Inspiration from France
This article appeared in the October 2001 issue of ‘Middle American News’ in the US
under the title ‘French Manifesto Could Be Basis For A New Political Movement’
The Centre for Research and Study on European Civilisation (Groupement de Recherche et d’Ã‰tudes sur la Civilisation EuropÃ©ene – GRECE) was founded in France in 1968. It is the most prominent representative of the European New Right (Nouvelle Droite) – which is in no way to be confused with the Anglo-American free-market New Right – and is closely identified with its leading member, Alain de Benoist.
The European New Right is, in de Benoist’s own words, ‘in no sense a political movement, but rather a current of thought and cultural action’ (Interview for Right Now magazine, April 1997 – echoing the opening lines of the ‘Manifesto of the New Right’ below). Its activities encompass the publishing of magazines and books, the organisation of conferences and debates and so forth, rather than either electioneering of paramilitary action. De Benoist himself has published something in the region of forty books – among them Vu de Droite (Seen from the Right) for which he was awarded a prize by the AcadÃ©mie FranÃ§aise in 1978 – and either founded or been associated with a number of magazines (Nouvelle Ã‰cole, Ã‰lÃ©ments and Krisis).
De Benoist has in these endeavours been particularly influenced by the theories of the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was a critic of the Marxist belief that power stems simply from the ownership of capital. He stressed instead the importance of people like journalists, academics and teachers in creating a climate of ideas which would be the precursor to successful political change. De Benoist set out to institute a ‘Gramsciism of the Right’, in which respect he met with some degree of success. In particular when in 1978 he and other key members of the New Right were appointed to the staff of the French daily Le Figaro. These appointments helped to spread the ideas of the New Right far more widely than would otherwise have been possible. The outcry from the left at this only served to increase publicity and ensured the ideas were even more widely disseminated. All this is credited with preparing the ground for the electoral breakthrough of the National Front in France in the early 1980s.
So what are these ideas? The defining document of the New Right is GRECE’s ‘Manifesto of the New Right’ (Manifeste de la Nouvelle Droite), co-written by de Benoist and Charles Champetier. I think it justifies examination in some detail.
The Manifesto is divided into three sections, preceded by a short introduction. The first section provides an analysis of the ills of present-day society, the second expresses de Benoist and Champetier’s vision of man and the world and the third states their position on major contemporary issues.
The introduction opens by making it clear that the New Right is a school of thought rather than a political movement. And taking up the Gramscian theme, the writers stress the importance of ideas in shaping human history. Philosophers, theologians, political thinkers and their like have through their ideas brought about revolutions the effects of which are still felt today. The history of ideas – as de Benoist says in the Right Now interview (following Herder) – is the key to the history of deeds.
De Benoist and Champetier also bring in another vital theme in the introduction – the need to think across accepted political divisions. We are living in an age, they tell us, in which traditional institutions (the political parties, the unions etc) are losing their power and the traditional left-right dichotomy is – along with other similar categorisations – becoming obsolete. In the fluidity and uncertainty of the modern world they seek therefore to develop a ‘transversal’ (transversal) mode of thought which ignores these decaying mental barriers.
The first of the three main sections of the Manifesto begins by declaring that we are today at a historical turning point: the end of modernity. How do the writers justify this rather startling claim?
They start by telling us exactly what they mean by ‘modernity’. It is defined as the political and philosophical movement of the last three centuries of western history, and ascribed five principal characteristics: individualism, ‘massification‘ (i.e. the adoption of standardised behaviour and lifestyles), the triumph of scientific over religious interpretations of the world, the triumph of the mercantile mentality and technology, and the planet-wide spread of a model of society – the western one – presumed the sole rationally possible.
The various schools of political thought of modernity may differ on many things, de Benoist and Champetier say, but all agree on this: that there exists a sole and universal solution to social, moral and political questions. Humanity must realise its historical unity, and in this respect the diversity of the world becomes an obstacle and what differentiates men from one another must be eliminated. Modernity has tried therefore by all possible means to tear individuals from their surroundings in order to universalise them and – introducing a theme that is a common thread throughout de Benoist’s many works – the most effective means it has used to do this is the market.
De Benoist and Champetier go on to outline what they see as the crisis of modernity. Its central values – liberty and equality – have been betrayed. Cut off from the communities which protect them and give sense and form to their existence, individuals are subject to the iron rule of immense mechanisms (the market, technology etc) in relation to which their liberty is purely formal. And the promise of equality has brought on the one hand barbarous communist regimes and on the other capitalist societies which give equality in principle but in practice allow huge inequalities.
As for the idea of progress – the promise of an ever-improving future – for many this future is not now full of hope but rather of fear. Each generation faces a world different from that which the previous one faced. The speed of change produces anxiety not happiness.
