Barbarism with a Human Face
by Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy, translated by George Holoch
Harper and Row, 210 pp., $3.95 (paper) Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Le testament de Dieu
by Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy
Grasset, 308 pp., 52 francs Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Les idÃ©es Ã lâ€™endroit
by Alain de Benoist
Hallier, 298 pp., 45 francs Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Vu de droite
by Alain de Benoist
Copernic, 626 pp., 150 francs Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
â€œAlmost two thousand years, and no new god!â€
Nietzsche, The Antichrist
Voltaire said that if God did not exist, man would have to invent Him. If we are to believe the French press, 1979 may be remembered as the year when two very different Parisian intellectuals applied for their respective patents on their own brand of deity.
With Le testament de Dieu, Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy, thirty-one years old, ex-Maoist, ex-journalist, and self-proclaimed â€œNew Philosopher,â€ has become the latter-day prophet of a God who, though now deceased, was kind enough to leave behind His last will and testament, the Bible, as a bulwark against totalitarianism. With Les idÃ©es Ã lâ€™endroit Alain de Benoist, ex-Catholic, ex-reactionary, and self-proclaimed â€œtheoretical journalist,â€ has presented a compendium of essays that attempts to lay the sociobiological foundations for a new paganism, a new aristocrat, and what is called the â€œNew Right.â€ â€œThe debate between monotheism and polytheism,â€ de Benoist writes, â€œis a truly essential discussion.â€ But strangely enough, neither man actually believes in the deity or deities he proposes: they are merely convenient foils to help man muddle through the mess of the modern world. Nietzsche was right after all. You can take your pick: the barren heights of Mount Sinai with LÃ©vy, or the misty haunts of Celtic forests with de Benoistâ€”a dead Yahweh or a vitalistic Wotan. In either case, to adapt a phrase from James Joyce, these are very posthumous gods.
For all their differences, LÃ©vy and de Benoist have a lot in common. Each declares himself a moralist in philosophy, a nominalist in world view, and an antitotalitarian in politics. Both are skillful Parisian publicists (LÃ©vy is an editor at Grasset, de Benoist at Copernic), and both have written much-acclaimed books (Barbarism with a Human Face won the 1977 Prix dâ€™Honneur de lâ€™essai, and Vu de droite won the 1978 Grand Prix de lâ€™essai from the AcadÃ©mie franÃ§aise). Each has set flame to his recent past (for LÃ©vy, Maoism, for de Benoist, the â€œOld Rightâ€) and risen like a Phoenix from the ashes to go on to condemn Marxism and modern liberalism, the Gulag and Coca-Cola, fascism of the left and right, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, and the rule of the masses.
Yet as we might expect from these heralds of monotheism and polytheism, they have spent much energy excommunicating each other. There they were last July in the offices of France-Soir for a round-table discussion, glaring at each other uncivilly from their respective worlds, only a few days after Sartre and Aron had managed to shake hands over the issue of the Vietnamese boat-people. In the course of the exchange LÃ©vy declared himself â€œshocked by the ideological and theoretical povertyâ€ of de Benoistâ€™s writings, while de Benoist found LÃ©vyâ€™s books â€œnot worth a trifle.â€ â€œI am filled with hatred for you,â€ LÃ©vy hissed. â€œI hate no one,â€ de Benoist replied, for the sixteenth maxim of his code of aristocratic ethics (Les idÃ©esâ€¦, p. 52) enjoins: â€œNever hate, but despise often.â€ It was the best show since Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley went after each other on television over a decade ago. The nouveau philosophe and the nouveau droitier, the prophet and the druid, seemed to deserve each other.
It is not easy to place LÃ©vy and de Benoist in recent French philosophy, not least of all because it is stretching the word to call either of them a â€œphilosopher.â€ To be sure, LÃ©vy studied under the Marxist Louis Althusser at the Ecole Normale SupÃ©rieure and claims to be a Lacanian. De Benoist, who studied law and letters at the Sorbonne, is an autodidact in the works of Nietzsche and Heidegger. The range of books that they cite is immense (but de Benoist, unlike LÃ©vy, seems actually to read them), and the urgency with which they press their points would have you believe that the fate of the West hangs on the result of their debate.
