This is the transcript by V. S. of Richard Spencer’s January 9, 2012 Vanguard Podcast interview of Jonathan Bowden about the European New Right. You can listen to the podcast here.
Richard Spencer: Hello, everyone! Today it’s a great pleasure to welcome back to the program Jonathan Bowden. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to check out Jonathan’s novels and his paintings, which you can learn about at his Website jonathanbowden.co.uk. I would also encourage you to look at his occasional pieces at Counter-Currents, and also his two brilliant podcasts which were published here at Alternative Right on the Left and Nietzsche.
Today, we’re going to speak a little bit about another important philosophical current, and that is the European New Right. So, Jonathan, thanks for coming back on!
Jonathan Bowden: A pleasure for me! No problem at all!
RS: Great! I hope you’re having a good start to the new year.
JB: Yes! It’s windy, but one looks forward to better things.
RS: Well, as I mentioned, today we’re going to talk about the French New Right and Alain de Benoist. This is something that arose in 1968 with the establishment of, in French, the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne or GRECE. Of course, in English it’s the Research Group for the Study of European Civilization.
Jonathan, before we talk about the philosophical currents, just to make sure that all our listeners are on the same page, why don’t you just tell us the real basics about this movement. The 101, so to speak. Who’s involved in it? What are some of the big ideas? Where is it located? What are some of the journals? So, why don’t you just give us a taste of what the New Right is all about?
JB: Yes, I see it as a confluence of two things, really, viewed from the outside. I also think it’s very important to realize that the English-speaking world is a bit of an outsider in relation to the Continental New Right. The texts are being translated very slowly, but they are. Anglo-Saxonry was always on the outside looking in, although there was an attempt with a magazine called Scorpion, edited by Michael Walker in the 1980s and early ‘90s to catch up a bit. There was also another magazine called Perspectives which was edited by Richard Lawson, and that morphed into a Website called Flux Europa. But, other than that, the New Right current was not really registering in English that much.
I think the two things that come together are the seizure of the agenda inside the West and inside France, in particular, by the New Left in the 1960s, leading to the May events of ’68 and battles in the streets for who controlled the space, you know, politically and socially, where tens of thousands of CRS riot squads battling with hippies and Leftists in the center of Paris with a million people in the streets. Far bigger than many of the Arab Spring demonstrations which have convulsed world media during the last twelve months, for example. The Gaullist government tottering, the military talking about intervening, and it becoming so chaotic in France that the ordinary business of just living and governing in the big cities had somewhat ground to a halt.
The Left had achieved this by radicalizing the student base, by radicalizing the politics of the Baby Boomer generation that had been born immediately after the devastation of the Second European Civil War, as I regard it, really, the Second World War between 1939 and 1945.
GRECE was a response to this, because it was felt that the old Right was outmoded, could not appeal to people under 40, and there needed to be new thinking, basically.
RS: What was the old Right at that time? How would you characterize that?
JB: I suppose this would be the Tixier-Vignancour Right that looked back to the OAS, that looked back to attempts to overthrow the De Gaulle government by force, that looked back to the painful period in France during occupation and collaboration when people had to make certain existential life-and-death choices.
There was a big parting of the ways, of course, between the Right that was associated with the Resistance and the Right that had collaborated, and the depth of bitterness that existed between them, accentuated by the Algerian War and crisis of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, was a very, very big divide indeed, which still exists with the division between the Front National, say, in contemporary France and the Gaullist Right led by Sarkozy, the current President.
So, you had all these forces in play and the desire to create a New Right was really the conception of two people, as far as I can see, looking from the outside: Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye, with some other people joining in from other countries. Marco Tarchi from Italy and Pierre Krebs from Germany. They’re the names that stick out for me. There are many other people involved, and I think GRECE had at least about 8,000 members at one time, although it’s dwindled subsequently because it’s largely achieved its theoretical task, which was to reformulate Right-wing ideas to the Right of conservatism or from ultra-conservatism/paleo-conservatism, as it might be described in the Anglophone world, going outwards and Rightwards, to redefine that area and to give it a new set of teeth. The Left would say a new set of masks, actually, and a new dispensation and a new outlook. That’s why one of the chief magazines for inculcating this new wave was called New Thinking or New School almost literally, Nouvelle Ecole.
RS: Well, actually, to that point I was just reading Alain de Benoist’s Manifesto for a European Renaissance, and he mentioned that he always thought of himself as a man, or he called himself a man of the Right-Left, and that is someone who has Right values yet Left ideas, or at least is willing to confront the Left on their own terms.
So, is that in some ways how they refashioned and recast conservatism after the ’68 revolution, was to actually take a lot of these new currents, and say post-structuralism and deconstruction and so on and so forth, take those things seriously, and through that, reinvent themselves?
