Student union with a sign stating “young people piss off Marine Le Pen” during a demonstration against the far right on June 15, 2024, in Paris. (Photo by Francois Goudier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Does France Face a ‘Civil War’?

The populist right and the populist left are dominating French politics ahead of Sunday’s elections. What’s a voter to do?

PARIS — Does France face a “civil war”? That is what President Emmanuel Macron has warned is at stake this Sunday as we head to the polls to vote in the snap elections he called in the wake of his party’s defeat at the hands of the far right in last month’s European Parliament vote. 

Critics accuse him of using a strategy of fear to rally his base to turn out, but Macron is right about this fact: our upcoming election could be a turning point in the history of France.

The populist right and the populist left are both polling ahead of Macron’s centrist bloc. The far-right bloc, led by the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, is polling at 38.5 percent. Meantime, a populist bloc on the left that has dubbed itself the Popular Front, in memory of the social-democratic adventure of the Popular Front of 1936, is polling at 28.6 percent. And Macron’s centrist bloc? It’s trailing at 20.5 percent.

Many voters say they will hold their noses and reluctantly support one of the leading factions, but only to block the other one, who they view as an existential threat to the Republic. 

For a classical liberal and a proud Jew—and I am both—the choices are dire.

First, the leftist bloc. 

It includes respectable politicians such as former president François Hollande, a moderate socialist, and the young Raphaël Glucksmann, who, in the European elections of three weeks ago, led a brilliant campaign for a moderate and modern social democracy.

But it also consists of a party, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, that is not just “radical” but is actively reviving the old French tradition of left-wing antisemitism.

Mélenchon accused a member of Macron’s ruling party, former president of the National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet, of “camping in Tel Aviv” to encourage a massacre in Gaza when she visited Israel in solidarity after October 7. One of his minions called a Jewish parliamentary colleague a “pig.” Another claimed he did not belong “to the same human species” as defenders of Israel, who he accused, like the dictators of the “Global South,” of committing genocide in Gaza.

All of these people speak the language of Édouard Drumont, the antisemitic pamphleteer and author of the notorious 1886 book Jewish France.

All have made it their business, for the first time since the Dreyfus Affair, to place the Jewish marker at the heart of electoral politics—first in the EU vote, and now in the parliamentary campaign, which has France in a fever. 

They do not represent the entire left, of course. But they make the most noise. And, above all, they are running the highest number of candidates.

The Popular Front of 1936 was dominated by the great Léon Blum, a Jew and a socialist. The Communist Party, whose leader Maurice Thorez would, four years later, in the middle of World War II, call Blum a “repugnant reptile,” was still in the minority.

But who is today’s Blum? Who is capable, within this new alliance, of resisting Mélenchon and silencing the crowd that, the evening of the dissolution of the assembly, on the Place de la République, shouted: “Israel assassin, Glucksmann accomplice”?

No one, I’m afraid.

These are people who don’t shy away from describing Hamas as a “resistance” organization, and who, just a few days ago, after a night of negotiation with their moderate partners, again refused to call the group “terrorist.” They are a terrible danger to France and its Jews.

I’ll pass.

So now I turn to the right. What to make of the far-right bloc led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, who rose up as a fan of the old Jean-Marie Le Pen and then as a confidant of Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen? 

Set aside his populist economic agenda, widely considered demagogic, irresponsible, and, if applied, sure to end in disaster. 

Set aside his announced interest in “stopping” immigration, which is economically absurd and opposed by the French business community, and which is sure to feed xenophobic and racist tendencies that seek only greater expression.

And set aside Madame Le Pen’s admiration for Moscow and her refusal to vote in Parliament since February 2022 in favor of resolutions for Ukrainian aid.

French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen (L) speaks as party president Jordan Bardella listens. (Photo by Julien De Rosa / AFP via Getty Images)

What of the fact that antisemitism is in this party’s DNA? What of the fact that this party was founded 50 years ago by former Nazi collaborators, if not by former Waffen-SS?

Le Pen and Bardella claim they broke with this sordid tradition. And the fact is that, since October 7, they have defended Israel.

That’s why some people I admire, including the French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, will be voting for this party.

I cannot do the same. 


First, because other planks in the platform of the National Rally, such as populism, racism, or simple vulgarity, are so far removed from Jewish values that one can’t approach them without risking profound compromise and moral corruption.

Second, because I have a hard time believing that, with a single stroke of the pen, a party born from hatred of Jews can cure that hatred without long, intense, painful work. This is work that the French far right has yet to undertake.

Most important are the biographies of the 500 or so candidates running for office on the National Rally ticket. One is an admirer of denying history, another of “striped pajama” evenings that make fun of Auschwitz deportees, a third of Nazi salutes proudly posted on social media. And still another—one of the key people who controls the finances of the party, Frederic Chatillon—is cozy with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

None of this is hearsay—the daily Libération, Caroline Fourest’s weekly Franc-Tireur, and my own magazine La Règle du Jeu, have published reports on these individuals. 

That party is no more a bulwark than the far-left La France Insoumise—neither for France nor for our Jewish community.

They won’t have my vote, either.

What, then, is the solution?

Ending, once and for all, the old myth of a union of leftists, forcing moderates to cohabitate with radicals, anti-totalitarians with totalitarians.

And, on the right, ending the myth of any alliance between republicans and latter-day fascists—the heirs of General de Gaulle, and those of Marshal Pétain, who ruled over the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War II.

In place of these unnatural double unions, we urgently need a union of principled democrats of the left, the right, and the center, who would agree to refuse any and all indulgence in antisemites, who also happen to be fundamentally opposed to liberty.

As for who will get my vote? I think a lot these days of a line from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Do you agree with BHL? Disagree? Write us a letter and let us know:

Translated by Matthew Fishbane.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, author, and filmmaker. His forthcoming book, Israel Alone, will be published September 10, 2024.

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