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The influence of far-right in the French public debate: the (unexpected?) success of the notion of the « Great Replacement ».

Extremism
Media
National Identity
Identity
Qualitative
Political Ideology
Paul May
Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada.
Paul May
Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada.

Abstract

My presentation falls within the literature on the influence of far-right anti-immigrant movements. My aim is to measure the extent to which far-right ideas are gaining popularity among more moderate sections of civil society (Kallis 2013 p.225). To do so, I take an original approach: while the current literature has mostly focused on the analysis of public policies (Abou Chadi 2016), electoral voting (Norris 2005), and political party programs (Richardson and Colombo 2014), I focus on analysis of public debate. Analyzing public debate is crucial to understanding the influence of ideas, and to going beyond the formal negotiations and political game of party politics. I try to identify how ideas that can be categorized as originally belonging to the “extreme right” are nowadays taken up and discussed in the French national press. In order to do this, I focus on the use of the notion of the “great replacement”, known to be promoted by the most radical fringes of the French far-right movement (Camus and Lebourg 2015; Crépon et al 2015). I will analyze how this notion has been interpreted in public debate. This notion of the “great replacement”, developed by the essay writer Renaud Camus, postulates the existence of a deliberate process of substitution of the French and European population by a non-European population, mostly originating from sub Saharan Africa and North Africa. Analysis of the use of the term “great replacement” is therefore crucial for measuring how ideas which have long been on the far right of the political spectrum are gaining popularity among more moderate sections of civil society (Kallis 2013 p.225). I choose to focus on the case of France because this country is home to an extreme right-wing party, the Rassemblement National (formerly Front National), which has achieved constant electoral success for more than thirty years (Rydgren 2004), without establishing any alliances with mainstream right-wing political parties to participate in governments at the national level. It will therefore be interesting to analyze to what extent this political party, formally excluded from power and government coalitions, nevertheless manages to inject some of its ideas into the national public debate, beyond the circle of its supporters. How is the term “great replacement” perceived in the national press? Is the term considered to be a relevant description of the demographic evolution of the country, by pundits, journalists, and political figures outside the circle of far-right supporters? Who, on the contrary, considers that the term has a strong racist and xenophobic dimension? The objectives of my presentation are threefold: 1) to understand the progression and influence of far-right ideas on public debate; 2) to grasp the ideological conflicts stemming from the growing ethnocultural diversity of the French population; 3) to better apprehend the ideological dividing lines that split French society.