Eric Zemmour’s announcement that he would run in the French Presidential election next year has been followed by a 10-minute campaign video. Zemmour is speaking into a vast, old-fashioned microphone, and his background is of leather bound books. The setting is a copy of the 18 June Charles De Gaulle address made in London to rally the French to resistance: “J’invite tous les Français qui veulent rester libres à m’écouter et à me suivre.”
The musical accompaniment? Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. France was a once great country in decline that needs “to be saved”, he said, not just “reformed”. The first stages of his speech are accompanied by a montage of clips of the various luminaries of French history. They must have cost a bomb to acquire. It was a paean to a France “which is disappearing” – the France, he said, listing a wild variety of French figures, of Jeanne d’Arc and Louis Quatorze, of Hugo, Voltaire, of Pasteur, and of Charles Aznavour, Alain Delon and Johnny Hallyday.
The political class has let the French people down, he said, in this speech titled: “It’s time to act.” He cast himself as a journalist who had been happy to play the role of ’Cassandra’, spit balling at the world of politics. He now wishes to challenge Macron, who is a “synthesis of the worst qualities of his two predecessors”, Sarkozy and Hollande.
The rallying cry, “we will not be replaced”, was repeated in the speech, a term coined by the far-right thinker Renaud Camus to describe, in his own words, a “genocide by substitution” of white, indigenous Europeans, ousted by incoming Muslim populations.
For Zemmour, France’s status as a civilisational state with a unique destiny has been jeopardised by self-serving elites. And yet for all his iconoclastic, ‘France must be saved’ rhetoric, Zemmour sounds much like every single one of the last dozen Presidents. He is recapitulating a traditionally Republican view of French values. Sarkozy repeatedly invoked the inheritance of De Gaulle in explicit terms. Macron often talks of France’s unique civilisational inheritance: in his 2018 address on Armistice Day, he said that French soldiers had died for “pure ideals and superior principles”.
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And yet in much of his speech, Zemmour sounded closer in tone to the British politician Enoch Powell, who, Cassandra-like and in similarly grandiloquent and portentous terms, painted a deeply pessimistic vision of Britain’s future. Not so much France’s Trump, as some corners of the media have labelled him, as France’s Powell. Potentially an even more combustible prospect.