The Italian New Right (INR) is a metapolitical movement representing one of the most interesting developments in Italy today. Even though its origins trace back to the political milieu of the Italian radical Right and the MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano — the official Italian neofascist party), at least two important elements sharply set it apart from its original context. The first is its approach to modernity. While the far Right tends to reject modernity as a whole (as a process of degradation characterized by loss of political unity, secularization and nihilism), the INR denounces its contradictions from a critical and constructive perspective. In this sense INR is more detached, in sharp contrast with 18th century conservative philosophers.
The second element has to do with the traditional Right’s approach to politics. The INR focuses essentially on culture, rather than direct political action. This struggle for cultural hegemony need not be very aggressive. Based on the assumption that the political categories of Right and Left are obsolete, the INR has often indicated a willingness to search for a new synthesis. This is why the INR defines itself as right-wing Gramscian. From its beginning (1974) it has tried to reconcile contradictory positions, such as anti-egalitarianism and libertarianism. It breaks with traditional Right schemes of law and order by embracing a culture of tolerance, although it locates this tolerance within a different politico-cultural context extraneous to the abstract and universal egalitarianism of the Enlightenment. The INR contraposes a culture of difference to abstract egalitarianism as the only defense against the modernist project to remold mankind in terms of one single social model.
What makes the INR an interesting cultural phenomenon is also what has led to its ostracism from the political environment within which it arose (in particular from the MSI, which has remained mostly frozen in old positions). Thus a new focus on organic community, as opposed to society, led to the discarding of the idea of a strong central state (typical of the classical Right) in favor of federalist forms of government based on small communities predicated on ethnic and cultural identities.
Before discussing the INR’s Weltanschauung it is necessary to recall the historical context within which this cultural movement developed. Italian Right culture was heavily influenced by the fascist experience for many decades after WWII. This constituted a severe limitation. For an entire generation of veterans, the loss of the war resulted in a feeling of isolation and alienation from political life. This post-fascist generation found itself without any clear reference points either in politics or culture — a state of affairs encouraged by the new cultural elites, which effectively ghettoized the MSI, along with every cultural expression somehow related to the fascist experience. A party founded by ex-fascists, the MSI and its cultural organs (such as the Centro Studi Ordine Nuovo) seemed unable to find new looting in post-WWII Italy. Within such a context the ideas of the far Right –especially those of the philosopher JJulius Evola (1898-1974) — had considerable impact.
Influenced by Eastern traditions, Evola’s philosophy is based on the rejection of linearity in history and on the assumption of its cyclical character. His approach is foreign to modern Western culture and relies on myths, symbols, and sagas as sources of understanding of history and reality. His cyclical vision of history postulates the deterioration of a spiritually superior stage to one of decadence, where only a small elite stands out within a world in ruins. This vision had a powerful and reassuring impact on a generation that had lost a war and felt estranged in a modern mass society characterized by the reduction of qualitative aspects of lite to vulgar economic values. This made all the more sense in opposition to the predominant idea of modernity as the final stage of a period of decadence — something which nourished pessimism and existentialist passivity.
Interestingly enough, Evola’s philosophy became an important point of reference also tot a young generation of political activists who grew up in the middle of the economic boom of the late 1950’s and 1960s. For these people (including most of the future leaders of the INR) who chose the wrong side, Evola provided an organic and coherent Weltanschauung to oppose their peers in the mainstream culture in the 1960s. Of course, the fascination with Evola’s work in esoteric Eastern cultures also had to do with the spirit of the times — a period when there was a quest among the young for alternatives to Western materialism and bourgeois lifestyles. By the mid-1970s, a group of activists and intellectuals in Florence decided it was time to break with the predominant schemes and to abandon neofascism and the ivory tower in which Evola’s theory would have inexorably relegated them. As opposed as ever to the omnipresent economistic deviations of liberalism, they could no longer accept most of the traditional Right’s tenets. Totalitarianism, racism, nationalism, and an obsession for moral order no longer exercised a great attraction.
The INR was born when, in 1974, Marco Tarchi, the future INR leader, and a group of like-minded friends and militants met with members of the French New Right (FNR). This meeting was decisive, because it provided these young political militants (all of them in their twenties) with the inspiration and guide they needed. At that time the FNR was already very active and under the guidance of more mature intellectuals. It had broken the cultural barriers of the traditional Right, broadening its interests to include new disciplines such as ethnology, sociobiology, psychiatry, etc., hitherto unexplored by the traditional Right. It had also read a wide variety of authors, such as Hannah Arendt, Gramsci, Simone Weil and those interwar writers associated with the German Conservative Revolution. Led by Alain de Benoist, it brought more than fresh air. It provided the answer to many questions and paved the way to new cultural paths.
