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Alt Right versus New Right

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Alt Right meets New Right: John Morgan with Alain de Benoist at the 2013 NPI conference.

3,873 words (Greek translation here [2]; Hungarian translation here [3])

The following is the text of the talk that John Morgan was scheduled to deliver at Identitarian Ideas IX in Stockholm last Saturday, but was unable to due to circumstances beyond his control. As such it was intended for a primarily Swedish audience.

Today I want to talk about two schools of political thought that on the surface seem similar, but that are in fact quite different in a number of fundamental ways: namely the Alt Right and the European New Right. Although I’ve titled this talk “Alt Right versus New Right,” I don’t want to make it sound like I am suggesting that there is an inherent conflict between the two, as obviously there are many points of overlap and potential for cooperation. However, I do believe that they are two distinct, if interrelated, phenomena, and I hold that it is important to understand that the Alt Right is a uniquely American creation that can’t be exported wholesale into other cultural contexts, just as the European New Right is something very particular to Western Europe. I understand that, given all the media attention it’s been receiving lately, there’s a temptation to adopt the term “Alt Right” universally. I, however, insist on viewing the Alt Right as something exclusively American, and the New Right as something particularly European.

One thing that the two movements certainly share is a difficulty in determining what exactly they are. Especially in the hands of the mainstream media, “New Right” and “Alt Right” are two terms that have been used to refer to everything ranging from Tea Party-style populism to outright neo-Nazism, and everything in between, a problem that was inevitable given that neither group has a central authority that can pronounce who is and who isn’t orthodox, we might say, nor even what exactly that orthodoxy is. For my own purposes today, by New Right I mean the current of thought centered upon Alain de Benoist’s GRECE movement in France and its various offshoots since 1968, which represents a towering edifice of thought unparalleled anywhere else on the Right since the Conservative Revolution in Germany of the Weimar era.

The Alt Right is a much trickier animal to pin down. The New Right has produced literally hundreds of books outlining its beliefs and positions over the past half-century. The Alt Right, on the other hand, is a culture primarily of blogs, memes, podcasts, and videos. It has yet to produce a single book or other statement of principles that everyone involved would agree is the quintessence of the Alt Right’s worldview. This is a natural outgrowth of the anti-intellectualism inherent in Anglo-American political and cultural discourse, as opposed to the more innovative and livelier – dare I say superior – Rightist political tradition that you have here on the Continent. In attempting to think of a book that could in any way lay claim to being the Alt Right manifesto, the only thing I could come up with is Greg Johnson’s New Right versus Old Right [4], which has fortunately been translated into Swedish [5] as well. Otherwise, the shelves of the Alt Right library remain pretty bare, although hopefully that will soon be changing. (It has a lot of catching up to do.) So for the Alt Right, I will draw on some ideas from that book, as well as from a meme that was circulating online last summer called “What Does the Alt Right Want?,” which presents nine theses of the Alt Right – unfortunately I don’t know who originally wrote it, so my apologizes for not crediting it properly.

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The main thing that the Alt Right and the New Right share is, first of all, a recognition that the legacy of fascism and the Second World War was a fiasco for the “true Right,” and that it is something that must be transcended. Groups and individuals who want to refight the Second World War, or who insist on reusing the iconography and rhetoric of that era, are soundly rejected by both. In no way can neo-Nazis be regarded as Alt Right or New Right. At the same time, however, both the Alt Right and the New Right must not allow themselves to become caught up in apologizing for or addressing the crimes and mistakes of the past. As Jonathan Bowden once called for us to do, when our opponents keep throwing them in our path, we should simply step over them. And as Markus Willinger says in his book Generation Identity [7], to those who constantly try to trip us up by bringing up the legacy of the Second World War, we simply have to respond that we no longer see it as relevant to what is happening in the world today. We are only interested in addressing the problems of our time.

Simultaneously, however, we should not allow our opponents to decide what we can and cannot talk about. The mere fact that an individual or a group is Jewish, for instance, as with our old friend George Soros, does not mean that they are therefore above criticism and that we are Nazis if we do criticize them. Kevin MacDonald has done brilliant work in showing how we can discuss the role of Jewish power in our societies without resorting to theories about the Elders of Zion or otherwise dehumanizing Jews, but rather understanding them from a realistic rather than a supernatural perspective, as a group with specific interests and desires that occasionally conflict with our own. To reduce all of our problems to a question of Jewish influence, however, is just as absurd as those who ignore the question altogether.

