Standing up to the National Front, as French nationals and also as Christians
Never before have so many French Catholics voted for the party of Marine Le Pen, as seen in the first round of the regional elections held on 6 December 2015. According to an opinion poll, 32% participants describing themselves as “Catholics” had voted for the FN, well above the average of the French electorate (28.4%).
It is not only Christians who are seized with dread at the seemingly inexorable rise of the National Front (FN) with every successive electoral ballot. For many French people, who are now probably clinging more tightly to the values of the Republic than ever, this deep-seated malaise is tantamount to a national conscience.
An historical memory persists in France of all those dramatic times when the French people had succumbed to the temptations of violence and when, due to manipulation, their feelings of frustration and resentment had finally boiled over in civil war. Without going back as far as the wars of religion, we know that in our country the idea of “living together” is fragile. Only with the passing of many years has our Republic managed to convert its struggles based on class hatred, anti-Semitism and contempt for those of different skin pigmentation into political wars of words. However much you condemn this political thinking and the parties that embrace it, you still cannot stop them from being the repositories of this memory that we call “civic conscience”, the conscience of the Republic, the conscience that builds a nation.
Hatred of “the others”
Still, we cannot believe for a moment that the National Front’s leaders have deviated in any way from their tradition of hating others. These “others”, whether they be foreigners, illegal immigrants “spreading like a virulent disease” in society, or immigrants entitled to State medical assistance, are people the FN feel should be denounced in order “to wipe out all contagion from immigration”.
Quite apart from the inconsistencies that can be found in the National Front manifesto, there are two ideas that are disturbing and need to be firmly challenged in the political arena, since they are fundamental to the National Front strategy: the call to get around official bodies and the tendency to denounce scapegoats instead of spending any time examining the causes of our present difficulties.
These threats are extremely serious for the future of our country, arising at the very moment when now more than ever we need to pull our forces together. They have prompted two movements, Christianisme social and Semaines sociales de France, to work together on researching the causes of injustice and to take up a clear stand against the National Front. No part of this is intrinsically incompatible with religious faith.
These dangers and obvious threats are showing up in the domain of politics. They provide additional clues that political activity itself should – at least in France – be both restored and renewed, as was also emphasised during a recent meeting in Paris organised by the French Bishops’ Conference. Here it is possible to see a way of being Christian, a way of responding “as a Christian” according to the ever-useful distinction made by Jacques Maritain.
Rather than endlessly (and wrongly) putting the blame on the general mediocrity of the body of politicians, we should remain faithful to the spirit of these Christians – obeying the laws but surpassing them in our daily lives – to quote the famous Epistle to Diognetus. That means that we have to examine our consciences on the extent to which we might be responsible for the fact that so many French people are convinced they are neither recognised nor represented in the political debate in its current form.
Renewal also means standing up as a stakeholder of an educational system where advancement is effectively blocked, particularly for young people from migrant backgrounds, and refraining from casting the blame for this solely on the national Department of Education. It means admitting that entrepreneurs and social partners in general could offer a labour market that is more inclusive.
We should also become more exacting and more proactive in the statement of any European political project while accepting that the disappointments that it has engendered have resulted from our actions, not just from those of some technocrats in Brussels. To sum up, renewal means engaging in politics in a way to ensure that politicians will not confine themselves to denouncing what is evil but will also plan for and work towards what is good.
President of Semaines sociales de France
Translated from the original text in French
Semaines sociales de France (SSF) is one of France’s oldest organisations commenting on community life. The goal of the Semaines sociales – which defines itself as “a secular institution for research and training” - is to spread awareness of Christian thinking on social issues and to contribute to the social debate.