Will Marion Maréchal (MM), who announced her premature retirement from politics three years ago at age 27, return to the forefront? Having since founded her far-right “metapolitical school,” the Institute of Social, Economic and Political Sciences (ISSEP) in Lyon, MM looks to be far from done with her political career. In reality, the only bridges that were burned in 2017 were with her former party, her aunt Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN).
Since her so-called “withdrawal from political life” and her consequent resignation from the RN, MM has always refused to endorse or give any type of public support to her former party. Even in the RN’s biggest moment of need last year, during the campaign for the European elections, MM refused to take a stand for her former political family, going so far as to refuse the slightest tweet of support for the list led by RN’s no. 2, Jordan Bardella.
But MM’s attitude actually makes sense when one thinks about the big picture: This refusal is consistent with a strategy of distancing herself from the RN, not because she wants to go back to simpler things like most retirees, but because she has a plan to give the far right a prominent place in the upcoming political chess game that does not involve her aunt.
As we mentioned, MM and her aunt Marine Le Pen have two very different approaches to making the far right into a legitimate electoral option. Marine Le Pen’s goal is to “de-demonize” the Rassemblement National, i.e., to rid the party from any external signs of xenophobia. On the contrary, MM clearly assumes and claims the symbols that define the French far right, even the most controversial ones—e.g., students from the 2018 class of ISSEP chose as their patron saint General Loustaunau-Lacanau, a collaborator of Marshal Pétain, also known for having compared the Jews to a “cancer.”
This can-do attitude enabled her to win over the heart of her grandfather, Rassemblement National co-founder and far-right superstar Jean-Marie Le Pen. In the second volume of his memoirs, Jean-Marie Le Pen confirmed this unwavering support toward MM, describing her as “an exceptionally brilliant woman” with “a talent above the competition”—while at the same time reproaching Marine Le Pen for “a desperate search for de-demonization at a time when the devil is becoming popular.”
But if MM refuses to disguise the far right as a “moderate” option as her aunt does, it does not mean that she will refrain from wooing right-wing conservative voters in order to enlarge her electoral base. Indeed, according to her, the far right “could never come to power in its present form”—i.e., with her aunt’s Rassemblement National. On the contrary, MM wants to “anchor in a common future” the right and the far right by proposing a “grand coalition” between the liberal-conservatives—represented in France by the Les Républicains (LR) party—and the far right.
This initiative was received with interest by LR’s rightmost fringe during a dinner with MM in June 2019. If this plan is not universally popular within the party, to those who broke bread with MM, the timing of this offer could not be more favorable. Since LR’s resounding failure in the European elections of May 2019, the party has been described as a sinking ship in need of a new driving force—a new impulse that could be embodied in MM’s project called “union of rights.”
Although we do not yet know what form this project is going to take, or if MM will be the face of it, she definitely has been busy moving the pieces on the chess board to prepare for her big move. In the chart below, we have graphically represented the network of organizations on which Marion Maréchal is building her project.
One characteristic of the chart above must be highlighted: Three of the organizations (L’Avant Garde, Sens Commun and Racines D’Avenir) are situated ambiguously on the political spectrum between the right and the far right. The vagueness of their political positioning is achieved strategically by mixing various positions, while developing a far-right-inclined rhetoric.
One example of this strategic positioning is “Sens Commun”: On April 23, 2013, France became the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. This vote ended a year of demonstrations by opponents of the law organized by various associations, including a collective called “La Manif pour tous” (Protest for All). Noting the failure of their mobilization in the streets, some members of this collective decided to found a political movement called Sens Commun within the liberal-conservative party Les Républicains. Their goal now is to steer the wheel of the LR party “in favor of conservative values,” i.e., further toward the right. From the street protests to the string-pulling backstage, the same story can be told for the anti-abortion think tank “L’avant Garde.”