The first publication of the INR (in December 1974) was an underground newsletter called La Voce Della Fogna (The Voice of the Sewer). Yet it was the best way to develop a new language and show that the Right also had something to say about cinema, rock music and more. By deploying considerable self-irony, the INR began to attack the MSI’s gray political world in the pages of its publication. The mid-1970s was a frantic period in Italy as well as in many other Western countries. At that time, at least for a brief period (before the explosion of terrorism), a convergence of young Left and Right movements seemed possible. It was then that Tarchi and his associates decided to enter political and philosophical debates. Evola’s detachment from the modern world was not very useful in cultural confrontations with representations of such a world. It was then that the INR began developing a metapolitical program which, even though firmly rooted in Right tradition (primarily in terms of its rejection of the Enlightenment paradigm) could enter into dialogue with opposing political forces.
In 1976 La Voce della Fogna gave way to Diorama Letterario and began to develop a new system of ideas. During this period the INR outlook became well defined and in some aspects moved away from its French counterpart. It advocated organic communal bonds against capitalist society and its mechanical, quantitative, depersonalized, abstract, over-intellectualized relations and rejected market utilitarian attitudes in the name of a better way of life; it vindicated the myth of roots, leading to an organicist concept of the world founded on a rank order among identities that differ because of their origins, development, and functions. Most of all, it rejected the egalitarian myth.
The clarification of these ideas continued up to 1978, when the first official INR journal, Elementi, began publication. The very first editorial clearly reiterates the FNR’s call for a new synthesis cutting across political divides to overcome the traditional dichotomy of Left and Right — even at the cost of questioning traditional tenets. This broadening of horizon was a result of the metapolitical choice, the most distinguishing feature of both the INR and the FNR. This meant further estrangement from the neofascist world dominated by the myth of direct action. In the opening editorial Tarchi writes: “During the ten years since 1968 we have understood that cultural power is the primary engine, an indispensable tool.” This awareness that conquering political society had to be preceded by the conquest of civil society was a direct consequence of the FNR’s interest in Gramsci’s thought. As Enzo Raisi writes: “The metapolitical choice is nothing but a corollary of the so-called rightist Gramscism, i.e., an interpretation of Gramscian ideology by the FNR, which tends to condition and form a mentality to reach a cultural hegemony, as a premise for stable political power.”
In 1980 and 1981 there were a series of meetings during which the best of INR members sought to analyze the experience of the 1970s; to clarity its cultural positions and answer charges of ambiguities and lack of clear objectives. 1981 is also the year when Tarchi was purged from the MSI. This was crucial for future INR developments and marked a definitive watershed. Today Tarchi (who also edits the new journal Trasgressioni) is one of the harshest critics of the MSI (or Alleanza Nazionale, as its successor is now called). The critique of nationalism and the vindication of federalism and ethnic identities constitute the most interesting departures from the old Right and define its very identity.
The INR does not see modernity as an enemy but as given. The main target of the INR critique is liberalism — the predominant current of thought during the last two centuries. Liberalism is accused of being unable to provide clear answers to today’s problems. For example, utilitarianism’s negative anthropology (seen as an important component of modern liberal thought) cannot provide the basis of a solid community. Structural tensions of modern society cannot be overcome by aggregating the particular egoism of the various individuals. At a political level the Hobbesian contractual model has been progressively weakened by a vision according to which individuals who do not recognize prescriptive norms or any particular link to the social body can simply follow the “rules of the game” while pursuing their own interests. According to liberalism, this is possible because abstract and anonymous market forces work independently of any self-referential politico-economical context. As Tarchi has often pointed out, it is not difficult to understand how this contemporary vision can be seen as the main culprit for widespread alienation, privatization and social apathy. The economistic logic of mercantilism is no longer able to provide solutions to the problems of a complex society. While liberalism relegates people’s needs exclusively to the materialist sphere, the consumerist mentality simultaneously expands the expectations of all, ruling out the possibility of fulfilling its promise.
In this situation the state can only manage conflicts in the short run, while governments of complex societies require long-term solutions. To understand such an “impasse,” it is important to analyze the genesis of liberalism, which is in reality an ideology pretending to be a method. It has absorbed some principles of democracy, such as freedom of speech, tolerance, consent, etc. Yet the central core of liberalism contains a “hard ideology” predicated on a negative anthropology — individualism, the subordination of the political to the economic sphere, the rejection of collective identities, rationalistic materialism, disregard of authority, etc. Today there are alarming symptoms, such as barbarization of community bonds and detachment of citizens from public life, which liberalism attempts to deal with by increasing consumption. Using a simplistic analysis, the Western ruling classes can only think in terms of employment and investments to carry out a marginal redistribution of wealth and contain social tensions. A blind trust in the welfare state has led to the assumption that future democracy would have to be based on a planetary market economy moderated only by welfare measures. In other words, a global society of abundance is seen as an immense outlet for social tensions (even though it is unclear how the entire planet, with five billion inhabitants, could sustain the level of production and consumption of an efficient capitalist society).
