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The European New Right

The European "New Right" is a narrow ideological coterie that emerged in France in the 1960s, partly in reaction to, and partly influenced by, the New Left as it was imported from America. Its adherents are sometimes called Grecistes, after an organization with the promising name of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation européenne -- or, as I've come to call it, Groupement de rouspétance ennuyeuse pour des cons écœurants), founded in 1968. It was born of impatience with the effete ideologies and parties of the European Right as it was then constituted. The most accessible guide to this movement, or rather clique, is Against Equality and Democracy: The European New Right, by Tomislav Sunic; unfortunately, Professor Sunic is a mediocre scholar with a halting command of English.

The European New Right or Nouvelle Droite (henceforth "ND") has some interesting things to say, but it is essentially an intellectualized form of fascism and racism. (I use these terms analytically, not as mere epithets -- recognizing that fascism was not all bad, and that racism, however evil, is not the worst imaginable evil.) It is avowedly hostile to "neoconservatism," i.e. the identification of conservatism with capitalism and democracy. It is both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist, because both these systems are cosmopolitan and egalitarian. It is also anti-Christian, regarding Christianity -- the "Bolshevism of antiquity" -- as the ultimate progenitor of modern, secular egalitarianism.

What is putatively "new" about the ND is that it is fixated on one issue: diversity versus homogeneity. Universalism and egalitarianism, and the homogeneity they engender, are the enemy. Translated into concrete political terms, it champions the "rights of peoples" -- tribes, nations, races -- to autonomy and the preservation of their distinctive identities. The ND is (perhaps paradoxically) universal and egalitarian in its nationalism: it is in favor of everybody's nationalism (as opposed to both the old-fashioned imperialism of "the white man's burden" and the new-fashioned imperialism of democracy and "human rights").

This is all to the good, as far as it goes. Their brand of racialism and ethnocentrism is a useful corrective to the fashionable, Left-wing relativism that legitimates all peoples except us. At the very least, it exposes the hypocrisy of the "multicultural" Left. At best, it is a defensive reaction, an assertion and affirmation of our identity as Homines occidentales, albeit on the same level as all other races and cultures.

Generally speaking, the ND is on target with its criticisms of capitalism, socialism, democracy, Christianity, etc. But when it comes to offering positive alternatives, it is totally inadequate. The West will not be saved from decadence by some undefined "organic democracy" and a national socialism that only reaffirms the welfare state, which has already done so much to corrupt and demoralize the West.

Even their advocacy of parochial identities and loyalties is curiously abstract. These droitistes do not wrap themselves in the Tricolor, much less the fleur-de-lys, though surely there could be no more vivid and literally colorful gesture of defiance against universal equality -- whether Red revolution or drab, grey liberalism. Even adopting the Celtic cross would be better than nothing: at the very least, it would show where they stand.

The ND professes to believe in an entity called "Europe" (or "the European tradition"), in contradistinction to the ideological superpowers that formerly flanked it: American plutodemocracy and Russian Communism. In this regard it is one form of a broader European neutralism. Such neutralism has been found on both Left and Right; on the Right (à la General De Gaulle) it is, or used to be, an expression of quixotic frustration at the European states' loss of world-power status. Neutralists realize that the pygmy-nations of Europe cannot stand alone and apart: if they are to recapture any measure of their lost greatness or self-direction, they must stand together in some kind of European federation.

The ND is as devoted to this federalism as the Christian Democrats and Socialists whom they justly despise. How its adherents propose to reconcile this federalism with the diversity of nations they so prize -- that is obscure. Europe is well on the way to becoming an inferior imitation of America, and replicating America's failed experiment in federalism ("failed," that is, if "federalism" is taken to mean a balance between local and central powers, rather than the complete cession of authority from the constituent states to the central government) will only hasten the process. The end result is bound to be an aggregate of isolated and homogenized individuals, whether it is democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist.

Furthermore, the ND likes to make quixotic noises about aligning Europe with the Third World. But this will not do. America, whatever its faults, is an offshoot of the West, as European in spirit and tradition as the Europeans who peopled this continent; America and Europe are bound together in a community of fate, inextricably, for good or ill. As for the relations between Europe and the Third World, they should consult their compatriot Jean Raspail, author of the classic nativist novel The Camp of the Saints.

In trying to construct a new European identity, the ND repairs to (of all things) the culture of the primordial Indo-Europeans -- especially as interpreted by comparative mythologist Georges Dumézil. Skeptics may well regard this as merely a sanitized version of the Nazi cult of the "Aryans," although the former lacks the grotesque and pseudo-scientific character of the latter. In point of fact, it rather resembles contemporary feminism, with its "revival" of Neolithic matriarchy, "Goddess"-worship, and the "witch-cult": a bizarre and colossally anti-rational attempt to manufacture a political-religious myth and project it onto prehistory.

It is doubtful that the linguistic entity known as "the Indo-European family" has any significance other than linguistic, whether racial or religious. More to the point, it is hard to see how the culture of Neolithic tribes could be an appropriate model for modern European civilization. As an expression of linguistic diversity, itself a paradigm of cultural diversity, it is all well and good. But it does not really lend itself to the idea of "Europe": for, as the very term indicates, it would link Europe to India -- yoking together two cultures that, whatever their remote common origin, have grown worlds apart -- while leaving in limbo the Basque, Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian nations.

More troubling is that parallel to the fabricated "Goddess" cult. Paganism may well be superior to Christianity in any number of ways: but is it true? Will Jupiter return with his lightning-bolts to blast the Pope in Rome? If not, what good is paganism? The ND's pope, Alain De Benoist, wrote an entire book with the promising title of Comment peut-on être païen? (Éditions Albin Michel, 1981), but the closest he comes to answering this question is to remark, in passing, that it is no more ridiculous to believe in Jupiter or Odin than in Yahweh: which is, of course, true -- as is the reverse, that it is no less ridiculous. Jupiter may be Best and Greatest, but he is no more real. How can anyone be indifferent to the truth? How can anyone act on the basis, not even of delusions, but of pretences of delusion?

Most significant, I suspect, is the ND's interest in the "Conservative Revolution": viz., those Germans who called for some radical, dynamic new force to sweep away both Marxism and liberal democracy, but weren't entirely happy with the one that Hitler gave them. Their ambivalence towards the Nazi regime is matched only by their ineffectuality -- which hardly recommends them to anyone looking for a viable alternative.

The ND has either not recognized or not acknowledged the cautionary failure of the Fascist and National-Socialist experiments. Their assertion of the rights of all peoples should, if sincere, save them from embracing the fascists' suicidal militarism; but they show no signs of resisting the totalitarian temptation -- i.e., seeking the regeneration of humanity through a political project demanding control over every aspect of life. They show no appreciation of the vital importance of intermediary bodies -- families, communities, voluntary associations, etc. -- between the individual and the state, which are the real life of society, and which are deliberately attacked by totalitarian regimes of all kinds.

In the end, the ND has little, if anything, to offer beyond a purely negative challenge to "enlightened" and "progressive" prejudices. It has not seriously come to grips with the "death of God": invoking a lot of dead gods, is worse than useless. Its closest approach to cultural creativity is an exercise in obscure and dubious antiquarianism. The best idea it has to offer is a lame and incoherent imitation of General De Gaulle's Europe des patries. It is, in short, just as effete and futile as the old Right it affected to replace.

© 2000 by Karl Jahn