Last year, The Mallard’s Chairman, Jake Scott, wrote two essays titled “The Original Right-Wing Gramscians”, detailing the history, ideology, and influence of free-market think-tanks in post-war Britain.
However, unlike the post-war free marketeers, whose “right-wing Gramscian” descriptor has been added retroactively, the French ‘New Right’ (Nouvelle Droite) openly characterised themselves, as did others, as “Gramscians of the Right” – both during their intellectual ascendancy in the 1970s, and during revived interest in their movement around the turn of the millennium.
Whilst technically established in 1968 with the foundation of the ‘Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne’ (GRECE; Research and Study Group for European Civilization), the most recent attempt at a unified doctrine for the French (and, by extension, European) New Right is found in an essay titled “The French New Right in The Year 2000” (FNR2K).
A relatively short work, the FNR2K reads less as a political manifesto and more as an intellectual one. Granted, the content is political, but it doesn’t confine itself to the trappings of electoral politics. After all, the French New Right (FNR) grew out of electoral alienation, instigated by consecutive right-wing electoral defeats throughout the 1960s.
This prioritisation of intellectualism over electoralism is made clear off-the-bat when Alain De Benoist, often dubbed the FNR’s leading figure, dispels the idea that the FNR constitutes a “political strategy”. Instead, the FNR is defined as a “school of thought” attempting to “formulate a metapolitical perspective”.
Metapolitics, Benoist continues, is “not politics by other means”. Rather, it is the idea that “ideas play a fundamental role in collective consciousness”. All human actions, trivial or revolutionary, take place within a framework of “convictions, beliefs, and representations which provide meaning and direction”. These “convictions, beliefs, and representations” are the focus of the FNR’s work. In simpler terms, metapolitics is that which is outside, but shapes, the development of politics.
FNR2K is divided into three sections: Predicaments, Foundations, and Positions. ‘Predicaments’ is divided into three sub-divisions: What is Modernity?, The Crisis of Modernity, and Liberalism: The Main Enemy, all of which provide context to the FNR’s intellectual work.
‘Foundations’ establishes the FNR’s theoretical first principles in relation to a variety of topics: man, society, politics, economics, ethics, technology, the world, and cosmos. Throughout, these first principles are juxtaposed with the theoretical first principles found in liberal modernity.
Finally, ‘Positions’ summarises that which the FNR is for and against, as well as an additional 13th stand-alone commitment to promoting “independence of thought and a return to discussion of ideas”.
The FNR interprets Modernity as a convergence of five processes: Individualization (the destruction of traditional communal life), Massification (the adoption of standardised lifestyles), Desacralization (the replacement of religious understanding with scientific understanding), Rationalization (the hegemony of “instrumental reason” via capital and technology), and Universalization (the globalisation of assumed-to-be superior models of social organisation).
The Crisis of Modernity refers to the failure of these processes to produce their initial promises of Freedom and Equality. Freedom has been reduced to a procedural formality; it means to operate “within the marketplace, technoscience or communications without ever being able to influence their course”. Erstwhile, Equality has failed two-fold. It has both “betrayed” the people it allegedly sought to benefit (e.g. the murderous nature of communist regimes) and has been “trivialized” (e.g. growing economic inequality under capitalism). Specifically, this has happened despite Equality being the foundational principle of both communism (equal access to means of production) and capitalism (equal opportunity to prosper within a market economy).
As such, the end result of Modernity is “the most empty civilization mankind has ever known”. Contrary to a free and equal paradise, “the language of advertising serves as the paradigm for public discourse, the primacy of money has made commodities an omnipresent feature of society. Man has turned from a social animal to a hedonistic object; he occupies an unreal world of drugs, virtual reality, media-hyped sports” – he operates as a “solitary individual” amid an “anonymous and hostile crowd”.
Considered to be “the dominant ideology of modernity”, it follows that Liberalism is the FNR’s primary intellectual target. Attacked for reducing life to individualistic economic competition, erstwhile imposing a hypocritical notion of value-neutrality, the FNR considers Liberalism responsible for creating a barren existence: survival for the sake of survival, an existence devoid of higher purpose or aspiration.
However, Liberalism is not the only target. Whilst charitably described as a “legitimate reaction”, the FNR dismisses Marxism as a counter-productive and misdirected response to the problems arising from Liberalism, being rooted in common modern presuppositions.