JB: I think yeah. Some people might construe it in that way. I think it’s different to that. It’s true that they’ve always been prepared to confront the Left. A lot of Right-wing thinking almost operates in a vacuum where they pretend the Left isn’t there.
JB: Except in a reactive way, really. So, they’ve always been concerned with Marxism and that sort of thing, but what I think they did was they dusted down the tradition which they thought had got very hoary and very ancient and cobwebby, and recast it and reformulated it. And they also engaged in an enormous amount of what can be regarded as cultural revisionism, where all sorts of people from earlier in the century and late in the nineteenth century — Counter-Currents does something quite similar, actually — repositions all these people in a newer context so they can be looked at again.
Almost every writer that was prominent — on the Continent anyway and, to a certain extent, even in the Anglophone world — who could be associated with ultra-positions from the 1870s onwards was repositioned and repackaged and brought back again, with certain elements that they wanted to highlight of their thinking pronounced, and other areas that they basically wanted to clip off a bit and jettison, somewhat nuanced or sort of detracted from.
RS: Who are some of these thinkers? I mean, obviously Nietzsche and Carl Schmitt come to mind.
RS: But who are the constellation of thinkers that the New Right has reinvented?
JB: Yes, it’s people like Georges Sorel, who was on the Left as well as the Right, people like Curzio Malaparte, who was on the Left as well as the Right, going back into the Anglophone tradition, people like Thomas Carlyle, but above all, I suppose, Ernst Jünger and the thinkers of what was known as the Conservative Revolution in Germany between the end of the Great War and about 1930. And these would be Edgar Jung, Oswald Spengler, Moeller van den Bruck, Ernst Jünger and his brother, Ernst von Salomon, the historian of that particular movement, Armin Mohler, and their equivalents in other countries, sometimes their lesser equivalents in other countries, including the then Communist-occupied Eastern Europe and Russia.
There’s another confluence. Another strand that comes together in the New Right, and this is an attempt to get away from the fascistic Right of the early part of the twentieth century and yet to steal its clothes and also to repackage it in various ways and to bring it up to date. And all of this, of course, is not original in that it had been done by the Left.
JB: Because a phenomenon of the New Left, which is quite an old New Left indeed, viewed now fifty years on, had been repackaged in the 1960s and early 1970s and straddled the Left-wing of social democratic and labor movements in Europe all the way out through moderate forms of Eurocommunism, in comparison to more mainstream, prior forms of Communism and the old traditional Left, going through ultimately, at their farthest margins, the terrorist and urban guerrilla groups that of course became quite active in Europe and very notorious in the 1970s.
So, you had this recasting of the Left using anti-Stalinist ideas, non-Stalinist forms of Leftism, because Stalinism had become so embarrassing, various forms of Trotskyism, certain anarchist Left-wing ideas and syndicalist ideas, certain ideas drawn from existentialism, which was presented as a humanism tout court, and certain ideas that would become post-structuralism and deconstruction. These all sort of bubbled away in the New Left cauldron, together with the Frankfurt School Marxism, which sought to differentiate itself from Marxist-Leninism but led straight to political Communism.
And Frankfurt School Marxism, in all its complexity, has played a major role in revamping all Left and/or would-be progressive thought in the last fifty to seventy years, and provides a continuum of thinking from liberal-minded people who are very moderate in Left-wing terms all the way through to the hardest reaches of the Left. The fact is that school’s influence can be seen subtly almost everywhere.
GRECE never really set itself up as a Frankfurt School. Never got official funding and that sort of thing. But the idea of a school, the idea of a research institute, the idea of a New Right rather than an old one, all were in some ways borrowed from the Left. The idea that the Right often reacts to the Left and to its initiatives was true in this instance.
RS: And, actually, what you’re touching on is another key idea with the New Right, and that is metapolitics. And you mentioned that many liberal-minded people in, say, America who might have totally conventional jobs and are normal, so to speak, but have these kind of Leftist, Cultural Marxist presumptions. They have these starting points.
And one thing the New Right was really trying to do was to build a new starting point for politics. I mean, politics is about will and power and events and so on and so forth, but all of those have a starting point, and some convictions and presumptions that give birth to action in the world.
So, maybe, Jonathan, you could talk a little about this metapolitics of the European New Right, and, you know, maybe a good place to begin would be how it differs quite radically with the assumptions of most all of the conservatism of the United States, and much of it in Europe as well.
JB: Yes, I suppose it’s a testament to how rigorous they were, in a way, because their view of everything is elitist.
JB: So, you storm the citadels of outermost theory first, based on the presumption that what is put at a very arcane and high level will filter down over time.
There was an intermediate attempt when GRECE was at its most well-formed and functional to influence politics directly, because they had something called The Clock Club, Le Club de l’Horloge, which was designed to talk to the various participants on the Right, including the Gaullist Right as well, and that had quite an impact.
