Most Americans have never heard of him, but last Wednesday, October 6, a French polling organization announced that journalist Eric Zemmour had surpassed Marine Le Pen to become the number one challenger to incumbent Emmanuel Macron in France’s next presidential election, scheduled for April 2022. An astonished pollster said: “We have never seen such a meteoric rise in such a short time” [Présidentielle 2022: un nouveau sondage donne Zemmour en duel avec Macron au second tour!, LaLibre.be, October 6, 2021].
Zemmour is an unlikely hero for the French nationalist right. The son of Berber Jews from Algeria, he is 63 years old and has never held public office. But he has enjoyed a long career in journalism and has been a familiar fixture on French television since 2003. In 2014 his book The French Suicide became a bestseller. It provides a handy overview of France’s political blunders since the 1970s with a focus on immigration and the new laws against “ethnic incitement” which make it dangerous to criticize. He has himself been prosecuted under such laws several times and convicted once [French journalist convicted on racism charge over drug dealer comment, by Angelique Chrisafis, Guardian, February 18, 2011].
Zemmour considers himself a Gaullist, i.e., part of the mainstream right, but particularly since publication of The French Suicide, he has usually been described as “far right.” In France as in the rest of Europe, this term refers to all who wish to see substantial cuts in extra-European immigration, regardless of their views on any other issue. The Respectable Right actively or passively supports the Great Replacement, or at best grumbles and proposes ineffective measures. It collaborates with the dominant Left in maintaining a cordon sanitaire against the so-called far right. This split has, unsurprisingly, rendered the French right largely ineffective.
Zemmour’s design is to tear down the cordon sanitaire. A journalistic colleague once described him as having “a very clear ambition, which is to erase the divide between the republican right and the far-right under the banner of the far-right.” Zemmour responded: “You have understood me very well” [The Right-Wing Pundit ‘Hashtag Triggering’ France, by Elisabeth Zerofsky, New York Times, February 6, 2019]. This may turn out a far more effective strategy than Marine Le Pen’s ongoing efforts to make the National Rally (formerly the National Front) appear ever tamer and more inoffensive.
Zemmour has described immigration as a “demographic tsunami,” and supports a proposed law to require genetic tests in order to qualify for family reunification. He has described antiracist ideology as the successor of a now discredited communism, and charged that former Pres. François Mitterand embraced it in the 1980s to distract his socialist base from his turn toward economic liberalism.
Zemmour has criticized feminism and what he calls “gay ideology” for leading to the emasculation of French society. An opponent of free trade, he has emphasized the role of the market economy in eroding other essential social institutions such as the family. He has also spoken favorably of the possibility of reattaching Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, to France. But demographic replacement of the ethnic French will be the issue on which upcoming elections turn.
In September 2019, Zemmour gave a fiery speech at a political rally arranged by Marion Maréchal Le Pen, Mrs. Le Pen’s less risk-averse niece. He told attendees that all France’s and Europe’s problems are exacerbated by immigration and Islam, and spoke of a “war of extermination” being waged “against the white, heterosexual Catholic man.” “Our brilliant progressives,” he said, “have brought racial war and religious war back to us” with their belief that “people are undifferentiated beings, interchangeable, of no sex and without roots.” He then asked: “Are the young French going to agree to live as a minority on the land of their ancestors. If so, they deserve to be colonized; if not, they will have to fight for their liberation [my translation]" [Eric Zemmour’s Blockbuster Speech, by Rod Dreher, TAC, October 3, 2019].
Eric Zemmour has frequently been encouraged to run for political office, but so far has never done so. He has, however, spoken of wanting to “play a role” in the 2022 French presidential election [Zemmour seen breaking Macron-Le Pen duopoly in 2022 French election - poll, Reuters, October 6, 2021]. Last month he published a new book: France Has Not Yet Said Its Final Word. It is currently the second-best-selling book on the French Amazon, and appears on track to become another sensation like The French Suicide seven years ago.
This book and Zemmour’s promotional tour are the principal cause of his sudden rise in French presidential polls. Before the book’s publication, 7 percent of the electorate said they would support his candidacy. Currently, his support stands at 17 percent, behind incumbent Emmanuel Macron at 24 percent and ahead of Marine Le Pen at 15 percent. This would be enough to get him into the second round of next year’s election, where he would be likely to gain the support of most of Mrs. Le Pen’s followers. Would it be enough to put him over the top? Current polls say no: they indicate Macron would still beat him 55–45. But that means he only needs to convert another five percent of France’s electorate, and he has until next April to accomplish this. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s most recent interview has been described as “signall[ing] a more aggressive stance,” a change certainly attributable to Zemmour’s unexpected challenge [Surge by far-right pundit Zemmour shakes up French election, France24.com, October 6, 2021].
A recent article in by Daniel Barge in The Occidental Observer [French Politics Is Built Around the Principle of Stopping Marine Le Pen Becoming President, October 10, 2021] suggests that Zemmour is a Jewish "spoiler" candidate being groomed to keep Marine Le Pen from the presidency. As I indicate, I think a little competition on the right would be more helpful than harmful at this point.