New Wave of French Conservatives Set Up School in Lyon

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by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 27, 2020   

Marion Maréchal battles plague of leftist ideological activism

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LYON, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - A young, rising star among Europe's Catholic leaders — Marion Maréchal — is establishing herself as one of the bright Catholic lights in Europe for having established her own version of a graduate school for the social and political sciences.

Maréchal's Institute of Social Sciences, Economics and Politics (ISSEP) spotlighted her determination to nurture what she calls a new "ruling class" in Europe: "An 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," as she told The Washington Post. Her goal — to combat what she feels is a plague of ideological activism that has misinformed the continent's public policy decisions.

Maréchal, 30, the youngest iteration of the Le Pen political dynasty begun by her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is not as well-known as some of Europe's established conservative, religious politicos: Matteo Salvini (Italy), Victor Orbán (Hungary) and Andrzej Duda (Poland). In 2018, Maréchal dropped from her last name the hyphen and surname "Le Pen," which identified her only as the latest in a long history of right-wing French politicians. 

But like these other outspoken Christian voices in Europe, Maréchal is staunch in her faith; she and a group of friends participated in the annual 60-mile, three-day pilgrimage to Chartres over Pentecost in 2018, the year many pilgrims succumbed to a late spring heat wave.


Located in Lyon — what Harvard and Oxford-educated, Paris-based, Washington Post correspondent James McAuley described as a "bourgeois provincial French city" — the Institute, founded in September 2018, calls itself a "school of knowledge not ideology."

According to the school's website: "We prefer learning to ideologies. We are constantly concerned with respecting a real intellectual pluralism which favors reasoning, initiative and analysis, and which enables everyone to confront the most varied currents of thought."

In her remarks on the website, Maréchal points out that the social and political sciences are plagued by ideological activism. "Nothing is missing from the call for political correctness: obsession with race and gender, indigenism, decolonial theories, neo-feminism, immigrationism, LGBTQIAA+, Islamic proselytism," she says.

In occupied Europe, we are now fighting for the right to be Christian.

The social sciences have been under fire for their unreliable results since at least 2012. The headline from a 2018 article in Wired magazine captures the sentiment: "The Science Behind Social Science Gets Shaken Up Again: An attempt to replicate some of the decade's best research shows some of it ... doesn't."

Maréchal believes the need for reform in political and social science is urgent because the results of sociological "research" often drive public policy decisions.

More broadly, she compares the overall climate of political correctness on American college campuses with the same kind of political pressure French students endure.  

ISSEP is pursuing partnerships with global corporations and institutions of higher education. It has official relationships with St. Petersburg University in Russia and Kaslik Holy Spirit University in Lebanon.

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Steve Bannon (left) and Benjamin Harnwell (Vandeville Eric/PA)

The Institute has been criticized because it is unaccredited by French education authorities.  For example, in McAuley's piece for the Washington Post, he described ISSEP as a "for-profit" entity even though it appears to be supported by a not-for-profit foundation. 

The educational project is also derided because Maréchal lacks traditional credentials for leading an institution of higher education. 

But perhaps what raises European and American eyebrows to the greatest heights is ISSEP's ties to Steve Bannon and Breitbart. Bannon is an unofficial advisor to the project, and Raheem Kasaam, former editor-in-chief at Breitbart News London, serves on the school's equivalent of a board of trustees.

Bannon is involved in a similar undertaking in Italy, Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) led by Benjamin Harnwell. Bannon and Harnwell made a deal with the Italian government to lease Trisulti Abbey, planning for it to be both the new headquarters for DHI and the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West. It is what Bannon called a "school for gladiators" that would train a new generation of political leaders in the tradition of Judeo-Christian values.  

Church Militant asked Harnwell why the United States doesn't have a "leadership institute" like DHI or ISSEP.  

In occupied Europe, we are now fighting for the right to be Christian. It's that simple. If you are an actual believing Catholic (as opposed to simply an ethnic Catholic) you are now thought of as slightly odd. And that's just by other Catholics. Whereas in the [United] States — probably thanks to the relatively healthy influence of Evangelical Protestantism — it's not that remarkable. So the battle on your side of the pond is not yet as elementally existential. So while in Europe we're fighting to be Christian, in the United States, because the situation isn't that desperate, you have been able to direct your energies towards towards the pro-life movement instead (which is so much stronger than ours).

So I'll put it like this — in 25 years, what is left of a mainstream presence of Christianity in Europe will have ceased to exist. Whereas in the [United] States, I don't think the outlook is quite as pessimistic. But I don't doubt, by the way, that if it weren't for the peculiarly strong presence of Protestantism in the States, acting as a sort of orthodox gravitational pull on Catholics, the situation in the U.S. Catholic Church would be as dire as it is in Europe.

Bannon is a strong supporter of both DHI and ISSEP. In a joint press conference with Maréchal's aunt, Marine Le Pen, at the 2018 National Front Party congress in northern France, Bannon gushed, Maréchal "is not simply a rising star on the right in France. She's one of the most impressive people in the entire world." 

While focused on establishing a new kind of graduate school in the social sciences, Maréchal may well be working on a second front. The Sydney Morning Herald says, "This 29-year-old, charismatic, thoughtfully-spoken extremist could well be the woman most likely to challenge Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 presidential election."

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