The Myth of French Neoconservatism. The National Front Vote and the Evolution of Values
Increasing popularity of the Front National in legislative elections since 1986 has been interpreted by some as a neoconservative turn in French society toward xenophobic, authoritarian, and traditionalist values. Etienne Schweisguth demonstrates here that the interpretation is flawed, and that in fact liberal, anti-authoritarian humanism is on the rebound. The FN owes its success, he points out, to being the only party with a radical mandate. It is a natural magnet for all those who have been marginalized: the uneducated are the principal victims of exclusion and insecurity.
Schweisguth uses birth cohorts and generation effects as the basis of his analysis, which is a more pertinent approach to identifying trends than one based on age and time period. It allows him to demonstrate that authoritarian values are on the decline in French society and that the rise of liberal humanitarism is linked to better education and the spread of the ideas of the enlightment.
Making use of 1978, 1988, 1995 and 1997 surveys conducted by the CEVIPOF, he stresses that FN success at the polls is due mainly to protest votes from the least favoured. Their vote is not so much an endorsement of the ideas of the FN as it is the expression of deep discontent over socio-economic changes which leave them out in the cold.
Schweisguth concludes that more resources for education and the reinsertion of the excluded into society will be a more effective counter to further FN gains than the appropriation of its themes by democratic parties, whether of the right or of the left.