You’ve got to remember that in France, certain tendencies like libertarianism, which in the United States is very strong, are almost invisible. Libertarianism is a tiny little strand. It does exist in British conservatism as an American implant, but in Continental Europe the bias towards social democracy and the distinction between the European and the Anglo-Saxon models of how you run a market society are so pronounced, that those ideas on the Right-wing of Christian Democrat and center-Right parties never really got anywhere. So, they’re beginning from a different place, really. They’re beginning where ultra-conservative ideas are less outré, are less out of court on the Continent than they are in the Anglophone world. I’m talking about views that would be considered as “ultra” rather than just sort of shallowly conservative.
And the idea is that you create an elite theory. This is why the New Right, in a sense, is quite intolerant. Most of the people who are interested in the New Right in the Anglo-Saxon world aren’t really of it or on it at all. Most of the people who write for Counter-Currents and so on might be influenced by this or that, but they’re basically a very clever reworking of old Right presuppositions.
The New Right is very specific and quite intolerant, and has a sort of elitist qua elitist position of its own which differentiates itself from forms of the Right that pre-existed it. And, although they’ve never purged people who think differently and that sort of thing, and there’s a wide eclecticism that’s practiced, certain cardinal differences would be the complete rejection of conspiracy theory and conspiratorial ideas, and the complete rejection of what we’ll call anti-Zionist conspiratorial ideas. This is quite a complicated area, but the New Right formally does repudiate all that and looks to explain the world in a different way. The enemy is seen as what’s loosely and actually defined as liberalism, which is seen as a global system of conquest and denial that all of the Western regimes have gone in for since 1945, if not before, and liberal humanism and its attendant values of materialism and equality, transfixed as they are into a global marketplace which seeks to subordinate the nation-state to its own economic activities, is the dominant ideology of the era.
So, they see classical liberalism, reworked through Keynesianism and now coming back very much with the full market vigor in the 1980s, as the enemy. Market capitalism is seen, almost in Left-wing terms at times, as an enemy of peoples, an enemy of ethnicities, an enemy of stand-alone racial groups, an enemy of national communities, and it’s seen as an enemy of the whole world. Not just Europe and the White population of the world’s population. So, it’s seen as an enemy of the peoples and nations of the world.
RS: And Benoist also defines it as Americanism in some way, and—
JB: That’s right.
RS: I’ve always thought that there was likely a little bit of, maybe, French chauvinism bubbling up in that, but that doesn’t diminish the legitimacy of the critique. But also, they had this idea of a kind of individualization and massification as what’s happening.
So, maybe talk a little more about this American notion. This is something that they were experiencing very directly with the Cold War, with NATO, with two dueling empires, one of which was certainly American. Do you think that was a basis of a lot of their thought? Do you think they were maybe even wrong about this ideology of individualization and Americanism? That that’s what America is promoting around the world, and so on and so forth?
JB: Yes, it’s an interesting conundrum. I think there’s a degree to which people from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, even from Canada and Britain outside the United States, can never be totally satisfied with the GRECE outlook, which is modeled upon Continental European norms and standards.
A visceral anti-Americanism which is cultural, which has a lot to do with hostility to pronounced cultural power, soft power, manifested by the United States, manifested by the Hollywood movie industry, manifested by global media entertainment and infotainment as it’s become and its grown up even more pronounced since when GRECE began commenting on it in the early-to-late 1960s.
I once showed some of their publications via Scorpion, so that they were translations of them at any rate, to somebody who was on the, what you might call traditional, ultra-conservative Right, and he was appalled by, in his own terms, how Left-wing they were, how anti-American, how anti-NATO.
There’s de Benoist’s famous remark that if he had to choose sides, he would prefer to be dominated by Russia than by America, and that he would prefer Soviet tanks to American ones, because underneath the carapace of Communism, a European heart still beat in the old Russian colossus, which of course has thrown Communism off in the last twenty years. And de Benoist and GRECE were straight in there at the very beginning, when Communism fell, to influence new political forces that were obviously churning away in Russia at that time. But, yes, it’s a—
RS: Jonathan, I remember hearing you say, and I’ve repeated this line, that Communism might attack the body, but Americanism and liberalism rot the soul. And I think that is quite true, although I don’t exactly want to be defending Kim Jong-Il’s society or anything like that. I have no doubts that that is quite miserable.
