Wednesday, 3 April 2013


by Alain de Benoist
Translated by Roman Bernard, edited by Colin Liddell

Translator's note: What follows is a selection I made from Alain de Benoist’s responses to an interview on the French Right that appeared in the quarterly review Éléments at the end of 2005 (#118). Benoist talks both about “the Right,” which refers to all the individuals and movements right of center, including the mainstream Right, and the “real Right,” which in an Anglo-Saxon context would be called the “Old Right.” The failure of the mainstream Right is well-known, and often commented on. But the failure of the “Old Right” is more difficult to deal with, as the men concerned (one thinks of Enoch Powell in Britain or Robert A. Taft in America) were most of the time well-meaning, courageous men, yet they failed. I removed most of the references to French history so as to make it understandable to a Pan-Western audience. Benoist's arguments are not without flaws — far from it. His call to go beyond Left and Right is contradicted by the fact that he goes far to the Left in this interview. But I believe this aspect is secondary. This text, thanks to a remarkable psychological analysis of the “right-wing mind,” is first and foremost a way for us to question our own way of thinking, thus making us more “fit and brisk” for the battle of ideas. It is the ideal complement to William Pierce’s “Why conservatives can’t win.”
The Right has never been fond of intellectuals. Little wonder then that the phrase “left-wing intellectual” has for a long time been a tautology. For many right-wing people, intellectuals are just unbearable. They visualize them sitting on a chaise longue, of course, and view them as “sanctimonious types” who sodomize flies, split hairs and publish books invariably described as “indigestible” and “boring.”

This idea is to be found in very different backgrounds. For libertarians, intellectuals are inevitably “disconnected from reality.” For activists, intellectuals quibble while we face a “state of emergency” demanding action.
I have heard things like this my entire life. Granted, there’s a positive side to this attitude. Right-wingers show a real concern for concrete facts, a genuine wariness of useless abstractions or pure intellect, a desire to assert the precedence of the soul over the spirit, of the organic over theoretical “dryness,” the hope (always disillusioned) to go back to a simpler life, etc.
The Right is more sensitive to human qualities than to intellectual capacities. It likes to admire more than to understand. It asks for examples more than for lessons. It likes style, gesture, and panache. And it is not wrong in doing so. A society entirely made up of intellectuals would be unbearable.
But the problem is that when this attitude is systematized, it leads to the avoidance of any doctrine, to the rejection of any work of the mind.
The intellectual can be defined as the person who tries to understand and make others understand. The Right, very often, doesn’t try to understand anymore. It ignores what the work of the mind can accomplish. The result is that right-wing culture has today almost entirely vanished. It only survives in restricted circles, marginal publishing houses, and newspapers that only rightists believe are actual newspapers. The ostracism that it has suffered is not the only factor in this.
One can only be struck by the way the Right lost the habit of intervening in intellectual debates. If one takes the hundred books that have been discussed the most over the last half-century, one realizes that the Right hasn’t published a single review of these. It doesn’t interest the Right or concern it. The Right is uninterested in any author outside its landmarks. It doesn’t discuss or refute any of them.
On the dialectic of modernity, the evolution of the social dimension, the forces behind mercantile logic, and symbolic Imaginary, the Right has nothing to say. Why wonder, then, that it has been unable to formulate a critique of technoscience, a theory of localism or of social connection, a philosophy of ecology, or an anthropology of its own? It is simply unable to do that anymore. There have always been hundreds of theoretical debates on the Left, some insignificant, others very deep. Who can cite one single intellectual debate that has marked the history of the Right in the last half a century? On the Right, as far as thought is concerned, it resembles the Tartar Steppes or a flat-lining encephalogram signal.
Most right-wing people substitute convictions for ideas. Ideas can of course engender convictions, and convictions stem from ideas, but the two terms are different. Convictions are things in which one believes and which, because they are the objects of a belief, cannot undergo any critical examination. Convictions are an existential substitute for faith. They help living without the need for one to question their logical structure, their value relative to various contexts, or their limitations. Right-wing people make it a point of honor to defend their convictions in the manner of bible study.
The Right likes answers more than questions, especially if these are pat answers that abnegate the need for a philosophical outlook, as one cannot philosophize when the answer is preconceived. The work of the mind requires the learning of one’s mistakes. The right-wing attitude is rather to avoid considering its mistakes, and thus it never tries to correct these so as to go further; hence the absence of self-criticism and debate. Self-criticism is seen as a weakness, a useless concession, if not a betrayal. Right-wing people flatter themselves that they “regret nothing,” including the errors they have made. Debate, because it implies a contradiction, an exchange of arguments, is generally seen as an aggression, as something that one does not do.
