged themselves behind Donald Trump. How far will they carry their new populist logic? When they look to France, will they back the candidate who matches their policies, or the one who more strongly echoes their tribal hatreds?
Most of the sort of people I had in mind have kept pretty quiet about France. But now, with just a week to go until the first round vote, we have a taker: Adam Creighton, formerly of the Centre for Independent Studies and once a staffer to Tony Abbott, now economics correspondent at the Australian. This morning he nails his colors to the mast, saying “If I were French I would vote for Marine Le Pen.” (The article is paywalled, but you can get it by doing a google search for that line I’ve just quoted.)
I don’t actually think Creighton is a fascist. I used to work at the CIS, and while I have some major problems with their priorities, I don’t think they usually breed fascists. But the fact that he can view, not just with equanimity but with enthusiasm, the prospect of a fascist president in one of Europe’s major powers is a sign of where the Australian right now finds itself.
We now have a generation in public life who have no historical memory of the second world war: they have grown up with no notion of a threat from the right. Their enemies are all and only on the left. Just as the world seems to be replaying the 1930s, the centre-right has produced opinion leaders who seem determined to repeat all the mistakes made by their predecessors of that era.
If you understand anything of what went on in the mid-twentieth century, it is truly shocking to see someone mention, as Creighton does, the problem of France “losing its large Jewish population, among its historic strengths, at a rapid rate,” and then propose electing a fascist as a remedy.
Creighton’s argument is that France is in a mess and needs a major shakeup – the important thing about Le Pen, he says, is “the damage her victory would do to France’s cosy status quo.” This is the authentic voice of Trumpism: war against the elites, whatever the consequences. Or, as we were told in the Vietnam War, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
But of course Creighton’s (and News Corp’s) iconoclasm only runs one way. If you want to shake up France, equally effective would be the far left’s candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon; he would be more likely to take on the big banks, which Creighton cites as a major concern, and he would at least preserve some republican values along the way. He also has a better chance of winning.
Yet it wouldn’t occur to Creighton to support Mélenchon, because he’s from the wrong tribe. He doesn’t have the same hatred of the European Union or of Muslim immigration (although he’s critical of both), the twin obsessions of Creighton’s employer.
The lesson of the 1930s, which we are now painfully re-learning, is that civilisation is a fragile thing. The institutions that make our societies work and keep us fed and clothed are not invulnerable and not to be taken for granted. To engage in tribal bomb-throwing at their expense is not a harmless indulgence.
Next week we will find out if the voters of France recognise that. But we already know that News Corp does not.