Part 1 of 2
Translated by Greg Johnson
In 2005, Alain de Benoist gave an interview to The Occidental Quarterly, which was published as “European Son: An Interview with Alain de Benoist,” The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 7–21.
The interview was lengthy, however, and the decision was made to cut it. Thus Benoist’s critical discussions of Christianity and the human sciences were removed. Benoist gave me a copy of the French original, and I am translating the “lost” portions for the first volume of North American New Right.
According to the Manifesto of the Nouvelle Droit, the five main characteristics of modernity are individualization, massification, desacralization, rationalization, and universalization. The ND traces the roots of modernity to a secularized form of Christian metaphysics. It is also known for rejecting another product of Christianity: egalitarianism. What then are the “aristocratic values” that the ND intends to promote, and how can they counterbalance each one of these destructive tendencies? And how could everyone adhere to aristocratic values?
To describe egalitarianism as the mere “product” of Christianity is a shortcut that for my part I would no longer take. Things are a little more complex than that. What one can say, on the other hand, is that the advent of modernity can be understood and analyzed only in light of the vast process of secularization that characterizes it. That means that a certain number of themes that were formerly expressed in theological terms have been transferred to the secular sphere.
In the ideology of progress, for example, the promise of salvation in the beyond is transformed into the promise of happiness in the future. The very notion of “progress” is part of the linear vision of history (in opposition to the cyclical or spherical vision of history) privileging the future that was introduced by biblical thought.
The concept of equality (which one should distinguish from egalitarianism) finds its origin in the Christian assertion of an equal relationship of all human souls with God.
The technological enthrallment of the world (das Gestell, to use Heidegger’s term) — which beginning with Descartes imposes a new perception of the cosmos as entirely available for human control, while consciousness begins to be reduced to an object of natural science — finds its first legitimation in Genesis (so that, as Heidegger saw quite well, technology can be regarded as the completion of metaphysics).
Jean Bodin’s theory of the absolute sovereignty of the prince with respect to his subjects is a transposition of the absolute sovereignty of God in relation to creation. This is how Carl Schmitt could say that the principal concepts of modern politics are secularized theological concepts. This process of secularization was also studied in a remarkable way by Karl Löwith.
The New Right, moreover, does not defend “aristocratic” values but the values of any traditional society, i.e., any society not yet conquered by modernity. From the traditional point of view, aristocratic and popular values are about the same. These are all the values inherent in an ethics of honor. In opposition to economic and commercial values, they are also the values of disinterestedness and generosity, as expressed in the system of the gift and the counter-gift.
To the great deontological moral systems, of which Kant is the paradigm, one can still oppose Aristotle’s virtue ethics: to pursue personal excellence by practicing the “virtues.” In such a system, the good necessarily takes precedence over the just, as Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor very justly argue against John Rawls. Here one returns to Hegel’s critique of Kant, i.e., the opposition of “Sittlichkeit” to “Moralität.”
What is your view of the truth of the Christian faith? What is your view of Christian apologetics? A Christian could ask you to offer proof of the falsehood of the Resurrection, since if that were given, Christianity would crumble. How do you answer this challenge?
Strange question. I do not have to “prove” that Jesus was not resurrected any more than I have to “prove” that God did not give the Tables of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai or that Elvis Presley is not alive and selling pizzas in Brooklyn! The reason is that one cannot prove a negative; one cannot demonstrate non-existence. It is the Christians who have to give proof of their claims, proof that they have not managed yet.
Could you say something about the violent way in which Europe was Christianized? To what extent did the Christianization of Europe rest on fraud?
Christianity was gradually established in Europe by using all available means. Its diffusion was sometimes peaceful, sometimes forcible. The struggle between Christianity and paganism, the history of which has been retold a thousand times, of course included many bloody episodes: forced conversions of whole populations, persecution of pagans, “crusades” internal and external, etc.
However, the Church does not owe its success to force as much as to the skill with which it took over the ancient pagan rites and religious inclinations and twisted them to suit its own purposes. Because it was unable to completely uproot paganism, it got busy “Christianizing” it by giving it new contents.
Churches were built on the sites of old temples, the liturgical calendar was based on the pagan one (Christmas replaced the old festivities of the winter solstice, Midsummer’s Day that of the summer solstice, etc.), the legends of the saints took over the powers ascribed to local divinities, many places of pilgrimage were preserved, and the worship of Mary compensated for the absence of a mother goddess, etc. Christianity was thus partially “paganized,” becoming at the same time more acceptable to the masses.
But this “paganization” remained superficial, because it touched only the external forms of worship. Nevertheless, it makes it possible to understand the difference that has always existed between popular Christianity and institutional Christianity and its specific theological system.
Is Christianity a foreign religion for Europeans? Does the fact that Christianity was the carrier of a non-European culture, Judaism, which thus became a part of the European heritage, constitute a problem? A whole tradition, according to which the Church is the “New Israel,” makes Christians “spiritual Semites.” Does it follow from this that the Jewish tradition belongs to the Western tradition?
My critique of Christianity, which is primarily intellectual and philosophical, has nothing to do with the fact that it was born historically outside of Europe. I feel sympathy to certain Eastern religions or spiritualities, like Zen Buddhism or Shintoism, which are not strictly European at all. On the other hand, I am completely hostile to many ideologies that were born in Europe. The provenance of an idea is not a criterion of truth, and the surplus of identity is not reducible to its origin.
Jesus was a Jew of the 1st century of our era who was most likely regarded as a prophet, but who never intend to create a universal “Church,” much less a new religion. Convinced of the imminent arrival of the “kingdom of God” (Olam haba, “the world that is to come”), it was in the name of the Torah that he opposed the dominant, institutional current of the Judaism of his time. “I was sent only to the ewes of the house of Israel,” he says very clearly in a passage of the Gospels (Matthew 15, 24) which completely contradicts the words added later found at the end of Mark (16, 15) and in Matthew (28, 19).
It was only after his death that some who thought he was the Messiah came to see him as the “son of God” come to save all men. Christianity as we know it is above all the work of Paul, and it is in the Mediterranean world, then the Western, that what is essential to its history unfolded.
The concept of a “Judeo-Christian tradition” is, moreover, quite ambiguous. In all rigor, one can speak of Judeo-Christianity only in two precise senses: first historically, to indicate the very first “Nazarene” communities in Palestine which, under the direction of John, vigorously opposed the “hellno-Christians” led by Paul; then theologically, to indicate the common theological beliefs of Jews and Christians (belief in single God, the distinction between the created being and uncreated being, etc).
After the destruction of the Temple in 70, the two religions separate completely: the Christians were expelled from the synagogues, and the Tannaim, the chief rabbis who then reorganized Judaism based on the Pharisee current, instituted the birkat-ha-minim, which curses the partisans of Jesus. For its part, the incipient Christian Church adopted explicit anti-Judaism, which first appears in the Gospel of John, the latest of the four canonical Gospels.
Christianity did not become less dependent on its Old Testament roots, but over the centuries it came to adhere to the theology of substitution, which claims that the Church incarnates the true Israel, excluding the Jews while preserving their metaphysical identity (obviously an unbearable claim for the Jews themselves). This rift between its origin and its history is characteristic of Christianity.
But one can grasp the whole of Christianity only by ceasing to regard it as a unitary block: early Christianity is different from medieval Christianity, which is not the same thing as Counter-Reformation Christianity, modern Christianity, etc.