In 2007, Canadian political theorist Tamir Bar-On wrote a book with a provocative title: Where have all the fascists gone? In 2017, Bar-On’s question may seem to many readers no longer that perplexing.
Beginning with the GFC, the last decade has seen the most dramatic rise of far Right political forces in the Western world since the interwar years.
2009 was the breakthrough year for UKIP (the UK Independence Party) in European elections. It also saw notable gains for Rightwing parties from Norway, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Austria, and Italy.
In 2010, Jobbik, “The Movement for a Better Hungary” whose supporters wear paramilitary uniforms and rail against immigrants, the Roma people and “Jewish financial capital”, became Hungary’s third largest Party.
Last year, the world knows, Donald Trump’s brand of “America First” populism won over first the GOP and then the White House. Britain, led by UKIP, voted to leave the EU.
This year, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands failed to win the Dutch elections. Yet his Party increased its representation from 15 to around 20 seats, confirming Wilders’ as Holland’s second political Party.
All of these New Right Parties deny the tag of fascism, indelibly tarnished by the revelations after 1944 of the heinous atrocities of Hitler’s NSDAP.
Yet each of them, to different degrees, challenges established post-war divisions of Left and Right, just as the interwar fascists and “national socialists”. Each calls into question the basic legitimacy of parliamentary market regimes, as the interwar fascists did. Each hones in upon anti-immigration and anti-Islamic fears. Each plays up opposition to treacherous domestic “elites” as a key point of electoral appeal.
Each proposes the reclaiming of “sovereignty” in a sweeping national rebirth: an idea once more close to the very heart of interwar forms of fascism.
Today’s rise to mainstream political legitimacy of these parties, as well as the commonalities between them, bespeak common ideological inspirations, as well as the changing times.
Bar-On’s 2007 study of the European New Right thus takes on new pertinence in 2017. Where have all the fascists gone?, an almost unique study in the English language, seeks out and analyses in detail the ideological seeds of European anti-liberalism that are increasingly bearing electoral fruit in the second decade of the new millennium.
The book asks several questions that, as things now appear, have been asked far too little in the liberal West. Just how did the ideas of the European Far Right develop after the “zero hour” of 1945, in the transformed post-fascist world?
Was it reasonable to suppose that military defeat in 1944-45 would forever discredit the ideas of the Far Right that had commanded mass support in Germany, Italy, Spain, Romania and elsewhere?
Wasn’t it, on the contrary, always more likely that these ideas would go underground and bide their time, cultivating esoteric modes of expression whilst waiting for their moment to bid for renewed political power?
A New New Right
In Australia as in the US until recently, the term “New Right” described political supporters of the suite of policies known as “neoliberalism” or “economic rationalism”.
New Righters on this AngloAmerican model believe in the fundamental beneficence and efficiency of free market exchange. They oppose, at least in theory, any nation-State that would intervene in these markets. They oppose, in theory and practice, the organisation of workers in unions, progressive forms of income taxation, and automatic state provision of welfare and other forms of social insurance.
Instead, these “dries” espouse the selling of public assets and the removal of tariffs and other barriers to free trade. Their theorists envisage a world of open borders. Capital from any which “where” should be free to move from country to country, choosing local conditions most propitious for banking profits.
At the height of the 1990s’ euphoria about “globalisation”, thinkers of this New Right were forecasting the end of the nation state in a borderless utopia of “24-7” trade.
The European New Right (ENR) has different ideas and other sources.
Indeed, when its spokespeople are not viscerally anti-American—as almost all were, until 2016—they are deeply opposed to “liberalism” in any forms. They are thus deeply hostile to the kinds of economic cosmopolitanism espoused by Messrs Hayek, Friedman and their admirers, however much they share some political foes.
For the thinkers of the ENR, free markets are not the objects of celebration and faith, but of profound suspicion.
It is not the invariant tendency of these markets to produce growing material inequalities that troubles them. What the ENR thinkers contest is how unregulated free markets operate in almost complete indifference, or active hostility to local traditions, religions, communities, nations, and (in some cases) nature herself.
The AngloAmerican New Right have long proposed that markets inculcate in subjects a hardy independence of spirit and canny self-reliance, through the ongoing demands of competitive survival.
The ENR, unafraid to draw on Marxian cultural theories, proposes that the commodification of culture in later capitalism cheapens everything, uproots individuals from their families and solidarity with their fellows, and destroys the differences between local, regional and national ways of life.
In the ENR optic, moreover, the floods of immigrants who have presented themselves at the borders of Western nations in the last decades are a symptom of the “globalist” system. They are the other side of the cheap imported consumer goods that have also flooded the West since the 1980s. To echo Alain de Benoist, one of the fathers of the ENR, he who remains silent about capitalism should also remain silent about the problems of immigration.
We are a long way from the New Right we are familiar with down under.
Instead, the ENR propounds what it calls the “right to difference”. This label self-consciously echoes the language of the postmodern New Left to which many of its representatives have at different times reached out over the last five decades.
If we are serious about promoting difference, the ENRers counsel, we must oppose the bringing together of incommensurable cultures in a multicultural melting pot. We need to undertake the peaceful return of immigrants—especially Muslems, from a very different culture—to their homelands. This will benefit all concerned.
Behind their Leftist-sounding language, that is, the ENR looks back to the counter-revolutionary tradition of European thinkers like Joseph de Maistre. It carries forwards the legacy of 20th century thinkers of the European far Right like Martin Heidegger, Ernst Jünger, Julius Evola and Carl Schmitt, all of whom were involved in different degrees in the rise of interwar fascisms.
