Intellectual conservatism in Europe began its odyssey with Donoso Cortes in the 19th century, only to end its shipwrecked voyage a century later with Oswald Spengler. European conservatism has always been a panic-stricken response to the egalitarian torrents that have been sweeping over Europe since the American and French Revolutions. After 1945, the anus mundi of all European peoples, new liberal and socialist clerks essentially piggybacked on the political winners of World War II. For conservative intellectuals the arrival of liberal-socialist scribes meant that unless conservatism was married to the idea of Atlanticism—American market democracy and the ideology of human rights—it could not be heard, let alone listened to with impunity. The grand Inquisitors in the East, Beria and Yagoda, went even a step further; they put to death countless intellectuals who refused to believe in the radiant future and who voiced doubts about the socialist end of history. Almost without exception, conservative thinkers on both sides of the Wall were pilloried to the iron wall of silence.
With the sudden fall of communism in the East conservative convulsions were expected to start anew in the West. The recent strong showing of the Front National in France or of the DVU (Deutsche Volks Union) in Germany goes hand in hand with ever louder tremors in the East, accompanied, of course, by an ongoing decay of the leftist intellectual mystique in the West. Boiling ethnic blood is spilling over into every corner of the Eurasian continent.
Undoubtedly, conservative parties in Europe would hardly have garnered a vote had they not previously received tacit behind-the-scenes backing from conservative heavyweights. This time conservative thinkers have learned their lesson too well: they are hitting the block dressed in new and more respectable clothes, opening up new vistas of analysis, and resorting to a very impressive long-range artillery. The breakup of multicultural and multiethnic Utopias in Central and Eastern Europe is only helping them to consolidate a new laboratory of ideas, whose volcanic forces arc bringing Europe time and again into the vortex of world history. Ironically, at the top of conservative revolutions in Europe stands socialist France. That intellectual conservatism is stronger today in France than in Germany should not come as a surprise. The German political and intellectual class still reels from what historian Armin Mohler calls the German neurosis. Germany’s recent past makes it mandatory for all Germans, both young and old, to practice in chorus the rites of national masochism as well as to learn the compulsive mimicry of liberal democracy. By contrast, the freewheeling French intellectual scene has traditionally had more breathing room, despite the postwar intellectual terrorism sponsored by leftwing scribes.
Ironically, German conservative thinkers are embraced today in France and Italy more than in their own country of origin. Essayist Ernst Jünger, political scientist Carl Schmitt, and zoologist and ethologist Konrad Lorenz are on the best-seller lists of many French and Italian pundits. By contrast, the ever present guise of political correctness requires every German to look twice over his shoulder before venturing to eye the books of his forgotten conservative compatriots. Other than the left-leaning Schickimicki writers, who roamed the globe and world academia—such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll—German intellectual history was designed to come to a definite end.
A Frenchman, Alain dc Benoist, is today the most articulate European conservative thinker, and his shock troops—known as the “European New Right” or GREGE (groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne)—have done a spectacular job in retrieving the European conservative heritage. Moreover, Benoist and his acolytes never miss a single opportunity to declare total war against Freudo-Marxian scholasticism as well as the liberal theology of the market.
Alain de Benoist and the European New Right are nowhere near America’s conservative shores. Whether because of their style or substance, temperament or tenor, they are far from American political conservatism and light-miles away from “neocons” and the American “new right.” “I do not see any convergence between the American ‘new right’ and the French New Right,” says Benoist. “The American Right is a fundamentalist contraction and a reactionary movement tied to the fundamental Bible. It stands for the primacy of the individual, apology for the market economy, individualism, and utilitarianism.”
Short of the best common-denominator for the political and cultural substance that the New Right and Alain de Benoist try to embody, one could identify them as a revolutionary conservative, a socialist conservative, or better vet a neo-Nietzschean-national-nihilist current of thought. At the risk of simplifying his ideas one could probably depict him and his likes as direct heirs of the German conservative revolution of the early 1920’s whose most visible standard-bearers were Werner Sombart in economy, Oswald Spengler in the philosophy of history, and Martin Heidegger in philosophy.