But, you know, I’ve had these conversations with Paul Gottfried about the New Right, and he was someone who was actually involved in the Telos journal, which was certainly integral in bringing the New Right ideas into the Western world, and so on and so forth. And one criticism he had was the same criticism as the ultra-conservative you mentioned, that there’s almost a Leftist, kind of, almost reactionary anti-Americanism to them in the sense that they’ll defend multiculturalism, and they’ll think that, you know, “We’re united, we and the Muslims and Islam, we’re united against the evil force of homogeneity and hegemony from America,” and so on and so forth. And there are obviously kernels of truth to all this. I think maybe there are people in America or some ideology where they imagine the whole world is some horrible strip mall where you can, you know, buy junk at cheap prices, and so on and so forth. And I think that’s true, and I think we should criticize that as traditionalists. But, I don’t know, it seems to me maybe he’s not really formulating his enemy correctly when he locates it like that, and when he thinks that he might have all these things in common with Muslims “who too are fighting against multiculturalism.” Is my criticism too harsh there or . . . ?
JB: No, I think it’s a legitimate American criticism of GRECE and of the school it represents. There are slightly different tendencies between Faye and de Benoist, and there are some people who say de Benoist has moderated a lot in recent years.
But that’s a complicated one, because he now stands for the peoples and nations within and between nation-states, because he’s begun to recognize that if something isn’t done relatively shortly, the mass immigration into the Western world is reaching a point now where it’s becoming semi-irreversible, because there are so many people here and so many have come in and to pretend it’s not happening or to adopt a purist position that, somehow in some fantasy land in the future, they’re all going to go back, is something he’s not prepared to do philosophically. He’s had a lot of criticism for that, of course, because there’s no sort of “White homeland” model floating around inside Europe. So, it’s a very difficult situation for any New Right, or post-New Right as it now is, to be in.
There is a visceral anti-Americanism which is part of the French tradition, and it is part of the tradition of French politics, Left, center, and Right. And it’s just there. There is a rivalry between France and the United States irrespective of the revolutionary heritage that is there. The security services spied on each other throughout most of the twentieth century, even though they’re nominal allies and so on. They fought together in most wars. But this tension culturally and nationally, despite the fact that the United States is a much more powerful state confederation than France in its present form could ever be, is nonetheless there. And although de Benoist has always sort of eschewed crude French nationalism, there is a French nationalist and chauvinist element to it which is quite pronounced, but that is part of the Continental attitude.
I would always slightly deflect it by saying that there are many cultural figures in the United States that the New Right prizes, and if they were engaged in crude American-baiting and burning the American flag like Left-wing students during the Vietnam War in Europe and America and elsewhere, this wouldn’t come across. And so a lot of the repositioning of people involves people like Ezra Pound, and involves people like T. S. Eliot to a lesser extent, and involves people like Jack London. And so, they’re very much aware of these figures in the United States who are anti-American in terms of the perceived ideology of what’s regarded as Americanism abroad.
One of the facts about all societies, of course, is that they’re all ideological, but the people who live in them don’t think they are. So, the ordinary American would be amazed and even slightly appalled that there’s such a thing as Americanism, but to people outside the United States, particularly those who feel they’re on the brunt of the enormous power, the soft power that America has in the marketplace and culturally, particularly at the mass level . . . It’s the popular mass culture which traditional Europeans see as so Americanized now in Europe, and also in Eastern Europe post-Communist to a degree. It’s that that they’re reacting against.
I would deny that they ever engaged in crude American-baiting and anti-Americanism, although some of their imagery at their high point could come quite close to that.
There’s also the need for an enemy.
JB: And they wanted to redefine the enemy away from the traditional enemies of the old Right. And the new enemy was global liberalism powered by America. And that appeared to be a Left-wing notion until you worked out what they were really saying and, in some ways, what they were attempting to smuggle back in a new guise.
They were very much like the New Left, which engaged in very harsh critiques of the Soviet Union. Herbert Marcuse’s book, Soviet Marxism, and so on. It largely just rested at the theoretical level, but it can’t be said that the New Left just tamely went along with Stalinism. They didn’t concentrate on the crimes and the horrors too much, but they certainly concentrated theoretically on the hostility to the way so-called really existing socialist societies had worked out. And that disfavoring of the old Left by the New Left was one of the tiny straws in the wind that portended the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
JB: It was a tiny, little brick that was thrown, but a proportion of the Left in the West renounced the Soviet Union and all its works up to a point, and that did have an effect generationally. It had an effect on the “neither Washington nor Moscow” generation that grew up after ‘68.
RS: I think that’s absolutely true, when it loses the legitimacy amongst the vanguard intellectuals. Actually, I think this brings up an interesting transition, and that is to a person you mentioned earlier, and that is Guillaume Faye, two of whose works have just been translated by Arktos Media. Arktos is really doing God’s work, so to speak, by bringing New Right authors and other authors into the English language. And—
JB: Yes, they’re doing a considerable task there.
RS: Yes. And Faye’s work Archeofuturism, it actually includes a chapter in which he voices many criticisms of Benoist and the New Right, some of which run parallel to what we’ve been talking about, but he also decides to, you know, reposition himself and define a new enemy. And he also has this almost visionary, apocalyptic notion of a massive economic collapse, which might seem like a fairly realistic possibility these days, but also what is ultimately a White empire stretching from France to Siberia on the Continent.
