Conservative French journalist and commentator Éric Zemmour announced this week he’s running for French president in elections next year, disrupting a race many had assumed would be a 2017 rematch between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
Whether Zemmour has a real shot at the French presidency — he polled well throughout the fall, although his numbers have begun to slide — is probably too soon to say. But Zemmour’s candidacy is important less for his prospects than his longstanding message, articulated in a string of best-selling books and regular TV appearances: France is in steep decline, fueled by the loss of traditional French and Christian values, mass Muslim immigration, and the feminization of French society.
That message has a growing audience in France because it is more or less true, and the French people know it. Decades of Muslim immigration without significant assimilation have transformed parts of France into something unrecognizable to older French people and undesirable to a growing cadre of younger French conservatives.
For this latter group, Zemmour’s unapologetic bluntness is refreshing in a media environment where it’s considered somehow racist or bigoted to point out what has become undeniable about the state of French civilization. In a video announcing his candidacy, Zemmour gave a rousing defense of French civilization, calling for a radical return to national greatness. “It is no longer time to reform France, but to save it,” he said, and warned his supporters that they would be tarred as racists.
As if on cue, The New York Times published an op-ed Thursday that declared Zemmour “the loudest and most extreme voice of French racism today,” who heralds “a new, more virulent chapter” in the history of French bigotry.
Big Tech also responded predictably. After Zemmour’s campaign announcement video got some 2.4 million views in a few days, YouTube restricted access to it, requiring viewers to sign in and affirm they’re over 18 to watch it.
After 2.4 million views, Eric Zemmour’s campaign launch announcement video has been restricted on YouTube — you now have to sign in and be over 18 to watch it. pic.twitter.com/v3tXPDqcvY
— Freddy Gray (@Freddygray31) December 2, 2021
Charges of racism and bigotry against Zemmour will become commonplace in both the French and American press as the 2022 election nears, as will attempts to censor and suppress his campaign (in Google’s case, with what could be considered foreign interference in the French election).
But dismissing Zemmour and his message as racist is lazy — and curious, considering that Zemmour is the Jewish son of Algerian immigrants, in a way a living embodiment of the assimilation he says is crucial to France’s survival.
It’s lazy because even a casual observer of contemporary French society can see that something has gone very wrong in France, and indeed in much of Europe — from high rates of youth unemployment to rising gang-related crime to the infamous lawlessness of France’s impoverished banlieues.
All these problems, as Zemmour and others have argued for years, can be traced to mass immigration and specifically to the country’s failure to assimilate Muslim immigrants into the mainstream of French society.
Like America, France is based on a universal ideal: liberté, égalité, fraternité. It is also a true nation, bound together by history, language, and religion.
Zemmour’s straightforward argument, dismissed as racist by woke liberals in both France and America, is that the nation will not survive unless immigrants are required above all to become French, to accept the ideals and ethos of liberté, égalité, fraternité, to adopt the French language and to some extent the French way of life. In other words, Zemmour is arguing that France is not and cannot be multicultural. It must be French, or it will become nothing.
That message is resonating in France because it is basically true. Macron is aware of its purchase, and has been tacking to the right on a range of issues in recent years, from insisting last summer that France would not “erase” its history by removing colonial-era statues, to imposing stricter limits on immigrant visas from North African countries earlier this year.
Le Pen finds herself now in the awkward position of being outflanked on the right after having spent years trying to re-brand her National Rally party as more mainstream than the anti-immigration and actually racist National Front party she inherited from her now-ostracized father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. That effort appears to be backfiring, though, as French voters realize that Le Pen’s anti-European Union socialism won’t, on its own, be enough to save their beloved country.
When Zemmour says both the right and left of France have “led us to this deadly path of decline and decadence,” and says he’s running for president so “our daughters won’t have to wear the Muslim headscarf, so that our sons won’t have to submit,” he is taking aim at France’s entire political establishment. That includes one-time supposed liberal upstarts like Macron as well as nationalist rebels like Le Pen, both of whom have proved to be amenable to establishment politics, which in the view of Zemmour and his supporters is the same as being amenable to French decline.
When Zemmour says he’s running so “the French people remain French, proud of their history and confident of their future,” so that new immigrants assimilate “and make the history of France their own, so that we create new French people in France, instead of foreigners in an unknown land,” that’s not an appeal to racism or bigotry. It’s the most basic appeal a patriot can make: let us, together, preserve our nation and make it prosper.
That this needs to be said at all, at this late hour, says far more about the state of modern France and its elites than it does about the French right or Zemmour. That his campaign will be met with howls of racism from elites on both sides of the Atlantic likewise tells you everything you need to know about what those elites think French national culture — or any national culture — is worth.