In Benoist’s journals Krisis and Nouvelle Ecole one can read authors from all parts of the European political and scientific spectrum: from disillusioned leftists who refuse to sell out to liberalism, such as Regis Debray, to a French Gaullist military strategist like Pierre Gallois. In the New Right journals one can rind articles signed by Roger Garaudy, a former Marxist erudite turned Muslim, as well as by famous Catholic conservative intellectuals of diverse persuasions. The New Right columns are open to those who challenge the dictatorship of economic well-being and reject the self-censorship of modern liberal democracies. Topics in Krisis and Nouvelle Ecole range from sociobiology to linguistics and include lengthy scholarly pieces on European metaphysics and Indo-European archeology.
Benoist stresses that a political movement or a political party has no chance of success unless it first develops a strategy for sophisticated cultural warfare. The reason conservative parties and movements in Europe and America look so emasculated and weak is because of their cultural mediocrity and, above all, their failure to culturally infiltrate academia and the media— two real centers of political power. He neatly calls his cultural offensive the “Gramsciism of the right.” Gramsci knew all too well that one does not captivate the masses through the endless regurgitation of economic slogans; rather the masses flock to those who best know how to offer attractive political romanticism, which in the case of neo-Marxism has been pompously propagandized as “leftist sensibility.” Keeping in mind Gramsci on the one hand and castrated American conservatives on the other, one will immediately understand why Marxian and egalitarian anthropologies and methodologies are, paradoxically, much more alive today in the American academy than anywhere else in the world.
Benoist has correctly said that French intellectuals are not only arrogant but also corrupt. Until relatively recently, French intellectuals wallowed in the unabashed praise of longhaired Maoism and Stalinism, only to wake up as Yves Saint Laurent-two-piece-suited disciples of liberalism. Once upon a time French intellectuals staged protests against the American involvement in Vietnam; today they are urging the United States to impose global democracy in every corner of the world. From the pinnacle of Mao to the Rotary Club there is, indeed, no distance to travel. The European New Right notes that, morphologically, both liberalism and socialism have grown from the same universalist and egalitarian tree, except that liberalism has been more successful in providing egalitarian fruits. Now, according to the New Right, liberal-socialism (or social-liberalism) needs to be overthrown by a return to the roots of the organic concept of the state.
The New Right’s criticism of both the modern left and right has predictably reduced its visibility in France and in the rest of Europe. Its ideas are not in vogue, and its access to the European TV “videosphere” is still hampered by many who fear losing their pseudo-intellectual aura. Moreover, the New Right’s criticism of Hollywood-style political surrealism and the one-dimensional American society has significantly deprived it of a transatlantic following, let alone of objective scholarly assessment. The New Right may never enter the American political hit-parade, because its penchant for the tragic and its belief in life as polemos stand in sharp contrast to the ideology of progress and the liberal cult of historical optimism.
Unlike other conservative thinkers, Benoist must receive some credit for having remained intellectually untainted. In contrast to other French intellectuals and groupings, his pedigree points to a man who has sternly refused any type of collaboration. In the 1970’s he was the first to lambast Marxism and gulag democracy; today, when European “sixty-eighters” are massively converting to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, he is first to assault the monotheism of the market and American global democracy. Temperamentally, Benoist and the European New Right seem to be more on the left than on the right. Culturally, however, they are at home with Homer and Heraclitus. Indeed, the European New Right may be easily mistaken for a leftist current of thought insofar as it has taken up the case of all threatened cultures and destinies: from Albanians to Zulus; from Tibetans to Tyrolians. Two years ago, the European New Right became an objective ally of those leftists who criticized George Bush’s crusade against Iraq. Benoist is always uneasy with intellectual and academic Manichaeism, which tries to ram him into one single intellectual category. “Personally, I am totally indifferent to being on the right or the left. At the moment these ideas are on the right, but not necessarily of the right. I can easily imagine situations where these ideas could be on the left.” While it is intellectually commendable today to ridicule Marxism, Benoist prefers instead to open up new battlefronts against one-world democracy, anomie, and decadence, whose main carrier he sees as liberal ideology. And he goes into much detail to explain the origin and the entropy of liberal market democracy.