So this book was really an event when it was published. It’s quite inspiring and reminiscent of Nietzsche in some of its pronouncements. But maybe you can just talk a little bit about this other figure and where he’s pushing many of these currents more recently.
JB: Yes, I think he’s got rather fed up with the metapolitical distancing and the pathos of difference that GRECE has always gone in for, and de Benoist has always gone in for. De Benoist’s been loath to categorize himself. Doesn’t even like the conjuration “New Right,” and regards their thought as totally abstract, although it can be seized and used by various political forces outside of the political arena to a large degree.
There have been times when he’s been less fussy, if you like, and less given over to such sort of ivory tower speculation, but GRECE on the whole has kept to that trajectory, whereas Faye wants much more political involvement and wants to be much more hands-on and interventionist. And he’s become or ended up, seemingly, from the outside, much more critical of mass immigration than de Benoist is.
JB: That seems to be the tendency. He’s also much more hostile to Islam than de Benoist is, because he sees Islam as another rival civilization that is now putting down considerable markers in the European Continent and, although there are points of symmetry and attraction and repulsion, in the end he doesn’t want that presence to be pronounced in Europe, where it’s extraordinarily marked in France, of course, because of the backwash of the Algerian War and crisis and civil contestation in France.
There’s 4 to 5 million Algerians who live in France who were part of the chaotic breakup of French Algeria, Algérie française, where it wasn’t just the Europeans who came back, the million Pieds-Noirs, who came back to Algeria and settled there and thought they were going to be there forever in a part of the French Empire, or the idea that Algeria was as French as Marseilles, where many of them ended up. Many of them became the background or core voters for the Front National in its early years, traumatized and alienated by their having to leave behind them in a month almost everything that they’d built up in Algeria, if there was no room for them, as they surmised, under the FLN, the nationalist Algerians — not Islamists, of course — who came to power after the revolution against French rule.
Now, Faye, I think, wanted to sketch out a political program, a bit like what Spengler does at the end of The Decline of the West—
JB: —when he talks about the coming Caesarism, because I think he thinks there’s a danger of despair internally, particularly amongst people to the Right of ultra-conservatism, and he wants to provide a visionary, almost sort of revelatory counter-position to that. There are opportunities in the real world, not just theoretically, that can be seized at various points in the future, and that not all of the forces are running against the traditional Right, as they may well seem to be at this time.
RS: Do you think that his Archeofuturism is merely a vision? The final chapter of the book reads like a novella, where you actually experience a day in the life of the new regime. Do you think it is purely fantasy, or that this is going to be a foundational text of another reborn Right on the Continent?
JB: One doesn’t know. He’s thrown a bottle into the sea with a manuscript in it, quite literally. One doesn’t know. I mean, what he’s doing is essentially very much reaching back, as well as going forwards — hence the whole notion of archeofuturism — to what the Conservative Revolutionaries did in the 1920s, because they definitely historically are seen as one of the main reasons why the Weimar Republic collapsed.
JB: And although they were just theorists and all they did was produce books and magazines, and they were loosely aligned with each other and they had no overall correlation, although they were a cultural movement, they definitely contributed to that absence of respect and that part of the spectrum that disacknowledged the Weimar Republic and didn’t allow it to settle as the Bonn and Berlin Republic since 1948, when it was created under Adenauer with French, British, and American occupation of Western Germany, has done.
This Republic has lasted, whereas Weimar did not, and one of the delegitimization tools was not to accept it as a legitimate regime. What Faye’s doing is he’s trying to get people not to accept the present situation as a form of legitimacy and continuation. He’s trying to get them to think beyond it, that there is this view that somehow this present liberal structure is different. Different to Communism, different to the situation that existed in Europe between the Second and First Wars, that somehow it doesn’t have the taste of death in its mouth, that it’s going to go on forever or for a very long period, and it’s basically cementing everything else underneath it. It’s a sort of a juggernaut linked to global capitalism and global free trade, so-called and actual.
And he’s trying to posit an apocalyptic element which he knows can move people in a way that often rather rational arguments can’t. So, he’s adopting multiple strategies in doing these things, even involving a certain element of fictional and artistic sort of license in what is otherwise a theoretical work.
RS: Right. Let’s move on to another very important issue about the New Right, and that is the pagan question. One of Benoist’s major books is entitled On Being a Pagan, and even though Faye may be a little more generous, let’s say, towards Christianity, generally speaking, the New Right is not only pagan but a kind of anti-Christian movement, and they certainly see Christianity in a secularized and Americanized form as one of the chief enemies. So, maybe you could talk a little bit about why they chose to do that. That’s certainly also a major break with the old Right, which, you know, in the French context was staunchly Catholic.
