Among practicing Catholics, the vote for the extreme right reached 40% in the first round (1), becoming higher than the national average (32%). How do you read this result?
Jean-Marie Donegani: Practicing Catholics have always been on the right, but until now they were in favor of a right-wing government and were reluctant to vote for the extreme right. Two explanations may explain this result. The first is that Catholics participate in their time more than one would think: like the rest of French society, they are seduced by extreme right-wingers who cultivate the moderate face of a right-wing government. The second is linked to the secularization of society. As this progresses, regular practitioners claim to be a heterogeneous sign and express a desire to be different from the surrounding culture, through a moral anchoring that is not traditional but rigorous. The other Catholics have not disappeared, they have simply been crossed by secularization. They do not primarily seek to manifest a Catholic identity, but they can be integrated Catholics, whose faith continues to inform life.
Is this far-right vote a manifestation of the old mistrust of Catholics with regard to democracy and liberalism, which we thought was closed with Vatican II, or is it a new political sequence? ?
J.-MD: There is a truly new phenomenon, which cannot be accounted for with French political history. The rise of illiberalism is general in democracies and the protest vote concomitant with general social and political problems. That said, France has a particularity: since the French Revolution, there has been a place in our political thought for the radical protester. Far-right protest can therefore take on a sort of historical tinsel. But there is not a tradition that would be perpetuated from generation to generation. This is an available box more than an inheritance.
The vote of Catholics for the extreme right is often deciphered in the light of new societal laws (homosexual marriage, PMA, etc.). Do they have good reason to believe that the far right would block these developments? Won’t the liberalization of mores continue to progress regardless of the outcome of the vote?
J.-MD: The fact of ratifying by laws the evolution of mores corresponds exactly to liberalism, which is based on the idea that politics must follow society and not guide or shape it. No one will stop the evolution of individual freedom. It is impossible to stop a wave of freedom that began with political freedom and continues today with a deeper movement, which embraces the free disposal of bodies, emotional life choices… It is the culture of today, whether we like it or not. The only place where this culture is resisted is in illiberal parties, like that of Viktor Orban in Hungary. But they do it in a very high-handed way, and I don’t think they can oppose it in the long term.
As in 2017, the bishops do not explicitly oppose Marine Le Pen. Should we blame them?
J.-MD: In the Church, there is always an opposition between mysticism and politics, between extraordinary, prophetic witness and political management, which depends on a calculation of costs and benefits. Today, the evangelical witness is very clearly put under a bushel. The thing that amazes me is that the bishops consider it smarter to tell Catholics “Do as you see fit” rather than “Be careful”. This calculation does not seem very intelligent to me. Participating in the trivialization of the extreme right seems to me a misplaced caution, which will be counter-productive. Since the Church still claims the power to rectify consciences, it could have gone further.
What would you like to say to a Catholic tempted by the Le Pen vote this Sunday?
J.-MD: Above all, I would tend to say to him “We need to talk” and to talk at length, to listen to why this choice tempts him. We all have anger, the urge to complain about what is wrong. Let’s not forget that there is an instinctive side to the protest vote. It is not as reasoned and rational an act as it is said to be. By voting, we express ourselves above all. We must therefore listen to what people are trying to say about themselves in this vote. This anger, which seems to me superficial, transient, linked to inequalities and the difficulties of life, risks participating in a great upheaval, where the strong will have the upper hand over the weak. Marine Le Pen’s party is one of the strongest witnesses to social division. His attention to the little ones is an instrumentalization, as we know. One cannot give one’s voice to the extreme right, from the moment when it trivializes part of the evil. The evil here is the celebration of inequality, the culture of hatred and division.