We are living in the most empty civilisation in human history, the writers say: adspeak is our paradigm language, all is commercialised, technology rules and criminality, violence and incivility are widespread.
This shows that modernity is drawing to a close, according to de Benoist and Champetier. We are entering a period of post-modernity which will be not so much a return to what has gone before but rather a rediscovery of certain pre-modern values but now looked at in a post-modern way.
In the second section of the Manifesto that most vital and most controversial of contemporary issues – race – begins to make its presence felt.
Man’s belonging to the human species is always expressed through a particular context we are told. Humanity is plural by nature – not one race. Diversity is of its very essence. Differences between cultures are neither an illusion, nor transitory, nor accidental, nor of trivial importance. All of which will have our anti-racist ideologues foaming at the mouth.
Human existence, the writers go on to tell us, is also inextricably linked to the communities and social groups in which it is set, the most basic of these being the extended family. This is an idea which would be anathema, they say, to the modern individualist and universalist who associates community with hierarchy, parochialism and claustrophobia.
In reality, though, modernity has not set men free by breaking the old bonds of family, locality, race, religion etc. It has, de Benoist and Champetier tell us (taking up again a theme from the first section of the Manifesto), just submitted them to different constraints – and harder ones at that because more distant, impersonal and demanding. In becoming more solitary man has also become more vulnerable and powerless. He has no sense of where to place himself in the world. The great project of emancipation has resulted in alienation on a massive scale. We must therefore reinstate the idea of community.
And on the economy again: contrary to what liberals and Marxists suppose, the writers assert, the economy has never formed the ‘infrastructure’ of society. In pre-modern societies the economy was embedded within and contextualised by the rest of human activity. Though it is undeniable that economic development has brought benefits it will eventually lead us to an impasse, not least because the world has finite resources.
De Benoist and Champetier say that the commercialisation of the world in the last few centuries has been one of the most important phenomena in human history and that its decommercialisation will be one of the great issues of the twenty-first century. The economy must be recontextualised. All the other important elements must be put back into the equation – ecological equilibrium and everything else. Even one might venture – though they do not mention it directly – the greatest bogeyman of all: race.
And there is a corresponding critique of the idea of universal human rights. Rights are social, we are told. They are only conceivable within a specific setting. Rights, like the economy, must be put back within a social context. What might our rapidly-proliferating human rights gurus and missionaries think of this?
Towards the end of the second section de Benoist and Champetier come back to the subject of diversity. They stress again that diversity is inherent in life itself – that there exists a plurality of races, languages, customs and religions – and that there are two opposing attitudes to this. There are those who believe such a diversity is a burden and always seek to reduce men to what they have in common and there are those – like the New Right – who believe differences are riches that should be preserved and cultivated. A good system, say the writers, is one that transmits at least as many differences as it has received.
The word ‘diversity’ here is quite rightly recaptured from our present rulers and their entourage of race relations experts. The New Right are the true upholders of diversity. When the proponents of our present multi-racial society use this word – as they so frequently do – they are being disingenuous. Racial diversity for these people is not something of value in itself. It is just a stepping-stone to their ultimate goal – the destruction of race through mass inter-breeding (the mixed-race society, one might say).
De Benoist and Champetier also take two other important and sensitive concepts – imperialism and ethnocentrism – and show just who stands where on these today. The attempt by our political class to impose the social and economic system and moral standards (human rights) of the west on the rest of the planet is the modern-day equivalent of the crusades or colonialism. It is an imperialist and ethnocentric movement which seeks to efface all differences through the imposition of one supposedly superior model. It is the New Right who are its opponents.
But unstoppable though our leaders’ vision of society seems at present there are growing signs that they will not succeed. This is not the ‘end of history’ whereby the western model of society finally and permanently triumphs over all competing versions. Other civilisations are on the rise. The new century will see the birth of a multi-polar world in which power will be defined as the ability to resist the influence of other cultures rather than to impose one’s own. Let us hope they are correct about this!
The third and final section expresses the New Right’s position on a range of contemporary issues. The spread is wide and includes gender, democracy, Europe, the role of work in society, the modern urban environment, ecology and freedom of speech. I just want to concentrate here on a few points most relevant to my own interests (principally racial issues).
De Benoist and Champetier express their opposition to both homogenisation and tribalism and their support instead for what they term ‘strong identities’ (des identitÃ©s fortes). Homogenisation, they say, leads to extreme reactions – chauvinistic nationalism, tribal savagery and the like. By denying individuals the right to an identity the western system has paradoxically given birth to hysterical forms of self-affirmation. The question of identity is sure to become more and more important over the coming decades. Who could doubt that they are right about this?
And they continue by saying that the New Right is the defender of the cause of peoples. It defends not only its own difference but the right of others to be different too. The right to difference is not a means of excluding others for being different.
