When French TV viewers turn on CNews tonight, no doubt they’ll be expecting political journalist and award-winning author Eric Zemmour to mention the 200th anniversary of the death of his hero, Napoleon.
And the million or so viewers that tune in at 7pm from Monday to Friday to hear the considered views of the most popular figure on the French right on the Face A L’Info show will recognise the 62-year-old’s opinion from his 2014 best-seller The French Suicide.
Because Zemmour touched on something in that award-winning book that he believes resonates with many French people: a self-hatred that makes them uncomfortable in the modern world. The divisive view of Napoleon is symptomatic of that self-hate that is still evident today.
While President Emmanuel Macron hedged his bets and lay a wreath at Napoleon’s tomb – “a commemoration, not a celebration,” an aide claimed – the move was roundly condemned by those who view the former emperor as nothing more than a misogynistic, racist, war-mongering imperialist.
Zemmour, who has written that, since the fall of Napoleon, “France is no longer a predator but a prey,” will no doubt find Macron’s semantic approach as contemptible as that of former President Jacques Chirac, who refused to celebrate Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz in 2005, but had no hesitation sending a delegation to Great Britain’s celebration of his defeat at Trafalgar.
This brilliantly articulate, combative, uncompromising approach is typical of Zemmour and it’s the reason he has become a household name and his books fly off the shelves as readers rush to devour his unfiltered views on the modern Republic.
It is also what has made the balding, bespectacled French Jew an unlikely TV superstar, of what has been dubbed “France’s Fox News” the most-watched of four 24-hour news broadcasters, after overtaking the leading news network, BFM TV, on Monday.
But the TV pundit is not so much riding the wave of the right wing sentiment espoused by National Rally leader Marine Le Pen as charting his own course. Le Pen’s presidential ambitions have seen her drop or tone down some of her more unpalatable ideas in a bid to attract centrist Republicans who are bereft of any real leadership or any idea. With regional elections next month and national elections next April they might be convinced to choose her over Macron.
This move towards the centre has left the true French right out of the national conversation. Like a salon soirée where the hostess has just turned her back on a drunken guest and moved on to more polite company.
Unperturbed, Zemmour has found himself with a ready audience for what he has to say. And while to his enemies he’s an Islamophobe and revisionist, he doesn’t care too much about those slights and returns fire with delight.
“I am used to it,” he told 2019’s Convention of the Right in Paris, “We all know that this hazy concept of Islamophobia was invented to make it impossible to criticise Islam, to reestablish the notion of blasphemy to the benefit of the Muslim religion alone.”
This is pretty much Zemmour’s starting point but his views on immigration and French history are similarly strident and, in the past, have proven problematic, resulting in three convictions for hate speech.
Despite those legal issues, and in the face of recent accusations over sexual misconduct, Zemmour’s popularity is soaring. So much so that a February poll for Valeurs Actuelles magazine found a solid 17 percent of the electorate would vote for him in the first round of the two-round Presidential elections.
For both Le Pen and Macron, so focused on each other, it’s important they identify quickly that the impressive poll result is not that of a TV novelty act, it’s the result of a possible contender.
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