The spring 1994 issue of Telos, dealing primarily with the European New Right, signaled the drift of this formerly Marxist journal toward the populist right. This change in direction has been increasingly obvious for at least a decade and could be seen in the turning of Telos editor Paul Piccone from his New Left activism in the 60’s and 70’s toward the regionally based populism today of Umberto Bossi and the Italian Leghe. For a Telos reader, it is clear that Piccone and his senior editors are taking increasingly traditionalist positions, and this fact occasioned an impassioned attack on Telos by the leftist In These Times. This charge certainly has substance. Piccone’s defense of Roman social institutions and of assigned gender roles drove the feminists away from his editorial board (which created an opportunity to add to that body Donald Warren and myself). When I ask Piccone whether he believes in the soundness of the ancient Roman family, he usually shows what I take to be approving smiles.

Piccone does not deny that his politics have changed, but he also insists that he is not an “American conservative.” For one thing, he points out that the American right, like the American left, has “collapsed into brain-dead irrelevance.” Both serve and belong to the same political class and have learned to “instrumentalize” every form of protest against the disempowerment of families and communities (a project often carried out, ironically, in the name of “empowerment”). Besides, Piccone opines, it is not the postwar conservative movement but the Frankfurt Critical School that provides the key for understanding our political predicaments. Telos still turns to German refugee radicals of the 30’s, Max Horkheimer and Theoder Adorno, and to Piccone’s onetime hero (and the subject of a distinguished biography by him), the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, for its interpretive tools. Such thinkers are invoked to demystify the American managerial state and its accompanying “cultural industry.” Neither “conservatives” nor “liberals,” Piccone tells us, are willing to confront the fraud of contemporary American “democracy,” which has become another name for administrative manipulation. Any attempt to address this problem must first unmask the wielders of power and the hegemonic ideology by which they advance their interests. Americans, Piccone stresses, are too accepting of political control. They mistakenly believe that they run a self-proclaimed democratic state and lack the critical theory for analyzing their captors.

Piccone and his fellow editors, scholar Gary Ulmen and historian of the Italian right Franklin Adler, believe that there are lessons to be learned from the European New Right. Unlike leaders of the postwar American conservative movement, European New Rightists—for example, Gianfranco Miglio and Alain de Benoist—are at the helm of the populist and regionalist protests against the administrative state. Such figures are accentuating the long-lost tie between democracy and the exercise of meaningful self-government; in fact, European New Rightists call for resistance against the seizure of the state by bureaucrats and party bosses by urging their followers not to pay taxes as an act of political revolt. In France, Alain de Benoist, the editor of Nouvelle Ecole and a repeated target of attack in Le Monde, has drawn a critical distinction between Jacobin “human rights” and “le droit à la différence.” The first is seen as a strategy for global homogenization through the eradication of cultural and gender distinctions; the second is the right claimed by members of a rooted community to preserve their identity within their own social space.

Disagreement does persist On the European New Right as to whether non- Europeans or those without historical claims to communal identity should be recognized by decentralizing nation-states as legally protected communities. This point may be the distinguishing one, as Andre Pierre Tagureff notes, between the New Right and the non-Jacobin European left, which seeks to protect the droit identitaire of Third World immigrants in Europe. The New Right typically insists on the higher claim of European peoples, at least within Europe, to communal autonomy. It usually seeks to restrict immigration into regions and nation-states in order to preserve the cultural cohesion necessary for self-government. But the French New Rightist Alain de Benoist, showcased in a recent issue of Telos, has moved away from other European New Rightists by calling for the equal protection of all ethnic communities in France. All peoples, Benoist explains, have the same right to communal identity and face the same threat from the modern state and its “human rights-homogenizing ideology.”

Though European New Rightists, like the editors of Telos, make assertions that beg for further clarification, they do ask probing questions about government that in America are viewed as unsuitable. They criticize the mystique of human rights and the identification of self-government with administrators and party-run elections. They also debate the continued relevance of the nationstate once detached from culturally distinct nations and non-manufactured popular wills. And they insist that we view our situation historically, without imagining continuities in our regime that are purely procedural or distillations of happy talk.

As a scholar of the postwar conservative movement, I remain impressed by how honest the Telos circle and the European New Right are in asking the questions that American Movement Conservatives habitually avoid. Only in America does one become a conservative by begging the state to enforce “human rights” and “democratic values.” Everywhere else in the West it is the left that trades freedom for the hegemonic ideology of the ruling class, hi Europe the right is applauded when it debates the issues that I see discussed in Telos, Chronicles, and in dozens of European periodicals. Only in our corrupted nation-state, which is no longer the one conceived in liberty, do the self-avowed traditionalists leave it to former New Leftists and biographers of Antonio Gramsci to hold unauthorized political discussions. Our official right and left, as Piccone quips, are too busy doing real things, like selling and advertising indistinguishable public policies to politicians in the Beltway.