The other crucial insight that the Alt Right and the New Right share is the understanding that, since the 1960s, the liberal Left rapidly assumed control over the cultural institutions of Western Europe and North America, which soon led to them securing dominance over our political institutions as well. This is why the conservative Right in our countries gradually came to adapt itself to this new reality, continually ceding ground until it became “cuckservatism,” to use the parlance of our times. This is something which the mainstream still seems to struggle with at times; namely, that we regard the liberal Left and liberal conservatism merely as two heads of the same monster. The Alt Right and the New Right are in lockstep in recognizing that the struggle to defeat this monster is as much cultural as political, in fact more so, and that creating the groundwork for the revival of a healthy culture is the necessary soil out of which a genuine non-liberal political movement will eventually grow. Hence why the intellectual and cultural work that we are doing is so important, and why even now, when we see some signs of stirring in the world of politics, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to political activism alone. Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go. Seeing Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen get into office and then reducing ourselves to a cheerleading squad for them is not the end for us. To paraphrase Churchill, their victories are not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but it may perhaps mark the end of the beginning.

But while the Alt Right and the New Right are coming at the problem of liberalism from similar angles, they do remain divided by several fundamental issues. First and foremost is race. The American Right (just as the American Left, albeit in different ways) is absolutely obsessed with race: evolutionary theories, comparative IQ scores, crime statistics, and the like. In America, this has led to the development of the term “white” to refer to anyone of European descent. This makes sense in America, where people whose ancestors came from Europe generations ago, regardless of whether they came from Sweden or Sicily, in most cases have become virtually indistinguishable in a cultural and ethnic sense, and all have come to be defined in terms of their alleged “privilege” over those of non-European races and ethnicities. And “White Nationalism,” in the American context, is a sensible attempt to make everyone of European descent in America realize that they have common interests at stake. However, I do believe that the attempt of some to import this idea of “White Nationalism” into Europe, and who in some cases have even called for political unification between America, Europe, and Russia, is a severe disservice to the diversity inherent in European civilization. The issue for Europe, as the New Right has always understood, is as much based in ethnicity, language, and culture as it is on race. We can’t pretend that an Irishman and a Russian are interchangeable. This is not to suggest that there is no basis for Europeans and those of the European diaspora around the world to work together towards common ends, but I believe this can only be rooted in the specificity of particular nations, regions, and traditions, otherwise we will simply be exchanging the cosmopolitan homogenization of global multiculturalism for a “white” form of homogenization. The various European peoples and their offshoots have specific needs and identities, and these must all be respected and nourished under separate and unique institutions. So while I would never suggest that studies of or concern with race are without value, I believe that ethnicity has to take first priority over race as we consider what we are fighting for.

A related issue to this is a belief in ethnopluralism. The New Right has always advocated for the right of all peoples, and not just those of European descent, to stand for and fight, if necessary, for their particular identity and political autonomy in the face of globalization and foreign aggression. In the aforementioned nine theses of the Alt Right, we find “protection of cultural diversity” and “protection from international corporate oppression: we support nationalist economies with a focus on local industry and small businesses.” This is the Alt Right at its best, when it understands that the struggle of the European peoples is the same as the fight of all peoples around the world in the face of coca-colonialism.

However, there are certainly elements associated with the Alt Right who have an unfortunate tendency to glorify colonialism and its attendant exploitations, such as slavery, and in some cases call for a return to those times. Besides the fact that globalization essentially represents a continuation of colonialism through other means, I believe that both the New Right and the Alt Right must resolutely reject this sort of colonialist nostalgia. This is not to say that we should hang our heads in shame, as the liberals would have us do, at its legacy, or deny that there was a great deal of positive achievement in it that went along with its negatives, as one can see in the development of social institutions and infrastructure in India, for instance. (It is no less true, of course, that colonialism also had a detrimental effect on the colonizers, as anyone who has walked the streets of London, and seen the legacy of the Commonwealth of Nations firsthand, can surely attest.) Nevertheless, we are entering a new age, and calling for the imposition of rule by one people over another against their will is not just wrong, but it’s anachronistic. Therefore, we should afford no tolerance towards neo-colonialists in today’s Right. Empire can be a noble form, but empires should only consist of ethnically and culturally compatible peoples, and not be built purely on economic expediency, as were the great European transcontinental empires of the nineteenth century. The Alt Right and the New Right are united in recognizing the right of all the peoples of the world to maintain their own beliefs, cultures, and traditions – in their own lands, of course. This is why we reject mass immigration, since the importation of large numbers of people from fundamentally different cultures into a single system can only lead to a sense of alienation, dissatisfaction, and natural hostility, both on the part of the native population as well as among the immigrants themselves.

