Talking Points

The far-right intellectual who's building a political bonfire in France

Think the Republican Party has drifted distressingly far to the right? Get a load of what's happening in France.

As author Ben Judah notes in an informative tweet thread, French-Jewish intellectual Eric Zemmour recently made news by suggesting that parts of northern Italy rightly belonged to France. "There is no difference between Milan and Nice. It's the same people, the same town, the same architecture, the same state of mind." It would be one thing if the person fantasizing about moving France's borders roughly 200 miles into a neighboring country was just some crackpot talking head. But Zemmour is contemplating a run for the French presidency and is already polling at more than 5 percent while positioning himself to the right of Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally.

Zemmour has made a name for himself as the author of a long list of essays and books railing against the European Union and arguing that France is in the process of committing national suicide by embracing secularism and immigration. Those claims have won him a large following. He's reached even more people with a television gig on CNews, the French equivalent of Fox News, and a newspaper column in La Figaro, the most popular news website in France. The result, as Judah notes, is that Zemmour has become the French equivalent of Tucker Carlson or Bill Buckley, albeit with more explicit personal political ambitions.

Zemmour wouldn't be making headway if he wasn't tapping into a broad-based shift in political mood that has the right surging in France. While Le Pen's party appears to be diminished in strength relative to where it was a few years ago, some of that support has moved to Zemmour further out on the right, as well as to the center-right Republican party, which has gained by adopting more conservative positions in recent years. Then there are polls that reveal a country plagued by pessimism: 45 percent apparently believe France is on the verge of a civil war, with 73 percent going further to describe the country as "falling apart."

In a political environment like that, the ominous fact is that anything could happen — including Eric Zemmour or someone similarly disposed gaining political power.