All Commentary
Monday, February 26, 2018

Le Pen Pays Lip Service to Liberty, and CPAC Fell for It

Marion Le Pen may pay a bit more lip-service to classical liberalism than her aunt, but her actions don't bear them out.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, spoke at CPAC last week. The mere fact that she was invited displays a sharp ideological turn of American conservatism, but it also showed how little Americans really know about the European far-right.

The National Front Is a Deeply Interventionist Party

Le Pen’s speech at CPAC lasted less than 10 minutes, but whoever has followed French politics to any reasonable degree will find many of her statements to be astonishingly rich in front of an American conservative crowd. She spoke of economic freedom as a shared value and talked greatly of a “French youth” (presumably meaning herself) that also wants “individual liberty and private property,” at which point I admittedly choked on my baguette and red wine.

Whoever listens to a National Front gathering knows that it a not a place for fiscal conservatism or ideas of individual liberty.

The National Front is a party that regards any form of privatization as unacceptable, has never favored any reform that liberalizes the labor market, promises higher pay for public workers, wants to bring the retirement age down to 60, and loves the government-run healthcare because of its “national solidarity.” The words “economic freedom,” “individual liberty,” and “private property” are not words you hear at a National Front Party congress. Quite in contrary, the concept of free markets and free people is antithetical to the core principles of the party.

On its website, the National Front even dedicates a category to “ultraliberalism,” which it believes to be at the root of the problems caused by multinational corporations. In fact, the promotion of the welfare state has been its platform since the 1980s, long before Marion Le Pen decided to join the political movement of her parents (prior to her being publicly apolitical until the age of 18).

Whoever listens to a National Front gathering knows that it’s not a place for fiscal conservatism or ideas of individual liberty. Margaret Thatcher isn’t a popular figure within the party, but much rather, according to them, another embodiment of the global elite that endangers public services. They decry liberalism (which in France is used in the European sense: meaning individual liberty, particularly economic freedom) as the dogma of big business.

Not Her Aunt?

But of course, lest we forget, Marion Le Pen is not her aunt. CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp was the first to remind us on Twitter.

Some people have voiced the criticism that all that is thrown against Marion Le Pen is guilt-by-association.

It might be true that for its part, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen appears slightly more “liberal” (again, in the European sense) than Marine Le Pen. As a candidate for the head of the PACA region in 2015, she defended measures to reduce taxes and simplify administrative burdens for entrepreneurs. But that’s about as far as her “economic liberalism” goes. Just as much as the young “classical liberal,” her party was also without a plan as to how to pay for it; which is disconcerting given the fact that France is already the largest deficit spender in the entire OECD, with over 55 percent of GDP.

For the rest, Marion Le Pen’s economic liberalism is invisible. Her speeches as a member of the French National Assembly almost entirely focus on the “Islamization” of France and how it needs to reduce immigration. Did the “pro-individual liberty” Marion Le Pen advocate for an end of France’s state of emergency when it gave sweeping powers to the executive? Hardly so. In fact, she lectured the government in parliament about its failure to enforce it with sufficient authority. After some labor law protests had erupted in violence, the National Front had indeed argued for the suspension of freedom of association because it was incompatible with the state of emergency. I’m sure you can just feel the freedom reeking from this organization.

Some people have voiced the criticism that all that is thrown against Marion Le Pen is guilt-by-association. And after all, why would we associate her with her grandfather Jean-Marie Le Pen, an infamous anti-Semite, when she has no responsibility for his actions?

Association Matters

There is a degree of association that is inevitable when you are unwilling to denounce or stand against a certain set of actions or words. Jean-Marie Le Pen is a man who made headlines by claiming the Nazi occupation of France “had not been particularly inhumane” and who said that “Mr. Ebola” would solve the issues regarding demographics in Africa. His vile racism and anti-Semitism had become such a liability to the party that Marine Le Pen decided to begin the procedure of excluding him. We’ll take note that Marion Le Pen opposed the decision to kick her grandfather out.

She is actually for mainstream interventionist economic policies and hard-line far-right fascism.

It’s rich to claim that she is a classical liberal when all she campaigns on is her anti-immigration platform and the sense that Europe is being overrun by Muslim invaders. In her CPAC speech, she claimed that after 40 years of mass immigration, Islamist lobbies, and political correctness, France was in the process of going “from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the little niece of Islam.” Likening the philosophy of someone making vague claims for tax cuts while spending most of her time fear-mongering an entire country to the convictions of Frédéric Bastiat? That is just being willfully uninformed.

Marion Le Pen’s obsession with Islam goes even further. In January of last year, she was seen attending an event hosted by an extremist Identitarian group in France, a neo-fascist movement that advocates for “cultural homogeneity.” In a later comment that same month, Le Pen claimed that she wants to “unite the Right,” from “Republicans to Identitarians.” The same French Identitarians who perfectly align with the American alt-right and that post videos to social media in which they violently destroy the offices of an organization that supports migrants. National socialism with a new logo is all it really is.

Marion Le Pen fooled her CPAC audience into thinking that when she said “liberty” and “tradition,” she meant the American sense of freedom and old-school conservative values when she is actually for mainstream interventionist economic policies and hard-line far-right fascism. American conservatism already took a sharp ideological turn by accepting protectionism and nativist discourse into its ranks, but if the likes of Le Pen begin to redefine conservatism in their image, then we’re looking at a grim future.

  • Bill Wirtz is a Young Voices Advocate and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. His work has been featured in several outlets, including Newsweek, Rare, RealClear, CityAM, Le Monde and Le Figaro. He also works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

    Learn more about him at his website