And speaking of cultural alienation, another reason why I warn Europeans against embracing the Alt Right label is that the Alt Right is born out of the very specific American context. America was founded on liberalism; this is an undeniable fact. “All men are created equal” is among the first words in our founding document. It’s not too difficult to see how the history of America since then, and most especially over the last half-century, has been the consequence of that principle, even if it’s taken two centuries to see its full implications play out. In Europe, your nations have histories which stretch back into primordial, mythic times, and you have traditions of political organization and hierarchies that go back just as far. You, as Swedes, know who you are. You have thousands of years of historical and cultural heritage to inform you about who you are. Even today, you have political institutions which predate the coming of liberal democracy to your country and the attendant notion of “all men are created equal” that you’ve imported from us.

To be an American, on the other hand, simply means to be an individual invested with vague notions of “rights,” and anyone from anywhere who shows up in America today only needs to take a basic civics test in order to become just as much an American as someone whose forefathers fought in the American Revolution. When the Alt Right is at its best, it draws on the pre-liberal European legacy of political and cultural thought, in particular European notions of natural hierarchies and identity. I don’t mean to disparage the so-called “Alt Light” too harshly, but one can see in much of the Alt Light’s rhetoric an inability to think beyond the liberal principles upon which America is founded. To be frank, American constitutionalism and exceptionalism are not going to be the vehicles that rescue European-Americans from multiculturalism and ultimate displacement as the architects of our country. We need to get back to the ideas that our ancestors left behind in Europe. Like the French revolutionaries and the Soviet Communists, the fathers of the American Revolution thought they could rebel against nature and establish something new – but we can see now that this dream was just as ill-conceived as the utopian dreams of those others. To save ourselves, we Americans have to reconnect with our European roots and with European ideas. In short: white Americans need you a lot more than you need them. Of course it would be good for everyone, and Europe in particular, to get America to a point where it stops harming the rest of the world with its endless geopolitical machinations. But we’re going to need your help in order to get there.

Which brings me to two more deficiencies of the Alt Right project, at least as it has played out so far: it lacks any solid economic or geopolitical viewpoint. It’s too focused on problems at home and on identity politics to be worried about the larger picture, but it will eventually need to engage with these matters if it is to really tackle the problems it has set out to address. Again, this is someplace where the New Right has excelled. The Alt Right seems very hesitant to be critical of capitalism, which I think stems from the fact that globalist capitalism and the American Right became very closely intertwined during the Cold War, in opposition to Communism, and remain so today, which is why all political arguments in the US usually can be boiled down to differing views concerning how best to grow the economy. The simple fact is that we will never be able to achieve the changes we want to see while retaining economic growth as the sole measuring stick of political success or failure.

Alain de Benoist has been quite vocal in insisting that we must seek changes in our economic system if we want to restore our nations as places for our own people to grow and thrive, something that we hear a faint, if insufficient, echo of in Donald Trump’s own protectionist proposals, or in the Alt Right’s support for tariffs to protect domestic goods. As Benoist famously said in his essay “Immigration: The Reserve Army of Capital [8],” “Whoever criticizes capitalism, while approving immigration, whose working class is its first victim, had better shut up. Whoever criticizes immigration, while remaining silent about capitalism, should do the same.”

There is one positive point of convergence here, though: the New Right recognizes that, as Rightists, it is our duty to be stewards of the Earth and its environment (which, as Roger Scruton has written, has always been something more natural to the Right than to the humanistic Left); this is paralleled in the nine theses of the Alt Right, which state, “We support regulations designed to preserve our natural heritage.”

Again, however, the Alt Right falters when it comes to geopolitics. The mere isolationism proposed by the Alt Right in international relations, while certainly an improvement over America’s destructive legacy of interventionism, will be insufficient to deal with the problems that lie ahead. The true Right must be able to forge new alliances and perhaps name new enemies if it is to undo the damage that globalism has already wrought across the globe.

