A scion of France's Le Pen family opens a training academy for a new far-right elite
Marion MarÃ©chal at the Institute of Social Sciences, Economics and Politics, the school she has founded in Lyon, France. (Bruno Amsellem/Divergence/For The Washington Post) September 14 at 10:09 AM
LYON, France â" She lacks the doctorate typically expected of university educators and hasnât yet finished her masterâs degree, either. But Marion MarÃ©chal, the princess royal of Europeâs notorious Le Pen dynasty and the granddaughter of a convicted Holocaust denier she has called a âvisionary,â has founded an academy anyway.
The Institute of Social Sciences, Economics and Politics (ISSEP) is no grand affair: It occupies a rented office suite in this bourgeois provincia l French city and is not yet authorized to award diplomas. Yet despite its modest start â" about 60 students are enrolled as classes kick off this month â" its establishment is part of a story playing out on both sides of the Atlantic. Here on the banks of the Rhone, MarÃ©chal is offering her compatriots a place of âalternative pedagogy,â an aspiring training ground for a new managerial right-wing elite.
Andrew Breitbart, the far-right American publisher and ideologue, famously said that âpolitics is downstream from cultureâ â" to conquer the latter is to conquer the former. ISSEP is committed to the Breitbart agenda and not just its slogans: MarÃ©chal secured former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon as an informal adviser, and Raheem Kassam, Bannonâs associate and former editor of the Breitbart U.K. operation, sits on the schoolâs equivalent of a board of trustees.
They are in contact âirregular[ly] but frequently,â Kassam said.
Marion MarÃ©chal, 28, addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland in February. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Despite the popularity of their rhetoric, agents of the extreme right struggle to win elections and to maintain what political influence they do achieve. MarÃ©chalâs aunt, Marine Le Pen, lost the 2017 French presidential vote in a landslide to Emmanuel Macron, and MarÃ©chal gave up her parliamentary seat after her auntâs defeat. Bannon no longer has a platform either in the Trump administration or at Breitbart News. But all of them are trying to soldier on in other ways â" mainly in the softer realms of culture.
âThere are not only electoral fights on high,â MarÃ©chal, 28, said in a recent interview at ISSEP. âThere are also concrete fights in civil society.â
The antagonist she identifies in her l atest gambit to win legitimacy is what she calls âideological homogeneity,â specifically the âintellectual sectarianismâ of Franceâs cultural elite, the usual punching bag of the populist right. Except that now she wants to be âelite,â as well.
âThe idea is to create a school charged with the formation of a new managerial elite, both in terms of politics and economics,â she said. âAn elite that is intellectually free, patriotic, rooted in a history and a culture, and that is attached in an electoral sense to a balance between the local and the global.â
Bannon says he is on board. In the course of a 40-minute telephone conversation in which he repeatedly mentioned that he was a graduate of Harvard Business School, he also said he met with MarÃ©chal and five or six of her advisers to discuss ISSEP when she came to Maryland in February to address the Conservative Political Action Conference.
âMy commitment to her and to her project is whatev er she wants,â he said. âI think sheâs one of the seminal figures globally in this movement.â
Bannon said he sees ISSEP in the context of a number of similar schools and educational programs âspringing up in Europe.â These include, he said, a Milan-based political training institute run by Armando Siri, the right-hand man of Italyâs deputy premier, Matteo Salvini, and a project in a medieval monastery outside Rome, run by Benjamin Harnwell, a former British lawmaker and a Catholic ideologue.
Pressed about her own academic credentials and ability to run a school, MarÃ©chal, who also suspended her undergraduate studies in 2012, demurred. âI am not a professor,â she said, noting that she will focus on operations. âI donât teach.â
France is still a country where voters like their presidents to project an image of intelligence, and many political analysts now date the beginning of the end of Marine Le Penâs presidential prospects to the leng thy, sit-down debate she had with Macron just before the final round of the 2017 vote. She failed to demonstrate basic competence on several technical issues and lost less than a week later, earning an even smaller share of the vote than credible polls had predicted.
ISSEP may be a means for MarÃ©chal to lay the groundwork for a comeback and to cultivate the image of competence that always eluded her aunt, said Catherine Fieschi, an expert on the Le Pen family and the executive director of Counterpoint, a London-based think tank devoted to social and cultural dynamics.
She no longer publicly uses the name MarÃ©chal-Le Pen, in much the same way as the National Front, the party her grandfather co-founded in 1972, recently changed its name to Rassemblement National, or National Rally, which still repurposes the name of another faction that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, right, with his daughter Marine Le Pen, second from right, and granddaughter, then known as Marion MarÃ©chal-Le Pen, left, at the National Frontâs annual march to celebrate Joan of Arc in Paris in 2013. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)
âHere I think youâve got somebody purposely differentiating herself and saying, âWeâre going to be smart. Weâre not going to be afraid of expertise. Weâre going to do this properly, weâre going to produce this elite of the populist right, however much a paradox that is,âââ Fieschi said.
For a certain type of student, ISSEP has proved irresistible.
Erik TegnÃ©r, 25, has already completed his studies at PanthÃ©on-Assas University in Paris and then at EM Grenoble, a business school in southeastern France. But as a candidate for the presidency of Franceâs Young Republicans, a youth branch of the countryâs mainstream conservative party, he said he sees considerable value in the program laid out by MarÃ©chal.
ISSEP can serve to build necessary bridges between different factions on the right, thus consolidating conservative power, he said, noting that the mainstream right can no longer afford to ignore what was once considered an extremist faction on the fringes of public opinion.
âItâs important,â TegnÃ©r said of joining forces. âIf not, we continue to lose.â
He may have a point. According to the latest poll, conducted by the IFOP agency, the far-right National Rally is expected to win 17 percent of the vote in the 2019 European elections and the more mainstream Republicansâ 15 percent. If the two factions joined, they could conceivably take the lionâs share of parliamentary seats away from Macronâs centrist party.
ISSEP is essentially the French version of a for-profit college. A private institution unaffiliated with the state, it offers two programs, both for students wh o have already completed the kind of university education its founder does not have. One is a two-year program in âmanagementâ that costs $6,360 a year; the second is a one-year extension program for midcareer professionals at $2,200 per year.
But for the moment, it is unclear what, exactly, students like TegnÃ©r will be buying with an ISSEP degree.
Since the school is currently not recognized by the French state, it has no authority to grant official diplomas and is apparently not seeking it, according to education officials. âThis school is not supported by the Ministry and no request for the recognition of diplomas has, to its knowledge, been initiated,â CÃ©cile Corradin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, said in an email.
ISSEP may not even have the right the operate. âThe opening declaration procedure for this school is in progress at the Lyon Rectorate,â Corradin wrote.
Meanwhile, MarÃ©chal attempted to play down her inst ituteâs political image. âThis school is not a party. It doesnât at all have an ambition in the electoral sense of the term,â she said. âIt has a political ambition for me in the noble sense, which means in the sense of service to the city.â
In the past, the National Front has never had a clear strategy for victory, Fieschi said, avoiding alliances and the purges that might have made it more palatable. But things could be different in a new faction headed by MarÃ©chal, especially given her youth.
Compared with her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and her aunt, who has never quite escaped his shadow, Marion cuts a far more polished figure, Fieschi said. âSheâs a hologram of effective hatred.â
Marion MarÃ©chal-Le Pen: âWeâve won the battle of ideasâ
Merkel and Macron defend a diminished vision of European values
How a 25-year-old writer became Franceâs most outspoken advocate for the working class
Tod ay's coverage from Post correspondents around the world
Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign newsSource: Google News France | Netizen 24 France