LÃ©vy, unlike de Benoist, is a child of the student revolution of 1968. After structuralismâ€™s Gang of Fourâ€”LÃ©vi-Strauss, Foucault, Lacan, and Althusserâ€”had â€œdisplacedâ€ the human â€œsubjectâ€â€”the individual thinking consciousnessâ€”in favor of the linguistic code, and that subjectâ€™s alleged history-making in favor of invariant structures,the revolt of May 1968 was a made-to-order structuralistâ€™s delight. More a cultural than a political crisis, more a synchronic liturgy than a diachronic historical event, it could be seen as reenacting the myths of the French tribe (1848, the 1870 Commune) around a transpersonal hero (the Eternal Child, le rÃ©voltÃ©) within neat classical unities of time and place (the Left Bank, May 3 through June 16). Although its political consequences were practically nil, this modern ritual did appear to prove what the structuralists had argued at some length: the supremacy of the codeâ€”in this case, the mediaâ€”over the message to be codified. As cameramen freely crossed the barricades, ministering to both sides like priests in medieval wars, the essential point became clear: it is more important to faire la une (â€œmake page oneâ€) than to win. The coverage of the event is the event.
The point, we may imagine, was not lost on the then twenty-year-old Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy, who followed the action not in the streets but in his room, by television and radio, with a map of Paris across his lap. Without his skillful use of the press and television some seven years later, the so-called â€œNew Philosophersâ€ would never have been launched. In fact, LÃ©vy, who is dramatically handsome and remarkably fluent, seems to have been made for television from the start (he acted in a TV film between writing his two books), even if it took him some years to get there.
After the debacle of May 1968, LÃ©vy, then a Maoist, heeded AndrÃ© Malrauxâ€™s call and went off to Bangladesh. There he awakened from his dogmatic slumber and discovered that there was no difference between â€œprogressiveâ€ and â€œreactionaryâ€ corpses. After spending a week posing as a journalist in a group of lackadaisical â€œguerrillasâ€ (they never fought), he took off to India where he got rolled by a junkie and, though the son of a millionaire, financed his way home by running booze between Bombay and Goa. Such enterprising skills, combined with his facility with words, served him well once he was back in Paris. One day he walked into Grasset publishing house, discussed some projects off the top of his head, and, mirabile dictu, got himself hired as an editor and, a few months later, was appointed the director of two new series of books. He corralled some manuscripts from old friends at the Ecole Normale, rushed them into print, and in 1976 took to the television screens to announce the birth of the â€œNew Philosophers.â€ A year later he crowned these efforts by publishing his own Barbarism with a Human Face. At that point he had more requests for newspaper interviews and TV appearances than he could conveniently handle, and he earned himself the title pub-philosophe, â€œpublicity philosopher.â€ Metaphysics, having long been dead and buried, was resurrected as a media hype.
The mood of the French press and public contributed to their success. The appearance of Alexander Solzhenitsynâ€™s Gulag Archipelago in 1974 severely undermined residual sympathies for the Soviet Union, just as the later revelations about communist behavior in Cambodia shook liberal sympathies for Third World socialism. Moreover, the emergence of Franceâ€™s brand of Euro-communismâ€”permitting the alliance of communist and socialist parties in the Union of the Leftâ€”made many Frenchmen uneasy. The Common Program of the two parties, for example, called for government control over banking and credit. Since newspapers had been suffering the burden of rising costs since 1974, this was seen as an implicit threat to an independent and critical press. The collapse of the Union of the Left before and during the elections of March 1978 seemed to point up the hypocrisy of this uneasy marriage. As the Leftâ€™s dominance of political discourse in France was increasingly shaken, the New Philosophers found a ready audience, not least among editors and television producers.