The right-wing man proceeds with enthusiasm or indignation, with admiration or disgust, but not with reflection. Instead he is reactive; hence his almost always emotional reaction to events. What is striking is his naïve, if not puerile way of reacting, of always contenting himself with the upper layer of things, with the news anecdote, of taking a narrow point of view on everything, without ever going deeply to the causes. When you show them the Moon, many right-wing people look at the finger. History then becomes incomprehensible — what on Earth is Providence doing? — even if right-wing people constantly refer to it. Hence simplistic conspiracy theories, which can lead to real lunacies, abound. Social problems are always explained by shady manipulations of an “invisible conspiracy,” a “dark alliance,” etc.
As the Right is very little interested in ideas, it tends to bring everything back to people. Right-wing political movements are first and foremost associated with their founders, and rarely survive them. Right-wing quarrels are chiefly quarrels of individuals, with basically the same gossip, and the same slanderous accusations. In the same way, its enemies are never systems or even genuine ideas, but human categories presented as scapegoats (Jews, “metics,” “bankers,” freemasons, foreigners, “Trotskyites,” immigrants, etc.). The Right has a hard time apprehending a system devoid of a subject: the systemic effects of the logic of Capital, the constraints of structure, the genesis of individualism, the vital importance of the environmental threats, the forces unleashed by technology, etc. The Right doesn’t understand that men have to be fought, not for what they are, but in so far as they embody and defend harmful systems of thought or values. By preferring to take it out on individuals, disliked for what they are, the Right veers towards xenophobia or something even worse.
The Right has been the great vanquished of history. It has virtually lost every struggle it has engaged in. The history of the last two centuries for the Right has been one of continuous defeat. Such a succession of failures suggests that the superiority of its adversaries is merely based on the Right’s own weaknesses.
In the beginning, what was the best that the Right had to offer? I would briefly say: an anti-individualist and anti-utilitarian system of thought, together with an ethic of honor, inherited from the Ancient Regime. Thus it was opposing head-on the ideology of the Enlightenment, whose driving forces were individualism, rationalism, self-evident individual interests, and the belief in progress. The values that the Right claimed were aristocratic and popular at the same time. Its historic mission was to fulfill the natural union of the aristocracy and the people against their common enemy: the bourgeoisie, whose class values were precisely legitimized by Enlightenment thought. But this union was fulfilled only during very brief periods.
For the Right, Man is naturally social. However, it never forged its own consistent theory to explain community or social connectedness. Nor did it seriously explore opposition to the ideal liberal types, the autonomous individual and the “social man.” It has never been able to formulate a genuinely alternative economic doctrine to the mercantile system, either.
Instead of supporting the workers’ movement and nascent socialism, which represented a healthy reaction against individualism that the Right was also criticizing, it all too often defended the most dreadful human exploitation and the most unjustifiable political inequalities. It sided with the wealthy, objectively participating in the class struggle of the bourgeoisie against the would-be “redistributors” and the “dangerous classes.”
There were exceptions, though rare ones. The Right’s theoreticians were more often led by their audience than leading it. Defending the nation, the Right rarely understood that the nation is above all else the people. She forgot the natural complementariness of aristocratic and popular values. When the workers’ right to an annual holiday break was passed into law, the Right railed against the “vacation culture.” It always preferred order to justice, without understanding that injustice is a supreme form of disorder, and that order itself is very often nothing but an established disorder.
The Right could have developed a philosophy of history founded on cultural diversity and the need to acknowledge its universal value, which would have led it to support the struggles in favor of autonomy and liberty in the Third World, whose peoples were prime victims of the ideology of progress. Instead of that, the Right ended up defending the colonialism that it had once condemned, while complaining about being colonized in turn.
The Right forgot that its only true enemy is Money. It should have considered everything opposing the system of money as its objective ally. Instead it gradually joined the other side. The Right was better equipped than any other force to reframe the anti-utilitarian values of generosity and selflessness, and to defend them. But, little by little, the Right acceded to the logic of interest and the defense of the market. At the same time, it fell in line with militarism and nationalism, which is nothing but collective individualism, something that the first counter-revolutionaries had condemned as such.
