When I first came upon neoreaction, the bulk of my information on the political tradition of the non-libertarian, non-conservative Right had come from the scholars of the Nouvelle Droite. I expected to find many others who had come from similar intellectual backgrounds, but surprisingly this was not the case. Most seem to have made their way to neoreaction from progressive or libertarian backgrounds, with some who journeyed here from mainstream conservatism just to even things out. While there is some awareness of European New Right (ENR) authors, for the most part they don’t seem to have gained as much prominence here as in Europe and Russia. Most in the US and Canada who explicitly draw from the ENR in their thinking have pursued identitarian goals rather than the more theoretical work of neoreaction. This work is intended as a short introduction for North American readers interested in the political philosophies of the Right.
Background: The ENR was birthed in 1968, the year of the student uprisings which became iconic in French political culture. The term “68ers” is used to describe the generation which led the social, sexual, and cultural revolutions of these last few decades. Its intellectual core was in the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or GRECE), founded by Alain de Benoist and others. These thinkers shared a broad intellectual heritage, including the German Conservative Revolutionaries, Oswald Spengler’s cyclical and organic vision of history, the Italian traditionalist Julius Evola, and other intellectual currents. It distinguished itself from the mainstream right by levelling critiques against not just communism, but also free market capitalism and American cultural hegemony, considering them two sides of the same materialist coin. This led to a renewed focus on political theory and the role of culture in the realm of politics.
Specifically, the ENR aimed to promote a “Gramscianism of the Right“, adapting the theories of Antonio Gramsci that political change goes hand in hand with – and usually follows – cultural and social change. In the words of Het Vlaams Blok leader Filip Dewinter, “the ideological majority is more important than the parliamentary majority.” Prior to 1968, reactionaries had taken the line that, even with cultural decline, the common people were still inherently conservative in their temperaments even if they were sometimes enticed to revolutionary causes. We can see this echoed today in the “silent majority” and “Main Street” rhetoric of modern conservatives. The ENR’s aim was to break with what can be called the time-machine reactionary view: that defeat of revolutionary elites would enable to restoration of a traditional order. 1968 and its era were a proof to the ENR that the culture itself would have to be retaken before change could come at the political level. This led it to pursue a project of “metapolitics”; its thinkers scorned party and even “radical” activism, preferring to rethink philosophical foundations and create cultural memes to counter the ’68er ideology of Social Progress.
For much of the ENR, especially Alain de Benoist, this entailed the critique and rejection of monotheism in general and Christianity in particular in favour of an “authentic” European tradition. While some embraced neo-pagan practices, de Benoist himself employed polytheism on a more theoretical level. In his work On Being a Pagan, he espouses a “polytheism of values”. This lays the groundwork for his “ethnopluralist” doctrine that every people has the right to its own space and territory, where it can pursue its own form of development. De Benoist argues that it is monotheism that lays the groundwork for universalism. Universalism is used in a sense similar to Moldbug’s, but with broader scope: it is the idea that there is an objective moral order which humans must come in accordance with. Religious objectivism is present in the Christian idea that all peoples must become Christian in order to attain salvation. For de Benoist, it is this idea that creates the foundation for Social Progress. A people further along the path of progress may, or perhaps even must, undertake the project of lifting others to its position, whether the others want to follow them or not. This idea is foundational to materialist communism and liberal democracy alike. Specifically, it is expressed through the terror-tactics of the NKVD and the freedom-bringing bombs of the NATO alliance in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. For de Benoist, it is only a return to a polytheism of values – the idea that there is no objective Social Progress and that different peoples must have different moral orders, religious worldviews, and collective destinies – that will overthrow the present order and allow Europeans to return to their true spiritual tradition.
It should be noted that the extent to which ENR thinkers believe Christianity can be reconciled with European rebirth varies. The Neue Kultur manifesto summarize the doubts of certain adherents:
“Our school stresses the primacy of life over all inherited worldviews, the primacy of soul over spirit, the primacy of feelings over intellect, and finally of character over reason…hence it follows that our school is opposed to all systems of an absolutist character, given that these systems imply the idea of determinism, of a single truth or of a monotheism, in which we discern the roots of totalitarianism. Our new school shares the view that the common denominator for all these systems lies in universalism, i.e. in the teaching of egalitarianism, be it of Aristotelian, Thomist, Judaeo-Christian, or Marxist origin…”
Those familiar with Moldbug will know that he laid out a nearly identical thesis: the Ultracalvinist Hypothesis. Christians interested in neoreactionary thought have written on this topic as well. Yours truly remains unconvinced that Christianity is inherently geared towards the values the ENR ascribes to it, and hopes that intelligent Christians will be able to educate their co-faithful on the subject. De Benoist himself does not totally reject Christianity, and other authors such as Dominique Venner were more explicit in citing its contributions to Western civilization. Nevertheless, the ENR’s conclusion is that Christianity must come to terms with how its doctrines were used to shape the early foundations of Social Progress.