This myopic vision of the world ignores too many things. Latest technological developments have transformed social structures and created new subjects. The disappearance of the traditional working class, the collapse of the family as an institution, a new and more problematic relation between leisure time and working time are only some of the new predicaments. The end of the Cold War and subsequent geopolitical transformations have made possible an unexpected level of conflictuality with an explosion of fundamentalism and nationalism. The INR points out how in such a changed framework society is increasingly divided into a large number of small interest groups, lobbies and sub-communities that fight tenaciously to protect their turf. The technocratic approach of liberal institutions can only deal with individual instances and seem to intensity conflicts rather than solve them. This is why the INR has criticized liberalism’s attempt to eliminate the welfare state without at the same time providing concrete alternatives.
Recent electoral campaigns in most Western countries show a dire lack of alternatives. Right and Left are indistinguishable and their programs are uniformly dull. As Serge Latouche put it, “In the present crisis, Right and Left agree that those who are already marginalized must be excluded and both emphasize that it is not possible to do more and better, given the laws of the economy and their constraints. To be realistic, with the triumph of a global liberalism social action becomes relegated to the management of charity. Intermarrying and reciprocally borrowing ideas and programs from each other, Right and Left have ended up looking the same. What was possible has already been done by either one or the other. What was not possible, they could not do. Thus today there is no realistic program on the political horizon. Someone says that there is something worse than failing to satisfy one’s own desires: to satisfy them because in that case there would no longer be anything to desire. Modern politics now laces this predicament. It has destroyed its own habitat (the nation-state), its agents (the citizens) and lost its objectives — the domination of the social sphere.”
Within the INR there are two main currents seeking to lind a solution to the aporias of liberalism and, more generally, modern thought. The first, the “decisionist” wing, traces its ideas to Carl Schmitt, while the second, headed by Tarchi, focuses on organic thought. Several times the “decisionists” have been accused of proposing an authoritarian model. They have rejected these accusations, claiming that there is a fundamental political dimension beyond the state which is necessary to provide a direction to the political destiny of the collectivity. In opposition to modern liberalism that considers politics a matter of management, the INR decisionist current sees politics as a creative activity, with decision being the supreme political act. More than a will to power, the decision is a will to exist. This collectivity is essentially “a community of destiny,” regulated by the idea of plurality and difference. It is an extremely dynamic environment directed essentially through decision. Without the energy the decisionist moment, society runs the risk of falling into a meaningless a historical dimension. This is why Fukuyama’s essay concerning the end of history and the triumph of liberalism as a universal model captured the attention of the INR and became the object of a severe criticism, despite its inherent mediocrity.
The current identified with the defense of the primacy of the organic community provides a different approach to the same problems. The main target of their critique is individualism’s disintegration of the communitarian dimension. The organicist current opposes both methodological and ontological individualism. Yet this does not imply a rejection of individual rights, the development of autonomous subjects, and the principle of the individuality of the person. On the contrary, the INR maintains that, paradoxically, these universal principles are abrogated by the dynamics of modern liberalism itself. They can be meaningfully upheld only within concrete organic communities. This organicist current focuses on modern forms of human aggregation in order to reestablish the preconditions of political participation. Here Ferdinand Tonnies’ work has been fundamental. According to him, in a community every individual naturally belongs to the social body. Language, geographic proximity, traditions, culture, religion, etc., define communitarian bonds. The individual does not choose to belong to a certain community, but simply lives in it organically. Society, on the other hand, is artificial since it is based on a contractual model according to which the individual has to make a rational decision to take part in the life of the collectivity. Tonnies brilliantly describes the principle of unity of individual lite as well as that of the life of the community, which is physical, psychical and cultural at the same time. Yet the INR concept of community is original and has nothing to do with a restoration of a pre-modern condition.
The INR talks about a “functional principle” that, combined with cultural and territorial elements, allows the possibility of a secure identity through a dynamic integration within the collectivity. Communitarian torres can be effective only on the basis of functional roles which confer relevant political identities. These communities should mediate between the individual and society. It is at this level that the individual can intervene effectively in the public sphere and, therefore, in the political process.
