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Book-reviews “New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe” (Martin Thébaud)

 

Book-reviews “New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe”

Martin Thébaud

 New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe

Michael O’Meara

Bloomington: 1stBooks, 2004

We are now hearing more about the rise of national and racial consciousness in Europe as a reaction to the increasing flood of non-Europeans, and particularly Moslems, into that continent. The failure of governments to act to prevent this massive influx has resulted in widespread dissatisfaction and a significant quantity of thoughtful and rational intellectual literature and associated splinter political movements, which for convenience has been collectively referred to as the European New Right (ENR).

The present book under review, New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe, is not the first monographic study of this phenomenon to have appeared in English. In 1990, the Croatian-born Tomislav Sunic produced Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, based on a doctoral dissertation written for the University of California at Santa Barbara. Uncharacteristic of an academic work published by a small press (Peter Lang) specializing in dissertations, Sunic’s work sought to popularize certain ENR ideas that were then entirely foreign to American conservative audiences. It is difficult to judge the degree to which his book was responsible for introducing these ideas, especially those of its leading proponent, Alain de Benoist, into the English-speaking world. For the English New Rightist Michael Walker, through his journal The Scorpion, and then, beginning in 1993, the former Marxist journal edited by Paul Piccone, Telos, also had a role to play. O’Meara acknowledges Sunic’s influence, along with that of Walker and Piccone, but he seems to have used them mainly as springboards into the original sources. If anyone influences his treatment of ENR ideas, it is one of the movement’s founders and now its principal dissident, Guillaume Faye. In any case, his treatment of the ENR is quite different from Sunic’s.

For if Sunic sought an academic route in popularizing ENR ideas, packaging them in their most philosophically respectable form, O’Meara pursues a more unabashed course, frontally assaulting the liberal order on all its ramparts, as he attacks what he characterizes as its indefensible philosophical premises. In what might be the most far-reaching critique of liberal ideology to have been made by an American, O’Meara also deconstructs the prevailing liberal notions of equality, rationality, universalism, economism, and developmentalism which Sunic addresses, but goes further in emphasizing what he claims are its anti-White, anti-European, and anti-cultural impetus. In doing so, O’Meara inadvertently tells us something revealing about the current state of American racial nationalism. For as a work whose scholarship and sophistication are significantly more advanced than Sunic’s (O’Meara is obviously a mature scholar writing under an assumed name), New Culture, New Right seeks not just to introduce certain European ideas to an American audience, but to intervene in the racial-nationalist politics of both America and Europe: validating the ethnonationalist New Right against its softer communitarian wing and emphasizing the biocultural rather than biological character of American racial politics.

For those who approach such works not for political guidance, but for what they tell us about the world around us, O’Meara’s highly partisan work is particularly revealing. It is perhaps the best study in English on this increasingly talked-about European tendency and compares favorably with Pierre-André Taguieff’s Sur la nouvelle droite (Descartes & Cie, 1994), considered by many to be the most authoritative secondary source. Its treatment of the ENR is broader than Sunic’s and Taguieff’s, which focuses exclusively on de Benoist, and also deeper, in presenting the ENR not simply as the filiation of a certain intellectual tradition, but as a movement addressing the present cultural, economic and political crisis in European life. At the same time, O’Meara’s search to grasp these ideas in their entirety – as a world view – gives him the thread by which to link its metapolitical interventions in contemporary debates, its critique of multiculturalism, feminism, and human rights, its geopolitics, and all the various facets of this project. He thus treats the ENR’s diverse dimensions as related parts of a unified critique of contemporary European civilization.

What then is this “New Right” and what does O’Meara bring to our understanding of it? At one level, the ENR has a rather clear genealogy. It emerged from the Groupement de Recherche et d’Etude pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE), which was founded in 1968 by various French nationalist, far Right, traditionalist, and regionalist activists, who sought to restore what they saw as the crumbling foundations of European cultural life and identity. In the view of these activists, an anti-liberal movement against the de-Europeanizing forces of Americanization, consumerism, and the liberal capitalist regimes established by the US after 1945 had no hope of success as long as Europe’s culture remained steeped in liberal beliefs. The GRECE was established then not as a political organization but as a school of thought to contest the regnant liberal ideology and redeem the fundaments of European culture and identity. Its metapolitical – rather than political – orientation spoke to what was an obviously unaddressed need of both the French and European Right; combined with the quality of its publications and its culturally persuasive reformulation of the Right project, its novel approach attracted an immediate audience. By the late 1970s, it had recruited an impressive array of continental intellectual to its ranks. In Italy, Belgium, Germany, and a number of other European countries, there have since emerged organizations, websites, and publishing houses either directly allied to the Paris-based GRECE or involved in analogous endeavors. At the same time, ENR ideas have increasingly become the stock and trade of anglophone nationalists and far rightists. A quick perusal of the web reveals that scores of de Benoist’s articles are now available in English and that the Spanish site, Nueva Derecha (http://foster.20megsfree.com), probably the most authoritative of the New Right sites, has collected almost 300 English-language articles related to the ENR. At the same time, Ultra Press of Atlanta, in a sign that publishers are beginning to recognize the marketability of its ideas, has announced the forthcoming release of the first English translation of a de Benoist book: On Being a Pagan (Comment peut-on être païen?). If it has taken longer for ENR ideas, whose sources are mainly French, German, and Italian, to make their way into English than elsewhere, their future presence nevertheless now seems assured.

