Why French?

John Capangpangan

John Capangpangan

John Capangpangan couldn’t believe what was happening.

It was 2016 and the Rutgers University undergraduate was studying in France at a time of political upheaval. The National Front, the far-right party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen and now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen, was ascendant.

“It was all over the newspapers and television,” says Capangpangan, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences. “I found it shocking that 25 percent of the people in the country believed and supported the message that they were putting out.”

Capangpangan returned to New Brunswick at the end of the year, but kept a close watch on French politics. Centrist Emmanuel Macron won the 2017 presidential election decisively, but Marine Le Pen captured 33 percent of the vote with a campaign that warned darkly against immigrants, Islam, and globalization.

“At that point I wasn’t totally surprised because of what had happened in the United States with the 2016 election,” Capangpangan says. “But I had this idealized notion of France and I was profoundly disturbed that the National Front had reached the level of popularity that it had.”

Capangpangan, double majoring in French and political science, was also intensely curious about how it all happened. He yearned to take an in-depth look. So he returned to France in early 2018 and interviewed about a dozen members of the National Front, everyone from student activists to regional officials to national party leaders. His research will fuel his honors thesis.

“It was incredible,” he said. “I was drawing from both of my academic passions, French and political science, and also the personal experience I had when I was living in France and seeing what was happening.”

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