Benoist notes that the prime enemy today is not Marxism or liberalism; the real enemy is the holy trinity of egalitarianism, economism, and universalism. He believes these ideological substrata have filtered out, over thousands of years, directly from the Bible. The moral? One must first demolish biblical mentality and its political-theological dualism before facing off its liberal and socialist secular offshoots. In their numerous books, whose topics range from philosophy to the critique of literature, Benoist and his confreres use ammunition borrowed from Spengler and Heidegger. For him, liberalism and communism are basically secular transpositions of Judeo-Christian anthropology; once Europe rejects biblical monotheism, it will better learn to appreciate the plurality of ideas and mores, as well as come to respect the “polytheism” of different destinies, races, and cultures. In short, Europe will learn how to appraise otherness and also how to accept the innate differences of all human beings. Only then will Europe be equipped to weather the storm of egalitarian and universalist temptations. Egalitarianism and universalism are the worst forms of inclusive racism, destroying cultural and ethnic identities, whether in the name of Manifest Destiny or of the Communist Manifesto.
It is no surprise that the demanding ideas of the New Right have never swayed the majority of European conservatives, who in most cases continue to express their anti-egalitarian feelings through integral Catholicism or Lutheranism. Nor has the New Right found a supportive ear among the chiliastic left, which is quick to dub its cultural elitism an elegant garb for intellectual fascism.
Democracy and liberalism have been standard topics for the New Right to dwell on. Following in the footsteps of Carl Schmitt, Benoist argues that liberalism is incompatible with democracy. Liberalism limits political power whereas democracy expands the political power of the people. “The formula ‘one man, one vote’ is not a democratic expression. What is democratic is ‘one citizen, one vote,'” says Benoist. The concept of citizen, which Benoist uses, must be understood as adherence to a homogenous community; one is a citizen if one belongs to a historic community. Genuine democracy in multiethnic countries, such as the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, India, or America, is therefore impossible to achieve. Once democratic impulses attempt to find their way into such multiethnic countries, the ethnic patchwork begins to break up and civil war looms large. So-called democracy in atomized and individualistic liberal systems, which usually operate under the “one man, one vote” formula, means essentially “one vote, one (expandable) consumer.”
Following Benoist’s logic one must not rule out the possibility that, after events in Los Angeles, the American melting pot may easily turn into a Yugoslav-like cauldron. Similarly, in multiethnic Berlin or Marseille an Arab or a Turkish immigrant will always conceive of democracy as something that preserves and consolidates his ethnic roots in a new historical community—a procedure that, in the years to come, may lead to all sorts of urban warfare.
On the wider geopolitical level, the New Right sees in German) a major player in Europe’s future, possibly in tandem with Russia. Unity of Europe, yes, but not a 7-Eleven type of market-Maastricht Europe. European unity can only be achieved as a cultural and political confederation in the form of empire. In his last intervention, L’idée d’Empire (The Idea of Empire), Benoist writes favorably about the Austro-Hungarian legacy, which unlike centralistic English and French notions of empire, never attempted to mould a sense of nationhood by physically destroying or assimilating smaller adjacent ethnic groups. The Second German Empire, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had strong centers, but it also had strong peripheries. In an age of rising nationalism and xenophobia, Europeans may be well-advised to consider this model again. At present, however, contrary to Benoist’s wishes, it looks as if Europe may soon end up with a dozen Monaco-like ministates. Whether European unity can, as Benoist would like to see, be achieved remains doubtful. European unity appears as distant a pipe dream as it has always been. Looking back, Charlemagne may remain the first and the last emperor who managed to bring Europeans together.
The European New Right celebrates today its 20th birthday. Its intellectual and scholarly contribution during the past two decades has been remarkable. It has provided a new stimulus for the European intellectual scene, and by refusing categorization or labeling it has frequently bewildered both its friends and foes. But its long-term political realism has already been vindicated. “Nothing is foreseeable,” says Benoist, “because man is unpredictable.” The fall of the Wall, the erosion of Versailles and Trianon architecture, the end of pan-Slavism, arc confirming Benoist’s predictions of unpredictability. One must agree with him that the end of history is nowhere near on the horizon. What we are witnessing, again and again, writes Benoist, is the majestic return of history.