PARIS — The current transatlantic view of Europe is one of continental political decline, elegant at best but ominous at worst. Much of the European Union seems threatened by hostile if marginal (or not always so marginal) nationalist parties, above all in two leading nations, France and Britain. These parties attract great attention because of their dramatic character but are hard to take too seriously, given the weight and continuity of the party systems in nearly all of Western Europe.
Most dramatic, because of its disturbing re-enactment of Shakespeare’s “Lear,” is the National Front in France. In the past two weeks this drama has played out in the family of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with principal roles assumed by the old patriarch, his eldest daughter, Marine, and his granddaughter Marion Marechal-Le Pen.
Marine is now running for the presidency of France, as her father has done before her. Yet, as she struggles to update the party’s image, she finds herself cast in the role of faithless daughter, betrayer of her father. Meanwhile, the 25-year old Marion, parliamentary deputy for Provence, Alps and Cote d’Azur, is the good daughter Cordelia, who would have saved the aged king.
Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front in 1972, appealing to veterans of the post-Algeria military uprising against President Charles de Gaulle, old supporters of the collaborationist Petain regime, young neo-Nazi "pagans," and other elements in the nationalist and religious right. His appeal was anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Gaullist and opposed to the supranational body that would become the European Union.