The great replacement: how a far-right theory got into the French electoral campaign

It is almost certain that French President Emmanuel Macron will make it to the second round after the presidential elections on April 10; what is not known is who will be his opponent. Yes, it is known, according to the aggregate of polls published Politician (his “poll of polls”), who will be someone from the right, but it happens that Marine Le Pen (National Group), Éric Zemmour (La Reconquista) and Valérie Pécresse (The Republicans) take just two percentage points in the dispute over the second place (around 15% and almost 10% below Macron), which makes it very difficult to predict a result.

Although they seek to seduce the conservative electorate, Le Pen, Zemour and Pécresse have different trajectories and strategies. Le Pen has been seeking, for a long decade, to “demonize” the image of his party and present it as an acceptable government alternative. This included a name change in 2018 (from the National Front to the National Group) and, above all, a parricide with little metaphor, since it displaced his father, Jean-Marie, from the leadership of the “classic” party of the French extreme right.

Zemmour, on the other hand, did not even have a party when he was proclaimed a candidate in December and his speech runs to the right of Le Pen. Notorious as a media figure (he was profiled in these pages), the panelist, from a migrant family, focuses his campaign on an anti-immigration rhetoric. Convicted of racism and incitement to hatred, Zemmour occupies the place of the “anti-system” and is the main spokesman for the “great replacement” of the French by people from Arabia and North Africa, a fringe theory that has now become one of the clichés of the French right.

With antecedents in different currents of European racial and cultural discrimination, the theory was formulated by the writer Renaud Camus in his book the great replacement (2010). No relation to Nobel laureate Albert Camus (the magazine Le Point titled a profile of himself “The Camus who hated the foreigner”), former gay activist during May 68 Parisian and current resident in a castle in Plieux, Renaud Camus launched the idea that there is a “silent invasion” of Muslim migrants in France.

The permissive policies with immigration and the higher rate of reproduction of migrants would be the engines of the replacement of the “native” population – that is, white and Christian – by people from outside the territory. This invasion, furthermore, would be part of a plan by the globalist elites, who would seek to create a “replaceable man, devoid of any national, ethnic and cultural specificity.”

The idea connected with the feelings of the French “identity movement”, and spread among extremists in Europe; The New Zealand mosque attacker was an avowed follower of the “great replacement” theory and was connected to Austrian far-right groups.

Although Camus proclaims himself a supporter of non-violence, the translation of his diagnosis into political action implies a reaction: the so-called “remigration” or “demigration”, which consists of the expulsion of migrants to their places of origin. This is where, for example, Marine Le Pen stops, whose questions about immigration go so far as to prevent the arrival of more foreigners, but not to the point of requesting their repatriation (as her father did).

For this reason, it was surprising that Valérie Pécresse, who at first seemed to dispute a space closer to the center-right, spoke of the “great replacement” on Sunday in her first campaign act. She is a neoliberal in economics, conservative in matters such as homosexual marriage and in favor, until now, of the absorption of migrants in French culture, in some polls she appeared as the only candidate capable of defeating Macron in the second round.

“In ten years, will we be a sovereign nation, a satellite of the United States, or a hub Chinese business? Will we be united or divided? There is nothing predestined, be it the loss of economic power or the Great Replacement”, said the governor of the metropolitan region in the Zénith arena in Paris.

The mention of Camus’s theory triggered immediate alarms and a question: Is Pécresse trying to seduce the ultra-right electorate? Soon the candidate and those around her had to come out to clarify the mention: “I just wanted to say that I do not resign myself to the theories of Éric Zemmour and the extreme right, because I believe that another path is possible,” she said on Monday to the RTL string.

According liberation, different advisers to the candidate also rushed to reaffirm the unchecking: “We are not the Great Replacement.” But, above all, they conveyed their alarm at the message that was given to the rest of the electorate by legitimizing a concept coined in the most extreme right. Her party, Los Republicanos, seeks to show itself as the “modern” heir to Gaullist conservatism, that current that, just 20 years ago, showed that exhibiting a little republicanism was enough to defeat the hard right. With his 2002 victory by almost 80% to 20%, Jacques Chirac showed that the extreme right had a ceiling. The loser, Le Pen Sr., never fully digested the lesson, but some of his heirs are something else.

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The great replacement: how a far-right theory got into the French electoral campaign