Mabel Berezin


On her book Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Culture, Security and Populism in the New Europe

Cover Interview of September 24, 2009

A close-up

Illiberal Politics is a serious book on a serious topic.  But it is also a lively book to read.

The French story, which occupies the 140-page middle section of the book, is replete with cartoons, newspaper images and photographs.  And unlike many books on the European right, this book emphasizes context instead of the pronouncements of party leaders.

In the chapter on the National Front breakthrough in the 1998 regional elections, I also spend many pages discussing the 1998 World Cup Victory.  The chapter on the 2002 Presidential election where Le Pen came in second place in the first round begins with a discussion of the popular film Amelie and how it figured in the mindset of French intellectuals and politicians.  The chapter on the French rejection of the European constitution in 2005 deftly illustrates how citizens and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum converged in their antipathy to Europe.

There are 20 illustrations in the book.  I will simply include here one of my favorites:

This cartoon appeared on the front page of Le Monde in April 2002 after the first round of the Presidential election when the National Front’s leader Jean Marie Le Pen received enough votes to proceed to the second round—the run off in American terms.

The French viewed Le Pen’s victory as a political earthquake and national disgrace.  The cartoon not only reflects how upset the French were over Le Pen, or at least the editors of Le Monde, but also suggests that they had lost a sense of proportion.  The election occurred in April 2002—less than a year after the events of September 11 in New York City.  (Incidentally, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the cover of the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed in solidarity, “We are all Americans!”)  The cartoon depicts Le Pen as a Nazi pilot of a small plane toppling the twin towers of Jospin, the Prime Minister, and Chirac, the President.  These two men were supposed to be the contenders in the run-off election—not Le Pen.  The cartoon also suggests that Le Pen has toppled the foundations of French democracy and the Republic.