As is often pointed out, the organicist model tends to generate aggressivity toward external enemies. Here the INR’s positions are similar to those of the communitarians. The INR claims that every society must have a common core of values shared by the vast majority. The alternative is social disintegration. Yet a common core of values does not rule out the possibility of different interpretations. According to Tarchi, in communitarian systems a diversity of viewpoints is the foundation of the political system because it provides the energy for further development. Following the FNR, the INR criticizes the contemporary process of globalization of Western liberalism. The universalization of a single vision of the world poses problems. Thus a liberal ideology, that emphasizes freedom of abstract individuals without considering their relations to culture, territory, language, etc. neglects the people’s cultural specificity. In order to provide meaning to individual existence a culture must be rooted in a concrete environment. As Tarchi put it, “there is an important difference between calling tot a universal formal framework (to regulate relations among peoples) and imposing a universalist ideology that simply hypothesizes one’s own culture as a universal paradigm.” Universalist ideologies are disguised particular ideologies, which homogenize all preexisting cultures into a universalist model. The INR thus explains the growth of fundamentalism as a reaction to the cultural aggression of Western ideology. Islamic fundamentalism and East European nationalism are seen as the consequence of uncertainty and the loss of cultural identity –the same phenomena which, in Western societies, result in violence and xenophobia. Not by accident, racism and xenophobia are widespread among the poorest social groups, who bear the brunt of the negative effects of illegal immigration, urban sprawl and the impersonality of relations.
According to the INR, the reappropriation of cultural and ethnic identity in a communitarian context is the most effective way to confront this colossal attempt to subordinate the political to the laws of the economy and transform the world into a global market. “The communitarian bonds peculiar to ethnic belonging are radically opposed to all these aspects of the globalized society. The experience of ethnicity reestablishes the individual at the center of a network of direct and immediate social relations — immediate as the community of culture, tradition, language. It allows the recovery of contact with reality, beyond the mediating veil of a self-perpetuating global information. It minimizes the influence of extraneous decisional power to the ethnic community and therefore allows for a more substantial participation by the single individual in a process of collective will formation.”
More generally, what the INR proposes is a “society” of communities.” In order to avoid a generalized apartheid, these communities must be open, ready to assimilate new influences and new members, while remaining aware of cultural differences. According to Tarchi, this is “a drastic alternative to a society based on Enlightenment principles, i.e., a liberal society which has the individual as the only reference point and based on an abstract egalitarianism corresponding to no concrete social relations.” The INR strongly criticizes the Jacobin modal of the centralized nation-state in which all too often a hegemonic group dominates or forcibly assimilates other ethnic groups. Similarly, it sees nationalism as a product of modernity. In some cases, however, Tarchi claims that nationalism can be a legitimate means to constitute identity and political unity.
On the whole, the INR follows the FNR in privileging federalism as the political model able to safeguard cultural identities. Under Benoist’s influence, the INR uses the term “empire” to refer to the project of a European federation. The point is to avoid contusion with the way federalism is interpreted today, following alter its involution in the US into another version of the nation-state. Within such a context, organic democracy and ethno-cultural identities cannot be imposed from above. An organic community can only exist naturally; it cannot be created artificially. Any effort to do so runs the risk of totalitarianism. This explains the INR’s metapolitical preferences, i.e., why it avoids direct political participation.
During the recent Italian elections, which led to the defeat of the traditional Left and the formation of a rightist government, the INR was often identified by the media with the emerging political forces that won the election, i.e., the Northern League (a federalist and populist movement), Forza Italia (Berlusconi’s party) and Alleanza Nazionale (the neo-fascist coalition). The INR, however, has nothing to do with the new government. Surprisingly, the entire electoral campaign was based on an artificial polarization between Right and Left that did not leave any space for real political debate. No longer critical of capitalism, the traditional Italian Left simply defended the remnants of the welfare state, and therefore its corruption, waste and counterproductivity, against proposals by the opposition to radically rationalize it. As Ernesto Galli Della Loggia has argued, within such a context the INR may very well be the only real Left remaining in Italy. As a metapolitical movement the INR seeks to open a new political debate in order to prepare the ground for new long-term political projects. It is still difficult to avoid the Left-Right dichotomy — especially since those who claim to be neither Left nor Right are automatically considered rightist. At any rate, the INR no longer sees itself as part of the Right as that political position has been historically understood. It certainly has absolutely nothing to do with the old world of neo-fascism. Its main objective is to develop alliances with new political groups, such as the Greens, religious movements and Left intellectuals willing to rethink fundamental political questions, i.e. all those who do not consider modern liberalism as the final stage of history.
[Telos, Winter93/Spring94, Issue 98-99]