The right to an identity or the right to difference. A new human right? A universal right which is not universal, one might say. It is interesting to note that this type of right also appears, for example, in the programme of the Austrian Freedom Party where it is termed the right to a cultural identity.
De Benoist and Champetier go on to make clear the distinction between the right to difference and racism. Racism, they say, is a theory which holds that there exist between races inequalities which mean that one can distinguish ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races, that the value of an individual can be deduced from which racial group he or she belongs to, and that race is the central explaining factor of human history. All three of these assertions, the writers maintain, are false. Races differ but one cannot put them in a hierarchy.
Opposed to racism de Benoist and Champetier distinguish two very different forms of anti-racism: a universalist form and a differentialist form. The first, they say, is as bad as the racism it denounces. It values in peoples only what they have in common. These kind of anti-racists – the ones with whom we are all only too familiar, sadly – are incapable of recognising and respecting differences. Differentialist anti-racism, on the other hand – the New Right kind – considers the plurality of the human race to be a positive thing. The New Right, in short, rejects both exclusion and assimilation, the writers say. Neither apartheid nor the melting-pot are for them desirable forms of society.
But they then make it quite clear where they stand on immigration. In view of its rapidity and massive scale it is, they say, incontestably a negative phenomenon. And the responsibility for the problem lies not principally with the immigrants themselves but with the western system which has reduced man ‘Ã l’Ã©tat de marchandise dÃ©localisable‘ (to the status of an uprootable commodity). Immigration is desirable neither for the immigrants themselves nor for the peoples of the receiving nations who are confronted with unwished-for and often brutal modifications to their environment. The problems of developing nations are not resolved by the large-scale transfer of population to the developed world. The New Right, we are told, therefore favours a restrictive immigration policy.
De Benoist and Champetier go on to say that as regards the immigrant population in France today it would be illusory to expect their mass departure (something which I could never accept in relation to the immigrant population of Britain, France or any other northern European country). But the writers declare themselves firmly in favour of immigrants being encouraged to retain their own cultures, rather than their being pressurised into integration – which I could hardly disagree with at least as a stop-gap or second-best measure.
There is just one further point I would like to pick out. Towards the end of the Manifesto – during a critique of modern capitalism – de Benoist and Champetier do a bit of very important transversal thinking. Taking up a cause which is normally thought of as belonging to the left they call for the cancellation of third world debt, the freeing of developing economies from the dictates of the World Bank and IMF and other changes to the relationship between the developed and developing world.
This kind of transversal thinking is not quite unique – there are elements of it in the programmes of many major radical right parties in northern Europe (the National Front in France, the Flemish Bloc in Belgium, the Freedom Party in Austria and the Danish People’s Party, for example). You will also find such thinking in the programme of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and, though approached from a very different angle, in the famous speech given by the late Bernie Grant MP in the House of Commons in December 1995 in which he advocated government assistance for people from the Caribbean to return home. It is always welcome to see people prepared to ignore obsolescent political divisions in this way.
The Manifesto provides a strong foundation for the modern radical right. One can draw a huge amount of inspiration from it – for example, as regards the need for transversal thinking (as demonstrated above), or from the way the writers quite rightfully reclaim the word ‘diversity’, or from their analysis of what racism really means.
It seems to me, in fact, that de Benoist, Champetier and other like-minded people are the only true opponents of globalisation in the west. Their sole rival in this respect is the green movement. But greens are inconsistent in their opposition to globalisation. Whilst they are staunch opponents of economic globalisation they also tend, bizarrely, to be among the most enthusiastic supporters of the globalisation of people – i.e. of increased immigration, particularly the de facto mass immigration scheme known as the asylum system, and of the multi-racial society generally (this, incidentally, is a mirror image of the criticism that is often made of Enoch Powell – that his views were inconsistent because he opposed immigration and the multi-racial society yet was at the same time a strong supporter of capitalism).
There are things I would disagree with in the Manifesto too. Not only the dismissal of the possibility of the departure of non-white immigrants but also the pre-eminent position accorded to the market as regards responsibility for our present ills. I would put the largest share of the blame on the perverse doctrine of universalist anti-racism with the capitalist economic system as its hand maiden (it is the economic system that goes naturally with such a credo). After all, as I have pointed out elsewhere, how many non-Oriental immigrants are there in the paradigm capitalist society of Hong Kong, or in Japan? Though they have the most capitalist of economies they have relatively few immigrants because they do not suffer from the sickness of universalist anti-racism.
So when are the kind of ideas contained in the Manifesto going to be taken up by a political organisation in Britain? When is there going to be some concrete, pragmatic initiative? The creation of an organisation which displays similar transversal thinking in its programme. And one too, I would argue, which focuses very much on the tackling of the most sensitive and difficult issue of all – race – and does so in a more daring and forthright manner than de Benoist and Champetier. We had better hope it is soon.