It is impossible to discuss the New Philosophers as if they represented a unified viewpoint on anything.1 While they were all deeply affected by Alexander Solzhenitsynâ€™s work, their only point in common may be that they have recently been issued by the same publisher. Some but not all were Maoists in 1968; one, Jean-Marie Benoist (not to be confused with Alain de Benoist), sat out the revolution as a diplomat in London, while another, Jean-Paul DollÃ©, fancies himself a Heideggerian. AndrÃ© Glucksmann, who publishes with Grasset but not in LÃ©vyâ€™s series, refuses even to be grouped with them. Therefore, in discussing LÃ©vyâ€™s two books (they have to be read together), I have no illusions that I am commenting on the other writers who are popularly associated with him.
Springtime, O. Henry once wrote, is the season when young men discover what young women have known all winter long. LÃ©vyâ€™s bitter springtime, his discovery of the Gulag that other intellectuals, including Sartre, had known about for over twenty years, has engendered the purple prose, alternately threnodic and dithyrambic, that we find in Barbarism with a Human Face and The Testament of God. â€œIf I were a poet,â€ he writes, â€œI would sing of the horror of living and the new Gulags that tomorrow holds in store for us. If I were a musician, I would speak of the idiot laughter and impotent tears, the dreadful uproar made by the lost, camped in the ruins, awaiting their fate.â€ This is pretty heavy stuff, but, as Husserl observed at the turn of the century, one is most vehement against those errors that one recently held oneself. â€œIf I were an encyclopedist, I would dream of writing in a dictionary of the year 2000: â€˜Socialism, n., cultural style, born in Paris in 1848, died in Paris in 1968.â€™ â€ But LÃ©vy is no easier on his young self: he confesses, with a straight face, â€œI will soon be thirty, and I have betrayed the dream of my youth at least a hundred times.â€ Such earnestness is enough to make cynics weep, and it just might sustain some of them through the two hundred pages of narcissistic prose that one finds in his philosophical Bildungsroman called Barbarism with a Human Face.
LÃ©vy is like the man in Paddy Chayevskyâ€™s film Network: he insists he is mad as hell, that heâ€™s not going to take it any more. He has discovered, in a mood of â€œthe darkest and most tragic pessimism,â€ that the Marxism he once believed in is a lie: â€œNo socialism without camps, no classless society without its terrorist truth.â€ Not that capitalism is any better. No, socialism is the face and capitalism the body of the same inevitable nihilism toward which the West is stumbling like a drunken Dimitri Karamazov. In fact, reality itself is radically evil, held in the clutches of an impersonal Power or Master or Prince or State (all in capitals and all equal to each other), as Plato and Schopenhauer, those â€œmelancholy experts in absolute evil,â€ knew. There is no Rousseauan nature that antedated the state and no revolutionary paradise to be found after the supposed â€œwithering awayâ€ of the state. Nothing escapes the dread equation: World = Power = State = Barbarism. Misery will last as long as the social bond does, and that will go on forever. â€œRebellion is unthinkable inside the real world.â€
But that leaves the â€œunreal worldâ€ and â€œthe impossible thought of a world freed from Mastery.â€ Thus, â€œthe antibarbarian intellectual will be first of all a metaphysician, and when I say metaphysician I mean it in an angelic sense.â€ In Barbarism with a Human Face, however, we come to the end without being told just what that might mean. Enter: The Testament of God. Its first principle is that politics must be restricted to make room for ethics and for an individual who can resist barbarism. Second principle: such an individual can not be found in classical Greek thought, where the individual is subsumed by the general and where the notion of â€œconscienceâ€ was unknown. It can only (third principle) be found in classical Judaismâ€™s â€œwagerâ€ on a Totally Other who is never incarnate in the world, in fact is now dead, although somehow goes on living, or partly living, in that â€œbook of resistanceâ€ called the Bible.
