The French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye’s career has encompassed everything from fiction to prose poetry, but he will best be remembered for his contribution to political science: Horseshoe Theory. This maxim holds that the far left and far right, rather than being at opposite ends of a linear political spectrum, in fact closely resemble each other. This is because the political spectrum is not linear but instead curves like a horseshoe, the right and left extremes of which almost meet.
Faye’s theory has often been derided for being simplistic, so he could be forgiven for feeling a quiet sense of vindication after a recent survey of supporters of the defeated far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former Trotskyite, who received 19.6 per cent of the vote during the first round of the French presidential elections held on 23 April. The survey found that 65 per cent of Mélenchon’s supporters would not vote for the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who went through to the final round – to be held on 7 May – alongside Marine Le Pen, who was leading the Front National, a party long-deemed fascist. Instead, they would either not vote or spoil their ballots. Apathy would trump anti-Fascism.
If they are true to their word, the possibility that the far right may win power in France becomes, while still unlikely, a real possibility. The majority of the defeated candidates such as the conservative Francois Fillon almost immediately urged their supporters to back Macron to save France from the threat of extremism. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande told voters Macron would ‘defend values which will bring French people together’.
Mélenchon, however, categorically refused to endorse Macron over Le Pen – instead vowing to consult his party members. The results of which are now clear, and which demonstrate the dangers that the hard left now poses to democracy. The truth is that from protectionist trade policies to an admiration of assorted dictators – the far left has more in common with the far right than the liberal centre. In fact, both despise it with equal vigour.
Mélenchon and Le Pen both campaigned against what they see as liberal democracies most toxic symptoms: the international banking system, globalisation and supranational institutions like the EU. For them, Macron – a pro-EU, former investment banker – embodies everything that is wrong with the world. And Mélenchon is no outlier. From Greece to Spain the trend is the same amongst hard left parties. Here in the UK, Labour is lead by Jeremy Corbyn, who – like Mélenchon and Le Pen – has shown support for anti-democratic forces like Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA, and taken money from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Le Pen cannot win with her voters alone – their numbers are insufficient. Victory is only possible with support from the hard left – or, as now seems more likely, their failure to turn out to vote against her. As far right parties rise across Europe it cannot be forgotten that those on the hard left – who often share their ‘anti-establishment’ prejudices – often help to facilitate their success. The political horseshoe has returned to politics with a vengeance, possibly with disastrous consequences for France – and the Western Order as we know it.
David Patrikarakos is Contributing Editor at the Daily Beast and the author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State