Five years ago, demagogues waging a culture war against metropolitan elites and minorities broke into mainstream politics in Britain and the United States. The result was Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Eric Zemmour’s meteoric rise as a challenger to French President Emmanuel Macron confirms that vicious culture wars have become central to the West’s major political democracies.

More disturbingly, liberals and progressives invested in economic and social progress are too disunited and distracted by factional struggles to effectively combat these prophets of decline and vendors of ethnic-racial regeneration. The heartlands of Western democracy are thus becoming increasingly dysfunctional, and the language of majoritarianism is taking over public discourse.

Convicted twice by French courts for inciting racial hatred, Zemmour believes that France is being swamped by Muslims and that an unpatriotic media “constantly spits” on French history and culture. Solicited by Macron himself for his views on immigration during the shift of French political culture to the right, Zemmour has been lately buoyed by his appearances on France’s version of Fox News. Even if he doesn’t become president, he has already played the crucial role British firebrand Nigel Farage performed in U.K. politics: consolidating voters behind white nationalism and forcing established parties to cater to them.

What does this convergence of governing styles with demagoguery across France, the U.K. and the U.S. reveal? For one, the traditional political categories and constituencies of left and right have dissolved.

In recent months, for instance, while old-style Tories have looked on aghast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has radically remade the Conservative Party for a more desperate and ideologically promiscuous era. Proposing to raise corporate taxes, he’s offering voters a quasi-socialist program of lavish public spending in what he calls “one of the most imbalanced societies and lopsided economies.”

Much like Trump, Johnson works with the intuition that today the most crucial political division exists between those who benefited from three decades of hectic globalization — largely well-educated, urban classes — and those who didn’t. Elections, it seems, will be won by those who can secure sufficient votes among the left-behind.


The mainstream political parties that once advanced economic and social liberalism — Democrats and Republicans in the U.S., socialists and center-rightists in France, and the Conservative and Labour Parties in Britain — have been struggling since the financial crisis of 2008 to heal disaffection in their societies. Amid widespread perplexity, mercurial and often fringe figures such as Trump, Johnson and Zemmour have short-circuited party-political processes to rally older voters in suburbs, towns and rural areas.

None of these impresarios have any coherent plan to make their nations great again. But then, thoughtful economic policy does not seem adequate to voters gripped by existential fears. Unabashed supremacists have found in culture wars — essentially, baiting of racial and ethnic minorities and their allegedly “woke” patrons among metropolitan elites, as well as chest-thumping about national, racial and civilizational glory — a dependable political resource.

Entrenched through false promises and rousing slogans (“Take back control!” “Build the wall!”), this radicalized political culture is hard to uproot, as can be seen in the current struggles of President Joe Biden with the toxic legacy of Trumpism.

The most flexible and ingenious forces shaping politics today seem to be on the right, while the traditional liberal-left opposition is in disarray. Some of the ideas of the progressive left discarded during three decades of triumphant neoliberalism have reappeared in the policy prescriptions of the Biden administration. But the left, confined to academia and small sectors of the political, media and think tank establishment, cannot begin to match the institutional bulk and ideological reach of the right.

There is no left version of Fox News, or indeed left media platforms that approximate the vast echo chambers of the right. Nor do liberals and leftists have any rousing ripostes to the right’s emotional invocation of region and country, any galvanizing symbols to match the freshly potent myths of national and racial glory.

Liberals, upholders of an international order, cannot persuasively lip-sync white-nationalist bromides against immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Self-declared “centrists” have taken to blaming the “woke” left for their own political failures. But raucous blame-games that credit leftists with more influence than they have distract from the real forces polluting public and private spheres with conspiracy theories and vile prejudices.

The implications are grim: The right in the U.S., U.K. and France is ruthlessly defining the parameters of political cultures, while liberals and leftists squabble among themselves. Zemmour probably won’t be the last demagogue to push Western democracy further down the road to majoritarianism.