Nationalism led the Right to the metaphysics of subjectivity, this illness of the spirit, systematized by the Moderns. This estranged the Right from the notion of truth. It should have been the party of generosity, of “common decency” [1], of organic communities; but it all too often became the party of exclusion, of collective selfishness, and resentment. In short, the Right betrayed itself when it began accepting individualism, bourgeois lifestyles, the logic of money, and the model of the market.
Christian Socialism occasionally played a useful role, but it chiefly fell under paternalism. The social achievements of the “fascisms” were discredited by their authoritarianism, their militarism, and their aggressive nationalism. Corporatism led to nothing. Revolutionary syndicalism was killed by the “Fordist compromise,” which resulted in the integration of larger and larger parts of the working class into the bourgeois middle class. Most importantly, this kind of concern was never associated with a deep analysis of Capital. The condemnation of “Big Money” is insignificant when it refrains from analyzing the very nature of money and the anthropological impact of a generalized market system, with its reification of social relations and its effects of alienation.
As for the “Real Right,” it hasn’t ceased marginalizing itself and wasting away. More and more oblivious of its own past, all of its implicit system of thought can be summed up in a single phrase: “It was better before” — whether this “before” refers to the thirties, the Ancient Regime, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages or Ancient History.
This conviction, even when it is occasionally correct, nurtures an attitude that is either restorationist, which condemns it to failure, or purely nostalgic. In each case, the “Real Right” contents itself with opposing the real world with an idealized and fantasized past: the fantasy of the origin, the fantasy of a bygone age, and the irrepressible nostalgia of an original matrix revealing the incapacity to reach adulthood.
The aim is to try to conserve, preserve, slow, or hold back the course of events, with no clear consciousness of the inevitable historical sequence of events. The great hope is to reproduce the past, to go backward to the time when everything was so much better. But, as it is quite obviously impossible, the “Real Right” settles for an ethical attitude in order to make a statement. Politically, this “Real Right” has no more telos of its own to fulfill, as all its models belong to the past. It has reached a point where it doesn’t even know clearly the type of political regime that it would like to establish.
History becomes a shelter: idealized, reconstructed in a selective way, and more or less fantastical. History provides the reassuring feeling of having a stable “heritage,” of bearing significant examples that the Right can oppose to the horrors of present times. History is supposed to give “lessons,” although one never really knows what they are. The Right has not understood that History, which it reveres so much, can also be crippling. When Nietzsche says that “The future belongs to those with the longest memory,” what he means is that Modernity will be so overburdened by memory that it will become impotent. That’s why he calls for the “innocence” of a new beginning, which partly entails oblivion. People never have a greater hunger for history than when they are incapable of making it, and when history is happening without them or against them.
Hostile to innovation, the “Real Right” is unable to analyze the unseen situations of the future with its obsolete conceptual tools. It judges everything according to the world it once knew, which was familiar and thus reassuring, and confuses the end of this world with the end of the actual world. It faces the future with its eye in the rear-view mirror. The Right is unable to analyze historic events, to step back from the consequences and examine distant causes. It cannot establish the genealogy of the phenomena it deplores, nor detect the fault lines of post-modernity. It cannot understand anything in the current world any longer, the evolution of which it dismisses as an endless “decadence.”
The fact that it has constantly been vanquished often elicits a peculiar mix of meticulous irony, emphatic derision, bitterness, and conniving snicker, so typical of the long reactionary lament. It also presents the mediocre apocalyptic motto “We are doomed!” With such a vision, we are always in “a state of emergency,” it’s always “one minute to midnight.” Before the “catastrophes” which face us, we are waiting for a “surge,” an “awakening.” The “silent majority”, the “real country” is being summoned. But all of this had already been said in 1895. During all this time, history has nevertheless kept going.
The most distinctive feature of the “Real Right” is a political and moral narcissism, founded on an immutable worldview, with two sides (us the good, them the evil), which is a simple projection of a fault line inside any of us. This dichotomy of “Us vs. the Others,” given as the explaining factor for everything, comes actually under this metaphysics of subjectivity that I have already mentioned, which legitimizes all forms of selfishness and exclusion. The Right talks a great deal about defending its “identity,” but it generally has a hard time defining this. Most of the time, its identity is about not being what it condemns. It is the existence of its enemies that defines the Right’s own existence, a negative existence, a contrario. The Right’s marginalization nurtures an obsidional mentality, which in turn sharpens its rejection of the Other. There’s something Cathar-like in this obsidionalism: the world is bad, let’s close the ranks of the “last square.” The titles of the Right’s bedside books are also telling: by the accursed, the heretics, the reprobates, the nostalgics, The Camp of the Saints; in short, the Last of the Mohicans. In a world of tribes, for which it has no sympathy, the “Real Right” is nothing more than a tribe of survivors, which lives in connivance and isolation. It has rites and passwords of its own, slogans and resentment, and every day sees itself being more and more isolated from an “outside” world that it rejects and demonizes, with no possibility of changing the course of events. What is left for it is to commemorate its own defeats, which it does with such perseverance that one is forced to wonder whether it secretly cherishes these defeats, as defeats are always more “heroic” than victories.
