Who are 'The People' in the Populist Rhetoric? The Case of the 'Front National' (FN) and the 'Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs' (FPÖ)

National Identity
François Debras
Université de Liège
François Debras
Université de Liège

For a few years now, the “Front national” (FN) in France presents itself as the “defender of the people” and “guarantor of his interests”. In 2017, the campaign slogan of Marine Le Pen, party leader and candidate in the presidential election, is “in the name of the people”. In Austria, the “Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs” (FPÖ) presents itself as the “voice of the oppressed majority”. For several years now, the party claims for “a direct democracy in order to let the people speak”. These elements lead us to question the notion of “people”. How to define the “people”? What reality does it refer to? What are the underlying political and ideological issues?

Firstly, to answer this question, we propose to clarify the notion of “the people” in the populist rhetoric (Conovan, 1981). If the FN and the FPÖ are often described as “far-right parties”, for many scholars they’re also referred to “populist parties” (Surel, 2002 – Lecoeur, 2003 – Carter 2005 - Wieviorka, 2013 – Moreau 2016). Thereby, we need to explain these terms. Secondly, our work will analyse the political discourse of the FN and the FPÖ. Our attention will be focused on theirs political programs and oral communications from theirs principal representatives. This analysis is discursive. We don’t work on actions carried out by party’s partisans (parliamentary work, actions in local authorities, etc.).

We observe that the rhetoric from both parties is structured around two dichotomies: 1) the removal of social boundaries in favor of a people / elite opposition (Jamin; 2009; 2016); 2) the affirmation of cultural boundaries in favor of a natives / foreigners opposition (Camus, 2016). We will explain why theses notions of social and cultural boundaries have a prominent place in the rhetoric according to the populist theory. The desire to eliminate the first allows us to identify at least two issues: sovereignty and unity. The affirmation of cultural boundaries illustrates a third issue, the search for national identity (Deleersnijder, 2014 – Monzat 2011).

To conclude, we will return to the classification of the “Front National” and the “Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs” as “right-wing-populist” parties. Ultimately, we will answer our question about who is “the people” in the populist rhetoric and show how it responds to a feeling of uneasiness within the society and, more generally, within Western democracies (Ivaldi 2014 - Deleersnijder 2014).
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