The French New Right : New Right – New Left – New Paradigm?
Telos Press Ltd, 431 East 12th Street, New York NY 10009, USA
For those interested in the ideas of the “European New Right” this special edition of Telos is a must-have; and for those who have are not yet acquainted with the central concepts this is an excellent English-language introduction.
By way of introduction the Editor of Telos, Paul Picconne, makes a number of telling criticisms of the way in which something new is understood by reference to the past. For him, both Capitalist declarations of an “end to history” and diehard Trotskyites welcoming the dawn of “authentic socialism” are attempts “to religitimate internalised ideological assumptions by reducing the new to a mere extension of the old.” Condemning the rejection of ideas before critical evaluation, and “McCarthyite practices to conduct inquisitions aimed at no one in particular, and therefore potentially everyone.”
Picconne poses two important questions :
If everyone suddenly seems able to agree on fundamental principles, such as self-determination, radical democracy and federalism, who are the real enemies?
What happened to the opposition?
Of course when Paul Picconne uses the term “everyone” he is being overly optimistic, for as he later points out there is a new division — “a New Class seeking to impose an abstract liberal agenda on everyone, and populists wanting to live their lives in their communities with their particular cultures, institutions, religions etc.”
Paul Picconne’s conclusion is that the French New Right “deserves to be taken seriously rather than censured by self-righteous apparatchiks unable to deal with rational arguments on their own grounds.”
That so much effort should be made simply to establish that we should consider new ideas before rejecting them seems at first sight strange. As we learn of the orthodox left’s reaction to New Right ideas it becomes clear why this is necessary. Two important documents are reproduced by Telos. The first is The Appeal to Vigilance by Forty Intellectuals and the second is The confusion of Ideas. Both were originally published in Le Monde on July 13th 1993.
The “call for vigilance” is similar in aim to the “No Platform” policy in the UK. First it relies on the collection and analysis of intelligence on perceived enemies : “by collecting and circulating as widely as possible all information useful for understanding the networks of the far Right and their intellectual allies”. Then it attempts to isolate by agreeing to “reject any collaboration with journals, collective works, radio or television programs, colloquia organised or directed by people whose links with the far right have been confirmed”. This policy to me smacks of desperation. What are they frightened of? I believe they have three central fears. First they fear that by engaging in debate they legitimise their opponents. Second, they fear that they or their supporters might be contaminated by the ideas. Third, they fear that their own unity will break, and therefore resort to a military model of conflict. As Frank Adler points out in Telos, the aim was to maintain a sharp division between left and right. That such a policy is a sign of weakness was pointed out by Jean-Claude Milner who is quoted by Adler : “The More the real Left is ill, the more it invokes this ideal left. And to reinvigorate it, the vigilants invoke the appearance of the enemy, the fascist Right.” Can such a policy paper over the cracks?
One can ask two questions :
Is the policy of vigilance right?
Will the policy of vigilance succeed?
An article by the well respected anti-racist Pierre-Andre Taguieff argues that with respect to the ideas of New Right intellectual Alain de Benoist :
We have the duty to consider them, to submit them to critical examination and, if necessary, to reject them. In so doing, we know that we are violating the implicit rule of a common practice which essentially consists in condemning before any critical examination, then in rejecting without discussion.
There can be little doubt that “vigilance” or “no platform” is basically an attempt to make such an implicit rule explicit. In effect, we are asked to surrender our right to judge ideas to self-appointed committees of intellectuals or activists. The justification for this is not made rationally, but emotionally. These ideas are just too dangerous to consider, it seems… if you argue that one should recognise cultural differences, then you are responsible for a racist thug who attacks an immigrant family! Of course other ideas – class consciousness for instance – are not linked to events in such a dramatic way.
As far as the practicality of the policy of “vigilance” or “no platform” is concerned, note the following points. This policy can distort the internal balances of the Left. For instance, in the UK the Revolutionary Communist Party are explicitly against No Platform. They are therefore likely to be invited onto media shows as representatives when others refuse to debate. The would-be isolators succeed in isolating themselves. I was once told a curious story that because I had spoken at a school, representatives of Searchlight magazine refused to send a speaker on a separate occasion! Obviously I shall have to speak at a greater number of institutions! I would also question whether it is really now possible to censor views, given the development of new technology such as the Internet.
Telos examines the ideas of the New Right in detail. Some of the criticisms put forward by its writers are thoughtful and thought provoking. The New Right is anti-capitalist, anti-American, pagan, and places a higher value on culture and identity than it does on economics. There are, however, many criticisms one can make of these beliefs.
Paul Gottfried eloquently questions assumptions in his article Alain de Benoist’s Anti-Americanism. He points to fact that the call for regional and local self-government resonates well within the US. He makes a plea for the US not to be demonised. I have considerable sympathy for this argument. Too often when we attack US cultural influence we should be asking questions about ourselves. Are we not just externalising problems? Instead of blaming “The Great Satan” perhaps we should be thinking more about our own faults. Mark Wegierski argues that “the centre of anti-Americanism today is the US”…. he is right.
Wegierski also criticises the paganism of the French New Right, and its virulent anti-Catholicism. He states : “Roman Catholicism is probably the only remaining serious traditional religious force (of historical duration) in Europe today. However strenuously the ENR rejects it, the similarities of some of its positions to those of traditional Catholic organicism are all too obvious (anti-capitalism, the stress on the social, and attacks on gross materialism and consumerism).” As a pagan myself, I find some ENR thinking on the subject confused. Pagan beliefs are reflected in most Christian churches. To reject Christianity is to reject our pagan heritage too. On a political level we can surely see the good in Rerum Novarum or the philosophy of Aquinas? The obsessive nature of the ENR desire to trace a history of paganism to justify present beliefs is odd; it is really more an attempt to create one.
Perhaps the most interesting criticisms of New Right ideas are from Taguieff however. The main point of contention is their “concept of difference”. Benoist states :
The right to difference is a principle and has a 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 instrumentalised 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.
Taguieff argues that the “concept of difference” is in fact “a differentialist racism – a racism no longer heterophobic but heterophile in its arguments and themes”. He accepts that this concept is not based upon a hierarchy of races or cultures on a belief that one is superior to another, but simply that one is different to another. That he still clings to the word racism is interesting. I had understood it to mean just such a belief in superiority. He seeks to redefine it by applying it to those who want “to preserve collective identities at all costs”, those “haunted by the destruction of identities through interbreeding”. The language used is restrictive. Do we want to preserve identities or develop them? Do we have such a static view of identity? Are we so defensive? Are we haunted by inter-breeding? Or do we accept that there have always been levels of interbreeding? He assumes so much… Alain de Benoist in one of the interviews published in Telos does not express a static view of identity but rather a dynamic interplay between identities. The real question is whether such an interplay should be driven purely by economics.
The New Right asserts identity in opposition to global consumerism; those who attack collective identity and the right of difference are simply the political wing of market forces.