TRIBUNE - For a long time, the right has drawn its identity in the rejection of ideology, notes the historian *. Competed in France by macronian pragmatism and populism, how can it forge a credible alternative without falling into the sterile dialectic between the liberal right and the "right of values"?
The times are not clement for the right, in France as elsewhere, even where it governs. In Germany, its two wings, CDU and CSU, are tearing apart on the issue of migrants. In the United Kingdom, the referendum on Brexit and the chaotic disagreements over its modalities of application continue to undermine the Conservative Party, until it makes possible what seemed unthinkable yesterday: a victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections of Jeremy Corbyn, old Marxist unrepentant whose political mismanagement and inexperience of power have become an electoral asset.
Finally, in the United States, the Republican Party has changed, at the rate of its denials, into servile auxiliary of the White House. A phenomenal success for Donald Trump, whose popularity, immutable, with Republican voters and the power of intimidation allow him to impose on the party its tribal culture: nativism, protectionism, unilateralism. Mr. Trump managed to turn the denunciation of "elites" against the elected Republicans, who are today at the mercy of his support to obtain the votes of the base for re-election. Only those who do not seek a new mandate still dare criticize it openly. "We have become strangers to ourselves," an outgoing senator recently confided. "Our constituents do not care about real questions," lamented another. All they want to know is "are you with or against Trump?"
The old party of Ronald Reagan, who today dominates both Houses, has become the inert instrument of a populist drift fanned together from the base and the summit.
Apparently, the French right escapes these various evils. She agrees on illegal immigration, Islamic communitarianism, terrorist danger. It agrees on the maintenance of France in a European Union less bureaucratic and more respectful of national democracies. And it does not seem threatened by the imminent onset of a French Donald Trump. But she faces other equally formidable events.
We have just witnessed, without realizing it, the dilution of the Bonapartist usages which so long marked the political culture of the Right
Historic. Since its origins, the right has not been recognized either in a unified worldview or in a particular dogma; it drew its identity from the very refusal of ideological systems and, above all, from the test of its relationship with the left: the repudiation of the eradicating spirit of the Revolution; hostility to the socialist idea in the nineteenth century; proscription of communism in the next century. This "mirrored" identity was blurred even after the Second World War, with the help of the communists who sought to spread the discredit of fascism to the whole of the right, by "essentializing" it as a class enemy. But today Communism is dead and the Socialist Party, which has kept the revolutionary superego and the same enemies, hardly exists. From now on, the right can only rely on itself to define itself.
Cultural. We have just witnessed, without really noticing it, the dilution of the Bonapartist usages which have so long marked the political culture of the Right. The unsurprising failure of Nicolas Sarkozy in the primaries of the right is the most tangible sign. These open primaries, criticized in more than one way, have at least verified that the time of plebiscitary consecrations was over.
Since the installation of Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee, it is difficult to form an audible and credible opposition to a president who has won so many votes from the right
Policies finally. Since the installation of Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee, it is difficult to form an audible and credible opposition to a president who has won so many votes from the right; whose project had many features in common with that of M. Fillon; who began a reform package, however modest, which the right had not dared to undertake; who embodies the presidential office with a dignity inaccessible to its immediate predecessors; who recognized the importance of regicide in our national narrative, whence the pedagogues of the republican left had valiantly expelled him; and who siphons skilfully the themes of predilections that the right has become accustomed to reserve.
Some ideological doctors repeat that the right has to choose between a "liberal" and "globalist" (they hate) policy and an identity, regal and conservative path, which they pompously call "the right of values". This alternative is all the more chimerical because it is based on vague notions that lend themselves to the most diverse interpretations.
Liberalism is not reducible to neoliberal economism and "libertarian" individualism. It recognizes the regal functions of the state that they tend to eliminate; advocates the civic spirit they hold for a constraint; and sees no contradiction between a market economy and national sentiment. The idea that liberalism would inevitably give rise to a "societal" radicalism has never been verified elsewhere than in the minds of its authors.
The same confusion affects conservatism, often mistakenly assimilated to reaction. His great oracle, Edmund Burke, was not Joseph de Maistre or Maurras. He supported the American rights to independence, but criticized without indulgence the pathology of the clean slate of French revolutionaries, this ruinous passion to shape human nature by moral injunctions and legal prescriptions.
His conservatism is reluctant to regulate morals by laws. He intends to reconcile the inherited attachments to the lessons of experience, the "nature of things" to the dynamics of progress, the concern for the common good to individual fulfillment.
Fillon has managed, exceptional thing, to rally the right around a conservative program, liberal and national, without conceding anything to the center or the National Front
The accommodation between economic liberalism, political liberalism and social conservatism is not a bookish theory. They formed the bedrock of Ronald Reagan's "coalition," ranging from hardened "libertarians" to ultra-conservatives, and that lasted so long because everyone found enough to keep it going.
They also imbued, with other nuances, the "synthesis" elaborated by François Fillon, which no one today remembers. Fillon managed, exceptional thing, to gather the right around a conservative program, liberal and national, without conceding anything to the center or the National Front. He proposed very difficult economic and fiscal reforms, explained and assumed with rare frankness. He admitted the impossibility of reverting to same-sex marriage, but refused to give him moral approval, any more than abortion, which he did not intend to call into question again. And he did not agree to "drown" the question of Islam in France in a general discussion on secularism. Mr. Fillon owed his massive victory in the primaries to the coherence of a project that did not fundamentally alienate any of the components of the right.
The judicial troubles placed in his way and his own conduct in the case made us forget this fugitive but edifying moment. And the lesson that can be drawn from it is clear. If the right does not undertake to question its heritage and rethink its identity now orphaned Bonapartist habits, if it has to offer electoral schemes, bellicose invectives and empty slogans, it may eventually open the way to a new Donald Trump, this time very French.
*Director of research at the CNRS. Professor at Raymond-Aron Political Research Center.