The Old Spirit Awakes.
Alain de Benoist on the “rooted” ideology of the French New Right.
SPIEGEL: Is France’s “New Right” a neo-fascist shock troop or an intellectual trend? Should it at all be taken seriously?
BENOIST: We are neither neo-fascists nor a new trend, but a young intellectual movement against the old one. It began at the end of the 60s, at the same time that the “New Left” broke from the orthodox Marxists.
SPIEGEL: Why, 10 years after its grounding, is the New Right now being spoken about?
BENOIST: Since the war, public debate in France had been exclusively controlled by leftist groups. With the decline of Marxist ideologies in the last few years and the political failure of both leftist parties, the PCF and PS, an intellectual vacuum appeared. Then, suddenly, the press discovered that our intellectual movement corresponded to the new zeitgeist.
SPIEGEL: Was it not because the new press-tsar Hersant, who took over “Le Figaro” and “France-Soir”, gave you great advertising?
BENOIST: Yes, that also played a roll. Louis Pauwels, who was named by Hersant as editor-in-chief of the new “Figaro Magazine”, invited us to work with him. Thus our readership increased from around 100,000 to roughly 2 million Frenchmen.
SPIEGEL: You owe your success to a man who collaborated with the Nazis and who has never explicitly distanced himself from his earlier views.
BENOIST: Hersant’s past is no darker than that of many far more prominent leftists, such as the head of the socialists Francois Mitterrand, the KP head Georges Marchias or your SPD head Willy Brandt.
SPIEGEL: Because Brandt was anti-Nazi?
BENOIST: I dislike that he simply deposited himself in a foreign country. The July 20th group impresses me more.
SPIEGEL: Thus you find Hersant’s past irrelevant?
BENOIST: As a journalist it is most important that I have complete freedom of expression. Hersant totally and utterly respects that.
SPIEGEL: What is actually new about the New Right, in contrast to the traditional right, which had been very influential before the war?
BENOIST: The old right was a ragbag of traditionalists in the catholic sense gathered from both royalists and Bonapartists. I’m neither a Christian, nor a royalist, nor a nationalist and furthermore I have no anti-Semitic impulses. We are ideologically at least as far from the traditional right as from the left.
SPIEGEL: And yet you set yourselves up as reactionaries and not on the side of liberals. You even coined the epithet “New Right”. Where does the agreement with the old right lie?
BENOIST: In the way that all rightists differentiate themselves from leftists: it the expressed recognition of inequality and difference among human beings.
SPIEGEL: The egalitarian ideal is only valid in certain areas of social life. You, however, make out in your essays and writings that the inequality of man is an absolute natural law.
BENOIST: No, I agree, for example, with equality in the legal system and educational opportunity. Within a common culture and history the differences between men are, in a certain way, relative.
SPIEGEL: Here you deviate from your own doctrine of undisputed inequality. Every socialist could even agree with this.
BENOIST: There you are certainly mistaken. Here in France the left-wing theorists always cling to the principle that all differences are environmental. Under communists there is always the belief that one merely needs to change people’s behaviour and then the new, equal man will appear.
SPIEGEL: No serious theorist in the West, nor any communist, believes in this dogma. You are binding your principle with the idea of a hierarchical society, which will be ruled by an elite. In this you remain true to the tradition of the reactionary right in France.
BENOIST: Absolutely not. We are young conservatives, not reactionaries. We want to ground elite-theory anew, not in the sense of privileges or a compartmentalised society. We assume that modern society, whether totalitarian or democratic, is ruled by a small leadership group. Even in socialist countries, which pay tribute to total egalitarianism, there is a tiny leadership caste.
SPIEGEL: This recognition is nothing new.
BENOIST: But what is new is that we don’t want to do away with this principle. Instead we want to affirm it insofar as the path to the elite stays open. That is, we fight against every form of privilege and demand instead the optimal promotion of innate gifts.
SPIEGEL: How ought the state to be arranged, so that this idea can be practically implemented.
BENOIST: I’m neither a politician nor a futurist.
SPIEGEL: It doesn’t matter for your theory whether the new society is constituted democratically or in a totalitarian fashion?
BENOIST: So that we don’t misunderstand each other, I affirm principally parliamentary democracy. Much more important to us than the institutions of the political system are the handed down social myths and the spirit of the people they convey. Our epoch is marked by the myth of equality.
SPIEGEL: Do you want to liquidate the achievements of the French Revolution?
BENOIST: I don’t criticise the principle and the necessity of the revolution, but the attendant terror and totalitarian thinking. I don’t want to turn back the wheels of time.
SPIEGEL: You and your friends write in many articles that political and cultural life is, above all, destroyed by the domination of the economy. You thus criticise the foundations of industrial society.
BENOIST: One doesn’t also have to accept the disadvantages of progress. We want the momentum of the economy limited and the reduction of the power of multinationals. The atrophy of life through monodimentionality must be stopped.
SPIEGEL: The connection of “growth criticism” and cultural criticism was already concisely formulated by the Frankfurt School twenty years ago. Are you suddenly an adherent of critical theory?
BENOIST: In the later work of Marcuse there is actually a certain overlap with our views, but we criticise monodimentionality from a completely different standpoint. With their negative anthropology, the Frankfurt school represents the exact opposite of what we want.
