Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has a fascinating piece in the Week on Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the 25-year old niece of Marine Le Pen whom many commentators call the rising star of the French Right. At age 22, Marion was the youngest person elected to the French parliament; she occupies a prominent place in the Front National’s public imaging and is poised to win a regional seat for the party in Sunday’s elections. What makes Marion remarkable, Gobry says, is not just her rapid ascent, but that she has risen to celebrity on a new kind of rightwing platform:
Marion is outspoken about her Catholic worldview, in a country where that is strange for any politician; even the FN’s official line is that it is a defender not of Christian values, but of French laïcité against Muslim influence. Marion is unapologetic about her stance on social issues: She opposes abortion, even as the FN has softened its (never very hard) stance on the issue, and has stated forthrightly that if elected to head her region, she would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood (Marine disavowed those comments).
She has also bucked her party on economics. She is unashamed of being pro-business and pro-free markets, again a tremendous oddity in France. She founded a group called Cardinal to solicit policy proposals from business owners.
She is, in other words, the closest thing to a U.S.-style conservative in France.
Interestingly, Marion is not the only political figure pitching a strain of right-wing politics that may seem better-suited to a different continent. Here in the U.S., Donald Trump is dominating headlines for his revival of proto-fascist politics (a rightwing nationalism that perhaps has more in common with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front than the detoxified, ostensibly modernized party run by his daughter). As Ben Domenech wrote over the summer, “what Trump represents is the potential for a significant shift in the Republican Party toward white identity politics for the American right, and toward a coalition more in keeping with the European right than with the American.” Like many leaders of European rightwing parties, but unlike any other major figures that have gained prominence on the American right in the last several decades, Trump has little time for free markets, small government, religious conservatism, or federalism, instead building a campaign around his cult of personality and strident, exclusionary nationalism.
It seems unlikely that European-style rightwing politics will prevail in the United States. The American conservative movement, as Domenech noted, has always been a “fusionist ideological coalition” relying not just on Jacksonians, but also on free marketers, evangelicals, and foreign policy internationalists—constituencies to whom Trumpism does not offer much. Similarly, there are tremendous obstacles to the adoption of a more Americanized conservatism in France, such as the country’s post-war faith in the welfare state and the antipathy toward religion in the public square.
But even if Trumpism is ultimately (somehow) kicked to the curb in the U.S., and even if Marion’s brand of conservatism never gains a real foothold in the FN, we may be living at a time when rightwing political traditions are cross-pollinating. We used to think of the “global left” as a unified phenomenon, while rightwing political parties (which rely more on place and tradition) looked dramatically different on either side of the Atlantic. Today, a variety of forces may be pushing rightwing parties together. This cross-Atlantic conservative dialogue could be fruitful if it brought market-oriented reforms to Europe’s decrepit, blue model bureaucracy, or if it helped American conservatives offer a more inclusive economic vision. But it is also dangerous, as evidenced by the rise to prominence of the red-haired bigot who is currently humiliating America on the world stage.