While MM works with those two organizations to broaden her political base, a third avenue has been opened by Erik Tégner, heir of several prominent extreme right French families. Originally a Front National (FN) member, but disappointed by Marine Le Pen’s de-radicalization of the party, Tégner joined LR to look for a new electoral base in the right wing of Sarkozy’s followers. But his maneuvers with MM were noticed by the leadership of LR and he was kicked out at the end of last year for realigning with the far right. Tégner has founded the cradle-robber “Racine d’Avenir” as a separate youth movement set up outside of LR. Its aim is to recruit LR youth and encourage them to hang out with their far-right counterparts, as Rassemblement National (RN) youth are also welcomed into the organization.
MM is increasingly becoming a reference point for new alliances within different factions of the international Right. In dispatch #1 we identified MM’s outreach to high-level networks of the extreme Right at the private meeting in Vienna on May 31, 2014, hosted by Russian clerical fascist oligarch Malofeev. On February 22, 2018, she spoke at the Republican mainstream conservative rally of the U.S. right wing, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held near Washington, D.C. CPAC was founded in 1973 by the right wing of the Republican Party to mobilize its forces to take over the party and now, under Trump, represents its mainstream. After MM’s CPAC presentation, Steve Bannon, now active in mobilizing the European Right—in particular the Catholic Right—gushed that “she is not simply a rising star on the right in France. She’s one of the most impressive people in the entire world.”
On February 4, 2020, MM addressed a slightly different international constituency in Rome. The National Conservatism project was founded by a right-wing Israeli nationalist, Yoram Hazony, who graduated from Princeton University in 1986, where he founded a magazine called the Princeton Tory. In 2013 Hazony founded the Herzl Institute, named after the Zionist leader, and in January 2019 founded—and is chairman of—the Edmund Burke Foundation in London, named after the British Tory. The President of the Burke Foundation is David Brog, former executive Director of Christians United for Israel. The Rome conference was sponsored by both the Edmund Burke and Herzl Institutes, along with the London-based Bow Group, a lobby of British Tories.
MM’s attendance at this conference is indicative of her willingness to seek collaboration with this crowd, but even more importantly, it shows their willingness to listen to her, and her European counterparts—the Rome Conference was opened by Giorgia Meloni of the Italian neo-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party and was also addressed by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. It is also worth mentioning that MM traveled to Italy with three of the figures we identified as junction points of her nebula: François de Voyer (Cercle Audace), Jacques de Guillebon (L’incorrect magazine and co-president of ISSEP’s scientific board) and Erik Tegnér (Racine d’Avenir).
It might look like a contradiction that, while the Le Pen family is reconsolidating around Marine Le Pen, MM is off to Rome doing her own thing. But in reality, both have their strategic rationale: Marine Le Pen as the queen ruling over the Le Pen legacy and MM serving as an ambassador of the larger far-right matrix.
The ultimate goal of this blurring of the barriers between right and far right is to replace both of them with a new term: “national conservatism,” defined as opposed to “progressivism.” This new semantical recomposition is dangerous because it does not intersect the right-left opposition, and therefore assumes that the left no longer exists, that the only opposition to capitalism is “nationalism” or “populism,” aka the far right.
The peremptory effect of this recomposition can be seen in France in the results of last year’s European elections, which saw the victory of the Rassemblement National (23.34% of votes) against Macron’s “La République En Marche” (LREM) (22.42%), and confirmed the anchoring of a new bipolarity between the RN and LREM. This bipolarity was welcomed and encouraged by Macron himself, who profusely used the same “progressivist vs. populist” rhetoric in his party’s campaign.
 Formerly known as Front National.
 Les Républicains (LR) was set up in 2015 by Sarkozy to rename his discredited UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) originally founded in 2002.
 https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2017/04/17/qu-est-ce-que-sens-commun-l-association-engagee-dans-la-campagne-de-francois-fillon_5112648_4355770.html and https://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2014/10/04/le-mouvement-sens-commun-drague-les-antimariage-gay-pour-l-ump_4500536_823448.html
 To read more on how the Rassemblement National is a scarecrow that helped Macron’s LREM get elected in 2017, see: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/semcheddine/blog/040517/l-epouvantail-marine-le-pen-le-pouvoir-est-dans-les-mains-du-neo-liberalisme
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About the Author
Masha P. Davis is a Ph.D. student working on the French and European Far Right in Paris, France.