The French republic is under threat. We are 1,000 historians and we cannot remain silent | Patrick Boucheron, Antoine Lilti and others

For the first time since the second world war, the far right is at the gates of power in France. As historians from differing political backgrounds who share an attachment to democratic values and the rule of law, we cannot remain silent in the face of an alarming prospect that we still have the capacity to resist.

Despite a superficial makeover, the National Rally (RN) remains fundamentally the successor and heir of the National Front, founded in 1972 by people nostalgic for Vichy and French Algeria.

It inherited its programme, its obsessions and its personnel. It is deeply rooted in the history of the French far right, shaped by xenophobic and racist nationalism, antisemitism, violence and contempt for parliamentary democracy. Let us not be fooled by the rhetorical and tactical prudence with which the RN is preparing its seizure of power. This party does not represent the conservative or national right but poses the greatest threat to the republic and democracy.

The RN citizenship policy known as “national preference”, renamed “national priority”, remains the ideological heart of its project. This is contrary to the republican values of equality and fraternity and its implementation would require the amendment of the French constitution.

If the RN wins and implements its declared programme, the abolition of the right to French nationality of those born in France will introduce a profound break in our republican conception of nationality, since people born in France, and who have always lived here, will no longer be French, and their children will not be French either.

Similarly, the exclusion of dual nationals from certain public functions will lead to intolerable discrimination between several categories of French people. Our national community will no longer be based on political adherence to a common destiny, on the “everyday plebiscite” evoked by the 19th-century historian Ernest Renan, but on an ethnic conception of France.

Beyond that, the RN’s programme includes an escalation of security measures that would undermine civil liberties. There is no need to delve into the distant past to become aware of the threat. Everywhere, when the far right comes to power through the ballot box, it hastens to bring justice, the media, education and research to heel. The governments that Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella openly admire, such as that of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, give us an idea of their project: an authoritarian populism, where checks and balances are weakened, opposition muzzled and the freedom of the press restricted.

There is no democracy without a free and dynamic public space, without quality information, independent of political or financial interference.

The privatisation of public broadcasting, which is included in the RN’s programme, would destroy an essential part of our public life. Can we imagine [the billionaire media magnate] Vincent Bolloré, a known supporter of the far right, incorporating France Culture, France Inter and France 2 into his media empire, as he did with Le Journal du Dimanche, Europe 1 or Hachette, with the consequences that we know will follow?

Committed as we are to the scholarly practice of history, we can only be deeply concerned about the instrumentalisation of the past and the attacks on the freedom of research that can now be expected. The RN’s manifesto for education, entirely focused on the return to a teaching of history that is national, even nationalistic, and nostalgic, is the antithesis of the requirements of historical research, based on the critical method, the spirit of nuance and international cooperation.

Finally, the RN leadership has never hidden its fascination with Vladimir Putin, having already gone as far as to openly and publicly appear at his side in the Kremlin in 2017. At a time when the Russian president poses a mortal danger to Europe and continues to assert his virulent hostility to western democratic societies, can we allow a party that he has endorsed to come to power? How can we envisage weakening Europe in this way at a time when it so badly needs, on the contrary, to assert its unity and determination?

France must not turn its back on its history. Until now, the far right has come to power only in the turmoil of military defeat and foreign occupation in 1940. We are not willing to resign ourselves to a new defeat, that of the values which, since 1789, have been the basis of France’s political settlement and its national solidarity.

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This is not an ordinary election. At stake is the defence of democracy and the Republic against their enemies at a decisive moment in our shared history. In the first round, we did not all vote for the same candidates, nor for the same parties. On Sunday, we call on our fellow citizens in every constituency to vote to ensure the defeat of the RN candidate.

Signatories include:

Joelle Alazard, Association des professeurs d’histoire-géographie; Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Patrick Boucheron, Collège de France; Raphaelle Branche, université Paris Nanterre; Arlette Farge, CNRS; Jean-Noel Jeanneney, Rendez-vous de l’histoire de Blois ; Laurent Joly, CNRS; Audrey Kichelewski, université de Strasbourg; Vincent Lemire, université Gustave-Eiffel; Antoine Lilti, Collège de France; Gerard Noiriel, EHESS; Pierre Nora, member of the Académie francaise; Mona Ozouf, EHESS; Michelle Perrot, université Paris-Diderot; Jacques Revel, past president, EHESS; Pierre Rosanvallon, Collège de France; Anne Simonin, CNRS; Lucette Valensi, l’EHESS; Annette Wieviorka, CNRS, Michel Winock, Sciences Po; Claire Zaic, CNRS.

The full list of 1,000 signatures is here.

The Guardian

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