In the January issue of Prospect, we identified “12 debates that will shape the coming year”. One of them concerned what we decided to call “rejectionist politics”: “The conversion of resentment at ‘elites’ into a political platform connects movements as diverse as the Tea Party in the United States, the UK Independence Party in Britain and European populist parties of right and left, such as the Front de Gauche and Front National in France, Geert Wilders’s Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, the left-wing anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece and Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement in Italy.”
The emphasis here was on rejectionist or populist parties—and we were using the terms more or less interchangeably, since what is being “rejected” is usually liberal-democratic business as usual managed by “elites” at the expense of the “people”—that have made some electoral headway, and are likely to consolidate their already considerable gains at the European parliamentary elections in May. But there are other morbid symptoms of rejection and disaffection currently metastasising across the continent which haven’t yet found expression at the ballot box.
Take France, for instance, where, on 26th January, an organisation called “Printemps français” (“French Spring”, as in “Arab Spring”) brought an estimated 17,000 people on to the streets of Paris for a “day of rage” (jour de colère) against the Socialist government of François Hollande. The demonstrators were a rainbow coalition of the disaffected—hard-line Catholic “intégristes“, opponents of gay marriage, the angry Poujadist fringe of France’s small business community and supporters of the incendiary “comedian” Dieudonné.
The Front National was not involved, at least not formally. Manuel Valls, the interior minister who late last year denounced Dieudonné as “antisemitic and racist” and called on local councils to ban his live shows, said in an interview yesterday that the jour de colère showed that a part of of the “conservative and reactionary right” was now occupying the space left by the FN’s attempts to normalise or legitimise itself. “We are witnessing,” Valls said, “the constitution of a French Tea Party”, though this angry rabble also has distinctively French antecedents in the radical anti-republicanism of the right-wing groupuscules that proliferated in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair at the beginning of the 20th century and polluted…