Le Monde: You emphasized the simplicity of the National Front’s ideas when it achieved its first electoral successes but you believed it was only a “flash in the pan.” Since that time, some of your own friends have supported the Lepenist movement which has become more firmly rooted in French society. Have you lost your intellectual power of seduction?
Benoist: I have never tried to please. To see one’s friends make choices different from one’s own is a fairly trivial matter. I have not changed: the National Front’s ideas seem to be generally disconcerting, even untenable. I am trying to say this as honestly as possible. I am amazed that little has been found to oppose Le Pen apart from sophistries, ad hominem arguments, or dubious historical comparisons. This seems to reflect a disquieting intellectual vacuum. The reasons why this phenomenon survives are now well known. The first problem is immigration, which was not discussed before Le Pen and has become something which cannot be discussed with him. Then there are all those fears, all those fantasies, which are part of the transition period in which we are living and which the Front National is constantly exploiting. Finally, there is the fact that the political class is; this creates a kind of negative sympathy for the Front.
Le Monde: What do you think is untenable in the National Front’s ideas?
Benoist: First, they are based on a kind of scapegoat logic which consists in making one group of the population responsible for a situation whose causes are external. Immigrants cannot be blamed if the French can no longer provide the world with an example of a way of thinking, behaving and existing. Immigrants cannot be blamed if the social fabric is unraveling, if man has become alienated from his own nature, if different ways of life are disappearing in a world where money is the only sign of distinction. Immigrants cannot be blamed if we live with an ideology based on commodities and if advertising copy has become the paradigm of social discourse. It should also be added that it is certainly not immigrants who colonize our collective imagination today.
France is not threatened with a loss of its identity because there are immigrants. It is, rather, because France has lost its identity that is no longer capable of confronting and resolving the problem of immigration. By focusing on immigrants, one’s attention is diverted. The real problems are concealed. Given the arguments put forward, the debate becomes archaic and is stymied. There is a terrible mirror-effect at work here. On the one hand, immigration is turned into something diabolic and, on the other, Le Pen is turned into the devil. A permanent psychodrama results where a simulacrum of fascism confronts a simulacrum of anti-fascism. One is not only approaching the third millennium with one’s eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror, but one cannot even criticize immigration without being called a “Lepenist,” nor can one claim solidarity with immigrants without being accused of “cosmopolitanism.” In the end, news items are exchanged: “racist crimes” against “Arab delinquency.” Fear of immigrants against fear of the “old shibboleths.”
Apart from the question of immigration, the core of the National Front’s doctrine seems to lie in Le Pen’s saying: “I prefer my daughter to my cousin, my cousin to my neighbor, etc.” This goes further than one might suspect. This sort of socio-biological hierarchy of affections is doubly absurd. There is no reason why the scale of preferences should be one of genetic proximity: why should I not prefer my neighbor to my cousin if my neighbor is nicer! But given that social and political life is full of conflicts, the real question is this: what happens if there is a conflict between my cousin and my daughter or my cousin and my neighbor? There are really only two solutions. Either I systematically take the side of the one who is closest to me (in which case, there is no ethics of truth: all promises, all contracts are immediately disqualified) or I try to judge the truth of the situation, and it is quite possible I may side with my cousin against my daughter, or with my neighbor against my cousin. Acting in this fashion, however, requires a principle which goes beyond simple belonging. It is easy to see that such a principle does not exist in the National Front’s logic. Moreover, this is the whole ambiguity., of nationalism. In an almost prophetic way, Thierry Maulnier said in 1958: “The cult of the nation is not a response to the real problems of the world but an escape, a mystifying effusion or, worse still, a fearful diversion to internal problems.” For his part, Maulnier claimed there was no sense in combating individualism if all it meant was transferring it to the level of the nation. In either case, the metaphysics of subjectivity, remains and it is often only the windbreaker for social egoism.
Le Monde: What do you think about the National Front’s discriminatory use of the right to difference which you yourself helped popularize?
Benoist: The right to difference is a principle and has value only as a generalization. In other words, I can only defend my difference legitimately as long as I recognize and respect the difference of others. As soon as this right is instrumentalized and your difference is opposed to that of others, instead of admitting that the difference of others is no threat to your own but in fact reinforces it, as soon as you consider difference not as something which makes dialogue possible but as something which validates its rejection, when, consequently, you posit difference as an absolute, whereas it exists by definition only in a relation, you fall back into tribal nationalism, into belonging as pure subjectivity, The direct effects of this can be seen in the contradictions of a Le Pen who claims to defend the traditions of “indigenous” people in France but justifies colonialism in New Caledonia and describes Khanate apparel as “retrograde,” or who still speaks of God but maintains that one cannot simultaneously be a good Frenchman and a good Muslim!
Le Monde: The National Front also champions another concept with which you are familiar: the defense of identity.
Benoist: I have the impression it only defends a negative identity based on the rejection of immigrants. It is very interested in the question of knowing who is French but never considers another question much more fundamental: what is French? This question cannot be answered by sounding out empty shells: Charles Martel, Joan of Arc, etc. On the subject of identity, the best distinction is the one Paul Ricoeur makes between idem and ipse identity. The permanence of the collective entity throughout constant changes (ipse identity,) cannot be reduced to something with the status of an event or of repetition (idem identity.) On the contrary, the former is linked to a complete hermeneutics of the self, to the whole work narration. This is the very condition of self-appropriation inasmuch as narration gives rise to a “place,” a space-time which configures a meaning. “It is the identity of the recounted history which makes the identity of the individual,” Ricoeur claims. To defend one’s identity is not to be satisfied with a little ritual vulgate. It is to understand identity as something preserved in the play of differentiations and to attempt to recreate conditions in which it is possible to produce such a story.
Le Monde: In your opinion, what is the best way to speak of immigration and its ramifications?
Benoist: Immigration is historically linked to capitalist expansion and to forced uprooting which is the result of structural difficulties in the Third World. It is thus a negative phenomenon and it would be wrong to think of it as inevitable: the Muslim’s problems will not be solved by making a million more Muslims come to France. A healthy approach to the problem would be to have concrete solidarity with immigrants, who are its first victims (since they are the ones most at risk of losing their identity by emigrating), then to develop a profound critique of the logic of capitalism, and finally to intensify, cooperation with countries in the Third World by helping them become self-sufficient, by dispelling the illusions of “development” fostered by the World Bank and the IMF.
Furthermore, immigration should precipitate a rethinking of the limits of the French model of the nation-state, built (both before and after the revolution) on the ruins of regional identities in perfect harmony with proselytizing Christianity and deculturalizing occidentalism. The nation-state was only able to integrate individuals within formal legality. It could never offer anything to communities that wanted to join, as such, with a greater whole. In other words, it is a question of rediscovering the plural identity of the French peoples. This would require a distinction between citizenship and nationality, and not to confuse integration and assimilation as nearly everyone does today from Le Pen to Poperen. For my part, I am thinking of a form of open community which is the opposite of apartheid and which means that the necessary integration does not entail forgetting one’s own origins. Maintaining one’s roots is a way of resisting dehumanization and over-exploitation. Consider two very different examples. The first is that of Asian immigration and especially that from Vietnam. This is simultaneously an example of a communitarian model and of successful integration, thanks primarily to the maintenance of strong family structures which transmit the heritage but which also result in better performance in school, less delinquency and better professional qualifications. The other is that of the Jewish community, which was able to integrate perfectly but at the same time knew how to resist assimilation by refusing to give in at the time of the Revolution to the bribe contained in Clermont-Tonnerre’s famous phrase: “Everything for the Jews as individuals, nothing for the Jews as a people.” Criticism of the communitarian model, which is all too quickly characterized as a “ghetto,” is not very different from the charge, traditionally brought against Jews, of “double allegiance.” The dichotomy between assimilation and exclusion is just as unacceptable as the one which requires choosing between the ideology of the bunker and the world of “cosmopolitans,” the close-minded aborigine and the universal tourist.
Le Monde: But if France has lost her identity,, who is to blame?
Benoist: It is the fault of the vast movement of techno-economic homogenization, which is eroding collective identifies nearly everywhere and is producing a new form of spiritual distress which Roger Garaudy rightly called “nonsense.” This generation of non-sense, i. e., the feeling of the absurdity of life at the very moment when the social question has returned as the order of the day, bears witness to the failed promises of the Enlightenment. The idea of man as “master and sovereign of nature” has led to the technical inspection of the planet and to the devastation of the framework of life. Belief in progress has not stemmed the eruption of modern totalitarian systems and ecological disasters. The promotion of the individual has turned into the dissolution of the social bond, the disappearance of organic conviviality, solitude, the masses’ anonymity. The most “normal” model of man today is that of a predatory individual, always looking after his best interest, all the more a stranger to those of his kind who are seen as so many potential rivals in a competition without a goal. A flight forward towards “more and more,” social relations are reduced to a play of interests within a society identical with a pure market. “No one tolerates others any more,” Roland Castro said recently. And similarly, from one end of the planet to the other man is confronted increasingly with what is always the same. However, despite what is sometimes claimed, it is not fear of the other which provokes racism; it is fear of the same; it is fear of an indifferentiation always linked to a social disintegration which gives rise to endless mimetic rivalries. Similarly, democracy is faced with an unprecedented crisis which empties it of its content: the desertion of the public sphere, the dictatorship of the private, the crisis of representation, the heteronomy of opinion, generalized apathy, mass conformism, etc. Human life is placed under the impersonal regime of the law. Concrete, identifiable constraints have been replaced only by the abstract dictatorship of an anonymous “they,” against which it is no longer even possible to revolt. Never have such a great number of decisions been taken by those who have been coopted rather than elected. Under such conditions, how could a general will emerge to express the identity of the rulers and the ruled?
Le Monde: In this regard, could you not be accused of being overly simplistic when you speak of the “nullity” of the political class?