JB: Yes, and still is to a large degree. The traditionalist wing of the Front National, which may form a new party now that Le Pen’s daughter has taken the party Leftwards and made it into a populist vehicle.
RS: Oh, I didn’t know that.
JB: She’s changed the ideological orientation of the FN. Under her father, Jean-Marie, it used to be a sort of neo-traditionalist organization that was very much old Right. Although it used populist slogans and catch-phrases and sought popular and mass appeal, it was essentially an old Right traditional organization. Of course, a lot of people in the leadership were influenced by the New Right. That’s what the New Right has had. It’s had influence on people who are involved, which is in some ways a credit to its success.
On the pagan point, it again comes back to its elitism. The view is that you must settle the ultimate question first. It’s a form of anti-politics, in a way. When you ask a politician an awkward question, he always evades it. The thinking being that he must not offend people, because everyone he offends is a prospective voter lost, and that’s not how you do populist politics. But if you’re doing anti-populist politics, or if you’re doing elitist, philosophical politics, you’ve got to decide what you believe metaphysically first, rather than pretend that you can be all things to all people at a later date.
JB: And so they look very hard at Western civilization. They believe that Christianity was dying slowly and was becoming a preserve of the older generations even in Catholic countries where it still had a lot of kick, and they decided that if Europe was to be revived, you’d have to go right back to pre-Christian pagan antiquity and update many of the belief systems involved.
Indeed, as always with these things, it’s a bit paradoxical, because although culturally there’s a strong classicizing, Greco-Roman tendency in GRECE — hence the name — the system that de Benoist likes is the Odinic one, the Nordic one, preaching Odin and Thor and Loki and that sort of thing. And Odinism is a tiny little strand in Western Europe, even in Northern Europe, and yet what they’ve done, of course, is they’ve been extreme because in a sense they are extremists. They’re not moderates by nature. So, they have deliberately targeted areas which are outside the comfort zone of most people who traditionally regarded themselves as Right-wing, and they’ve done so philosophically rather than emotionally, although these things always have an emotional core to them, and they’ve done so in a considered manner which is essentially Nietzschean, really.
They thought that man needs a belief system. The ultimate questions of life and death have to be answered. The Left can’t answer them, because it says that they can’t be answered because they’re not there. Atheism is impossible except for individuals, but it’s not possible for the Right. You have to confront the enormous swath of people that believe in a creative force, a creative being, a supreme being. However it’s put, whatever system they adopt, the human majority, when it’s given a choice, opts for these systems. It appears even in extremely secular Northern and Western Europe at this time. Two-thirds of people are still quite residually religious in their private and actual opinions, and you have to have a system that appeals to metaphysical certainty, and they’ve decided to adopt a pagan system without equivocation and without being embarrassed about it, and by doing so they’re able to define it in their own light. Consequently appalling a large number of Western pagans, of course, who thought it was all about worshiping the Moon Goddess or the Earth or the goddess or various Celtic formulations linked to feminism and liberal humanist nostrums.
The idea that all pagan views tend in their direction is, of course, quite false. Just as the idea that all Christian views tend to a sort of socialism as regards the Third World is also quite false. There’s a spectrum in pagan, as against Christian, beliefs.
I’ve never found their anti-Christianity to be shrill or stupid, and there’s another reason why they adopted it. And that is because they reject conspiracy theory and because they reject conspiratorial explanations of reality. You had to have process versions of reality which are philosophical and dialectical, and those sit very well with pagan and with pre-Christian ideas. They regard conspiracy theory as Christian, ultimately, and as reductive and as coming from Catholicism, their own supranational and yet somehow national religious tradition. So, they’re doing several things at once.
They’re rejecting Christianity, they’re rejecting conspiracy theory, they’re rejecting blaming the usual suspects for the whole of the modern world and for everything that you don’t like about modernity, and they wanted to think out things again using the rational and spiritual ideas of the ancient world that they believe are the rather core European values underneath everything.
JB: This puts them on a collision course with doing successful practical politics in the present circumstances, but because of their elitist tendency, they’re not worried about that, you see? What they’re doing is splintering the atom. They’re trying to create an explosion while being as radical as they are. They’re not attempting to comfort people. They’re not attempting to be nice conservatives, if you like.
JB: They’re attempting to break the mold and to get people to think in a different way.
RS: And, also on this line of thought, I would say most conservatives today in America, or the Continent and elsewhere, they would probably say that there’s a kind of force of modernity or secular humanism, what have you, liberalism, that is antithetical towards Christianity. So, it’s kind of, the modern world is beating up on the old faith. The New Right turns that on its head, and they essentially see Americanism, global liberalism, global capitalism as a final expression of Christianity, that Christianity was the religion that gave you a way out of religion, so to speak.