The choice, then, is the same as it was for Tertullian in the third century: Athens or Jerusalem. LÃ©vyâ€™s response is â€œForget Athens.â€ In place of its supposed humanism (which in fact is the root of totalitarianism insofar as it subsumes the individual under the general) LÃ©vy proposes â€œseven new commandments.â€ 1. The Law (LÃ©vyâ€™s stand-in for God, but not to be confused with any specific laws) is outside time and more holy than History. 2. There is no eschatological future; rather, every moment is the right moment for manifesting the Good. 3. The future is none of your business: act now. 4. Undertake no act that cannot be universalized for all men. 5. Truth, oneâ€™s own truth, is extraneous to the political order. 6. Practice resistance, without a theory and without belonging to a revolutionary party. 7. In order to engage yourself you must first of all disengage yourself. If we ask LÃ©vy what all this might entail for day-to-day politics, he comes down on the side of a â€œliberal-libertarianâ€ state, which would govern best by governing least.
Little can be said about LÃ©vyâ€™s position precisely because so little of it is ever argued. He makes his points by rhetorical tropes, wide-ranging historical references (â€œConsider the Middle Ages,â€ he advises, or the span of history â€œfrom Epictetus to Malrauxâ€), or by citations from books that he evidently hasnâ€™t read or has poorly digested (a reference to a work by Stalin in the Russian, which LÃ©vy does not read, a reference to all of Clement of Alexandriaâ€™s mammoth Protrepticus, which he has not studied, and so on).
He was taken to task in the pages of Le Nouvel Observateur last spring by Professor Pierre Vidal-Naquet of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales for gross factual and historical errors: claiming that in Genesis Adam and Eve committed their Original Sin on the seventh day of creation (when God was resting), placing the action of Sophoclesâ€™ Antigone in fifth-century Athens when in fact it deals with Thebes in the second millennium BC (â€œThis,â€ says Vidal-Naquet, â€œwould be like using Racineâ€™s PhÃ¨dre as a document on Crete in the time of Louis XIVâ€), taking an 1818 text by Benjamin Constant as a commentary on an 1864 text by Fustel de Coulanges (LÃ©vy in fact lifted both texts from a footnote in another work, but absolved himself of citing the source), and having Himmler stand trial at Nuremberg when in fact he had committed suicide on May 23, 1945. LÃ©vyâ€™s sense of history is, to say the least, vague. When asked what he meant by saying that â€œthe West was Christian even when the Scriptures were not read in the countrysideâ€â€”and analogouslyâ€”â€The Greek world was Homeric even if, outside the Mycenaean palaces, the Iliad and the Odyssey were literally dead letters,â€ LÃ©vy confessed that he hadnâ€™t known that the Greek epic poems were written some centuries after the events they recount.
All this may be unfair. There is a long tradition of young scholars carrying out their education in publicâ€”Schelling enriched nineteenth-century philosophy by doing so. But it can be annoying when, instead of arguing his case, the young Dr. LÃ©vy invites us, as he constantly does, to correct our intellectual errors by â€œreadingâ€ or â€œrereadingâ€ one or another major figure of Western thought, a task we might undertake if we thought LÃ©vy had done as much. A rough count of his ABC of Reading includes: Lenin, Blum, JaurÃ¨s, the early Sorel, Platoâ€™s Republic, Marxâ€™s Capital, â€œthe rules of the medieval convents,â€ Rimbaud, Carl Schmidt, â€œthe historians of the decline of the Hellenic world,â€ Mein Kampf, Augustineâ€™s Retractiones, Nietzscheâ€™s The Dawn, St. Just, and Ernst JÃ¼nger. We are also encouraged to â€œgo and see The Night Porter, Sex Oâ€™clock, A Clockwork Orange, or more recently Lâ€™Ombre des angesâ€ in order to understand what harm has been wrought by Deleuze and Guattariâ€™s Lâ€™Anti-Oedipe. This makes one recall the quip attributed to Abraham Lincoln, â€œBetter to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.â€ In France, however, Le testament de Dieu was at or near the top of the best-seller list throughout last summer.
Alain de Benoist is a better writer, a clearer thinker, and a much more dangerous figure. He followed the events of May 1968 in the streets, but he saw them not as ushering in Year One of the New Order of Things but as a futile spectacle that announced â€œthe end of the postwar period.â€ While LÃ©vy was off seeking adventure in Bangladesh, de Benoist stayed in Paris, tirelessly reviewing hundreds of books for the rightist publications Valeurs actuelles and Le Spectacle du monde (125 of these reviews were published in 1977 as Vu de droite) and seeing to the birth of the New Right.