Benoist: I am not at all singing the old refrain that everything is rotten! Moreover, this is a dangerous tune because, by saying that everything is rotten, one winds up including oneself. On the contrary, in France we have a political class of a better quality than in a number of neighboring countries. It is not human flaws which explain the nullity of this class but the fact that these people are caught in structural constraints, in a general movement which practically forces them to be vacuous. The denial of the primacy of the political, the role the media play, the way in which money, as a universal equivalent, leads to the weakening and neutralization of convictions, forces this class to resort to an administrative language transformed all too often into wooden speech. It is less and less a political class and more and more a group of technicians whose properly political culture is often non-existent. At the same time, it has less and less grasp of what is concrete. Relying on an unopposed media, impotent in the face of social change taking place over their heads, the technicians are also progressively deprived of their traditional prerogatives. Is it not fascinating to see that the more they try to listen to their fellow citizens, the more they are rejected by public opinion? The truth is that they are caught up in an immense recentering movement which appears pell-mell as the collapse of communism, the disappearance of Gaullist value, the de facto rallying of socialists around a “social liberalism,” and that this recentering movement, from which they cannot and do not want to escape, is the very ground on which Le Pen plants his simplistic propositions. Only the Greens seem to escape this tendency. For the time being: despite a certain naivete, they at least have the merit of subverting the capitalist imagination. On a more general level, we are seeing interests and values confront each other. The difference is that values are non-negotiable.
Le Monde: Do you have the solution to these problems?
Benoist: Only utopians have ready-made solutions. What is clear is that the appeal to xenophobia is not the best solution to the destruction of the will to live together! It is rather a question of reinstituting the sense of the gift, of gratuity, of solidarity, in a society which increasingly tends to reify social relations, i.e., a society where man produces himself as an object after having transformed everything that surrounds him into an artifact. But one does not recreate sociality in an authoritarian fashion — starting at the top. To heal the democratic deficit, one can only start at the bottom. To recreate democracy from the ground up, a democracy based on the participation of everyone, is easier said than done. However, this is the only solution I see: to recreate ways of life which produce conviviality committed to the common good both within the workplace and in living space. This is not yet another appeal to civil society, which would only accentuate the dictatorship of the private, but an appeal to multiply public spaces within which an active citizenry can be reborn.
Le Monde: Do intellectuals no longer play a role?
Benoist: I am fascinated by the current disintegration of critical thought. Yesterday intellectuals were the bad conscience of the existing order. Many have become the good conscience of the established disorder. Prepared to do anything to get some crumbs from the media’s cake, they do not realize that they are cutting the branch on which they sit. One should also take into account the divorce between intellectual families and political families. The ideas of “Right” and “Left” are no longer pertinent when it is a question of describing the content of major works appearing today. As far as the realm of ideas and the work of thought go, the Left-Right paradigm seems increasingly to have been replaced by a break between the “center” and the “periphery.” The former corresponds to a dominant ideology which is to legitimate the market system and the latter includes all those who, no matter what their own itinerary, challenge the axiomatic content of interest and blend of economism, productivism and utilitarianism to which liberal society has led. Fruitful dialogues are possible in this “periphery.”
Le Monde: Do you see a connection between the resurgence in France of the “tribal” attitudes you mention and the violent awakening of nationalisms in Eastern Europe?
Benoist: These are two different phenomena. In the East people were able to resist communist domination by hanging onto their national, cultural or religious identity,. The disintegration of the Soviet system, which has led from one excess to the other, now favors a huge centrifugal movement evidenced in dangerous and distressing irredentist disputes. One should not forget, however, that these irredentisms are often the consequence of establishing artificial borders imposed by international treaties. The problems of the peoples of the East who are clashing today will certainly not be resolved by proposing that they become “world citizens.” The solution can only be found within the framework of a new collective security system for all of continental Europe, But if this is to take place, Europeans will have to want once again to be the subjects of their own history. Today, however, there is only talk of a Europe with two gears in which the old communist Iron Curtain would somehow be replaced by a capitalist Iron Curtain. relegating the poor countries of the European East to the trash-bin of history . . .
Le Monde: Since you have been arguing for some time for the construction of an “imperial” Europe, what exactly does the Maastricht Treaty mean to you?
Benoist: There are only two models for the construction of Europe: the empire and the nation-state. The latter, which became a political concept with the Revolution, is directly linked to individualism as a value (Louis Dumont). Too big to solve little problems, too small to solve big ones, it is especially incapable of controlling the trans-state expansion of an economic sphere which has become globalized. The empire, understood in the most traditional sense, seems to be the only model which can reconcile the one and the many: it is the polity which organizes the organic unity of its different components while respecting their autonomy. As a European citizen of French nationality, I am one of those “federalists” Le Pen denounces who believes it is possible to create a federal political unity in Europe on the basis of peoples and regions. What bothers me is that I do not see the Maastricht Treaty leading to an autonomous, politically sovereign Europe determined to acquire the equivalent of what the Monroe Doctrine was for the US, but rather a phantom of Europe, a Europe of the unemployed, the absent and the impotent, a free trade zone governed on the theoretical level by ultra-liberal monetary principles and, on the practical level, by administrators and bankers who neither have a political project nor democratic legitimacy. The ambiguity in this treaty is that it ends up displeasing both those who support only France — I am not one of them — and those who favor an integrated Europe, myself included. There is talk for example, of “transfers of sovereignty.” I am not opposed to this. But what new sovereign entity do they benefit? They benefit no one, so that the so-called transfers really only represent the abandonment of sovereignty. The cart has really been put before the horse. By creating a great European market, it was thought that an economic citizenry would appear which would progressively be transformed into a political citizenry. Today they have changed their tune. Instead of expanding the field for the construction of Europe. they are busy adopting criteria which are going to cut Europe in two. One has reached a brick wall. Nietzsche said: “Europe will create itself on the edge of a tomb.” For my part, I believe that it will create itself over and against the US, or it will not create itself.
Le Monde: Some fear that Europe will be dominated by Germany . . . What about you?
Benoist: Let us not look there for a scapegoat to excuse our own faults. If the French are too weak compared to the Germans, they only have to work at becoming stronger. Germany is what it is: a great country. It will never become the principality of Monaco. In the coming years, given its normal geopolitical role, it will naturally create a sphere of cultural, economic and political influence in the heart of Europe. Instead of worrying about this, it would be advisable to try to counterbalance it by assuming a proper vocation, i.e., by organizing southern Europe in close association with the people on both sides of the Mediterranean. Unfortunately France, which has important trump cards that would enable it to do this, has seriously damaged its credibility with its incoherent Arab policies. This has led to its involvement with the US in the international police action which was the Gulf War. That was disastrous. While it is not France’s business to deal with Germany, if France is incapable of organizing the Mediterranean region, she is in danger of becoming a simple bridgehead for a new American order.
Mohler and Stein: While in East Berlin in February 1993 you were beaten up by young “Autonomen” because they considered you a “racist’. In the Spring of 1968, at the age of 25, you founded the New Right in Paris. This was the consequence of the split of a circle of young intellectuals who dealt with ideologies of race. In those days you broke with your friends from the circle because you were not concerned with “race” but with “difference.” The distinction between thinking in terms of race and thinking in terms of difference in France was transformed into a paradigm of political thinking due to your influence. Could you define the concept of “difference” in politics?
Benoist: The recognition of difference — for the individual as well as for a people — is the recognition of what constitutes personality, identity, and is what makes the individual-people distinct. To deny the difference means to regard human beings as interchangeable at will. Racism is nothing but the denial of difference. This refusal occurs in two different forms. The more well-known one is xenophobia: the hate, the brutal repelling of the other. We know this from Rostock and elsewhere. The second form of refusal presents itself as humanitarian: assimilation elevated to a principle. It recognizes the other as long as he gets rid of his otherness, his heterogeneity; he is considered a “human being like me” and is accepted as long as he is not different. During the French Revolution the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre, who wanted to emancipate the Jews, said: “Everything for the Jews as individuals, nothing for the Jews as a people!” Fortunately, the Jews did not listen to him. They did not confuse integration and assimilation; they kept their distance.
During its entire history, the West has alternated between both forms of refusal. Most frequently it has been legitimated by universalism — as much by religious as by ‘secular universalism. Even when it does not always lead to enslaving or to extermination of the other, universalism insists on denying the other a life according to his difference. Behavior towards the other turns into proselytism: the day before yesterday it turned into “true belief,” yesterday into “progress,” today into “development.” This universalism is a disguised ethnocentrism: the West exports its values by declaring them “universal.” This venture is doomed to fail, since such universal values solidify and become encrusted when they become the categorical imperative.
Therefore, a consequent anti-racism presupposes recognition of difference. Why has it always been difficult for the West to accept heterogeneity? Difference results in inequality, which has a complementary character. To posit a difference absolutely would be contradictory, for one can only differ with regard to something different. There is not just one truth. The concept of superiority of one nation, one people, one race or one civilization is absurd. It would be especially grotesque to maintain a superiority of Western civilization — its historical path was lamentable and its present intellectual condition is poor. More than ever there is a need for dialogue among cultures. Such a dialogue, however, is only possible if heterogeneity is respected. Difference does not prevent a dialogue but makes it possible. We need pluralism.
Mohler and Stein: In Germany, France’s “New Right” is still considered “racist.”
Benoist: That is because the Germans dare not think about “difference.” Under the pressure of the homogenizing propaganda, they dare no longer distinguish between the heterogeneity of manners and values. At any rate, the New Right has repeatedly distanced itself from “biologistic” interpretations of social behavior (Social Darwinism, socio-biology). I have written a whole book against racism.
Mohler and Stein: You know today’s German Right well. Are there things within this Right which are strange and incomprehensible for you?
Benoist: It is not in my nature to play the schoolmaster. But since you ask, I am a little surprised how the German Right is almost entirely concerned — across its spectrum — with German problems and German authors. In France the New Right is at least equally interested, if not more, in German, Italian, Spanish etc. authors as in French ones. A slogan like “Germany first, then Europe” does not fit into my view of things. Personally, I understand myself above all as a European, then as a “Norman” (a native of Normandy), and then as a Frenchman. But perhaps this has to do with the fact that France was always too much of a nation while Germany too little.
Furthermore, I notice something that does not concern merely the German Right, but Germans in general: their understanding of politics. For Germans, it seems as if, in politics, the (absolute) good or the (absolute) bad is always at stake. They seem to need “moral certitudes.” They think they represent “the good.” But politics is not concerned with that. On the contrary, politics has to do with discussion of different viewpoints and in some respects it is also a game. Of course, politics seems to have something to do with morality. Yet in essence, politics has nothing to do with it (or with “immorality”). It would be dangerous to pursue politics on the basis of morality. If one’s own position is understood as “good,” then that of the opponent becomes “evil.” Thus the opponent becomes the enemy against whom everything is allowed and his characteristics become incriminating. Such a “moral” concept of politics inevitably leads to the use of the worst methods possible. Carl Schmitt has seen this clearer than anyone else. The German predilection for proceduralism may explain the slow pace with which political ideas now are circulated.
