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“A New Type of Right Has Emerged”:
A Conversation with Alain de Benoist

[1]2,650 words

Translated from the Hungarian by György Balázs Kun

The following interview appeared in the Hungarian conservative quarterly journal Kommentár [2], in its second issue for 2019. It was recorded in December 2018. The footnotes were added by Counter-Currents.

“The Old Right is dead, long live the New Right!” could be our cry after seeing the joyful political changes of the last decade. The rise of the Central European Right – which is much more traditional than its Western counterpart – as well as the successes of the Hungarian government, the triumph of populism, the emergence of sovereignism, and the spiritual renewal of conservatism all show the fact that the Right is changing. But the cultural renewal of the Right – its modern ideological rearming – now has a half-century of tradition behind it. In 1968, not only the New Left came into existence, but the New Right (Nouvelle Droite) awakened, too. Barnabás Leimeiszter spoke with GRECE’s founder, the primary theorist of the French New Right, and translated his words from French.

From the student riots to the Yellow Vests

Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of the student riots of 1968. What were you doing during those hectic days?

I was only watching, I was just a simple observer. I wasn’t one of those who fought against the protesters. It was really interesting, and it wasn’t similar in any way to the current Yellow Vests movement. Most of the students who participated in 1968 were of a middle-class background. The level of politicization we had back then would be impossible to imagine nowadays. In 1961, when I was 17, as I began my studies of law and philosophy, ninety percent of the students were members of a political party. Things are quite different now! The student protests had a surrealist strand, too, and there were anarchists, Trotskyists, and those who were enthusiastic about China – this was a great period for Maoism. The latter were an exotic, really special group if we look back at them. We can clearly see that, intellectually speaking, Maoism was the richest and most productive strand of the student movement. Of course, later they said farewell to the revolution, too, but those who were connected to the Maoist circles at the time went on to become interesting authors – unlike the Trotskyists, who seem completely sterile nowadays.

What do you think, does 1968 have a positive legacy?

First, we have to observe that there were two ’68s at the same time. Two big ideologies had defined it. (For the moment, let’s put aside the general strike, which was of course very important from a social point of view.) There was a wing of the ’68 movement that I appreciated: the Situationists, like Guy Debord, the students of Henri Lefebvre and Jean Baudrillard, who offered a radical critique of capitalism, the society of the spectacle, and the logic of consumerism. Sadly, this was not the strata that came to dominate the movement, but rather the liberal, individualist, and hedonistic elements came to the fore, whose essential characteristic was the denial of authority. They quickly figured out that the consumer society is the best environment for them to realize their ideology based on desire, and they easily settled down within this system. But they retained their intolerance and anti-authority mentality, which has caused immeasurable damage, first and foremost in the educational system. Education was simply destroyed by the ideology of ’68.

At the same time, in one of your recent interviews you said that the events of ’68 didn’t really change the course of things. What did you mean, precisely?

I think even if ’68 hadn’t happened, French society would have developed in the same way, broadly speaking. It’s possible it might have happened a bit faster or even a bit slower – who knows? In some Western countries, there were no student riots of a similar kind, but the societies nevertheless changed in more or less the same way. That’s because today, the big ideologies transcend national borders. If liberal individualism, liberal capitalism ended up becoming deeply entwined with the ruling ideology, that’s not because something happened in a specific country, but because it follows from the sum of the society’s characteristics.

New Right

It wasn’t only the student riots that happened fifty years ago. 1968 also marks GRECE’s foundation, which can be seen as the prelude to the European New Right.

Unlike what some people claim, GRECE wasn’t a reaction to the student riots. The first issue of the organization’s journal came out already in early 1968. But of course, this simultaneity is significant: Just like GRECE, the student riots were a generational thing. The New Right emerged in parallel with the New Left. Nowadays, I don’t really use the term “New Right,” because it carries too much baggage, it’s too obscure, and at the same time it’s constricting. And of course, since then, all sorts of different “New Right” groups have emerged in other countries which have no connection to our way of thinking, and which even differ from each other. So we can talk about the Right, but it would be good to know what it means! Our decision somehow had a generational character. We had some experience in politics, and we began to notice that the Right was only using old, repeated slogans which referred to problems that belonged to the past – while we were marching towards a new age. We had to observe things from a new perspective. In a sense, we had to start everything from scratch and throw ourselves into a fascinating project to redefine the Right on a doctrinal, ideological, cultural, and philosophical level. This adventure has been ongoing for fifty years – and one has to admit, that’s something!

