November 26, 2018
The Rise of Populism in France
Populism is a term and an ideology that has been gaining more traction around the world in recent years and has been attributed to disrupting the traditional political structure around the world, especially in Europe and the United States. According to the Guardian, populism can be defined as a view of politics, applicable to both the left and right sides, that frames a battle between the “virtuous ‘ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite—” and insists that the spirit of the people will always prevail (Roodujin; 2018, 1). Essentially, the idea is that populist leaders serve the will of the people, while traditional parties serve more of the corrupt elite, which doesn’t necessarily seem to be a new idea, but one that is gaining tremendous popularity. It connects people with disillusioned ideas of government and themselves with a new type of political structure that could benefit them.
Populism has become increasingly more attractive through the years. This can be seen in an increase in articles and increase in searches for the word on Google. According to the Guardian, “In 1998, the Guardian published about 300 articles that included the terms “populism” or “populist.” In 2015, these terms were used in about 1,000 articles, and one year later this number had doubled to almost 2,000″ (Roodujin; 2018, 1). So what caused this huge rise in populism?
In this paper I argue the rise of populism, specific to France, is due to its citizens’ disillusionment with the government, a dissatisfaction with the prospects of their future, and an increase in political and cultural incidents, such as terrorist attacks in France, their immigration crisis, and their distressed economy.
This idea of a linear political spectrum is not new to the French people. According to the Atlantic, “the idea that politicians operate on a spectrum, with the right on one end and the left on another, originated with the French Revolution when royalists sat on the right side of the National Assembly and revolutionaries on the left” (Friedman; 2017, 1). These people were not only separated ideologically, but also physically from one another breeding a sort of black and white divide between the two parties’ views. This physical separation exacerbated this separation for centuries to come.
Looking at this divide between mainstream left in right in more recent times, the gradual merging of each can cause populism to breed. This can be seen with the Front National party in France. According to the Guardian, “A good example is how in France the Front National (now National Rally) merged the names of the centre-right UMP and the centre-left PS into “UMPS” in its campaigning – the political equivalent of Tweedledum and Tweedle-dee. Moreover, when mainstream parties converge, they leave fallow a lot of ideological space, and therefore tend to be unresponsive to the worries of more radical citizens” (Roodujin; 2018, 1). Many voters will now be disposed to believe mainstream parties from the right and left are all becoming the same.