I may have sounded very critical of the Alt Right in this talk, and indeed, I think it still has a long way to go before it can be taken seriously as a political movement worthy of contending for actual power, as opposed to the vague influence it exerts today. But I don’t intend to disparage it completely. In it, we do see the first glimmerings of a revolution against liberalism; they just need to be fanned until they burst into real flame. To do that, it will have to attain a much greater degree of inner discipline and intellectual maturity. That’s where we need help from Europe. In short, we need you to help us to grow up. The European New Right is not something that can be exactly replicated in America, I concede, given our different cultural contexts, but I believe that the two have more commonalities than differences, and in fact the communitarianism that has been suggested by GRECE as a solution to the problems of mass immigration is perhaps even better suited to the American context than to the European, given that America has been communitarian in nature since its inception: groups of different peoples living side by side, but according to different traditions and customs.

But the one area where the Alt Right has already proven its mastery is in the metapolitical arena. If you had told me a year ago that Pepe the Frog and triple parentheses were going to become flashpoints in the 2016 presidential race – a race that our guy won, a fact which still amazes me – I would have suggested that you switch from liquor to beer. But the forces of the Alt Right mobilized a youthful vigor and a wicked, creative sense of humor, and tapped into the American collective unconscious in a way that was unparalleled in modern times. I wouldn’t say that the Alt Right won the election, but it was certainly a significant factor. And this is the one way in which you in Europe can perhaps take lessons from us Americans. The European New Right has built an elegant intellectual edifice over decades that is unmatched; the problem is that its call for metapolitical battle has never truly left the pages of books and articles and been manifested in the real world. The Alt Right needs to learn from Europe, that much is clear. But what we also need now is for you Europeans, with the strength of your ideas and your traditions, to link up with the guerrilla prankster spirit that drives the Alt Right. I already see signs of this coming into being, but you need to take it much further. And don’t just copy the Alt Right, but come up with your own ideas, exclusive to your own needs. Come up with your own answer to Pepe!

So I will leave you with one, final warning. The Alt Right’s relationship to the Trump Administration is not the first time in recent times that the true Right has flirted with genuine political power. In the mid-1980s, many veterans of GRECE ended up going to work for the Front National, but unfortunately it was more of a divorce than an example of influence, as the activists, such as Guillaume Faye, grew frustrated with the thinkers’ lack of action, and the thinkers grew contemptuous of the lack of intellectual seriousness and rigor on the part of the activists. I think it’s possible we may see a similar split in the Alt Right before long, as the harsh realities of politics become apparent. Greg Johnson wrote a brief essay on what happened in France in a short essay called “Theory and Practice [9].” He writes:

[Faye] claims that the New Right never engaged the Front National, because its members fundamentally misunderstood Gramsci, whose cultural battle was organically connected with the economic and political struggle of the Italian Communist Party. The New Right, however, treated the battle as entirely cultural and intellectual. Thus they were not really Gramscians. They were actually followers of Augustin Cochin’s theory of the role of intellectual salons in paving the way for the French Revolution. Unlike the men of the old regime, however, we do not enjoy the luxury of ignoring party and electoral politics. . . . [W]e must influence people who have power, or who can attain it. That means we must engage organized political parties and movements. No, in the end, white people are not going to vote ourselves out of the present mess. But we are not in the endgame yet, and it may still be possible to influence policy through the existing system. Moreover, parties do not exist merely for the sake of elections. They provide a nucleus for the new order they advocate. Finally, there are other ways to attain power besides elections.

Greg is right about this, and it’s a difficult balance we will have to strike: between influencing politics with our ideas on the one hand, while not turning our noses up at everyday politics – which, admittedly, is a dirty and unpleasant business – and eschewing it out of a desire to remain pure to our ideals. Yes, we will have to compromise at times, but a tremendous amount can still be achieved. The current wave of populism across the Western world is an indication of that, and it’s a wave we must ride. In this, I think a marriage between the ideas of the New Right and the techniques of the Alt Right can be a very happy and fruitful one. We have two very different battles to fight, but if we learn from each others’ strengths, eventually we will meet and clasp hands as victorious brothers on the battlefield of history.

Thank you.