The Right has never prioritized the struggle against the system of money, which was its main enemy. First it fought against the Republic at a time when it had become obvious that a monarchy of divine right would never come back. After 1871, the Right devoted itself to the condemnation of the “Boches” (and even the “Judeo-Boches”), which led it, in the name of the “Sacred Union,” to legitimize the atrocious carnage of 1914-18, which engendered all the horrors of the 20th century. In the aftermath of the First World War, it committed itself to the fight against Communism and its “pagan savagery” (as Marshall Pétain expressed it). At the time of the Cold War, for fear of this same Communism, which it should have considered as a rival rather than as an enemy, the Right sided with the “free world,” thus giving its blessing to the American hegemony, the power of the bourgeoisie and the worldwide supremacy of predatory liberalism — as if the horrors of the Gulag justified the abominations of the mercantile system. This led the Right to support “Atlanticism,” to approve of the slaughter of the Vietnamese people, to show solidarity with the most pathetic dictatorships, from the Greek colonels and the Argentinean generals to Pinochet and his “Chicago Boys”[2], not to mention the torturers of Operation Condor, specializing in the assassinations of “subversivos” who were mostly only asking for more social justice. When the Soviet system collapsed, making globalization possible, immigrants providentially took over the statutory role of the “threat.” Conflating immigrants with Islam, then Islam with Islamism, eventually Islamism with terrorism, she now does that again with Islamophobia, a truly suicidal approach, and, what is more, absolutely inconsistent from a geopolitical perspective.
The “Real Right,” at the end of the day, is fundamentally unpolitical. The very essence of politics is foreign to it. In fact it confuses politics with ethics, the same way the Left conflates politics with morals. The Right believes that politics is a matter of honor, of courage, of sacrificial virtues, of heroism, that is to say, in the best case, of military qualities. It sees politics as the continuation of war by other means, which totally reverses Clausewitz’s aphorism. It doesn’t understand that politics is only an occupation, an art, something that aims to carefully define the best but not the ideal way of serving the common good — a good, by the way, that can’t simply be shared out. It doesn’t understand that politics is a way to arbitrate between contradictory aspirations stemming from human nature, to arbitrate between the needs of civic coexistence and the necessities of self-interest.
As for me, it has been more than a quarter of a century since I stopped considering myself belonging to any family of the Right, and since I stopped showing solidarity with it. There’s no mystery here: I have said it and written it many times. But for all that, I don’t consider that the Right is an uninteresting subject. Nor do I think that it is a despicable subject. When I criticize it — and I always hesitate before criticizing it, both because it is not fitting to shoot at such an easy target and because I don’t want to get involved with the mob — I am forced to generalize, and when one generalizes, one always risks being unfair. But I don’t ignore its merits. In the same way that its qualities have shortcomings, its shortcomings also have qualities. On many occasions, the Right was (and remains) admirable for its courage, its persistence, and its spirit of sacrifice. All these qualities, yet they have achieved such meager results!
I’ll add that I don’t recognize myself as belonging to any family of the current Left, which spares me the desire of wanting to be “admitted.” One can undoubtedly define me as a “left-wing right-winger,” or a man who has left-wing ideas and right-wing values. It allows me to agree equally well with left-wing men and with right-wing men every time they assert ideas that I consider fair. But, actually, I haven’t cared about labels for a long time.
I care all the less, since the Left-Right duo gets more and more ineffective as an analytic tool. What is the “right-wing position” on the American occupation of Iraq, and what is the “left-wing position?” There is simply none: on the Right as on the Left, this occupation has opponents and supporters. It is the same for all the problems of our times: European integration, geopolitics, ecology, the coming oil crisis, etc. The only thing that matters is what people think of a precise question, no matter how they position themselves (or refuse to) on the traditional political spectrum.
[1] In English in the original text
[2] In English in the original text

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