Do you think the variant of the Right that you represent has as much of an intellectual impact as you were dreaming about fifty years ago?

It’s always complicated to measure influence. I’ve written countless books; how can we calculate the impact that one book makes? I’ve met a lot of people in France and abroad who told me that they’ve read one of my books, that they really liked it, and that it was very important for them. But at least we can assert that our branch is an organic part of the French ideological landscape – and everybody acknowledges this as a fact. In recent years, we sell more and more copies of each issue of our main journal, Éléments. Of course, it’s a challenge, because the world is changing and we have to adjust to this. We don’t want to repeat the same things over and over again, so we try to come up with new ideas. We pay attention to what’s happening and we try to measure the new lines of force – that’s what we did after the fall of the Soviet Union, too. Recently, new phenomena are happening one after the other: Macron’s election, the Yellow Vests’ uprising. For thirty years, we were living in an ice age, but nowadays – only slowly, of course – the ideological armor has begun melting away and some processes have started. There is still some fear in the air, and there are still intellectual shackles, but these are binding people’s thinking less and less. The intellectual evolution of many intellectuals – such as Jacques Julliard, Régis Debray, Serge Latouche, Pierre Manent, Marcel Gauchet, Jean-Claude Michéa, and others – proves this. They’ve taken positions which would have been impossible fifteen years ago. In short: We’re in the middle of a transition, but I don’t know where it will end.

During the second half of the 1970s, it almost seemed like the New Right would end up becoming a part of the French conservative mainstream, but later, a powerful media campaign began which defamed all of you as extremists. That definitely slowed your progress. How do you remember this?

At that time, the New Right had been going for ten years. At first, nobody talked about us. Then, we started to become more visible simply because we were able to gain Louis Pauwels’[1] [3] sympathy at the same time that the Figaro’s leadership asked him to create a supplement which later became the Figaro Magazine. During his time as general editor, the journal was selling nearly one million copies per issue. He wanted to put people who belonged to our school of thought on the editorial staff, and this caused panic in some circles, who then mounted a counterattack. In a sense, it was successful, because Pauwels grew afraid, and gradually, we had to leave the magazine. At the same time, the international scale of the counter-campaign put us on the map and made the New Right famous on such a level that we couldn’t even have dared to dream about it. During every organization’s history, there are detours, changes, people who think differently, and people come and go – that’s normal. The problem is that, often, foreigners can’t see this. Many foreigners believe even today that the New Right means Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye. Faye – who is reaching his end, even while we’re talking here[2] [4] – left our circles nearly forty years ago. At the same time, nobody even mentions those whose are important on the Right nowadays: François Bousquet, Pascal Esseyric, and Jean-François Gautier, just to name a few.

Metapolitics

You have never been tempted to become a politician?

No, because I don’t have the character for that. I am confident that my intellectual and cultural work will one day ripen into political success. But we can’t slough off our own skin. I have the temper of an intellectual, with all of its virtues and faults. Just to draw a pedantic parallel: The ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, the makers of the Encyclopedia,[3] [5] established the background for the French Revolution – but they didn’t take part in it, and some of them in fact became its victims. My character leads me to read, write, think, develop theories, and produce articles and books – I’ve done this throughout my entire life. I’m horrified at the idea that I could be a Member of Parliament, a mayor, or a representative in local government . . . I don’t like the politics of the politicians! Furthermore, I find everyday politics boring and barren. I am interested in ambitious political currents such as movements, new ideas, the new type of society that we live in, the actual historical moment – the things that you can theorize about.

It’s well-known that you hold General De Gaulle in high regard. Can you name another political figure from French political life in the second half of the twentieth century whom you respect?