As an example, Benoist points to the modern welfare state. Emerging as a reaction to the autonomous market, the welfare state does not restore historic communal ties undone by Liberalism. Rather, it assisted in re-engineering society to adhere to the matrix of mere production and consumption. Whilst Liberalism is nothing more than a “global system of production and reproduction”, Marxism has created conformity around “an opaque redistributive structure”, one which has “generalised irresponsibility” and has transformed members of society into “nothing more than recipients of the public system”.
In summary, Modernity has reduced humanity to the lowest-common denominator; to the barebones of production and consumption, supplementing its constituents with a hypermodern array of metastasized rights and a dehumanising system of welfare. Compounded, the end result is a frightful and depersonalised lumpen.
In response to this hellish existence, the FNR begins to lay the ‘Foundations’ of its counter-ideology. At bottom-level, this means recognising a distinction between Pluriversuum and Continuum; a distinction between what is diverse and particular (‘plural’) and what is constant and universal (‘continuous’).
Contrary to Modern depictions of man, either as an “infinitely malleable” atomised individual or the sum of a single specialised factor (i.e., economy; homo economicus) – man is neither wholly determinable or determined.
For example, one can’t change his ethnicity or family, but can, in a moral sense, choose to “go beyond himself or debase himself”. In this instance, the Pluriversuum of man is exemplified by the natural diversity of communities which exist in the world, whilst the Continuum of man is exemplified by his ability to engage in decisions, irrespective of his particular community and its customs. Neither is more key to man’s nature than the other; they are distinct but equally important aspects of what he truly is.
Against the backdrop of the first section, the FNR sees Modernity as reducing Earthly existence to Continuum (technical decision-making within a globalised system of production and consumption) at the expense of Pluriversum; liberal modernity means global homogenization (or, as it has become known in some circles: globohomo).
Given this, it follows that the origins of man, a social animal, as well as the affairs of his society, are also beholden to this logic. Society cannot be reduced to a homogenised collective or aggregated individuals, but a “body of communities” – families, neighbourhoods, localities, national ethnicities and supranational groups; they are distinct and defined by their respective, precise, and unique relation to each other.
Politics is an art, offering a vibrant plurality of forms, renditions, improvements and cultivations, unlike the Modern understanding which situates politics as a system of management; decisions are made to be purely technical and “neutral”, denying any fundamental alternatives to the machine, reducing politics to a matter of stability, rather than the deliberation and actualisation of ideas.
Economics (oikos-nomos; family law) must be recontextualised, from the narrow realm of immediate and quantifiable transaction to a broader understanding which incorporates distinctly qualitative values, such as beauty, ecology, family, and ethics.
Ethical values, whilst universally contingent on the distinction between good and bad, and other such related categories, must be allowed to organically develop into specific customs appropriate for particular societies. The universal reduction of morality to “practical materialism” must be resisted. This principle of striving towards excellence, provided specific meaning by context, is also true of different modes of life within a community; a good plumber is better than a bad philosopher.
Technology, whilst celebrated for its “Promethean” capabilities, must be harmoniously balanced with environmental custodianship. Concern for the natural world should stem not from government regulation or technophobia, but from a shared moral conscience; one which earnestly wishes for future generations to inherit a world “no less beautiful, no less rich, and no less diverse than the world we know today”.
Having established their given context and theoretical response to said context, the FNR2K concludes with its ‘Positions’ – what it is against and for:
Against Uprooting, For Strong Community Identities; Against Racism, For Difference; Against Immigration, For Cooperation; Against Sexism, For Gender; Against The New Class, For Bottom-Up Autonomy; Against Jacobinism, For a Federal Europe; Against Depoliticization, For Democracy; Against Productivism, For New Forms of Labour; Against Ruthless Economic Policies, For Economy at the Service of the People; Against Gigantism, For Local Communities; Against Megalopolis, For Cities on a Human Scale; Against Unbridled Technology, For Integral Ecology; For Independence of Thought and a Return to Discussion of Ideas.
Many of these points will be intuitively, if not immediately, understood, such as the first, third, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth. After all, these are matters regularly discussed and supported by more traditional conservatives: social cohesion, national identity, strong borders, developing social and economic capital, aesthetical refinement of all kinds, and environmental custodianship.
Although there has been strong pushback against ‘gender ideology’ and corresponding issues (i.e. transgenderism), one shouldn’t be misinterpret De Benoist’s use of ‘gender’ – he’s saying very much the same thing: men and women are ontologically different and one cannot, and should not, become the other.