De Benoist claims that the central issues of the traditional right, among them genetics, race, and inequality, have been discredited by their association with Nazism, and he tries to give them new life by grafting them on to such subsciences as sociobiology and ethnology. De Benoist is particularly attracted to sociobiology, which has recently gained an enthusiastic hearing in France. But he has a tendency to present the hypotheses of sociobiology as proven conclusions and then to extend these â€œconclusionsâ€ to far-ranging fields. For example, he writes, â€œall politics today implies a biopolitics.â€ And he cites with enthusiasm the words of Professor Robert Mallet, the chancellor of the Universities of Paris, that some day â€œthe genetic code will help inform the civil codes.â€
Although the French press and television woke up to the New Right only in March 1978, when Gilbert Comte ran a series of articles entitled â€œUne nouvelle droite?â€ in Le Monde, its origins reach back to March 1968, when the journal Nouvelle Ecole first appeared (de Benoist became its editor-in-chief in 1969) and to the founding, a few months later, of the study club called GRECE, an acronym for â€œResearch and Study Group for European Civilizationâ€ (Groupement de recherche et dâ€™Ã©tudes pour la civilisation europÃ©enne).2
Although de Benoist heralds these events as the beginning of a â€œnew culture of the right,â€ purged of the obscurantism, racism, individualism, and â€œfather complexâ€ of the reactionary right (â€œThe Old Right is dead,â€ he writes, â€œand deserves to beâ€), nonetheless the rosters of GRECE and Nouvelle Ecole read like a high-school reunion of old reactionaries and fascists. Jean Mabire, alleged collaborator in World War II and former editor of the extremist magazine Europe Action (â€œthe magazine of Western manâ€), is now on the editorial committee of GRECEâ€™s newspaper ElÃ©ments. (De Benoist, who used to write for Europe Action, favorably quotes Mabireâ€™s paean to kamikaze pilots on page 227 of Vu de droite.) The comitÃ© de patronage of Nouvelle Ecole includesâ€”besides such notables as Mircea Eliade, Konrad Lorenz, and Arthur Koestlerâ€”half of the editorial staff of the racist Mankind Quarterly of Edinburgh (R. Gayre, Robert Kuttner, and the late Henry E. Garrett) and at least two members of its Honorary Advisory Board (Bertil Lundman, a former contributor to the Nazi racist journal Zeitschrift fÃ¼r Rassenkundeâ€”as well as H. J. Eysenck3 ). De Benoist himself is on the Advisory Board (and Arthur R. Jensen is an â€œHonorary Adviserâ€) of the neo-fascist German magazine Neue Anthropologie, whose editor, JÃ¼rgen Rieger, has condemned the â€œbastardizingâ€ of races and has announced, in all seriousness, â€œThe white giants are coming!â€ Neue Anthropologie, Mankind Quarterly, and Nouvelle Ecole all carry advertisements for one another.
GRECE and de Benoist have a strange penchant for the demimonde of right extremism. On May 28, 1978, the Washington Post reported that representatives of Nouvelle Ecole participated in the eleventh annual conference of the allegedly anti-Semitic World Anti-Communist League in Washington DC (its chairman, Roger Pearson, was formerly on the comitÃ© de patronage of Nouvelle Ecole) and met with William Pierce, a former spokesman of the American Nazi Party.4 The Spring 1979 issue of Nouveile Ecole carried an article on pages 62-69 by one â€œRobert de Herteâ€ (a collective pseudonym) on the inherited nature of musical talent. Footnote three on page 65 and footnotes six and eight at the end cite some thirteen works published in Nazi Germany on the topics of the â€œphysical typeâ€ of great musicians and the relation between music and heredity. On May 29, 1973, GRECE sponsored a lecture on the theme of Europe by the self-declared fascist writer Maurice BardÃ¨che, and de Benoist, in a chilling essay on â€œLes corps dâ€™Ã©liteâ€ in Vu de droite, approvingly cites BardÃ¨cheâ€™s remarks on â€œthe exaltation of courage and energyâ€ in Spartan education, followed by a rhapsodic description of the US Marines by the rightist FranÃ§ois dâ€™Orcival.