So, talk a little bit about that. Just the particularity of their anti-Christianity. It’s not an anti-Christianity like, say, Christopher Hitchens or some of these ultra-secularists who think that Christianity is just dark superstition, or something like that. It’s something quite different.
JB: Yes, that’s right. In some ways, it’s a very rational critique. This is a thing about the New Right, that it’s very rationalist, but not in an eighteenth-century and Enlightenment way. It’s rationalist in an ancient Greek way. Most of its arguments are not [word unclear] arguments. They’re actually quite refined, purist, ultra-European arguments; what Nietzsche tried to do at his best, even though there’s a lot of emotional storm and stress and Romanticism in Nietzsche’s way of saying it.
JB: I think in relation to Christianity, they see the secularization which has occurred in Europe in Christianity and the existence of a seething Protestant, Evangelical Christianity alongside secularization in the United States as the outcome of tendencies that are pregnant within the religion itself.
No other religion on Earth — unless Communism has forced a degree of state atheism, in China, for example — has secularized in the way that Western societies outside the United States have, and outside some of the post-Communist societies in Central/Eastern Europe, where traditional religion still remains quite strong. So, they see this not just as something foisted on Christians. They see this as a coming together of various strands whereby the morality of Christianity bursts out of the faith, eschews the faith and does away with it, but keeps its moral essence. And that’s a quite different critique to make, and also has a great deal of truth to it—
JB: —because an enormous number of secular liberals do recognize a moral affiliation with their interpretation of the Christian tradition, which of course is one interpretation of the Christian tradition. Christians a couple of hundred years ago would not have recognized the moralistic and humanistic caricature of Christianity which is today presented as Christian moral certainty. That’s because Christianity itself, of course, has been drifting Leftwards inside the West over the last hundred, to one hundred fifty, to two hundred years.
Each institution in the West, primarily as a result of fascism’s defeat in the Second World War and its moral defeat after the war, when it became morally a pariah, which is more important than its physical defeat, has led to a Leftwards drift in all institutions. Every Christian church has drifted Leftwards internally, with its own dynamic between progressives and conservatives independent of anything else going on in the wider society. It’s happened in Anglicanism, Episcopalianism in the United States; it’s happened in Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholicism of the Catholic Church today is a million miles away from what it would have been in 1870 or even in the 1920s, yet externally the Catholic Church looks like a very conservative, hierarchical, priestly, and hieratic institution that all liberals curse and wave their fists against, with an ultra-conservative Pontiff at the present time, and that sort of thing, former head of the internal Inquisition within the Church, and that sort of thing. But that type of Catholicism is actually ripe for liberal capture, and the way things are going in the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church of fifty years from now will be indistinguishable ideologically and theologically, the odd thing excepted, from many Protestant denominations, who’ve made the leap into liberalism, if not the leap into secularism, earlier on in their particular historical trajectories.
So, GRECE is unique in its criticism of Christianity. It’s a very rational critique. What they’re doing is they’re not criticizing the substance of the religion, because they believe religion’s a good thing. Therefore, whether you believe Christ was God or not, or whether you believe in the Christian literalness of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, or not, isn’t their concern. They’re not concerned with awe and with transcendentalism and with the falling down of those who have faith before that which they believe is above them. They’re in favor of those things. They’re in favor of the sacred, which means their critique of Christianity is secular, in some ways, rather than religious. They choose not to be Christian. They choose to reject things about Christianity, but it’s basically because they disbelieve in its morality, the kernel of the religion, if you like. Although most Christians don’t accept that. They accept that they believe in the beliefs of the kernel, but philosophically the morality of the faith is what holds it up. It’s its heartbeat. And it’s that which they reject rather than the structures and beatific semblances of the faith itself.
So, they’re in favor of god-worship. They’re in favor of the inequality it provides. They’re in favor of that which is above man and which makes man appear lesser and yet more than he might be.
They’re deeply Right-wing in many ways, despite the New Right coinage, but they are opposed to things which they regard as detrimental to Europe’s continued existence in future. And their criticism of the liberalism inside Christianity and its secular breakout is quite unique, actually, and forces the traditional Right to think clearly about what it’s about. Because can a conservative Christianity compete with its liberal variant, or will it be devoured alive by it in the coming generations? And Christianity’s eaten out, and then the traditional Right’s almost got nothing to survive on at all, because its support system is gone.