Who: These are some names which come up often in the European New Right.
Alain de Benoist – discussed above. Recently, de Benoist has also published a critique of modern mass democracy and called for a rethinking of the place of democracy in our political institutions. He conceives of democracy as being a system to ascertain the general will, not a good in and of itself, and advises a return to small-scale, organic democratic systems like those which survived for centuries in Switzerland, Iceland, and Athens. Specifically, democracies can only function in groups which already have a strong sense of common identity, the very things which Neoreaction terms thedes.
Dominique Venner – Venner got his start in the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète, a group which opposed Algerian independence and carried out an opposition campaign against both the Algerian FLN and French President de Gaulle. After serving time in prison for this affiliation, Venner went on to become the historian of the ENR, focusing on what he considered to be the authentic European tradition exemplified in the works of Homer and those who took inspiration from him. On May 21, 2013, he committed suicide in Notre Dame cathedral. The popular press lambasted him as a bigot who carried this out as an extreme protest against the gay marriage campaign of the Hollande government. Venner’s own view of his action was far more radical. He viewed his suicide as a final act of resistance against the order he opposed all his life, and chose Notre Dame because of its centrality to the French culture and tradition: “she was built by the genius of my ancestors on the site of cults still more ancient, recalling our immemorial origins.”
Guillaume Faye – Faye was one of the main theorists of the French New Right during its growth period in the 70’s and 80’s before leaving it to pursue a career in journalism. He made a re-entry into the ENR and Identitarian scene with his work Archeofuturism. This work may be of particular interest to neoreactionaries because of its focus on systems thinking. It predicts a European collapse through a “convergence of catastrophes”, demographic, economic, social, and environmental, and its eventual rebuilding along archeofuturist lines. The work includes a short fictional story where a European official tells the story of the Catastrophes and the rebuilding of Europe to a visiting Indian student, who is herself a member of her country’s post-Cataclysm aristocracy. The rebuilt Europe is a patchwork of states with various forms of governance (the Duchy of Brussels, the Kingdom of Bavaria, and the National-Popular Republic of Serbia to name some examples), which exist alongside rural traditional communities. These are all united in a continental Eurosiberian Federation stretching from Brittany to the Bering Straight. About 20% of the populace has access to advanced technology, while the rest live in traditional low-tech communities. Faye envisions this as allowing humanity to continue its technological progress without placing the planet in environmental and social peril. In addition to this work, Faye has written other works focusing on European ethno- and geopolitics. Unfortunately, there has been something of a split between Faye and de Benoist in recent years, as de Benoist considers Faye’s militantly anti-Islamic stance to be too radical. Faye has recently promoted a pro-Israeli policy for Europe in order to counter Islamic influence, while many Identitarians support the Palestinian cause.
These three figures have received the most coverage in English translated work on the ENR. An extended list of figures can be found in Appendix I of Tomislav Sunic’s work on the topic, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. Such figures include Robert Steukers, who maintains the Euro-Synergies website which publishes essays in multiple languages and Pierre Krebs, the leader of the German branch of the ENR.
The ENR Today
The writings and ideas of the ENR are undergoing a resurgence today as their writings become published in English, thanks to both independent translators and publishers like Arktos Media. In Western Europe they have influenced the Identitarian movement which has grown in France and Germany, the two countries where the ENR was strongest. Markus Willinger, young leader of the German Identitaere Bewegung (“Identitarian Movement”) reflects strong influences in his work Generation Identity: A Declaration of War Against the ’68ers. Apart from his focus on the cultural sphere, the idea of ethnopluralism promoted by Alain de Benoist has appeared in many of their works and direct actions. They have also abandoned conceptions of “national identity” promoted by previous generations of state-nationalists, preferring an organic approach where regional, national, and European identity are all given their just due. Thus French identitarians identify less with the Jacobin French nation-state and more with the diverse regions which make the real France. This is reflected in the Identitarian preference for forming city-level groups such as in Nice or Vienna. The actions of previous generations of nationalists which suppressed regional cultures in favour of “national” ones (think Franco with Catalonia or France with Brittany and Occitania) are anathema to the identitarian idea and to the metapolitical worldview of the ENR.