The very powerful French publisher Robert Hersantâ€”a former PÃ©tainist who is currently the owner of one-fifth of Franceâ€™s newspapersâ€”got into the picture when he bought up Le Figaro in 1975. He appointed Louis Pauwelsâ€”a well-known conservative editor who wrote an admiring book on Gurdjieff and was identified with the Gurdjieff movementâ€”as the director of the spin-off weekly, Le Figaro Magazine, and Pauwels hired de Benoist to write a regular column on â€œthe movement of ideas.â€ Pauwels is also on the comitÃ© de patronage of Nouvelle Ecole.
Just what this all amounts to so far as de Benoist is concerned is still something of a mystery. Raymond Aron, himself Jewish, cautiously affirms that â€œAlain de Benoist defends himself from being [an anti-Semite], if not from having been one,â€5 but others have detected more than a whiff of racism in Nouvelle Ecoleâ€˜s fascination with the purity and strength of the Indo-European race. De Benoist, for example, finds it hard to conceal his enthusiasm for the French theorist of racial determination Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882), whose Essay on the Inequality of Human Races asserted that different races have â€œvery unequal destinies.â€ Gobineau warned that Aryan society should resist mixing with the black or yellow races lest it lose its vitality and sink into corruption. De Benoist tries to salvage the Essay, which deeply influenced such French rightists as Charles Maurras, by calling it a work on the â€œdiversityâ€ rather than the inequality of races.
This much is sure: the one thing Alain de Benoist does not like is egalitarianismâ€”not equality, which he takes to be an impossibility, but the myth of equality, the very idea that men should be equal and should build societies on that notion. Not that he wants inequality per se. Rather, he wants diversity, â€œthe right to difference,â€ especially in racial matters, and with that a hierarchy, an elite, and a corresponding order, and, inevitably, then, relative inequality.
De Benoist does not believe, as Bossuet did not, that â€œsome men are more men than other men,â€ but he does agree with his colleague Pauwels that â€œequality is an injustice done to the capable.â€ Nor is he a racist: all races, he says, are superior, and he is willing to go so far as to say that â€œall men of quality are brothers, regardless of race, country, or time.â€ Although it is a fact, he says, that relative inequality comes with diversity, not all inequalities, especially of an economic sort, are just. De Benoist favors equality of chances (Nixonâ€™s Olympic metaphor of â€œan equal shot at the starting lineâ€), and after that everyone is on his own.
Reading de Benoistâ€™s works, I had the clear impression that he did not arrive at his notion of inegalitarianism by induction from the data but that he began with it and then started collecting all the information that could support his conviction and attacking everything that might militate against it. The French have a pun: Dis-moi que tu aimes, et je dirai qui tu es (hais): â€œTell me what you love, and Iâ€™ll tell you who you are (whom you hate).â€ According to the sixteenth maxim of his code of ethics, de Benoist is not allowed to hate, only to despise (even though he delivers himself of the opinion that â€œone learns to love to the degree one learns to hateâ€œ).
Nonetheless we can find out where his heart lies. De Benoist adores pagan polytheism because its many deities are made in manâ€™s image, consecrate his diversity, and guarantee his freedom. De Benoist despises monotheism because â€œits intrinsic totalitarian characterâ€ has engendered reductionism (where all knowledge can be led back to unity) and egalitarianism (which declares all men equal before God). De Benoist loves the Indo-Europeans and especially the Celts for â€œtheir specific mental character,â€ their physical characteristics, and perhaps (he cites Ernst Renan on the point) â€œthe purity of their blood and the inviolability of their character.â€ He despises Judaism (not Jews) for its intolerance and fanaticism, for consecrating a master-slave relationship before God, and for its â€œmoral justification for killing the other.â€ He likes biology because it affirms the diversity of species, and he despises Christianity, that â€œbolshevism of antiquity,â€ which formed a counterculture of rootless slaves and Orientals who hated the very idea of fatherland, preached class warfare, and wrought â€œthe progressive homogenization of the worldâ€ with their doctrine of universal love.