Mohler and Stein: After 1945 there was (and still is) a strong current in the German Right that considered being on the “Right” is primarily an “attitude.” This current also believes that the French New Right is “too intellectual.”
Benoist: Clearly, the New Right has always been perceived as “too intellectual” by those who, undoubtedly, are not intellectuals. If they are happy with an attitude, it is their business. A world consisting only of intellectuals would certainly be unbearable — indeed, a world totally without intellectuals would be unbearable. At any rate, the reproach would not be appropriate if it were accompanied by the claim that the New Right has selected the wrong intellectual strategy. The New Right never selected anything of the kind for the simple reason that it was not what it was about. One cannot blame a computer scientist for not selling flowers.
Mohler and Stein: The New Right is a think tank, not a political party. What is a think tank allowed to do? What should it refrain from?
Benoist: First of all, what can a political party do? Obviously, not a lot. None of the major changes during the last century have been brought about by party activities or by government policies. There were always people who claimed that theories are useless, only practical forces are acceptable. However, these people forget that theories set powers in motion (often unnoticed).
What, then, can a think tank do? It can contribute to the development of ideas and wait for their impact. What must a think rank be aware of? It should not confuse its task. Experience shows that “party intellectuals” start with the strategy of their ideas but soon end up with the ideas of their strategies.
Mohler and Stein: The historical significance of the New Right consists in having established a right-wing intellectual hegemony after a long tradition of left-wing liberal hegemony in France. Has the task of the New Right thereby come to an end?
Benoist: I have the feeling that its time has come. The collapse of communism has left a more than ever amorphous world in which liberalism believes it can advocate the notion of the “end of history” as a leading idea. Communism was already meaningless. Liberalism generalizes that to non-sense. But at least it now shows itself openly for what it always was: the implosion of the social, productivist delirium, US cultural colonization, unequal exchange with the Third World, destruction of cultural identities, technology, as the means of modem neutralization, escape into unlimited competition, the crisis of political representation, the market as the paradigm for all social processes, slogans in advertisement as the paradigm for verbal communication, and the unleashing of utilitarianism and individualism. In short, a world in which nothing has value anymore but everything has a price. Believing that these conditions of a hegemony of language from the Right (or the Left) are favorable is mere illusion. While modernity comes to an end, and with it all mega-narratives through which it was legitimated, it is replaced by a hegemony of non-thinking — the hegemony of the Neutreum, of alienated individuals increasingly indifferent toward one another, deprived of inner freedom, on a permanent search for the “highest profit”, mere victims of the media and of fads produced by the media . . . The Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce has pointed out correctly that it was not the European East but the West that has best realized the dream of Marxist rationalism.
Confronted with the destruction of the mind, the disintegration of society the destruction of real democracy, today the New Right has above all the duty to struggle for a revitalization of a collective life committed to generosity, decision and solidarity.
Mohler and Stein: Do you think along with a lot of other Frenchmen, that Germany is drifting towards the East?
Benoist: No. Considering its central position in Europe, Germany has the natural task to strengthen the dialectic in relations between East and West. The best way to miss her mission and to become unfaithful to herself would be for Germany to stare exclusively towards the West. Part of Germany’s task is also to decipher the Russian enigma. In the long run, the basis for a collective security system in Europe will be the German-Russian rapprochement. This is also the reason why Americans will do everything in their power to hinder such a rapprochement after they could not prevent German unification.
Mohler and Stein: In an article on the Gulf War you wrote that a Third World War would be fought between the US and Europe. Is that wishful thinking, or do you see concrete signs?
Benoist: This is neither my prediction nor my wishful thinking. In my opinion this hypothesis has a good chance of becoming reality. In the US the only form of legitimation is the standard of living. Today this form of reassurance is endangered in two ways: at home by the disintegration of the social system and by the partial decline of the US on the world market; abroad by the increasing economic power of Europe and Japan. The question is now whether Americans are capable of giving up a hegemony that so far has made it possible for them to live at the expense of others by manipulating the dollar. In reality, there is already a sort of state of war in trade between Europe and the US, while the financial world system is marked by a growing separation between the flow of money and real production. Such a situation cannot last forever. In my opinion, tensions between the US and Europe will heighten. The spirit of “collaboration” with the US that is apparent within European politicians can, at most, delay the inevitable. But this spirit of collaboration cannot make these tensions disappear. Berlin is gradually becoming the capital of Europe.
Mohler and Stein: Where does the almost romantic image of Germany within the French New Right come from? How can one explain your Germanophile attitude, the fascination with Indo-Germanic roots? In this context, how do you see the overall German situation in 1993?
Benoist: For years, this characterization of the New Right has been popularized by the media. The “anti-fascist” intelligentsia knows well how to intimidate a German citizen in 1993! To the point! I am not a “Germanophile”! There are a number of European countries like Italy, Flanders, or Ireland which I value as much as Germany. Realistically, however, I have to notice that Germany holds a central position for the New Right, first of all, for geopolitical reasons, and then in thought and in the arts: What would philosophy and music be without Germany?
Mohler and Stein: What role did the trauma of “collaboration” play for the development of the French Right after the War?
Benoist: The French are seldom “traumatized” by their past. This is a German idiosyncrasy. Born in 1945, I leave these matters to those who still have nostalgia for fascism or anti-fascism. Neither side has realized that the postwar is over.
Mohler and Stein: How do you reconcile your curiosity for Indo-Germanic roots, European paganism, etc., with the search for a new culture which the New Right would like to represent?
Benoist: Subjects like paganism and Indo-European roots are only a small part of the works of the New Right. Besides, I do not understand why the one cannot be reconciled with the other. Indo-European culture (a linguistic term) stands at the beginning of most historical civilizations in Europe. The remembrance of the origins is not at all antithetical to dealing with the present and with the will to form the future. Christians founded their belief in events which took place 2000 years ago. By no means does that prevent them from being just as “modern” as everyone else. The idea of a dash between past and future disappears as soon as one emancipates oneself from the ideology of progress. Actually, past and future are always dimensions of the present. When one wants to “create Europe” it may not be a bad idea to be aware of common foundations.
Mohler and Stein: It has been claimed that the New Right has had a great impact on Le Pen’s National Front. Is this impact really so great?
Benoist: This “great impact” exists only in the minds of those who ascribe it to us. This allegation surprises me all the more since we often took a public stand against the National Front. I was regularly attacked in its media. I have not the slightest sympathy for a movement which, by manipulating the population’s fears and confusion, de facto intensifies xenophobia by letting the French believe that immigration is the cause of all their problems. National identity is a real problem and so is immigration. Such problems cannot be solved merely by finding a scapegoat. Identity is not an unchangeable essence that remains the same and is not affected by outside influences. On the contrary, identity is a dynamic process by which a people moulds itself and by which it also shapes others. Identity has more than one definition, and one does not defend it by retreating into a bunker. Le Pen defends French identity against others. I defend the identity of all people while retaining solidarity with my own identity. The principle “my country, right or wrong,” implies that under no circumstances can a people be wrong.
One has to have the courage to admit that the real causes of the destruction of identity are internal. Immigrants are not to blame when it is impossible for the French to lead a life corresponding to their own essence. Immigrants are also not responsible for the subjugation to the logic of commodities that has destroyed all solidarity and tom apart the social fabric. Immigrants cannot be blamed for colonizing France when the French watch only American films on TV. It is also not the case that French identity is endangered because there are immigrants. On the contrary, identity has already been lost — which explains why France cannot deal with immigration.
Historically, the phenomenon of immigration was triggered by the worldwide expansion of capitalism. Those who remain silent about capitalism should not complain about immigration.
Mohler and Stein: Unlike France, Germany has a serious sovereignty deficit. Occupation forces are still in the country and there is no national consensus beyond political parties as in France. Germans cannot afford a retreat into cultural matters.
Benoist: Historically there has always been sovereignty. Such, however, is not the case with the nation-state. Therefore, one should not tie the one to the other. Nation as a political idea has existed only since the French Revolution. Dumont has shown how the nation developed along with modem individualism.
The French concept of the nation-state came into being with Jacobinism. It destroyed local identities as well as regional culture and languages. This concept also became widespread in Germany, thanks primarily to Fichte. Throughout its long history, Europe has developed many different political forms besides the nation-state: the polis, the empire, the federation, etc. I have the notion of a federal model based on the principles of subsidiarity and inequality — a balance of the particular and the universal, with unity at the top and democracy at the bottom. Regions should be as autonomous as possible. As for the nation-state, it has become obsolete.
In Germany people are bothered by the presence of foreign armies on German soil. There is, however, another, much worse form of occupation. “Dallas” on TV and Euro-Disney in the countryside are more effective forms of American occupation than a mere military contingent of GIs. Nowadays borders no longer provide any guarantee. They cannot protect against the occupation of the mind.
Mohler and Stein: What do you consider the religious foundations and the historical character of Europe? What do you think it means “to be a pagan”?
Benoist: “To be a pagan” is a purely philosophical matter. It means identification with a value system which locates both agonality and harmony within a manifold world seen as the only one, instead of identification with a value system which devalues the world in favor of another one posited as something “beyond.” That means that I prefer Heraclitus and Parmenides to St. Paul, or the universe of the Veden to the one of scholasticism. These worldviews, which have confronted each other for millennia, are neither from yesteryear nor tomorrow but are eternal. I should add that I have no sympathy for sects or folkloristic reconstructions.
Mohler and Stein: Is it possible to transpose to Germany the concept of right-wing Gramscism developed in France?
Benoist: I was always astonished by the success of an idea to which the New Right has only dedicated two or three articles. Since political changes are generally preceded by a conceptual transformation, Gramsci set for intellectuals the task to venture out on the level of values which determine public opinion. I do not see why this should not apply to Germany if it applies elsewhere.
Mohler and Stein: Do you consider cooperation between the French New Right and today’s German Right fruitful?
Benoist: Certainly — especially because of the differencees. Many see this as a contradiction. However, I think they complement each other. Historically, the French often took the role of accelerator during the process of the invention and the spread of ideas. The Germans had an essential impact on the elaboration of these concepts. Both are necessary. The New Right has always been receptive to the works of various German theoreticians. Paradoxically, these authors often return to Germany. I consider personal and intellectual con,acts quite fruitful Of course, there is no institutionalization of these contacts as, e.g., in the form of an “International.” After all, in Germany the French New Right is not officially represented by anyone.[b]
Telos: Given the nature of the July 15 appeal there is no way to avoid confronting the charge of racism, fascism, anti-Semitism, etc. As far as we have been able to ascertain by reading David Barney, Charles Champetier and C Levirose, La Nouvelle Inquisition: Ses Acteurs, Ses Methodes, Ses Victimes — Essai sur le Terrorisme Intellectual et la Police de la Pensee (Paris: Le Labyrinthe, 1993), none of your accusers has ever pointed to anything you yourself have written along these lines. In other words, there seems to be no “smoking gun.” Moreover, you have explicitly condemned Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism. You have even contributed an essay to L’Evenement du Jeudi for a special issue on anti-Semitism, edited by Jean-Francois Kahn (one of the most celebrated Jewish critics of Le Pen and the National Front). In addition. you have pointed to Jews and Vietnamese as examples of vibrant organic communities which have successfully resisted cultural homogenization. Yet, from the early years of GRECE to the present you have associated with individuals, organizations and a publishing house tainted with racism, revisionism and neo-Nazism. In this regard, Roger-Pol Droit’s charges in Le Monde are not new (e.g., there are revisionists on Nouvelle Ecole’s editorial board — Bernard Notin, Jean-Claude Riviere; you work with the Tubingen publishing house Grabert, etc.). How do you account for these associations in light of your current beliefs and commitments?
Benoist: It would be easy to answer that, thirty years ago, I was involved as a student in radical Right organizations. That was in the very special context of the Algerian war, at a time when politicization was particularly intense in the University. When I launched Nouvelle Ecole in 1968 some of my collaborators had a similar political background. That was the beginning of a “long march” — an intellectual evolution lasting over a quarter of a century. Unfortunately, a radical Rightist past renders one suspect forever, unlike a radical Leftist past, which is usually readily forgotten and “forgiven”! But that is not the point. The issue is how to judge someone whose only occupation for over thirty, years has been to read, write and publish books and articles other than by evaluating what he writes and publishes? For people such as those who published the July 1993 appeal, what one writes and says do not matter. They are only interested in the views they would like to see expressed. This is the reason why the publication of this laughable appeal was not meant to open an intellectual debate but rather to isolate me from such a debate. In any case, there can be no debate with people who are not interested in what one actually says, or who seriously believe that one spends one’s whole life expressing views they do not really believe in, probably in the hope of legitimating views one is supposed to have but does not express! This is a very strange way of reasoning. After all, what an intellectual leaves when he dies is only what he has published. By applying the same reasoning one could claim that Karl Marx was a fierce opponent of communism who wrote the opposite because he wanted to disguise his true beliefs!
I have published more than 25 books and 5000 articles. The appeal people are unable to quote any passages from this material to substantiate their charges. So they have to look elsewhere. The method is hardly new. It is the old witch-hunting McCarthyite guilty-by-association method. This is all too convenient, even if dishonest because it makes it possible to associate anyone with anything, without paying any attention to what really matters. Accordingly, what one writes does not matter; the content of the books one has not written, however, does matter simply because they have also been published by one’s publisher. Views do not matter, but the place where they have appeared does matter, etc. This method has to be extraordinarily selective. My books have been translated in seven or eight foreign languages and by more than fifteen foreign publishers (including five in Germany). One focuses on the only book which can be used (i.e., the one published by Grabert Verlag) and forgets the others. I am a journalist and part of my job is to meet and associate with people. Thus I have acquaintances and friends of every possible political persuasion. The appeal people select the ones they can use, even if they are only ten or fifteen, and ignore the others, even if they are hundreds. They do not care about what is published in Nouvelle Ecole, but concentrate on what two or three collaborators did or said outside the context of their collaboration with the journal, etc. There is no need to discuss these methods much more. They speak for themselves. I do not select my publishers (they buy the fights of my books and negotiate directly with my French publishers). Being published by this or that publisher does not mean I agree with the content of all the other books they publish. I am not (nor do I wish to be) in a position to control what people who occasionally or even regularly publish something in the journals I edit can do, say or write in their private or public life. Nor am I supposed to share the views of all the people I know. In fact, I am extremely pleased to know people who do not share my opinions. I am responsible only for what I write and publish. For some people, that does not matter. They prefer to speculate about what they would like you to do. This is the McCarthyite method, which can be used to prove that everyone is guilty of everything. This is also Freudian caricature: if one denies something, this denial is a sort of confirmation. So the more one writes against racism and xenophobia, the more it proves one does not believe it. Finally, words like racism, fascism, etc. end up losing whatever meaning they may have had. They become part of a ritualistic theological vocabulary used for excommunications. Fortunately, these people are losing all credibility. The failure of the July 3 appeal is proof of that. One year later, they have to defend themselves for having been so ridiculous.
Telos: In his article “From Race to Culture” (translated in this issue of Telos), Pierre-Andre Tagnieff traces the history of GRECE and of the French New Right from its beginning in 1968 to the mid-1980s. It is a rather tortuous trajectory. Originally, GRECE pushed sociobiology (Jensen and all), elitism, inequality and scientism, with the biological dimension being particularly strong. Now GRECE has criticized biological reductionism and has called for cultural pluralism in France. In earlier articulations of the “fight to difference,” GRECE (in particular, Guillaume Faye) called for the return of immigrants to their countries of origin. Presently, in sharp opposition to the National Front, it calls for solidarity with immigrants, recognizes the reality of their continued presence in France and contraposes a plurality of organic ethnic communities to the cultural homogenization demanded by all of the French political parties from the far Left to the far Right. How did these transitions come about? Is there a logic to this trajectory? What remains constant throughout besides a commitment to particularity and otherness contraposed to pseudo-universality and homogenization (precisely the same objectives of Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment — a book decisive in shaping the theoretical outlook of that sector of the New Left associated with Telos since the appearance of its very first issue on May 1, 1968, exactly the very same week GRECE was founded in Lyon)?
Benoist: It is not all that tortuous a trajectory. It only shows that the so-called French New Right has never been committed to any kind of dogmatic catechism, but was a real intellectual effort with no preconceived ideas. Originally, in the early 1970s, the New Right dealt with biological topics. Primarily, it was a reaction against the then prevalent view that nothing is inherited and everything is decided by the environment. Such a view was more or less dominant at that time, although very few people would defend it today. That was also the time of the controversies about genetics and IQ (engaging not only Jensen, who is certainly not a sociobiologist, but also Eysenck, Lorenz, Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Ardrey, Desmond Morris, etc). The New Right assumed that biology was going to become the queen of the sciences during the last quarter of this century. That was not so naive in view of the actual expansion of biotechnologies! At any rate, to recognize the biological dimension of human life is not the same as explaining everything through biology. I was a good friend of the late Arthur Koestler, and I have always bought his argument against any kind of reductionism, including biologistic ones. As Konrad Lorenz once said: “If you say that man is an animal you are right, but if you say that he is nothing but an animal you are very wrong!” (Koestler himself used to talk about “nothing else but-ism”). So it would be a mistake to believe that the New Right ever tried to turn sociology into an appendage of zoology! Very early on it emphasized that the chief determinants of human life are of a social, cultural and historical nature. I would add that the main question is not whether people are completely free or only slightly free in relation to their nature, but what they do and want to do with that part of them which is free. This is the only interesting problem, because it is the only one about which we can do anything. Scientism is something else. Twenty years ago, I was influenced by logical positivism, mainly by the so-called “Vienna Circle,” by people such as Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, Moritz Schlick, as well as Ludwig Wittgenstein — not so far, therefore, from Russell, Popper and analytic philosophy. That gradually faded and disappeared completely when I became acquainted with other schools — not only Adorno and Horkheimer, but also Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, Gehlen, Plessner, Gadamer, etc.
About immigration, a year ago the New Right published a special issue of the journal Elements, whose main orientation you correctly summarize. Since then there has not been much evolution on the subject. Over a decade ago I published an article titled “Solidarity with Immigrants.” One should not forget that the phenomenon of immigration is relatively new in Europe. Of course, European nations have always incorporated foreign people, but they were not constituted by immigration, like the US. Considering their own past, Americans can more easily than Europeans see immigration as a normal phenomenon (even if sometimes they do not). But it should not be forgotten that immigration is the result of something very negative: in general immigrants do not leave their native countries for pleasure but in order to find better living conditions. The vast majority of them would prefer to find at home the conditions they are forced to search for elsewhere. From that viewpoint, immigration is not at all normal, and I do not see why we should consider normal a situation in which people are so deprived that they have to look for decent living conditions in places other than those where they were born. If the situation in Algeria was better than it is, some of the immigrants of Algerian origin who presently live in France would prefer to return there. To call for the repatriation of immigrants is to call for the possibility of this return (assuming immigrants want to do so), which would also mean a closer cooperation between European countries and the Third World. It is certainly not a call for authoritarian pressures to force them to go! Anyway, the fact is that, for the time being, most of the immigrants who came to Europe are there to stay. So the problem is, what is the best way to integrate them? Also, to integrate them to what: an economic way of life, a society, a nation? I am not a Jacobin, so I do not believe in assimilation. To assimilate is to lose much in exchange for mostly dreams and illusions. The dream of a melting pot, as conceived by Israel Zangwill, has also failed in the US. That is why it may be better to approach the problem from an organic, communitarian viewpoint, not as a way to generalize any apartheid, but as a way to integrate a society and help it escape cultural homogenization on a global scale. Unfortunately, this is hard to understand in a country like France, where the Jacobin heritage leads all politicians to deal with immigrants the way the Revolution dealt with the Jews: everything for the individuals, nothing for the people –i.e., nothing for a common identity and roots. This example should answer your question about what has remained constant in the New Right’s positions throughout the years. The desire to maintain a diversity of communities and cultures, which are the wealth of mankind, was a constant. The main problem today is to find the cultural and political means to resist the technological, economic and mass-media-driven homogenization of the world.
Telos: Although you have been openly critical of the National Front, there are some puzzling connections. In addition to Pierre Vial (who along with you and Guillaume Faye was one of GRECE’s leading theorists), some of the National Front’s most influential leaders, such as Le Gallou, Megret and Blot, came from the ranks of the New Right. Secondly, the National Front’s major ideological transitions were anticipated by GRECE. Initially, in 1972, the National Front was explicitly anti-immigrant and went nowhere politically. Only after the development of GRECE’s formulation of the “right to difference” did it find a respectable theoretical framework to legitimate its manifestly racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant position. Similarly, the National Front’s transition from a pro-Reagan, pro-Thatcher position to its present anti-Americanism and third-worldism (after the Gulf war) was also anticipated by GRECE.
Benoist: Fifteen years ago, the National Front received less than 1% of the vote. Today it receives around three million ballots (more or less 12% of the vote). These come from all sectors of society. It would be astonishing if the New Right would have been the only group from which the National Front recruited. At any rate, among New Right leaders only Pierre Vial defected to the National Front. Megret was never involved with the New Right. Blot and Le Gailou left in the early 1970s to join the Gaullist party (the RPR). Ten years later they defected to join the National Front. This is part of their own personal evolution and can hardly be considered a defection from the New Right.
Your description of the history of the National Front is inaccurate! It is not true that the National Front registered its first successes after having found a respectable theoretical framework in the formulation of the “right to difference.” In a general (or local) election, people are not interested in theoretical frameworks. On the contrary, it was because of its radical xenophobic and anti-immigrant position that the National Front gained most of the vote. Moreover, the National Front never tried to elaborate any theoretical frameworks! Le Pen may have mentioned the “right to difference” once or twice, as he mentions everything he thinks he can use. This is irrelevant. Le Pen is not stupid (nor is he without any political savvy), but he is not all that concerned with theories and ideas. His party is a typical demagogic movement which tries to catch everyone by using whatever it can. It exploits the people’s anti-immigrant feeling, xenophobia, fear of crime and unemployment, resentment against the old parties and politicians. In the National Front there are people holding opposite ideas (when they have any), even at leadership level. Le Pen is not unhappy with that: when his lieutenants fight among themselves, he can be sure no one will take his place. People do not vote for the National Front because it became “respectable.” On the contrary they vote for it because they find this party different from “respectable” ones. Similarly, there was no transition within the National Front from a pro-Reagan position to any current anti-Americanism. At the height of Reagan’s popularity, Le Pen wanted to be the French Reagan. When the mass-media was describing Boris Yeltsin as a populist challenger to Gorbachev, he wanted to be the French Yeltsin. He attacked the US within the context of the GATT negotiations. After that, he went to Chile and praised the work done by Pinochet’s Chicago boys as an example to be emulated. His opposition to the Gulf war (which was shared by many people both on the Right and the Left, including some Gaullist leaders, the Communist Party and the friends of Jean-Pierre Chevenenement) was not welcomed by its natural constituency. There is no logic or coherence in all the fact that Le Pen’s views about Europe have changed many times. So have his views concerning social or economic problems. In a way, it would be very flattering if the National Front had succeeded merely because it had borrowed some New Right ideas. But that is not true. Yes, I have publicly criticized the National Front. I think its provisional growth (I say provisional because the whole phenomenon is a one-man show: without Le Pen, the National Front would immediately collapse and split into several factions) will prevent the appearance of an intelligent Right for at least fifteen years. The only interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it shows how tired people are of the old parties and disappointed by the New Class. The other negative side is that this feeling is exploited by a party which uses scapegoat tactics: if things are bad, it is the fault of immigrants; without immigrants, there would no crime, no unemployment, no identity crisis, no major problems, etc. This prevents people from understanding the real dimensions of the problems, i. e., that without immigrants the situation would be more or less the same, and that immigrants are as much victims as everyone else. But it is also a perverse game. Mitterrand used the National Front to divide the Right. The parliamentary Right used it to speak against xenophobia while taking extremely hard measures against immigrants. The Left used it to hide its ideological delusions and its theoretical vacuum under an anachronistic anti-fascist discourse ruling out any serious debate. I do not see how the New Right could benefit from such a situation.
Telos: Taguieff argues that the “right to difference” is the basis for a differentialist variant of racism based on culture instead of biology. You seem to argue that the “right to difference” lays the groundwork for a new, differentialist variant of anti-racism. Taguieff claims you call for an absolutization of differences and the incompatibility, between cultures, whereas you reject this extrapolation of his understanding of “difference,” which is predicated on respect for the other. At any rate, it seems that your concept of “difference” comes from what could be called recognition theory in German philosophy (Hegel’s master-slave relation; Gadamer’s fusion of horizons) where the other is never absolutized and negated but acknowledged as the presupposition for the very identity of those doing the recognizing. Now one of the problems with this approach is that, contrary to the vulgar Marxist assumption that an Aufhebung takes place whereby the slave becomes the master and the master the slave, no such thing ever occurs in The Phenomenology of the Spirit. Rather, the master turns first into the lord, then into the bourgeois, and finally into the bureaucrat.
If such is the case, the transposition of the dialectic of master and slave to the logic of cultural autonomy provides a metaphysical guarantee for the perpetuation of the subordinate status of other cultures vis a vis the predominant European culture. Anyway, this notion of an eternal difference seems untenable. Culture is not something established once and for all. It is a process in which it constantly constitutes and reconstitutes itself. As can be seen from the American experience — the most extensive effort to transform cultural pluralism into a new culture (e pluribus unum) — new cultural identities do develop when a variety of cultures coexist, without necessarily resulting in the obliteration of particularity and otherness. Only with the institutionalization of multiculturalism does the opposite happen, i.e., particular cultures are artificially frozen into fixed, homogeneous stereotypes resulting in the sort of bellum omnium contra omnes presently developing in the US and elsewhere (Bosnia is only the other side of the same coin: the collapse of an artificial national culture leaves people helpless and therefore susceptible to what are primarily artificially reconstituted traditions).
The question here is this: is it possible to constitute new cultures in contexts of intense interaction between different peoples, or does all this chatter about difference mean irrevocable cultural apartheid? Is the universalist horizon constitutive of European civilization from Plato on down through Christianity and its secularized variants (i.e., Western culture — we find your invention of a pagan tradition highly suspect . . .) anything more than an imperialist smokescreen? And if the latter is the case, what exactly is this European culture? Whatever it may be, it definitely has nothing to do with Thor or a bunch of wannabe Ubermenschen with horns sticking out of their hats chasing endangered species through the bushes.
Benoist: If you look at Taguieff’s latest book, Sur la Nouvelle Droite: Jalons d’une Analyse Critique (Paris: Descartes & Cie, 1994), you will see that he has changed his mind about his thesis concerning differentialist racism, and rightly so. A racism based on culture rather than biology would be a racism without races. And without any commitment to a hierarchical view of cultures, there would be no racism. In fact, no serious racial theory can be based on culture instead of biology. Culture is culture and biology is nature. Culture cannot be substituted for nature any more than nature can be substituted for culture. The “right to difference” is not different from what you call recognition theory (this expression is even better, because it escapes the reference to a special kind of right). It is also close to the politics of recognition as proposed by communitarian authors such as Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, or some feminist writers. It emphasizes the need to recognize the collective dimension of identity and the fact that any theory based on the abstract idea of an unencumbered self is wrong. This is certainly not to open the door to a general or irrevocable cultural apartheid. As for myself, I do not call for an absolutization of differences. This would be rather foolish, because a difference can only differ in comparison to something else (part of the definition of difference is that it cannot be absolutized without ceasing to be a difference). The same can be said about the so-called incompatibility between cultures. There is obviously a compatibility between cultures, even if the possibility of communication is rarely complete (it is also limited between individuals). In fact, the “right to difference” or “politics of recognition” is the very basis for a real dialogue between cultures, where each can enrich the other. Without this recognition there is no possibility of dialogue but only a monologue by several, i.e., exchanging the same again for the same, without being able to recognize as positive the otherness of the other. This recognition must be free of any hierarchical encroachment. To make a hierarchical comparison requires a criterion which cannot be identified with any of the entities being compared. This criterion is clearly missing when comparing different cultures (or genders). Here one can apply Godel’s theorem: there is no culture of all cultures. All theories claiming that a culture or civilization is “better” or “superior” to another are clearly based on such a mistake. People believing in the superiority of Western civilization take their own civilization as the universal ideal which can be used to measure others. This is clearly illogical and tautological (it only means that Western civilization is Western). This is why I cannot understand how recognition theory can be understood through the dialectics of master and slave. You are right when you say that in this theory “the other is never absolutized and negated but acknowledged as the presupposition for the very. identity of those doing the recognizing.” But you still have to add that this recognition must be carried out independently of any hierarchical view. It is not recognition of the respective places of master and slave in terms of an external criterion independent of both (their respective places which could afterwards be eventually exchanged through Aufhebung). It is recognition on an equal basis and of the very fact that there are no criteria by which to organize a hierarchy. In this view the “right to difference” removes all confusion between universal and particular values — a confusion used to legitimate different forms of oppression, conversion and colonialism (to convert is always to impose a loss of identity, hence to oppress, and it does not matter if this conversion is carried out on the pretext of the absolute truth of the Christian faith, the so-called superiority of the white race, the universal value of liberal parliamentary democracy, the universal virtues of the market, the universal need for development, etc. In all cases, one particular model is hypostatized on the level of a universal model).
But the very concept of difference remains to be defined. Of course, there is no “eternal difference”! A difference or an identity is not an absolute nor an essence. It is always constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed through a dialogical attitude toward others. We all belong to several communities, and our identity is a function of all of them. Identity is not the past; it is not a property; it is not (or not merely) a matter of origin, of having such and such characteristics. In relation to Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur (especially to the distinction made by the latter between identity ipse and identity idem), I would say that identity is basically a narrative process. Phenomenologically, it is a reflexive narration of which the subject is not a “me” or an “us” constituted once for all, but a constantly redefined “self” which must constantly produce and reproduce the narration necessary to create and recreate its own conditions of existence. In that sense, identity is clearly different from what is identical or eternal. It is what is maintained throughout changing processes, not as the same, but as an always particular way of changing or not changing. Finally, identity is also behavior: I share the identity of the people with similar problems. This has nothing to do with “homogenous stereotypes,” nor with “the institutionalization of multiculturalism.” I do not have ready-made solutions concerning how to carry out such a recognition. But I do not believe in any institutional or authoritarian solution. Good institutions are the result of basic and organic social processes, not the causes or the best ways to give birth to these processes. It could even be argued that the very idea of structuring such a recognition is already dangerous. What is important is to accept the principle of recognition, to recognize without dictating any specific kind of social behavior. What matters here is the generality, of the principle opposing those who want to be recognized without themselves recognizing others.
“What exactly is European culture?” is a very interesting question, but one so complex as to require a whole book just to try to provide an answer. First, Europe is diversity itself: every time it is reduced to a particular characteristic it is simultaneously impoverished. Because it is so diverse, the reflexive narration it produces can only be speculative in nature. In that sense, the European mind is above all philosophical. Philosophy can only arise where there are no definitive behaviors and solutions, and philosophy means distance from oneself — a distance which generates both tragedy and irony. In that sense, the US seems different. Since its foundation it has not changed very much, if at all. Basically, the general system is the same. From the viewpoint of European history, a radical change of the people’s very social basis can always be envisioned. I wonder if there are many Americans who can imagine their country without its Constitution. This could limit their ability, to do philosophy, understood as a propensity to change radically one’s worldview. Of course, through the centuries this European tradition took many different forms. I am afraid that here you mistake my position on pagan tradition. I leave “Vikinging-around in the woods” as well as “wannabe Ubermenschen with horns” to the lunatic fringe of the New Age! Europe existed long before Christianity and during these millennia it has produced a large number of major cultures and civilizations. We know that religious systems are closely connected with social life as a whole and that they can be interpreted primarily as value systems. I do not want to elaborate too much on that subject (to which I have already devoted two books), but I would like to recall Max Weber’s analysis of the polytheism of values. Of course, the comparison between monotheistic and polytheistic systems is not merely a matter of numbers (how many Gods?). When psychologists such as James Hillmann or sociologists such as Michel Maffeoli refer to “polytheism,” it is not a matter of mere fantasy or nostalgia. They are concerned with one of the possible sources of inspiration for today. Similarly, it is not by chance that the Green movements seem to be more at ease with old cosmic religions than with the biblical imperative mandating man as the master of the earth. No one has to privilege reading the Bible instead of the Vedas, the Baghavad Gita, Parmenides and Aristotle or the Homeric stories. Of course, often European Antiquity was as violent as other ages, but this violence was not based on a principle of intolerance. The people within the Roman Empire had to accept Rome’s authority, but they did not have to give up their beliefs. (In fact, in Rome there was even an altar to the unknown God). In the West, monotheistic civilization rapidly evolved into a theocratic state which tended to exclude any form of plurality. Even the secular nation-state was conceived on that model, and the moment this state began to collapse social links also began to dissolve.
Telos: In the effort to vindicate particularity, specificity and otherness, you seem to go a little too far by denying universality altogether, or denying any value to it. But it is only from the viewpoint of universality that particularity itself can be recognized and, at any rate, independently of some sort of nomological universality it is impossible even to negotiate the autonomy of the other. You seem to identify the sort of universality characterizing Western civilization with Judeo-Christianity and totalitarianism, against which you contrapose a mythological, authentically European paganism (lifted out of Nietzsche) standing presumably for freedom and self-determination. Now, Horkheimer and Adorno came up with a similar analysis of what they called the domination of the concept and identified this totalitarian involution with the logic of the Enlightenment — secularized Christianity. They also sought to vindicate particularity but not by recycling mythological figures (which, incidentally, they identified with the fascist solution). Rather, in an equally unsatisfactory. mythological fashion, they found recourse in mimesis with nature — a confused theological cop-out which has been attacked ever since as passive, resigned and, in Lukacs’ extremist Marxist formulation, conformist and apologetic. Neither solution seems satisfactory. A better account may be found in Husserl’s phenomenology, where the function of the first and second reduction as inextricable moments of living experience is precisely to deconstruct this tendentially oppressive totality and (what Derrida and his deconstructionist epigones seem to forget) reconstitute it from the inevitably unilateral perspective of the particular (although Husserl himself remained embroiled with the essentialism of the eidos and the resulting formalism). Within such a framework universality remains a permanently incomplete horizon dependent on the particular perspective to provide (from the presupposed cultural patrimony of that particular perspective) the missing dimension. Such a post-Enlightenment reading avoids the totalitarian rap, while at the same time privileging the particular. Your pagan solution ends up artificially (and, one could add, indefensibly) dichotomizing a totalitarian Judeo-Christian Western civilization and its presumably libertarian-pagan European counterpart. Geopolitically this phony distinction translates into a contraposition of American Zivilisation (i.e., Hollywood kitsch and what Adorno and Horkheimer theorized as the culture industry) and European Kultur, which feeds right into the Russian nationalists wishful prefiguration of a reconstituted Mitteleuropa no longer united against Russia, as in the early part of the century, but characterized by a new German-Russian alliance. Is this, or something of the sort, your position today? Europeans in general and the Frankfurt School in particular could never make heads or tails out of America but you have been in the US several times, and should know that, notwithstanding all of Hollywood’s mystifications, it is an extremely heterogeneous society, the hegemonic parts of which are nothing but a cultural extension and development of the best of European culture.
Benoist: I do not confuse universality, and universalism. In a way, Heidegger helped me make this distinction with his own contraposition of ontology and metaphysics. In the same way that difference makes sense only in relation to something else and cannot be absolutized without becoming meaningless, particularity cannot be imagined independently of universality, nor multiplicity independently of unity. You are fight to claim that, independently of some sort of nomological universality, it is impossible even to negotiate the autonomy of the other. What matters is the equilibrium between multiplicity and unity, the level where unity has to be thought or established (this is a vital question in relation to political institutions), and the way each of the two concepts is to be reached. Universalism begins by imposing a preconceived or abstract form to the particular. To the contrary, I believe we can only reach universality through particulars, not the other way round. I also agree with Heidegger’s view of modernity (especially its technological dimension) as an accomplishment of the metaphysics of subjectivity. This accomplishment is all the more dramatic if one interprets the various universalisms as disguised forms of ethnocentrism. This occurs every time I believe my views constitute universal truth (or when I believe in a universal truth which, coincidentally, turns out to be identical with my own views). To that kind of metaphysics of subjectivity, which is the basis of today’s destructive individualism (with is concomitant inflation of “rights” claims), you can only oppose a principle of generality — which is also based on the generality of principles (as a general frame for particularity). The direct consequence of this principle is that I am not the source of values: my belongings, memberships, commitments and so on are not the truth. For example, the “fight to difference” is only valuable on a general level. It legitimates my commitment to my people, but only conditionally: I cannot be any more committed to my people if my people oppress another people. In other words, the principle of recognition of identities is superior to any identity as such. Take the old English saving “My country, right or wrong.” It can be understood in various ways. It can be taken to mean that even if my country is wrong, for me it will be always right (the worst interpretation). It can also be understood to mean that, even if it is wrong, I cannot forget that it is my country, (somewhat softer). But there is another interpretation, and this one focuses on the word “wrong.” How can I say that my country can be wrong if I do not have a criterion of judgment beyond those provided to me by virtue of my belonging to that country? That is the point. Without such a criterion, my country will always appear fight to me (this is the way of reasoning of all xenophobic movements, which tramples the metaphysics of subjectivity from an individual level to a collective one). Recognizing the need for a general principle is to commit oneself to a form of positive “nomological universality.” It has nothing to do with a “pagan solution.” Going back to the criticism of universalism, I agree that universalism is to be identified with the “domination of the concept” and, as Horkheimer and Adorno understood very well, with a “totalitarian involution of the logic of the Enlightenment — secularized Christianity.” Mimesis with nature as a solution is hard to accept. Although I have much sympathy with the Greens respect for “nature,” the concept is too equivocal to serve as a firm basis (see the debate about the “rights of nature” or the “intrinsic value of nature”) — even if a discussion concerning man’s place in nature and his relation to nature is necessary. “Recycling mythological figures” is also obscure. To resort to images against concepts is useful, but not sufficient. All ideological systems contain recycled mythological themes as well as theological concepts. This is not typical of the “fascist solution.” In addition, I see fascism as a very modern — in the worst sense of the term — phenomenon hidden under archaic rhetoric, and communism as an archaic phenomenon hidden behind modern discourse. That is why I think that Husserl’s “post-Enlightenment” solution is one of the best approaches. This influence of Husserl’s philosophy is reflected in the title of the journal I founded in 1988: Krisis — although I think there is also much value in Heidegger’s philosophy and in postmodern thought (which cannot be reduced to Derrida’s views nor to the somewhat fashionable and often surprising versions of his so-called “deconstructionism” in the US).
Yes, I have visited the US many times and I have many American friends. There is much that I like in America and it would be stupid to reduce it to Disneyland or to the commercial Hollywood sub-culture. However, it is also true that I have been very critical of the US, though my criticisms have never been inspired by any kind of French chauvinism. (I am a bad French patriot, and many of my criticisms of the US could also be directed against France). This again could be the subject of a very long discussion. Let me just mention a few points. First, I believe that in the future Europe and the US will gradually part ways. Their interests are not the same, and I think they will become more and more divergent. With the end of the communist system, “Atlanticism” does not mean much any more, even if Europe is still unable or unwilling to organize itself appropriately. Second, I disagree with the importance of American influence in the world (whether it is growing or slowly diminishing is another matter). I am not against foreign influences, but I do not want these influences reduced to only one, and they will have to be reciprocated. A predicament such as today’s, when American films, songs, TV programs and so on constitute more than the half of what can be heard and seen throughout the world, while foreign productions represent almost nothing in America, is clearly not normal. To defend this situation in terms of the laws of the market is to resort to myth. The market reflects power relations: it does not select what is best but what is strongest. (Believing that the strongest is the best is Social Darwinism, and one of the bases of racism.) But it is not just a problem of mass media. Economic, political and military influences are also a fact. The US would never accept a European intervention in Nicaragua. Yet it considers it normal to make war on Iraq and to keep ships in the Mediterranean. To use one of Carl Schmitt’s expressions, it is time for Europe to have its own Monroe Doctrine. Thirdly, there is the problem of the nature of the US political, social and “psychological” system. Obviously I have profound sympathies for the principle of federalism as originally envisioned (while the US was being created before its subsequent distortion). At the same time, however, I think the US has always had great difficulty: understanding what Schmitt calls the essence of politics — especially the fact that it cannot be reduced to (or limited by) morals or economics. From that viewpoint, I remain to be convinced that the most celebrated works of the Founding Fathers have much political relevance. I do not believe that men “are born free and equal,” and I am not interested in the “pursuit of happiness”! US foreign policy, often has been disastrous, mainly because of its inability to understand the existence of the external world. George Washington’s farewell speech gave rise to isolationism, while the myth of “Manifest Destiny” legitimated all kinds of interventionism. But isolationism and interventionism are only two sides of the same universalism, i.e., the conviction that the American system is the best and only possible one throughout the world. I do not believe that the US is a “free country,” a new Promised Land or an example to be emulated by everyone. In domestic politics, the two-party system seems more like a one-party system with two main factions. I do not like the circus-like character of American political conventions. I also do not like the moralism which forced Nixon to resign because he lied to the people and Gary Hart to quit the presidential race because he had a mistress. A good president is one who makes good politics, not one who tells the truth or obediently follows Christian monogamy. There are too many spin-doctors, televangelists and Sunday school preachers in American politics. You say that “the hegemonic pans” of the US “are nothing but a cultural extension and development of the best of European culture.” Well . . . After all, most Founding Fathers considered European culture simply evil — an evil they had to leave behind in order to create a New World. I do not like this WASP hegemony. It is too filled with morals and economics, while lacking consideration for the poor. I do not like “Bible and business.” I detest this puritan heritage, which forbids the normal expression of feelings, turns everything into a “problem” (“What’s your problem?”), reduces daily life to using set formulas for solving these problems (how-to books, programs, etc.) and seems to forbid normal relations between the sexes. Frankly, there is something hysterical in the Prohibition of yesteryear and in today’s campaigns against smoking, sexual harassment, sexual abuses, etc. The same goes for economics. I dislike the capitalist logic of exclusion, I do not believe in the virtues of the market and of a market society. I dislike the obsession with efficiency (efficiency for what? at which price?), the myth of winners, the view of life as competitive and as the permanent pursuit of one’s best interest, the approach to cultural creations as pure commercial products. I do not want to be a winner. I am not interested in making money . . . Of course, this does not prevent me from seeing the other side of the coin. I love Steinbeck, Melville and Edgar Allen Poe. As a teenager I was in awe of American movies, at a time when cinema was still an art. Today I greatly appreciate the work of people such as Christopher Lasch, Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Robert Bellah (and, of course, Telos, which sometimes looks more European than American). But these may be premature judgments.
Telos: Enough with the US . . . On a different issue, what is the significance of Julius Evola for the European New Right in general and you in particular (Conservative Revolution, metapolitics, neo-paganism, anti-materialism, anti-egalitarianism, empire, etc.). What about Evola’s anti-Semitism? He wrote the preface for the Italian edition of the Protocols, he supported Mussolini’s racial legislation’ of 1938, and he explicitly praised Codreanu’s politics against the Judaic horde and the bloodthirsty activities of the Rumanian Iron Guard. How could someone like yourself, who has unambiguously condemned anti-Semitism, be silent regarding this side of Evola, which was by no means peripheral to his larger world-view? Particular communities should even have the prerogative to Viking-around in the woods worshipping sticks and stones, if they so wish — as long as they do not insist that everyone else do the same. Evola’s reified view of natural being has nothing to do with this idyllic vision and, instead, entails reimposing what he thinks is a natural order on a being gone astray. Is the New Right inherently pluralistic or is its insistence on particularity only a theoretical euphemism for permanent hierarchy where the other is really considered inferior? It is one thing to criticize representative democracy, as collective homogenization, mass cretinization and general deactivation of the populace, and another to criticize it on the basis of the inherent, natural and given-once-and-for-all superiority of the few (which, were they de facto superior, would not need to legitimate this superiority through metaphysical witchcraft: meritocracy would be sufficient).
Benoist: Why Evola? Among all the authors who have been used or cited by the New Right he is certainly not the most important. Evola belongs to the school of integral traditionalism, along with people such as Rene Guenon, Guido De Giorgio or Frithjof Schuon. The New Right does not belong to that school. As for myself, I have never been under his “influence.” The authors who have had the greatest influence on me are Louis Dumont and/or Arthur Koestler. I have also criticized the belief in an original Tradition (in the singular and with a big T), which is dearly a myth. But it is also true that Evola published interesting and valuable works about ethics, spirituality and philosophy of religions. His work is vast and one does not have to accept all of it. Politically, he made many mistakes. However, your description of his views is a bit excessive. Under fascism, he had the courage to write publicly that he was not a fascist. He was never a member of the Fascist Party. His journal, La Torre, was banned by the fascist authorities in 1930 and he was continuously under attack by many of the regime’s leaders (even if he was protected by some others). He wrote a very, interesting critique of nationalism and fought violently against any form of biological racism. He opposed Giovanni Gentile at a time when Gentile was the most celebrated thinker of the fascist regime. Even his anti-Semitism, which is beyond doubt, is more complex than may appear at first sight. This is no excuse, but a thinker should not be reduced only to part of his life or part of his work. Celine’s anti-Semitism does not prevent him from being recognized nowadays as one of this century’s greatest literary figures. When Telos sought to introduce Carl Schmitt’s works to the American public, you also had to explain his mistaken attitude toward the Nazis between 1933 and 1936-37. Clearly, the value of Schmitt’s work lies beyond these years. The same goes for Evola. As for hierarchy and pluralism, I have already discussed them. I would just like to add that I do not even criticize “democracy as collective homogenization.” This is only the result of a liberal distortion of democracy. I have published a book (Democratie: le Problem) to answer traditional (Right or Left) critics of democracy. I strongly believe that the democratic process needs to be strengthened through more civic participation, more public spaces for speech and decision, precisely because I do not think democracy represents the law of the numbers but the need of a basic participation which today is the only mode of political legitimation. Finally, when one speaks of hierarchy, the first thing to be remembered is that, where hierarchy is not escapable, it must be conceived as a way to include rather than exclude anyone.
Telos: While your French critics are obviously wrong in finding you guilty by association, there is something problematic about seeing your picture constantly popping out next to nationalists, alleged fascists, and similar questionable figures in, e.g., the pages of the Russian journal Elementy. It becomes even more suspect when one compares the views of a Dugin concerning delusions about Russian might and a German-Russian alliance against the US with your own abhorrence of American culture, which you seem to associate with Disney-world and Hollywood. How does the kind of anti-nationalist federalism you seem to support square with the recycled 19th century imperialism of a Dugin and other Russian nationalists dreaming about a new Russian Empire? Schmitt’s concept of Grossraum, which Dugin has appropriated incorrectly to legitimate his crude imperialism, has nothing to do with the concept of federation, however one defines the latter. And if Empire really means federation or confederation Swiss-style, why drag out these confusing medieval remnants rather than simply sticking with the much more familiar concept of federation?
Benoist: In April 1992 I spent a week in Moscow, at Dugin’s invitation. At that time I met several politicians, army generals, academics and journalists of various opinions. This was an opportunity to learn about a complex situation. Unfortunately, I quickly realized how difficult it was to communicate with people who, having been cut off from the outside world for such a long time, do not have the same references and experiences as someone like myself. From the viewpoint of Russia, the West seems as confusing as Russia can be for Western observers. As the situation stays more open than ever, it is also obvious that we do not live in the same historical moment. While I was interested in the fact that old political lines were clearly collapsing in Russia, I was also disturbed by the crude imperialism and Jacobinism of the vast majority of the so-called “patriots.” Some of them think about nothing but the restoration of the old Russian domination over Eastern and even Central European countries. I tried to explain that they cannot solve the center’s problems by dispatching tanks to the Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States. While I could agree with their refusal to mimic the Western liberal-market model (which is obviously contrary to their traditions (and actually with no chance of being successfully implemented}, I disagreed with their concept of Russian identity and Russia’s role in the world. Imitation of the past does not seem much better than imitation of the West. It is always imitation and lack of both imagination and understanding of the times. So-called national Bolshevism could have been an interesting phenomenon in the Germany of the 1920s. It is a disastrous anachronism in today’s Russian landscape. I am afraid this was not well understood. After I returned to France I discovered that Dugin had launched a magazine called Element, the content of which seemed to me (I cannot read Russian) a typical mixing of radical influences taken in a confused and uncritical way. I was already displeased by the tide of the journal, because I knew it would be used to present it as the Russian counterpart of the French Elements. I wrote Dugin and asked him to remove my name from the board of his journal, where it appeared without my permission (this was done in the next issue). Since then I have not had any contact with Dugin (or with any other group in Russia). I have already explained this several times, most recently in a long letter which was published in 1993 by a German magazine (a French translation of this letter can be found in Taguieffs book, Sur la Nouvelle Droite).
Schmitt’s concept of Grossraum can be interpreted in different ways, but I can only condemn its use to legitimate any crude recycling of 19th century imperialism (Russian or otherwise). The problem with “empire” is something else. It is first a matter of European heritage. In the history of Europe, the two main political models have been the empire and the nation-state — France being the most developed exammple of the latter. My sympathies lie with the first model. Nation-states, whether monarchies or republics, entail enclosures, centralization, a national market, homogenization, destruction of regional languages and cultures, etc. On the other hand, empire always sought to establish an equilibrium between center and periphery, between sameness and diversity, unity and multiplicity. The unity was not so much political or administrative but spiritual. Of course, when I speak about empires I mean the main historical models of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire, etc. This has nothing to do with 19th century, imperialisms, either American or Russian, from Napoleon to Hitler, which were only expansionist movements of a particular nation-state. While the nation-state model gave birth to today’s world organization (the UN recognizes only states), the empire model certainly comes closest to federalism. It is a matter of semantics. Anyway, it is important to remember that federalism also has historical roots, hence cannot be considered a modern utopia. About a German-Russian alliance, it would certainly be better if Germany and Russia were on good terms rather than at war! That does not mean that Russia and Germany must dominate Europe. Clearly, Europe is in need of a new independent collective security system. This may also prevent regressive nationalist forces from provoking new wars on European soil. For the time being, the dissolution of the bipolar world seems to benefit only little Draculas and multinational corporations.
Telos: A final comment concerning the appeal: it seems ironic that the Parisian intellectual establishment (or at least forty of its most prestigious members) should sign an appeal warning the unaware masses of the danger that you and the New Right allegedly pose precisely at a time when GRECE is developing its most progressive position vis a vis immigrants, racism, etc., rather than focusing on the leaders of the National Front who, in fact, are guilty of all the charges made in the appeal (violence, exclusion, etc.). Why have you, along with Taguieff and Yonnet, been targeted, and not e.g., Le Pen or National Front ideologues such as Francois Brigneau? The appeal itself does not name anyone specifically; the targets were identified subsequently by Roger-Pol Droite in Le Monde. What do you make of this? Could it be that the signers of the appeal themselves had no intention of targeting you, Taguieff and Yonnet? If that is so, how can their subsequent silence be explained, once all the arrows began to fly?
Benoist: That is a good question — though it is a bit difficult for me, rather than the people who signed this appeal, to answer it. But you are right: most of the forty signers of the appeal did not have the slightest idea about how it would be used. Except in the original version, which named only Taguieff and was later abandoned, no specific target was mentioned. It was only a vague manifesto against political confusion, violence and extremism. In that form I myself would have signed it. After its publication in Le Monde and its instrumentalization through Roger-Pol Droit’s article, many of the signers privately expressed their surprise and disapprobation. Why not publicly? Because of fear. Intellectuals today do not have much civil courage, and this could be a first answer to your question. (Incidentally, it is an overstatement to speak of “forty most prestigious members” of the intellectual establishment. While prestige is no proof of competence, only ten or twelve of the signers could be considered “prestigious.” Most of them were and remain pretty unknown. One could even say that the more prestigious they were, the more they felt trapped.) Another answer would be that reading the open debates in Krisis, with people of all opinions participating, was really too much for a little group of McCarthyite sycophants who tried without success to make a fuss about what is normal (intellectual debate) and consider normal what is really scandalous (the absence of debate). Of course, this has to be contextualized within the petty world of the Parisian “intellectual establishment,” with its endemic parochial hates, its speculations about “legitimation” and “delegitimation,” and its media-oriented strategies. That makes everybody laugh. What is important is not the appeal itself, or the kind of people it was meant to delegitimate (Yonnet after myself, Taguieff after Yonnet, or Pierre Nora, or Olivier Mongin and now even Pierre Vidal-Naquet). From that viewpoint, the appeal is just a tempest in a teapot. It becomes important only as a symptom of the disarray of some members of the New Class and of this intellectual establishment. In a few years, all their models and points of reference have disappeared. They have accumulated mistakes, delusions and frustrations. They are entering a period of transition — a new ideological and political world where references to “fascism” or “communism” are simply obsolete and anachronistic. They are left threatened. They can no longer bear the free circulation of ideas and cannot accept that people coming from different positions could challenge them. They are so ridiculous that they do not see anything more urgent, at a time when people are being killed everyday in what was Yugoslavia, than to attack a journal where most of the contributors come or are from the Left, just because the editor comes from the Right, while they do not do anything against real intolerance, racism and xenophobia. As Taguieff has explained in his book, they dream of a simple world, where everything is clear. That is why they organize witch-hunts in the fashion of the anti-Semites who attribute dangerous powers to Jews no one can see, and why they dream of internal discourses in the same way that anti-Semites speculate about forgeries such as the Protocols. But the world changes and they discover that the New Class to which they belong has nothing more to offer. They have even forgotten how to refute an argument, because they believe that trying to refute it makes them accomplices of the position being refuted. They do not know what to say, except to preach intolerance and exclusion, i.e., to launch a call for a thought police. Beyond my particular case, which is unimportant, this is an interesting indication of emptiness — especially if one compares the situation in Paris with that in a country such as Italy, where all debates are possible. Anyway, the appeal was a total bust. Coming from a bunch of fanatics with Le Monde’s support (a new Le Monde, with none of its old prestige) it came to naught. Most of the prestigious weekly magazines criticized it. More than fifty prestigious personalities expressed their solidarity with Taguieff (the list appeared in Esprit). And, of course, Krisis continues to publish as many contributions from prestigious Leftists (and non-Leftists) as before. The appeal and the way it was received could very well mark a watershed: the moment when people who chose to debate and those who refused decided to part ways. In that sense, the appeal may have been very, useful.
Telos: Given the kind of account you have provided of the New Right’s positions — the rejection of nationalism, distrust of the state, support for federalism, etc. — what remains in the New Right that warrants identifying it with the Right, as the term is usually understood?
Benoist: I cannot answer that unless you provide me with a definition of Right and Left. I have thought about such a definition myself for over fifteen years and I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. The meanings of Right and Left have changed over time. They also differ from country to country (the so-called French New Right stands for roughly the very opposite of what has been called the New Right in the US). Moreover, at the same time and place, you have always several Rights and several Lefts, and it is obvious that some of these Rights and some of these Lefts can have more in common than they have with their own group as a whole. In general, people from the Right characterize as typically Left what they dislike, and people from the Left do pretty much the same for the Right. This does not help. If one marks out certain themes in the history of ideas, it quickly becomes clear that over time, they travel from Right to Left and vice-versa. You mention nationalism. But nationalism is much more a framework than a content (it was historically associated with practically all doctrine). You also cite federalism. Yet Proudhon, one of the founders of federalism in France, had disciples on the Right as well as the Left.
Another way to approach the problem would be to speculate on the psychological components of each political group. In that sense, one could probably speak of a rightist and a leftist mind-set — but immediately all sorts of exceptions pop up. Finally, it should not be forgotten that the New Right was an ascribed name, not one chosen by the members themselves. That is why I am so indifferent to these words. I am only interested in the content, and prefer to regard myself both on the Left and the Right, So, your questions can only be answered provisionally. I can identify myself with the Right if by that term is meant the rejection of any theory of progress, the desire to preserve human diversity, or the conviction that the past and the future are dimensions of the present. Psychologically, I can also identify with the Right if that entails the belief that honor is at least as important as dignity, that style is decisive (that the way one does things matters as much as the things themselves), the conviction that today’s enemy can become tomorrow’s ally (agonality). On the other hand, I am certainly on the Left if that term means the rejection of individualism, the primacy of market-values and destructive competition among people. Goethe said he preferred injustice to disorder. I think injustice is the worst of all disorders. Is this Right or Left?
a This text consists of three separate interviews. The first was conducted by Le Monde in May 1992, but never published in France (English translation by Deborah Cook). The second was conducted by Armin Mohler and Dieter Stein, and was originally published Junge Freiheit (English translation by Magda Mueller). Both have appeared in Italian in Diorama Letterario 169 (June-July 1993), pp. 3-12. The third interview consists of a series of questions submitted by the Telos staff and answered by Benoist directly in English.
b This interview was conducted during Benoist’s visit to Germany to participate in a conference which was disrupted and during which Benoist himself was beaten up. “Attempts to prevent Benoist’s talk does not indicate much confidence in arguments or in the ability to judge. . . . The claim for reason, which can only be developed in dialogue, is an integral part of self-undertanding of the democratic Left” wrote Tageszeitung before the conference, about the quasi-withdrawal of the invitation to Benoist. As subsequent events demonstrated, in Germany political discussion seems to have been replaced by the violence of street gangs — in this case by a Berlin subgroup off the “Autonomen AG” — as it is described in the following letter by Benoist. “To My German Friends: A few months ago I received an invitation from ‘Kunst & Kultur GmbH’ to participate (in collaboration with DS-Kultur sponsored by the Humboldt University) on February 6 in a panel discussion at Humboldt University Berlin within the framework of a discussion (‘Otherness –Patterns of Culture in Industrial Society’) on the subject: ‘Within the Limits of Enlightenment: What is the Place of “the Other”?’ I accepted the invitation since the proposed subject was and is of great interest to me. Besides, I looked forward to speaking at Humboldt University where Ernst Niekisch — the author of the famous anti-Hitler pamphlet ‘Hitler — A German Destiny’ (1932) — had taught after 1945 and particularly since I had written a longer introduction for the 1991 French translation of his essay, which I had edited. Five other scholars were to participate on the panel: Eckhardt Barthel, an SPD foreign expert, Hamadi El-Aouni, a political scientist, Dietmar Kamper, a sociologist, Bernd Nizschke, a philosopher, and Renate Reschke, an aestheticist. My lecture was entitled, ‘Against Racism and Xenophobia –Toward the Identity, of People.’ On the morning of February 6, I arrived by plane in Berlin. At the airport I was met by an organizer who accompanied me to the hotel and who informed me immediately that the announcement of my participation had led to protests, distribution of leaflets and death-threats. The day before, Professor Marlies Durkop, the president of Humboldt University, used the protests as a pretense to cancel the scheduled debate within the university. On February. 6 the newspaper discussed — on the front page — this affair under the headline ‘Threat vs. Argument’ (in the center part: ‘Right-Winger Censured’). The organizers told me that under the circumstances they had given up plans to hold a public debate and instead had decided to hold a private discussion in conjunction with a radio broadcast. It was to take place on the same day at 7 PM at the New Society For Literature (Rosenthaler Strasse 38, 0-1020 Berlin). The media had been informed. As agreed, I arrived at 6 PM in the rooms of the New Society For Literature situated on the first floor. The organizers were not there. There were also no policemen. Instead, I was confronted by about 20 “autonomous” anarchists in black clothing, who recognized me and who let me know unmistakably that they would try to prevent my participation in the discussion. I was photographed by one of them twice. This commando group forced me to walk down to the ground-floor and dragged me to the street. After approximately 150 meters they detained me and started beating me so brutally that I suffered several injuries and bruises on my face. Then they disappeared and left me lying on the street. My glasses were stolen. Another pair of glasses, which I had in my pocket, was broken. I succeeded in returning to the hotel by taxi. Half an hour later the police — brandishing guns — picked me up at the hotel since they feared that the commandos might have followed me. They drove me back to the headquarters of the New Society For Literature. There I was able to participate in part of the discussion, which had been shortened because of the circumstances. I gave a statement to the authorities investigating the crime. At 10:30 PM, along with 8 discussion participants, I was driven to the Staatschutzpolizei STASI Berlin-Tempelhof. There we were interrogated by policemen who were definitely interested in identifying the members of the commando unit. The interrogation lasted until 5 AM. I declined to be taken to the hospital to have my injuries treated. I also declined to press charges. Afterwards the police drove me back to my hotel and protected me until the end of my stay. On the morning of February, 7, I gave interviews. At 3 PM, I flew back to Paris. Out of fear that such violence could occur once again, ‘Kunst & Kultur GmbH’ decided to cancel the second panel (‘Otherness: Inside, Outside, Everywhere. Border Crossings as Utopia’) which was to have taken place on February 15 with the participation of Thomas Kuczynsti, Arno Kosnne, Julius Schoeps, Olaf Schwenke and Hans-Jurgen Syberberg. So far, I have participated in more than twenty countries on panels and conferences. Nowhere else have I ever experienced anything of the kind. These incidents betray a political attitude that is spreading throughout Europe. I thank the trustees of ‘Kunst & Kultur GmbH’ for their friendly and courageous support.”
Telos, Winter 93/Spring 94, Issue 98-99]
Tags: Alain de Benoist, identity