ENR Metapolitics: a Gramscianism of the Right
Uncannily, the victorious Allies in 1945 experienced great difficulty in finding anyone in Germany who openly avowed having been a Nazi. Yet there were, by 1945, 8 million NSDAP members. Hitler had commanded much wider public support after 1940. In ensuing years, far Right ideas and organisations were censored. Former Nazi Professors were prevented from University teaching. It was as if Nazism, and the seductive myths that underlay it, had disappeared forever.
The ENR was founded in the late 1960s upon a rejection of direct links with interwar fascism. The anti-semitism of the Nazis was rejected, alongside of its bases in biological pseudo-sciences. The old methods of fascism—from paramilitary marches and street violence to direct parliamentary politics—were also forsworn.
De Benoist and others instead proposed to learn from the enemy.
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci distinguished between direct political domination, by force and repression, and what he termed “hegemony”. Hegemony is the control a regime can wield over a population by winning their free consent.
The way to win such hegemony, Gramsci saw, was for a political movement to first shape debate in the cultural sphere. It is a question of peopling schools, universities, newspapers, and think tanks with proponents of one’s own ideological perspective. Direct politics must come later.
The ENR’s central group, the significantly-acronymed GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’étude pour la civilisation européenne) was founded in 1968. Central to its program was what the title of its 16th colloquium would directly announce: the push “for a right-wing Gramscianism.”
“The French right is Leninist without having read Lenin,” de Benoist protested: “It hasn’t realised the importance of Gramsci. It hasn’t seen that cultural power threatens the apparatus of the state …”
The ENR thus did not form any Party. Its protagonists have long maintained an ambiguous distance from the “vulgar” xenophobia of the Front Nationale, and other Far Right parties.
The ENR aimed to play a longer, metapolitical game. In the years after 1968, GRECE would gradually organise new journals, publishing houses, think tanks and fora to disseminate ENR ideas. Their aim was nothing less than to “unify … France’s 1000 brightest and most powerful people in order to create the possibility of an anti-liberal revolution.”
Reversing the decline of the West—again
The ENR’s cultural or “metapolitical” turn, which so uncannily mirrors that of the New Left, has another side.
This side reaches beyond the more immediate issues that the ENR has advocated about—notably, the need to slow or halt non-European immigration, particularly from Islamic nations. It points far beyond the quasi-Leftist packaging of the ENR’s anti-multicultural proposals.
For this species of the farther Right, a far bigger metapolitical picture than the Angloamerican New Right ever imagined needs to be seen.
This is the epochal uprooting of European peoples from the indigenous, traditional and hierarchical sources of their ethnic and national strength: a staple idea of reactionary thought since shortly after 1789 central also to 20th century narratives of “the decline of the West”.
What is at stake in our present discontents in the ENR perspective is a civilizational malaise spanning centuries. Its overcoming demands nothing short of a wholesale rejection of the misbegotten universalistic values of the modern world.
De Benoist has thus stridently denounced the “inorganic, foreign, ‘abstract’, and intolerant ‘religion’ called ‘human rights’”. A secular inheritance from Judaism and Christianity, human rights ideology supposes that all peoples are equal, and that cultural and ethnic difference is secondary.
As for the postmodern Left, the universalism of the humanist and Christian traditions is for the ENR code for the “destruction of difference”.
As elements within the National Socialist movement looked back to pre-JudaeoChristian forms of paganism, ENR thinkers call for the rejuvenation of “organic” hierarchical, pagan societies from deep in Europe’s ancestral past.
In these societies, we are told, “diversity” reigned between the hierarchical orders and between tribal groups. The levelling, culture-destroying supposition that men and women have fundamental claims to equal treatment and dignity was happily unknown.
From such metapolitical heights, the differences between forms of socialism and liberalism, decisive for the AngloAmerican New Right, disappear beneath the radar. For the ENR as for the interwar fascists, all modern political forms of Left or Right are united by the same soulless drive towards a global conformism of materialist, high-tech banality.
What is required, then, is that we go “beyond Left and Right” as this political polarity was shaped by the modern revolutions. Instead, we must “reclaim the political” from the predominance everywhere of economics: “a world of petty mediocre pleasures, of old-boy networks and fixers, of fiddling and money grabbing”. We must bypass representative institutions through installing plebiscitary forms of populism that empower the “silent majority” to overturn the cosmopolitan elites’ agenda, with its culturocidal pluralism.
A “plurality of world politics” then beckons, of societies unified and hierarchical within, irreducibly different across newly closed borders: “a plethora of world-cultural communities adamantly opposed to liberal capitalism …”
A golden harvest?
As the ENR gears up next year to turn fifty, it must be hard for its doyens not to entertain the thought that the political harvest of their long metapolitical labours is at last upon us.
We have an American President set on halting Islamic immigration and “draining the swamp”, all the while speaking of a many-nationed movement against globalism. We see the rise and rise of populist, anti-liberal parties across the European continent. We have large sectors of the cultural elites as deeply convinced as the ENR of the fundamental illegitimacy of the “modern project”, drawing on the same reactionary intellectual sources. The world economy continually totters on the edge of further crises. And there is a real chance that Marine Le Pen will win the French Presidency in 2017.
Little wonder de Benoist recently gave an interview under the eschatological title: the end of the modern world.
One thing at least is clear. Any meaningful alternative to this New Right, and the increasingly global currency of the older Rightist ideas it has reanimated will have to take one page from its metapolitical book, and learn quickly about and from the foe.