But fortunately for him the doctrine of equality has run through the three stages of its cycleâ€”the mythic stage of Christianity, the philosophical stage of the Enlightenment, and the â€œscientificâ€ one of Marxismâ€”and the time is ripe to â€œraze the groundâ€ and to start building the new myth of inegalitarianism. â€œWe have something like a century in which to succeed,â€ he writes, â€œwhich means that there isnâ€™t a moment to lose.â€
Preparing the ground for the new inegalitarianism entails educating an aristocratic elite of â€œsupermen,â€ not the muscular blond giants of Nazi fantasies, he says, but an elite of character. In a world that is intrinsically chaotic and meaningless and that gets its meaning only from the force of manâ€™s will, what are needed are â€œheroic subjectsâ€ who can create themselves and their own laws and who will remain faithful to norms they set for themselves. He cites examples from the motto of the Marines, Semper fidelis, as well as that of the SS, Meine Ehre heisst Treue (â€œMy honor is called fidelityâ€). Such heroes will neither offer nor demand reasons, but will stick to their pledge and â€œkeep silent.â€ â€œSoldiers who, in order to fight, need to know why they are fighting are mediocre soldiers. And worse than them are soldiers who need to be convinced that their cause is goodâ€ (seventeenth maxim of the code of ethics).
In politics this translates into the â€œOrganic State.â€ Whereas today the state is no more than the sum of its inhabitants, de Benoist imagines a state that would be more than such a sum, and this â€œmoreâ€ is called the raison dâ€™Ã©tat and is the basis for what he calls the â€œtranscendence of the principle of authority.â€ Precisely because America, dedicated as it is to â€œhomogeneityâ€ and â€œprosperous communism,â€ does not understand these concepts, it â€œsubmitted the executive to the judiciaryâ€ and toppled President Nixon. And no wonder! â€œThe very word â€˜fatherlandâ€™ does not exist in the American vocabulary.â€ No wonder, too, that America was defeated in Vietnam. â€œThe moving force in politics is not morality or philanthropy, but only energy. The essence of politics is energy. The destiny of peoples is not shaped by â€˜interestingâ€™ cases or â€˜justâ€™ causes but by the energy and force that are put at the service of these causesâ€”and at the service of others, to be sure.â€ What might motivate a nation to â€œserve othersâ€ is never specified.
It is not clear in de Benoistâ€™s case what is â€œnewâ€ about the â€œNew Right,â€ any more than it is clear in LÃ©vyâ€™s case what is â€œphilosophicalâ€ about his â€œNew Philosophy.â€ De Benoist tinkers here and there with the familiar model that calls for an elite based on the superiority of the white Europeans and is contemptuous of Christian tolerance and political democracy; but basically he serves up the same old stuff. He styles himself a â€œraciophile,â€ that is, one who wants each race to preserve its own heritage and purity, as contrasted with a â€œraciophobe,â€ one who wants to blend races into a hodgepodge. But behind this semantic subterfuge we still know whoâ€™s not coming to dinner. â€œWe see some ideologues taking positions on respect for all racesâ€”except one: ours (which by the way is also theirs),â€ he writes. And citing Professor Raymond Ruyer of the University of Nancy, de Benoist writes, â€œIf one denounces, correctly, the ethnocide of primitives by Europeans, then Europeans cannot be prohibited from protecting their own proper ethnicity (ethnies).â€
Such protection has a long history in France, and it should not be surprising to find these sentiments coming to the surface at a time when the rich and poor nations of the third world may seem to impinge on Europe more ominously than ever before. What is troubling is to find de Benoist getting a serious hearing and being awarded a prize by the French Academy in the country of Montaigne, who said, â€œEvery man bears in himself the whole human condition.â€