I don’t respect anybody unconditionally. This much is certain: After General De Gaulle, we never had another person as qualified as him, and the presidents who succeeded him were not so bright. Mitterand wasn’t a bad President, but he made many mistakes. After him, more and more wretched presidents came: Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande, Macron. It’s a real political journey to hell.

But of course, De Gaulle is criticized a lot, too. Some accuse him of opening the way for the society’s consumerist turn with his policies favoring economic growth.

Many people say that De Gaulle gave too much power to the technocrats who wanted to modernize everything. After the war, during the “The Glorious Thirty,”[4] [6] French society experienced enormous growth, so the fact that they supported consumption was no mystery in itself – on the condition that they didn’t turn it into an ideology. And let me protest: De Gaulle always put politics before economics, he stuck to the sovereignty of the nation. The stance that he took against the United States had historical significance, just as when he withdrew France from NATO. And of course, not least he had unmatched prestige as a soldier and as an author who had been through the World Wars and the Algerian War. It’s because of him that a worthwhile Constitution was created, and he tried to create a third political way between Left and Right to transcend the political divide – even if he wasn’t able to abolish that divide. Rather, these problems were getting worse under his successor, Pompidou, who was much more interested in encouraging consumption – but even he can’t be considered as one of the worst presidents! In short: No, I don’t think that De Gaulle bears any significant responsibility in the creation of the consumerist ideology – which, by the way, happened everywhere around the world. When he supported state control over the economy and propagated a politics of independence, he in fact intensely confronted this ideology.

In the last few years, a radically new form of Right wing has emerged; just think about the Alt Right. Young people who are getting tired of political correctness aren’t really interested in theorizing. Instead, they’re trolling on the Internet, using ever more shocking jokes to try to destroy the dogmas of mannered thinking. I ask you as one of the founders of the New Right: What do you think about the “newest Right”?

This is a postmodern phenomenon. We can’t really analyze it using real political terms. It is part of a world which is infested with screens, and is connected to the incredible power of social networks – which is, by the way, connected to the Yellow Vests movement, too, as we can see. I presume these young people are equally capable of being the best and the worst. They believe they’re totally independent: They have their codes, their references, and they don’t borrow these from the old world’s decrepit ideologies. They really try to be creative, which is very sympathetic. The new generation is a lot less conformist than the previous one.

Are there connections between the generation of the 1960s and the youth of today? Do the same questions happen to occupy their minds, too?

We have to see that there’s an enormous difference: After the age of full employment, we entered the time of structural unemployment. Even if the ‘68ers were whining, it was easy for them to find a job. But today, unemployment is an essential part of the system. Economic snakes and ladders became common, ordinary . . . Many young people are afraid that they won’t be able to make a living. This was followed by the disappearance of the middle class, whose numbers were growing after the 1950s, and which nowadays is disappearing. In earlier times, once somebody was able to get into the middle class, he never fell out of it. But today, the situation is different. Once, children earned more than their parents, but that’s changed, too. Another big difference is that today’s generation is the generation of AIDS. In my time, we could sleep with girls without any major problems; it wasn’t too risky. AIDS, the fear of falling into a lower class, financial hardship, unemployment, and many other things add up, and that’s causing a lot of misgivings among young people. But both generations share a desire for freedom. As a final point I would stress: We live in a transition period, and we have to be very careful, because things are changing really fast. Nobody could have foreseen the Yellow Vests’ revolt. The course of history is not predestined.

Notes

[1] [7] Louis Pauwels (1920-1997) was a prominent French writer and journalist, perhaps best known in the English-speaking world as the co-author of The Morning of the Magicians, a popular (and highly inaccurate) book on “Nazi occultism” published in 1960. In 1977 he began working for Le Figaro, one of the major mainstream French newspapers.

[2] [8] Guillaume Faye (1949-2019) passed away on March 7 [9].

[3] [10] The Encyclopédie, published in France from 1751 until 1772, was one of the first encyclopedias in the form that we know them today, and represented a catalog of Enlightenment thought.

[4] [11] Trente Glorieuses refers to the period between 1945 and 1975, when France was characterized by economic prosperity, as well as a high degree of economic growth and productivity. It was during this period that the extensive French social benefits system as we know it today was established.