Even unfamiliar terms like “The New Class” immediately become familiar once De Benoist pins down a summary:
“…the manpower for the media, large national and multinational firms, and international organisations. This New Class produces and reproduces… the same type of person: cold-blooded specialists, rationality detached from day to day realities… engenders abstract individualism, utilitarian beliefs, a superficial humanitarianism, indifference to history, an obvious lack of culture, isolation from the real world, the sacrifice of the real to the virtual, an inclination to corruption, nepotism and to buying votes… The New Class depersonalises the leadership of Western societies and… lessens their sense of responsibility.”
All this said, some points are likely less understood from the get-go. Despite being listed second, the commitment to ‘difference’ is perhaps the central defining tenet of the FNR. Dubbed “the right to difference” De Benoist suggests, as a matter of principle, that diversity is good – diversity of people, cultures, systems, products, religions, and ideas.
Placing primary emphasis on ethnocultural diversity, the “right to difference” is meant to counteract what De Benoist sees and refers to as “the ideology of sameness” – an all-encompassing term for global homogenization and all its various forms: mass immigration, economic and cultural globalisation, philosophical universalism, egalitarianism, and so on.
However, whilst the “right to difference” forms the basis for the FNR’s support for group-based, individual, and ideological differences, it also provides a basis for conserving differences in a whole host of other domains.
Democracy is, first and foremost, understood as a rejection of universal equality; it recognises “a people” – defined by a common, but distinct, sense of membership – as the basis for legitimate deliberation and decision-making, both in the name of the common good and as an expression of individual agency. This is situated in contrast to depoliticization, which does not recognise the existence of a people, and by extension the sovereignty of the people, allowing bureaucrats, technocrats, and lobbyists to forego pluralism and disqualify certain political programs at will.
Similarly, instead of a “Europe of Nations” or a “European Nation”, the FNR2K poses organic regional secession from existing European nation-states, and the ‘bottom-up’ federalized along Eurocultural lines (including Russia), affording distinct identities and devolved powers to all principalities, with the exception of “those matters which escape the competence of the lower level” and apply to “all the federal communities” of Europe, such as major military, diplomatic, legal, environmental, and infrastructural matters.
The FNR believes: “the nation-state is now too big to manage little problems and too small to address big ones” – civilizational superorganisms, organised in a polycentric patchwork, albeit with integrated research, industry, communications, and currency, are necessary for securing autonomy, tranquillity, and difference.
Labour must be reinterpreted beyond a ‘productivist’ understanding – it must incorporate work that is conducted and valued for qualitative, rather than merely quantitative, reasons; this ranges from labours of love and duty to ensuring the fruits of labour strive for timelessness, rather than obsolescence.
Additionally, modernity has created a society “where payment by salary is the principal means of integration into social life”. As such, the mission of reimagining labour is two-fold: “to work less in order to work better and in order to have some time for oneself to live and enjoy life”.
Tell me: doesn’t it feel as though you’ve heard all of this before? That you have felt, read, or even articulated such sentiments yourself? To be clear: I am not remarking on the originality or unoriginality of the FNR2K. After all, what good would such a point prove? ‘Originality’ – the moralist insistence to reinvent, the insistence of newness as a virtue – is a cornerstone of modernity.
Rather, I am remarking on how a document published over 20 years ago still bears an uncanny resemblance to matters the British right has, seemingly, only begun to publicly engage with, even if only peripherally, over the past few years: disaffection with liberalism, deracination in a society struggling to be cosmopolitan, the ‘bloatedness’ of institutions, the sense of ennui amid barely managed decline, the ‘re-emersion’ of tribal and class antagonism, the vicious discourse surrounding hereditarian innateness and social malleability, the homogenisation of everything from brand logos to community identities, from the sound of music to values and customs, from architecture to our options at election time.
Despite this, Francophobia has become something of an informal cornerstone of the British right’s identity; THB Britain Should Invade France, etc. Such parochialism, whether sincere principle or hollow performance, does not aid our political or intellectual development.
If the British right is prepared to concede, as it has done so before, that despite historic animosity and cultural differences, Britain and France share common civilisational challenges (multi-faceted demographic change, the future of freedom, sclerotic and hostile institutions, etc.) then it should also be prepared to engage with and learn from French – and more broadly, European – interpretations of affairs.
It’s no debate. The French right talks about positive visions for the future, the British right talks about the Plank of the Week. Whilst the British right mobilised to find footage of Keir Starmer not wearing a seatbelt, the French right almost made Eric Zemmour president of the republic. In Britain, we’ve only just got around to discussing illegal immigration. By contrast, France is way ahead of us.
It’s clear that many of our problems are here at home, not with the “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys”. Given how intellectually barren the political landscape is generally, particularly on the right, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to look beyond the English Channel, and see what our continental adjacents can offer as inspiration.