The growth of the nationalist right in Europe and the United States has set off a debate over whether “economic anxiety” or “racial resentment” is at the root of this phenomenon. Examining the case of the French National Front, I suggest that this is a poor way of posing the question of the significance of class in explaining the rise of the nationalist right. Recent advances by the National Front—particularly among working-class voters—have tended to be attributed to the party's strategic pivot toward a “leftist” economic program and an embrace of the republican tradition. This in turn has been critically interpreted in two different ways. Some take the FN’s strategic pivot at face value and see the party's success as the expression of a new political cleavage between cosmopolitanism and communitarianism. Others see the National Front's embrace of republicanism as a cynical ploy hiding its true face. Both interpretations, however, point to a strategy of “republican defense” as a means to counteract the National Front. I argue that this strategy is likely to misfire and that class remains central to explaining—and countering—the rise of the National Front, albeit in a peculiar way. Working-class support for the National Front does indeed appear to be driven primarily by ethno-cultural, not class, interests, but this is itself predicated on a historical decline in the political salience of class due to the neoliberal depoliticization of the economy. I argue that it was this disarticulation of class identity that helped deliver the working-class vote to the National Front and that any strategy for combating the nationalist right must thus find new ways to articulate a class identity capable of neutralizing racist and chauvinist articulations.
Desan, M.H. (2020), "Is the National Front Republican and Does It Matter? Class, Culture, and the Rise of the Nationalist Right", Eidlin, B. and McCarthy, M.A. (Ed.) Rethinking Class and Social Difference (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 53-80. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920200000037004
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