The Threat to Democratic France

On Sunday, France's worst side won the first round.

It must not win the second.

This coming Sunday, will the Front National, a despicable party led by a nepotistic clique replete with ex-cons pining for the good old days of wedge politics, gain control of entire regions of the country?

In the second round of regional elections, will France concede part of its territory to the heirs of the Vichy regime, to a group nostalgic for "French Algeria" and the OAS, to the perennial enemies of republican democracy?

Will France consent to live with this plague, inhaling its poison day after day?

Will we stand by fatalistically while smug, vulgar, ignorance makes France the laughing stock and the pity of Europe?

Will we resign ourselves to the posthumous revenge of Charles Maurras, Robert Brasillach, and Marshal Pétain, to the new generation of a cabal that sought to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, to a party led by people who despise the best of France, who never stop trying to make their nation smaller, less influential, and less glorious than she is?

Will we stand idly by as one, two, and conceivably three or four of the regions most emblematic of France's genius come to be governed by men and women who, even today, when their country finds itself in conflict, when it asks its pilots and special forces to risk their lives in foreign theaters, seem always to side with the enemy -- yesterday Gaddafi or the destroyers of Mali; today Bashar al-Assad; tomorrow, God forbid, Putin and his provocations?

No. To do so would give rise to too much shame, misfortune, and chaos.

There is still time this week, on the condition that our collective conscience proves stronger than petty scheming, to push back the rising tide.

A few weeks ago, confronted with another threat to our life together, France demonstrated a deep-seated spirit of resistance that amazed the world.

The two situations are not directly comparable, of course.

One cannot place on the same level the murderous nihilism of jihadists who kill as if they were cutting hay and the sorry sorcerer's apprentices who, by deploying the institutions of the republic against its spirit and its history, would repeal our traditions of asylum, restrain the creative freedom of our artists, and revoke the rights that French women have struggled most mightily to win.

But the two phenomena do echo each other.

In the situation France faces we find a fresh, new hatred and an old, rancid one that, while appearing as polar opposites, mirror, complement, and reinforce each other in undermining our social contract and dividing France's people.

And that is why I say this:

The attacks of January and November provoked a burst of national unity that matched the finest moments of our history.

Sunday's tone-deaf vote must be met with a similar expression of unity in opposition.

To the hatred expressed at the polls, we must reply with the same vigor as we did to that expressed in bullets and blood.

The millions who have said no to terrorism and to the black flag must now say no to those who would adulterate the spirit of our laws and usurp the French flag for partisan gain -- we must say no to the one and only party whose leaders declined on January 11, the day after the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market, to join the river of humanity that flooded the streets of our cities to reject barbarity and to proclaim its love for France.

Concretely, this means three things.

First, those who love France, citizens of good will, believers in tolerance and the motto of the republic, must turn out in great numbers this coming Sunday, in numbers far greater than those who voted in the first round.

Second, citizens of the democratic left and right in the regions under threat must bury their differences this week and come to the polls with a single goal in mind, that of preventing a gang of adventurers, saboteurs of our system of governance and citizenship, from reaching top positions in local government.

And, third, the candidates of the parties of the democratic left and right owe it to themselves, to their constituents, and to France to begin immediately to explore and adopt one of the available responses to this crisis (voluntary withdrawal of candidacy, merger of lists, or a common front, as the situation requires) capable of blocking the path of those who, two centuries after Voltaire and a 150 years after the founding of the republic, believe that their time has come.

No excuses are acceptable.

No rationalization, however sound on its face ("combined lists create confusion," for example, or "the Front National benefits from the suppression of debate and political differences"), can be justified in the face of the urgency of preventing the Le Pen clan from making hostages of the two democratic poles of a temporarily disoriented France.

Responsibility for defeat will fall, within our party structures as well as in our streets, to those whose narrow outlook prevents them from placing the common good ahead of their personal passions and individual interests.

At the end of the terrible year that is drawing to a close, France deserves better than defeatism.

What a pity if, after standing so courageously against an outside enemy, France were to yield to an inner enemy that dreams, in its way, of bringing the nation to its knees.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy