Enter the New Right
The error that liberal thinkers fail to discern is that the liberal doctrine of individualism, economism, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ cannot constitute a solid weapon against Marxism, since liberal intellectuals, while denouncing the consequences of Marxism, are unable to critically examine the egalitarian premises of their own doctrine. For the New Right, conservative and neo-conservative parties and movements share a great part of the historical responsibility for the almost proverbial unpopularity of conservative ideas.
The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of Against Democracy and Equality by Tomislav Sunic, first published in 1990 and later reprinted by Arktos.
The twentieth century has not only been marked by the inflation of political movements but also by the inflation of political terminology. The term New Right was first used in the mid-1970s by the French media to announce, but also to warn against, a group of young French intellectuals who had, a decade earlier, proclaimed an all-out war against Communism, liberalism, and the Judaeo-Christian heritage in Europe. Although the New Right appears to be a relatively new ideological and cultural phenomenon, upon closer scrutiny there are few things on its agenda that are radically new or that were not already elaborated by earlier conservative thinkers. Over the last hundred years both liberalism and Communism have been targets of many conservative critics, and therefore one could probably argue that the New Right is basically an old ‘anti-democratic’ Right wearing today more respectable ideological clothes. Yet, despite similarities to former radical Rightist currents, the New Right is indeed a new movement considering that its sympathisers and members are mostly younger people facing social issues that were previously unknown in Europe. The New Right is also ‘new’ inasmuch as it claims to have made a complete break with all extreme Right-wing movements and parties. In addition, unlike other forms of the Right, the New Right does not claim its spiritual roots in a single European country, but instead declares its homeland to be the entire European continent.
When the New Right announced its official entry into the European cultural and political scene in the mid-1970s, the timing was not accidental. Several years earlier a tacit ideological realignment had begun in France and other parts of Europe; notably, a considerable number of former Left-wing socialist intellectuals had ceased attacking capitalism and the United States and in turn became ardent supporters of NATO and the American crusade for human rights. The former Left-wing ‘romanticists’ – to borrow Schmitt’s term – suddenly became aware of the rigours of ‘real socialism’; anti-Communist dissidents, such as Solzhenitsyn and the Sakharovs, began to be hailed as new prophets of liberty; and the American way of life became a guideline for a new political preference. About the same time, the Marxist credo started gradually losing its political and cultural grip on the post-war intellectuals after its influence had already been reduced to a handful of isolated and dwindling Communist parties in Western Europe. It may be said that the process of ‘intellectual de-Marxification’ in Europe was considerably accelerated by the growing awareness of the ongoing human rights violations in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
It is in such a social context of apparent ‘de-ideologisation’ and disenchantment with Marxism that the New Right appeared. Suddenly, conservative ideas again gained in popularity, America came to be hailed as the centre of world democracy, and proclaiming oneself on the ‘Right’ no longer ran the risk of being met with intellectual disapproval.
The European New Right, which also calls itself GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études de la civilisation européenne, or the Research Group for the Study of European Civilisation), characterises itself as ‘an association of thought with an intellectual vocation’. Its avowed goals are to establish an association of thinkers and scholars sharing the same ideals, as well as to organise its membership into the form of an organic and spiritually-based working community. The choice of the word GRECE is not accidental: the acronym GRECE is a homonym of the French word ‘Grèce’ (Greece), suggesting that the New Right’s long-term objective is the revival of the pre-Christian and Hellenic heritage.
In addition, the term GRECE indicates that the New Right does not limit its cultural activity to France or Germany alone, but attempts to extend its influence to all Indo-European peoples – Slavs, Celts, and Germans alike.
In many aspects, in terms of cultural strategy, the New Right shows a striking similarity to the New Left. Numerous critical analyses by the New Right regarding the danger of mass society, consumerism, and economism closely parallel those of the New Left, to the point that their ideological differences often appear blurred. The main figure of the New Right, the French philosopher Alain de Benoist, explains the ideological posture of the New Right in the following words:
Personally, I am totally indifferent to the issue of being or not being on the Right. At the moment, the ideas that [the New Right] espouses are on the Right, but they are not necessarily of the Right. I can easily imagine situations where these ideas could be on the Left. The extent to which these ideas can change will solely depend on how the political landscape will have evolved.
From the above lines, it appears that the New Right is opposed to being labelled with the tag ‘Right’. Instead, it contends that its theories are meant to cross the ideological divide irrespective of the fact that it presently espouses ideas that are more in accordance with the conservative agenda.
There is another ambiguity regarding the role of the New Right that needs to be clarified. Is the New Right a political movement or a cultural movement, and where exactly does the difference lie between the two? In Europe in general, and in France in particular, culture and politics often seem to be interwoven and hardly discernible from each other. Great cultural figures often play quiet yet prominent roles in the political arena, and their influence sometimes has more bearing on the political process than do elected governmental representatives. From de Gaulle to Mitterrand, from Adenauer to Kohl, European leaders have frequently vied for the support of prominent intellectuals, and often the political survival of their governments has depended on the tacit support of their hand-picked intellectuals. Cultural and artistic figures, although not politically visible, use this advantage to operate in political affairs in the capacity of ‘grey eminences’; they provide each decision-maker with a sense of political respectability; yet, they seldom take the blame in case a political decision goes sour.
