On Friday afternoon, Marion Maréchal (who no longer uses the patronym Le Pen because it is too “political”), the darling of France’s nationalist Right — and of her grandfather Jean-Marie Le Pen, who in 2017 said “she incarnates the true [National Front]” — presided over the opening of the political science school she has touted for the past several months.
Maréchal declared a break from political life and resigned from her post in the French parliament following her aunt’s second-place finish in the presidential election last year. The 28-year old prodigy boasts an impressive political record; at 22 years old she was the youngest person elected to France’s parliament, and she has come to embody the future of the country’s nationalist movement. Her aunt’s flameout, largely due to a botched debate performance, as well as the factional disputes that have split the National Front (recently renamed “National Rally” ), are bad for the party but promising for Maréchal’s political future.
But she’s still shying away from the political spotlight. Despite a controversial appearance at CPAC this past February — many American conservatives disagreed with the claim that the Le Pen scion is a “classical liberal” — Maréchal has tried (and failed) to avoid the scrutiny of the political press in France as she plots her next move.
Her new focus is the “Institute of Economics, Social Sciences, and Politics” that she inaugurated on Friday. So far, around 60 students have registered for classes that will begin in September, at a cost of 5,500 euros per year, and 160 students have registered for its professional studies program. It will be funded by donors who are “uniquely French.” Inspired by a Paris-based right-wing political academy founded in 2004, its goal is to “train the leaders of tomorrow, those who will have the courage, the discernment, the skill to defend the interest of their people.” In other words, to shape the next generation of nationalist leaders.
What does this mean for the future of France’s right-wing populist movement? For one, Maréchal has decided to shelter herself from the chaos that engulfs today’s National Front. She’s biding her time, waiting for the specter of her family’s name to pass. In the place of the statist, “neither left nor right” party that has existed under Marine Le Pen and her now-estranged deputy Florian Philippot, Maréchal eventually wants to create a fusion of the republican Right and her populism. Philippot, a longtime political rival, moved the National Front leftward to appeal to laid-off factory workers in the North and East; now that he’s gone, she envisions the creation of a determinedly conservative political coalition. The institute’s board demonstrates this: On it sit longtime supporters of the Le Pen family, an adviser to Nigel Farage, and figures close to France’s mainstream center-Right party. The new academy will serve as the laboratory and launch pad of this French fusionism.
However, Marion Maréchal merely offers more of the same. Just as Marine Le Pen and Philippot tried (and failed) to purge their party of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s imprint, Maréchal’s overtures to the mainstream Right are a mere attempt at masking the rot at the Front’s collaborationist, reactionary roots — its rebranding as National Rally even resembles the name of a World War II-era left-wing fascist party. From her affiliation with the anti-gay group Manif pour tous, to the jarringly protectionist and euroskeptic discourse in which she traffics, it often seems that her political brand would thrive best in the Southern France of the 1950s. Indeed, Maréchal wants to turn back the clock, replacing France’s republican tradition with a politics founded on identity grievance. Classical liberals shouldn’t fall for it.