Russia has also seen influence by the ENR, particularly in recent dialogue between Alain de Benoist and Alexander Dugin, the Russian thinker who is influential in the Kremlin and the mind behind the Eurasian Movement. This culminated some time ago in the End of the Present World conference held in London (somewhat ironic, given both men’s suspicion of Anglosphere influence in Europe), where Dugin and de Benoist gave talks. Dugin has taken pains to distinguish his conception of the Russian people or narod from earlier state-nationalist conceptions, instead proposing a more organic entity distinct from not just the state but also the mere “population”. This has been useful for the Russian approach to ethnic Russian populations outside their borders, in Crimea and in Donetsk and Lugansk, both components of a possible Novorossiya. There is a difference between the visions of the “Eurocontinentalists” who support some kind of union with Russia, and Dugin’s own Eurasianist project which envisions Russia looking east and becoming a distinct center of cultural and political influence from Europe. It is unquestionably the latter which has influence in the Kremlin at the present time. Western media has picked up on this influence following the events in Ukraine and Dugin scholars are now even being interviewed on mainstream outlets.
Why Should We Care?
For two reasons: to glean useful ideas from their work and in order to know what intellectual currents are gaining ground on the Right across the Atlantic. Two of the other main topics which the ENR has discussed in its work are the political theory of German scholar Carl Schmitt and the economic and social thought of Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto.
Schmitt held that all societies – including democratic ones – sometimes encounter situations where normal institutions have to be suspended in order to ensure the security of the state and society. In ancient Rome, this occurred through the office of Dictator, which was held for the last time by Julius Caesar. Schmitt called such a crisis a “state of exception” (in German, Ausnahmezustand). The person or institution which decides when the state of exception arrives is the real holder of sovereignty, regardless of whether this is formally recognized or not. In Schmitt’s Germany, that would one day be Adolf Hitler. In a country like Saudi Arabia, that is the monarchy. In Egypt, the struggle between the government, army, and judiciary was caused by the question of who would truly hold the reigns of power after the fall of Mubarak.
Vilfredo Pareto talks about the relationship between ideology and states. As Sunic writes in his work, “each government tries to preserve its political institutions and internal harmony by a posteriori justification of its political behaviour…in sharp contrast to its a priori political objectives.” This means that governments will justify harsh or “bad” actions by deeming them necessary for the greater good. This is more than just rhetorical deceit: people often do believe that such actions are justified, and in fact they may be. This also extends to political movements. In particular, movements designed to appeal to self-conceived “oppressed minorities” may use egalitarian ideology as a justification for their actions. Of course, it is only ever a facade. These things are dispensed with when power is obtained. Nevertheless, it is to equality that an appeal is continually made when political power is exercised, even when this has long since become nonsensical (such as in the USSR). The applications to the modern Social Justice movement should be self-evident. Neoreaction will find that this echoes many of its own analyses of progressive political and cultural power grabs. As Pareto states:
“[Equality] is related to the direct interests of individuals who are bent on escaping certain inequalities not in their favor, and setting up new inequalities that will be in their favor, the latter being their chief concern.”
A lot of similar issues are at play in Europe as in Canada and the USA. Europeans are struggling with the results of egalitarian and democratic ideologies on the level of social technology, demography, and identity. The New Right has its grounding in a more continental tradition, as can be seen by its influences in Heidegger and the existentialist milieu; Neoreaction is more analytic and stands in the Anglo-empirical tradition of social science. That said, the two share many motivational and normative elements. Moreover, ideas like those of Pareto and Schmitt and concepts like archeofuturism and ethnopluralism will certainly be of interest to those interested in neoreactionary analysis. Above all, the idea that cultural shift must come before political change is vital to understand. Before a city or region becomes politically autonomous, the people living and working there must identify as a thede which can function autonomously.
I encourage those interested in the political tradition of the Right to further research the authors above and below.
Against Democracy and Equality by Tomislav Sunic
New Culture, New Right by Michael O’Meara
On Being a Pagan by Alain de Benoist
The Problem of Democracy by Alain de Benoist
Archeofuturism by Guillaume Faye
Alain de Benoist’s French website is available here.
An earlier version of this post appeared at This Rough Beast.