Two weeks ago, the pundit and journalist Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy for the French Presidency. Click Here He announced his goal, if elected President of the Republic, is to "save France" from forces threatening her imminent demise, emphasizing Islamic immigration. Click Here The most popular figure on the French right today, Zemmour presents a political vision for saving France that echoes Victor Orba'n's pronouncement, following his 2014 electoral victory in Hungary, that liberal democracy is now undergoing 'regime change' to illiberal democracy. Click Here
Critics of Orba'n have been quick to dismiss him as orchestrating a change from liberal democracy and human rights to ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. Click Here As he gains international notoriety outside France, Zemmour encounters the much same criticism. Click Here Illiberal democracy restores only popular prejudices from the nation's past, colonialist, racist, and xenophobic.
In the United States, we have become so accustomed to treating liberalism and democracy as conjoined twins we typically assume that there can be no democracy without liberalism. After all, liberalism provides the foundation of universal human rights for individuals, and minority groups, whereby democracy achieves moral legitimacy. A democracy without liberalism is just a 'tyranny of the majority,' a tyranny or prevailing opinion or prejudice, as the British political philosopher John Stuart Mill once put it.
What is left of democracy once it is stripped of liberalism? Is illiberal democracy merely a re-run of majoritarian tyranny? Or does it represent a distinctively new political phenomenon that liberal democrats must forthrightly address rather than dismiss if they are to forestall regime change?
Orba'n's Illiberal Democracy
Making his case for regime change to illiberal democracy, Orba'n contends the linkage of liberal democracy with human rights undermines the integrity of national peoples. Liberal democracy has created a cosmopolitan tyranny of international finance and fundamental human rights law over popular democratic majorities.
Contrary to Mill, Orba'n addresses not the tyranny of the majority over sundry minorities, but rather what he sees as the tyrannization of the popular democratic majorities by such elites, under the mantle of universal human rights. Democracy must therefore be decoupled from liberalism to restore the sovereign rights of the people to determine its own destiny.
A rearguard action resisting the prevailing opinions or prejudices of cosmopolitical elites, such a decoupling strategy has now moved from former Soviet satellite states like Hungary to a leading light of the EU, France.
Zemmour on the People Caught Between Two Universalisms
According to Zemmour, "many clever people have compared the European Union to the now defunct Soviet Union and the monetary weaponry of the ECB [European Central Bank] to the Warsaw Pact tanks launched in the service of the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited [national] sovereignty". Hungary merely replaced Soviet with EU tyranny.
Zemmour sees not just the Hungarian but also the French people as caught between two universalisms "crush[ing] our nations, our peoples, our territories, our traditions, our ways of life, our cultures." Unsurprisingly, the first of these tyrannical universalisms is human rights. The second, however, is no longer communism but Islam. The latter "very cleverly takes advantage of our religion of human rights to... colonize portions of French territory... transforming [them] by the sheer force of numbers... into foreign enclaves."
Human rights and Islam are "at once rivals and accomplices." They are rivals in "enslave[ing] our brains," turning us into "deracinated zombies." But they are also de facto "accomplices" because human-rights universalism "prevents us [the French people] from defending ourselves in the name of a short-sighted individualism." Indeed, it is "not individuals who are in question but rather great masses of people... civilizations [Christian and Islamic] that are confronting one another on our soil in a thousand-year struggle."
Together, the two universalisms produce not "progress" but an "astonishing reversal." According to Zemmour, the "benevolent genius" of the French state was to "protect [its people] from feudal lords and foreign predators." No longer protector of the people, it has become "the arm of the nation's destruction... that people's replacement by another people, another civilization."
He thus pits "the French people against" these two universalisms through the restoration of popular democracy: "We must restore democracy, which is the power of the people against liberal democracy, which, in the name of the rule of [human-rights] law, is now used to impede the will of the people."
Here the stakes are existential. The "French people's [existence and] identity precedes" all other purportedly essential questions about immigration, integration, harmonious cohabitation, even prosperity through the market economy.
Is Liberal-Democracy Headed for an Illiberal Regime Change?
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