Drawing from the example of the New Left, New Right thinkers contend that culture is the soul of politics, and that only through cultural efforts can political movements gain lasting political legitimacy. It is worth noting that both the New Left and the New Right emerged first as cultural movements, with the New Left holding the cultural dominance in Europe until the mid-1970s and losing it to a certain extent by the beginning of the 1980s. In contrast, whereas the political influence of the New Left is today on the demise, that of the New Right is on the rise. How and to what extent the New Right can influence the political process in Europe, and what its tools will be for translating its cultural gains into the political arena, remains to be seen.
In a decade when new political movements are often viewed with apprehension and suspected of totalitarian aberrations, to portray the New Right as just another political movement can pose an additional difficulty. The concept ‘movement’ implies broad mass and popular support – something with which the New Right, as a rather elitist and narrow body of thinkers, cannot be compared. The term that seems more appropriate in describing the role of the New Right is as a ‘cultural school of thought’, particularly if one considers that the New Right’s relatively small following precludes all comparison to European political parties or movements. In addition, the fact that the New Right considers the ideological cleavage of ‘Left vs. Right’ to be a secondary issue explains why it is impossible to place it into the category of either a Left-wing or a Right-wing movement. For instance, given the New Right’s opposition to foreign immigration, one may be tempted to suspect it of having political connections to the French National Front and other extreme Right-wing parties. This assumption is not to be completely dismissed, although it must be pointed out that the New Right has not hesitated to publicly criticise all extreme Right-wing movements and parties, including the French Front National and its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Conversely, it has never been a secret that the New Right is sympathetic to the ideas of many French Leftist and socialist leaders and intellectuals, with whom, for example, it is in full agreement on the issue of a Europe free of occupation by the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the dismantlement of the Western Alliance. Furthermore, on numerous occasions, the New Right has expressed great admiration for those socialist intellectuals who, in its view, have remained loyal to their socialist ideals despite the recent neo-conservative trend among their former comrades. In order to understand the New Right’s ideological ‘volatility’, one must again refer to the general credo expressed earlier by de Benoist, in which he stresses that the ideas of the New Right are designed to undermine ideological orthodoxy and remain open to the socialist and Rightist intelligentsia alike. Can one conclude, therefore, that the New Right is using Leftist tactics of ideological deception or simply a new conservative strategy for political survival?
So how, then, do we define the European New Right? Is it some sort of a semi-religious, semi-political sect, like those that abound today throughout the Western hemisphere? The above description has demonstrated that social categories are not neatly divided by well-defined social concepts, and that before using or abusing political terminology, each social scientist must redefine every concept in its given historical and social environment.
The New Right characterises itself as a revolt against formless politics, formless life, and formless values. The crisis of modern societies has resulted in an incessant ‘uglification’ whose main vectors are liberalism, Marxism and the ‘American way of life’. The dominant ideologies of modernity, Marxism and liberalism, embodied by the Soviet Union and America respectively, are harmful to the social well-being of peoples because both reduce every aspect of life to the realm of economic utility and efficiency. The principle enemy of freedom, asserts the New Right, is not Marxism or liberalism per se, but rather their common belief in egalitarianism. Marxism, incidentally, is not the antithesis of liberalism – it is simply the most dangerous form of the egalitarianism that runs rampant through all sectors of the Soviet and American polity:
The enemy is embodied in all those doctrines, all praxis representing and incarnating a form of egalitarianism. Certainly, in the first place among them, is Marxism – the most extreme, the most terrorist form of egalitarianism. The considerable influence of Marxism on contemporary minds – and especially on those who will be called tomorrow to make decisions in society – is one of the fundamental causes of the modern crisis.
The error that liberal thinkers fail to discern is that the liberal doctrine of individualism, economism, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ cannot constitute a solid weapon against Marxism, since liberal intellectuals, while denouncing the consequences of Marxism, are unable to critically examine the egalitarian premises of their own doctrine. As Jean-Claude Valla writes, ‘They [intellectuals] are attracted to Marxism because in front of it, beside it, and against it, there is no alternative. Marxism coexists with liberalism since nobody wishes to challenge it on its own terrain, and nobody is able to dispute its monopoly.’
For the New Right, conservative and neo-conservative parties and movements share a great part of the historical responsibility for the almost proverbial unpopularity of conservative ideas. Victims of historical circumstances, impotent to carry out the ‘battle for the brains’, and entangled in the past of colonialism, racism, and Judaeo-Christian messianism, neo-conservatives and traditional conservatives have already signed their own death warrants. In short, these ‘rights’ are unable to gain much intellectual credibility. As Michael Walker, the editor of the English journal, The Scorpion, writes:
The baggage of the old Right, were it the nationalist Right, the Nazi Right, the Christian Right, the imperialist Right, the liberal Right, with its simplistic slick solutions to the issues of the day, left these young people profoundly unsatisfied. The far Right, shrill, monotonous and wholly predictable, was an insult to the intelligence.
In the eyes of the New Right thinkers and writers, the traditional Christian conservatives have done more damage to the conservative cause than their ideological adversaries among the Left-wing socialist intelligentsia. Not surprisingly, after the Second World War, an intellectual or an artist could hardly reconcile himself to some ill-defined conservative doctrine that often appeared reminiscent of fascism. After 1945, the only option for somebody in search of intellectual respectability was to jump on the socialist bandwagon or accept the dominant ideology of liberalism – especially when the popularity of Marxism began to erode. In other words, in order to gain intellectual prestige, intellectuals first and foremost had to pay lip service to the dominant ideologies, irrespective of their own political beliefs.