RS: I completely agree. I’d just add that, speaking from the inside of America, I always am a little bit skeptical when I hear Europeans talking about Americans being the big exception, that they are devoutly religious. And there certainly are people who are devoutly religious and there are certainly some currents of snake-charming and emotionalism in religion that are still around in the US, but I’ve always sensed that so much of contemporary American Christianity is essentially a worship of America. It’s an Americanism. I mean, when you look at some of these big events, when tons of Christians will get together — they’ll actually even gather in stadiums — they’ll usually have politicians on stage, whether it’s someone like Glenn Beck, where they’re basically worshiping Martin Luther King, and their vision of Abraham Lincoln, or whether they have Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas and a presidential candidate speaking to them from the podium — that American Christianity really is Americanism, and in many ways it’s not particularly devotional and it’s not even Biblical, and in many ways the fact that America still has this global power is what’s undergirding it. It actually might suffer a major crisis, were America to become a kind of Second World nation economically and its military empire to collapse. So, in that sense, I think the New Right critique of Christianity is extremely relevant and important.
As we bring this discussion to a close — I’d certainly like to talk for another couple hours on this, but — As I was reading through New Right documents this week, just getting ready for this talk, I was struck by an idea of the turning point, or the Zwischenzeit in German, and that is this idea that modernity itself is getting old, and so many of its presuppositions, like the Left versus the Right, progress versus tradition, and so on and so forth, that these are becoming outmoded and stale, and that we’re currently in a kind of interregnum, and that there will be something after modernity, that the New Right is kind of postmodern in that sense. I think that’s quite a powerful idea, maybe. Jonathan, could you talk a little bit about their concept of the Zwischenzeit in which we live?
JB: Yes, it’s again attempting to steal things from the Left, because one of the traditions that they’ve always played up, modestly but to a degree, is those Right-wingers who flirted with modernism in the early part of the twentieth century. Now, most conservatives don’t like modernism at all, and see it as a movement associated largely culturally with the soft power of the Left, if with anything at all outside of itself. But, of course, a large number of people like Ezra Pound and so on were modernists of a certain type.
And the idea that these energies can be turned back upon the Left and used to destroy many of their preconceptions and ideas is something that’s quite useful. This tends not to a categorical rejection of the modern, or the modern world, and now that high modernism is admitted to be over even by its high priests . . . We live in a postmodern society, and people date postmodernism from 1960 in the cultural sphere, and from a later perspective in other areas, but we’re now living in a hyper-real or postmodern world where the New Right’s ideas of fragmentary progress, and a bit of the new and a bit of the old and the combination of things that are dialectically intertwined, but which may not go together logically, is quite relevant. This sort of way of looking at things is quite salient.
So, they can legitimately claim to be a postmodern, and therefore a modern, trajectory even though they’re criticized by all of their enemies for smuggling back all sorts of traditional and, in their view, discredited notions under the guise of new thinking. That’s the Left-wing critique of GRECE, that what they’re up to is smuggling back all sorts of shop-soiled goods, as they would see them, from the past and repackaging them and re-presenting them in the present to appear shiny, new, modern, and even slightly shocking and transgressive in relation to previous types of radically conservative opinion.
JB: There is an element of truth to that, but that’s what all tendencies do. That’s what the New Left did. It dusted off all sorts of shady, extracurricular parts of the Left and brought them back to confront the juggernaut of the post-Stalinist present, and to make sure the Left remained relevant in relation to Western societies and wasn’t dismissed as just the help-maidens of the Soviet Union, a system which they maybe sensed had the taste of death in its mouth decades before it actually collapsed.
So, what GRECE is doing is they’re signaling a set of interconnected ideas which could be grasped by a post-collapse sort of Right wing that has to think out all its presuppositions again. And what appears to be a lonely and even slightly trivial elitism in relation to these masses of conservative Christians with their “America first” attitudes, all of whom are very Right-wing in Leftist terms— Now, maybe if the United States quickly collapsed, if it went from a superpower to a banana republic in twenty years, and Americans faking themselves and in their own providential status as the “nation on the hill” received a jolt that was bigger than that which Germans received with the massive inflation and the societal collapse of Weimar in the 1920s, if that happened, a lot of thinking people would look for new ideas, you see. They would look to think out the crisis. They would look to be ahead of the curve. Things which appear impossible now, impossibilist now, would appear salient then, and that’s what they’re looking to do. They’re looking to influence the elite minds when a change comes who then influence all the second- and third- and fourth-tier people to go with them. Because America is really a secular society with a religious edge which Europe has lost. It could well lose that religious edge if America faces a crisis on multiple levels, and America’s never been economically weaker than it is now.
JB: Communist China is holding it up.
RS: (laughs) Yes, that’s true.
JB: And that’s the sort of scenario of apocalypse. It’s odd, actually, because the New Right scenario is very rational, and it’s delivered in this sort of prosodic French rationalist’s way, and yet deep down it’s a yearning for mental change after an apocalypse.
RS: Jonathan, thank you for being on the program once again. I think it’s fitting that we end on that note, and I’d love for you to return. There are a whole host of topics that I’d like to talk with you about.
JB: Thanks very much!