In its issue for December 20, 2018, the New York Review of Books published an essay by Mark Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, titled “Two Roads for the New French Right.” The piece caught the attention of many American conservatives—I personally received a number of emails drawing my attention to it, all by people who had found the article highly relevant to the intellectual and political right in America, and to Chronicles in particular. The New York Review, since its founding in the early 1960’s during a prolonged strike at the New York Times that left publishers starved of publicity for their books and readers of appraisals of them, has been notoriously left-wing; since the election of Donald Trump to the White House, it has become nearly as obsessed with the President as the Times is.
Professor Lilla himself is a doctrinaire liberal whose most fervent social commitment is to abortion on demand. Yet what Lilla wrote strongly confirmed my sense that the French intellectual right, comprising writers and political intellectuals of all ages, is far in advance of its counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Western Europe generally. Its breadth, sophistication, and influence is manifested by the book lists of significant French publishers such as Grasset, Gallimard, and Albin Michel, and journals like Le Figaro, the Paris daily newspaper founded in 1826, and Catholica, to which the late Claude Polin contributed 41 articles over a lifetime. Not surprisingly, much of the new right in France is Catholic, all or most of them strong supporters of La Manif Pour Tous, a group that defends traditional morality and demands either the abolition of, or alterations to, the loi Taubira of 2013 that legalized homosexual marriage and allows for same-sex couples to adopt children; and of Sens Commun, a political organization, also founded in 2013, that brings considerable influence to bear within Les Républicains and enthusiastically supported François Fillon in the presidentielles in 2017, before his wife was revealed to enjoy a lucrative sinecure in the government and he was compelled to leave the race.
All this is the subject of Le vieux monde est de retour: Enquête sur les nouveaux conservateurs (The Old World Is Back: A Study of the New Conservatives, Stock, 2018) by Pascale Tournier and cited by Lilla in his essay. Prominent among these men and women is François-Xavier Bellamy, whose superb Demeure I discussed in my column in the January number of this magazine. (Professor Bellamy, only 33 years old, is a renowned philosopher, an adjutant to the mayor of Versailles since 2008, and a proposed candidate for the European Parliament in the Européennes scheduled for May 26.) Equally notable on the right is Marion Maréchal, the youthful niece of Marine Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement national (formerly the Front National) and widely regarded as being more personally and politically palatable than her controversial aunt and her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the FN. Just this year Mme Maréchal opened a training school in Lyon, the Institut de Sciences Sociales Économiques & Politiques, no doubt as a competitor of the liberal Sciences Po in Paris. Fluent in English, she recently addressed a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C., with whose neoliberalist views she is nevertheless at odds.
I am finding Tournier’s book a fascinating study with which American conservatives are well advised to familiarize themselves.