European commentators are divided as to how to characterize the European New Right. Some see it as a continuation of what is called the Conservative Revolution: a German anti-liberal intellectual movement of the Weimar era that included some of the foremost minds of the 20th century (Heidegger, Spengler, Schmitt, Sombart, Freyer, Moeller van den Bruck, Niekisch, Jünger, etc.). Others see it as “a risorgimento of the extreme Right,” if not a postwar repackaging of now unacceptable fascist and nazi ideas. A less partisan academic tendency, with Taguieff at its head, sees it, especially in the figure of de Benoist, as representing a distinctly postwar phenomenon that has both reformulated the Right and made significant contributions to it. A fourth tendency, found largely in Catholic and conservative ranks, claims the ENR is neither new nor right-wing. For his part, O’Meara, whose main concern is understanding the American populist movement, seems to favor aspects of each of these interpretations, seeing them as complimentary rather than as contradictory facets of its project. He thus acknowledges the ENR’s enormous intellectual debt to the conservative revolution of the 1920s, its effort to reformulate revolutionary anti-liberal ideas in ways appropriate to the postwar context, especially as posed by the massive global migratory trends, rising multiculturalism, and economic globalization, but above all as something that does not tidily fit into the conventional Right-Left categories.

If there is a single theme that serves as the interpretative axis for O’Meara’s work, it is that of “liberal modernity.” In an introduction titled “The True Right,” O’Meara offers a global overview of the historical Right that rejects both conservative and traditionalist interpretations and instead reflects the ambiguity which those who are ethnically conscious have always had toward the conventional Right and Left as identified by differences in economic philosophy. To him, Right and Left are the political antipodes of the anti-traditionalist world that arose in the West and took institutional form with the French and American Revolutions. The implications of this view are multiple. First, Right and Left for O’Meara become synonyms for tradition and revolution – terms whose bi-polar character emblemizes the antipodal extremes of liberal modernity, but which are nevertheless terminologically inadequate to the political realities they endeavor to grasp. Second, he claims that America knows no True Right as the ENR perceives it, having rejected the Old World in favor of a national project based on principles that were preeminently liberal and modern. The ENR cannot be likened to the American nationalism of Hamilton, Lincoln, or even Buchanan, but more closely resembles the anti-liberal nationalism that orients to race, and survives only in America’s populist and sectionalist heritages.”

Accordingly, O’Meara’s ENR addresses an age in which the defining conflicts transcend the modernist ones of class, church, and state. The ENR’s principal concern is not tradition per se, as was the case with De Maistre’s, Donoso Cortèz’s, and Evola’s True Right, but rather the question of identity – as it is subject to the postmodern breakdown of those national, racial, class, and cultural references that once defined it seeking to re-legitimate the primordial core of European life and culture, the ENR rejects left-wing postmodernism, whose impulse is deconstructionist and individualistic.

The interface between O’Meara’s critique of liberalism, his interpretation of the ENR, and his right-wing postmodernism is perhaps most evident in the books central chapter, “Liberalism’s Reign of Quantity.” The conceptual foundation of this ideology, he claims, is “the objectivist rationalism” that animated the New Science of the 17th century and the philosophy of René Descartes. Because its rationalist, scientific truths rested on a quantification of empirical reality, it was only the length, depth, breathe, and velocity of physical objects, as they lent themselves to precise and predictable calculations, that mattered to its mathematical explanation of the world. By dismissing qualitative factors in this way, O’Meara claims the modern liberal world view privileges not only the lowest order of things – empirical facts detached from their living connection to the world – but all that lacks real meaning to man. By rejecting particularistic cultures, languages, ethnicities, and all those elements that create a sense of identity and community, modern liberalism inevitably leads to a bloodless, alienating form of social life.

Given postmodernism’s role in dislodging modernity’s objectivist rationalism, O’Meara makes extensive use of its critique. But he also alerts the reader to the fact that its critique is already implied in traditionalist or pre-modern thought. In this vein he discusses René Guénon’s The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945) and other “traditionalist” works that the ENR has appropriated. The end result is not just a critique of liberalism’s underlying philosophical premises, but of all the political and social practices that follow from them: as they take the form of individualism, egalitarianism, universalism, economism, and materialism. Contemporary expressions of liberal modernity, like feminism, multiculturalism, and human rights, are likewise seen as stemming from these defining features of liberalism’s indifference to the qualitative facets of man’s world. This quantifying impetus, he concludes, has the effect of turning the European into an abstraction undifferentiated from the rest of humanity . . . subject to laws that isolate and decontextualize him, limit his motivation to material self-interest, relate him to other individuals through faceless contractual arrangements, and, most dangerously, lock him into a mono-directional temporality at odds with his world-open nature.

In O’Meara’s view, then, liberalism’s hostility toward the qualitative facets of man’s world is the prime source of its indifference to Europe’s distinct identity, which it negates for the sake of a universalist, multicultural, multiracial, transgender one opposed to Europe’s specific bioculture. But O’Meara finds that ENR is not merely negative or antiliberal in thrust. By stressing all that has been lost with liberal modernity, he sees the intellectuals of this European New Right as seeking to redeem Europe’s high cultural heritage, and reinvigorate Europe until it becomes great again.

Conventionally-liberal academics (and I include myself in this category) will undoubtedly have noted a growing mood of resentment in Europe against the rising power and seeming arbitrariness of the EU bureaucracy, and more especially against the increasing size of radical and activist African and Asian communities now domiciled in Europe. While the philosophical underpinnings of the “new Right” movement are at present confined to a small circle of highly intelligent intellectuals and have not yet found popular expression, if the level of popular dissatisfaction continues to rise, we may expect to see these “new right” philosophical arguments eventually morphing into more directly political forms of expression. If that should happen, this as yet uncertain and undirected upsurge of discontent could become more dynamic as it acquired a clear cut and conscious ideology, and the power of a unifying sense of purpose.

[Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 2004]  

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