Explaining the European New Right: Interview with Tamir Bar-On

2018-10-24

It is no secret that the radical right has been resurgent across Europe and North America, but unlike the jackbooted fascists of the 20th century, the radical right today no longer supports open violence in their toolkit. Instead, far right groups on both sides of the Atlantic concentrate on attaining power through cultural politics. If you peruse their literature and websites, the Identitarians and the alt-right talk of promoting “metapolitics” and “ethnopluralism” and protecting ethnic identities. What they all have in common is a common genealogical origin: in the European New Right (ENR) and its founder, Alain de Benoist.

We interviewed Tamir Bar-On, one of the world’s leading experts on the ENR to talk about the far-right intellectual movement and its increasingly relevant legacies on contemporary politics. He is the author of Where Have All the Fascists Gone? (2007) and Rethinking the French New Right: Alternatives to Modernity (2013) and is currently a professor of political science at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Queretaro, Mexico, and a fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right.

The following article is a summary of highlights from the interviews, which were conducted in three sessions between August and October 2018 by Benson Cheung, Political Capital's intern and student at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, ON. A longer version (edited for clarity, brevity, and streamlined reading) can be found here.

What is the European New Right?

According to Bar-On, the European New Right (interchangeably used with French New Right) originated from France in 1968, when “a group of forty intellectuals who created one of the major think tanks of the Nouvelle Droite called GRECE, which is Group for Research in the Studies of European Civilization. Their aim was essentially to rethink the sterile legacy of the right.” Their leading figure is Alain de Benoist, whose works are Bar-On’s primary focus of study.

What do they believe in?

Bar-On stresses the many things the ENR is against, such as anti-liberalism, anti-capitalism, anti-communism, and, above all, anti-egalitarianism. The ENR “believe that liberalism and socialism emanate from the same logic of egalitarianism, and that logic of egalitarianism has its roots in what they consider the egalitarianism of the Judeo-Christian tradition,” Bar-On explains. “Anything that’s egalitarian they’re against, because they want to create, as a movement on the right, more anti-egalitarian, hierarchical societies based on what they consider is global diversity.” Consequently, the ENR promotes paganism, an economic system focusing on the people, direct democracy, and increased regionalism to promote healthy local identities.

Are they fascist?

“This is a question that’s really been difficult,” Bar-On says. He points out that a major difference between the European New Right and classic fascists is that the former places more emphasis on metapolitics “to create an intellectual right, a respectable right” that eschews the violence of the interwar years and ostensibly valorizes ethnic diversity. Nevertheless, Bar-On continues, while de Benoist might deny being a fascist himself, he sees similarities in their beliefs about ethnic homogeneity, anti-materialism, and intellectual inspirations such as Carl Schmitt. In general, these thinkers understood “that peoples around the world no longer want to be ruled by others.” And so, de Benoist would say that “I am for white power, but I’m equally for black power and yellow power.”

What is the “right to difference”?

One of the ENR’s major intellectual contributions to the far right is the belief in a “right to difference.” He explains that “the “right to difference” would essentially mean the end of multiculturalism, and the creation of a heterogenous world of homogenous communities.” They reject “the assimilationist logic of the nation-state”. Instead, they advocate for “autonomy or independence to more peoples” under the framework of “Europe of a Hundred Flags.”

What is metapolitics?

The other major ENR contribution to the far right is their emphasis on metapolitics, or “the capture of cultural power as the precondition for the capture of political power, and that the terrain of civil society is the terrain of counter-hegemonic contestation.” Drawing inspiration from Italian communist thinker Antonio Gramsci, the New Left, and the 1968 demonstrations, the New Right “seemed to think that [the New Left] controlled the laboratories of thought, the universities, the mass media, and they argue that for the right to be ascendant again, it, like the New Left, needs to work on the terrain of culture.” In other words, the ENR strives to “win the battlefield of ideas.”

What is the ENR’s vision for Europe?

The ENR reject the current European Union as “too liberal, too capitalist, and too technocratic.” Citing the ENR’s manifesto, Bar-On says that their ideal political organization for Europe would be “that at the lowest levels possible (that is, at the local and regional levels), control would be by the peoples of the regions, but at the supranational level, there would be control in terms of matters of banking, common defence, currency, by Europe.” Such a pan-European project would be more similar to plans by surviving postwar fascists like Oswald Mosley, which would integrate European nations under an illiberal, anti-capitalist federation of different nations and peoples.

What does the ENR ideology mean for minorities, immigrants, and refugees?

Despite the ENR’s high-minded rhetoric about the “right to difference”, Bar-On argues that their silence on the question of internal minorities is deafening: “If they valorize diversity in a worldwide sense, worldwide ethnopluralism, why not also valorize diversity within societies?” Bar-On believes that if the ENR had their way, they would use referenda to call for the removal of refugees and immigrants from society. He says, “They are these proponents of direct democracy, and they would say, you know what, finally the true values of the people have spoken against the elites, the political elites, the EU elites, that are imposing this fake multiculturalism on us, these open borders, valorization of immigrants and refugees. So what they say has happened is that ultimately the people have spoken, that is the titular majorities have spoken.”

Is the ENR a homogenous movement?

The short answer: no. While the ENR had its origins in France, far-right intellectuals from other European countries (including Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Russia) have adopted de Benoist’s ideas. However, ENR intellectuals from these countries disagree over specifics, in part “because of different national tendencies and national traditions”, and in part over tactics. For instance, Belgium’s Robert Steuckers believes that the ENR must be more proactive in infiltrating its ideas into government and society, while de Benoist prefers a “let’s wait and see their impact” approach to disseminating his ideas. Unlike de Benoist, Aleksandr Dugin is more openly pro-fascist, racist, and interested in Eurasianism. Another major schism within the French school is between de Benoist and Guillaume Faye, as the latter takes a more strident, apocalyptic stance towards immigrants. That said, Bar-On does not believe that these schisms “prevent pan-European cooperation. I think that there’s still enough in which they’re against in Europe as it’s currently constituted that they can cooperate.”

What is the ENR’s relationship to other kinds of far-right streams, like Anders Behring Breivik’s counter-jihad movement?

As far as he knows, Bar-On does not see a direct lineage between the ENR and the counter-jihad movement and Breivik’s ideology. In fact, he argues that they are “incompatible” because their pro-Judeo-Christian and pro-Israel positions contradict the ENR’s pagan hostility towards Judeo-Christianity. Nevertheless, he sees there is “an affinity” between Breivik and some of the ENR (specifically French intellectual Guillaume Faye), sharing in common “the culture of despair, the apocalyptic assessment of European societies, the view that there will be a clash of civilizations, that violence will rise if they don’t pay attention to the warnings of the European New Right, etc.”

How have ENR ideas filtered into mainstream parliamentary politics?

Bar-On believes that the ENR’s metapolitical strategy has allowed the right to regain respectability, if not mainstream acceptance across Europe, citing the success of the radical right in entering coalition governments. While de Benoist has disavowed the Front National for being “too openly xenophobic, too traditionalist, too Catholic”, these radical right parties share the ENR’s commitment to ethnopluralism and anti-multiculturalism. In fact, as Bar-On notes, “in one study, it was estimated that 35% of Front National supporters were sympathetic to ideas of the French New Right.”

Has the ENR reached Central and Eastern Europe?

Bar-On believes that the ENR’s main representative, or “messenger”, in Eastern Europe is Russian thinker Aleksandr Dugin. But the main points of differentiation between Dugin and de Benoist include Dugin’s overt sympathies for fascism and traditionalism and open anti-Semitism. However, while Bar-On acknowledges that he is no expert on Central and Eastern Europe, he could see the ENR as being supportive of Viktor Orban’s anti-refugee policies but eschew Eastern European populists’ Christian rhetoric.

Are the American alt-right an extension of the ENR?

Bar-On does not see the alt-right “as an extension of the European New Right, although I do see them as heavily influenced by the ideas of de Benoist and the French/European New Right.” The major points of differentiation between the Europeans and the Americans (and specifically, in alt-right leader Richard Spencer’s viewpoints) is that the alt-right is much more overtly racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-imperialist than the Europeans. However, Bar-On also cautions that the alt-right is a new phenomenon whereas the ENR “is much older, more intellectually developed.”

Do you have any advice for debating the far-right?

Having debated de Benoist himself in the past, Bar-On remains uncertain as to whether “debating him was a good idea.” However, he criticizes campus movements preventing (for example) Richard Spencer from speaking, instead urging opponents of the far-right to “get more liberal and more democratic”, and “combat those ideas in the battlefield of ideas” with better arguments.

The full interview, edited for clarity, brevity, and streamlined reading, can be found here.

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