SPIEGEL: You don’t want to publically decide whether you should affirm technological progress and the accompanying alienation or not.
BENOIST: I am totally and utterly for technological progress, such as the development of atomic energy. I merely fight against the ideology of progress in its moral sense.
SPIEGEL: But technological progress means power over nature and the alienation of people from one another…
BENOIST: ...unless a political authority were to take control.
SPIEGEL: How so?
BENOIST: The state should, for example, forbid factory owners from polluting rivers, as natural beauty is just as important as industrial production.
SPIEGEL: Every environmentalist could sign on to that.
BENOIST: If only the environmentalists didn’t preach of the “return to nature”! They are under the delusion of being able to stop all progress.
SPIEGEL: Do you demand the subjugation of economics to politics?
BENOIST: Absolutely! The state must control the economy, not the reverse.
SPIEGEL: You also speak of the false hierarchy of values in society, which must be fundamentally changed. What do you mean by this?
BENOIST: We want to reawaken the ancient spirit of European culture against the anti-spirit of economism and egalitarianism.
SPIEGEL: Why should the pre-Christian cultures of the Greeks, Romans, Celts and Germans be more humane and thus correspond more to human nature than that of the modern era?
BENOIST: Because the old principle of natural inequality was valid and the hierarchical society, with its elite order, possessed a natural justification. Besides, these foundations are supported by scientific findings.
SPIEGEL: Which ones?
BENOIST: For example: the research on inborn behavioural drives by the nobel prize winner Konrad Lorzen. Furthermore, the investigations of the American specialist Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins. According to whom social structure is defined by biology. The findings of biogenetics are also important. They show the extent to which human behaviour is predetermined by genetics.
SPIEGEL: Much of this research is refuted, controversial or purely hypothetical. Above all, they don’t constitute evidence for a human “ur-civilisation” in Europe. That, according to the New Right propagated “rerootedness” of humanity, appears to substantiate blood and soil mythology.
BENOIST: Blood and soil mythology is a massive perversion of the idea of rereootedness. People everywhere are on the search for their roots. For example, the book “Roots” by the black American Alex Haley or the young peoples of the third world. The “New Left” itself is in principle the attempt to discover “rerootedness”.
SPIEGEL: Who have in mind something completely different to you. You’ve written: “What are the historic and ephemeral fatherlands in the face of the corporeal and eternal fatherlands? What do the barriers of history mean in the face of the borders of the blood?” This is blood and soil mythology.
BENOIST: By this I meant the regional culture and ethnic minorities in France.
SPIEGEL: And the blood aspect?
BENOIST: I meant, for example, the people of Brittany or the Basques. For them, the historically established French nation is virtually meaningless compared with their own culture. They see in it the resurrection of the corporeal and eternal fatherlands.
SPIEGEL: What do the problem of minorities and strengthening regionalism have to do with blood ties?
BENOIST: It is obvious that the ethnic particularity of regional minorities is made up, in part, from their collective personality, even when this aspect isn’t so essential. I understand “rerootedness” generally to mean that organic communities become conscious of their cultural histories and that people are able to learn to confidently love their pasts and futures.
SPIEGEL: They are still just empty formulas. Modern man is integrated into his culture regardless whether he values it or not.
BENOIST: I see it differently. The social and regional differences in culture have been levelled. “The American way of life”, the consumer society, rules everywhere. Everything is levelled in the bureaucratic centralised state, and the ones, which are influenced by leftist theorists, seek to eliminate all differences.
SPIEGEL: What, if you please, do cultural traditions have to do with “the eternal boundaries of blood”?
BENOIST: In France, most minority cultural traditions are ethnically rooted. Of course, this is just one reason. In numerous articles against racism, I have highlighted that history is more important than biology, that culture is more important than nature.
SPIEGEL: Once again, you evade with empty formulas. The last 200 years of industrialisation and the appearance of modern society, which you reject, belong to European history.
BENOIST: Firstly, we still have to work out and interpret the enduring values of our millennia old civilisation history,
SPIEGEL: Your movement’s journal, “elements”, counts Germany and the franco-german peoples, as they existed under Charlemagne, among these eternal values. Why?
BENOIST: Because the two peoples are the heart and sometimes a little of the spirit and soul of Europe.
SPIEGEL: In the issue written under the collective pseudonym “Robert de Herte”, the reunification of Germany is portrayed as the people’s destiny.
BENOIST: I didn’t write that. I believe in European integration, by which I mean the whole of Europe including the eastern populations. And, one of the preconditions is the reunification of Germany independent of Russia and America.
SPIEGEL: The edition of “elements” dedicated to Germany is not a solitary case. In your theoretical volumes, in your books and in your essays the German spirit is always mentioned in detail.
BENOIST: The current state of German thinking justifies the place to which we are returning.
SPIEGEL: It amazes us that you are so transparently fascinated by a group of Germans, who were significant to the Nazi period or who are now reactionaries.
BENOIST: In my book “Vu de droite”, I show that thinkers like Bertrand Russell or Antonio Gramsci were equally important to me. Anyway, I think that the old left-right schema, or fascist-antifascist, is no longer relevant as our theoretical test.
SPIEGEL: It could be that you confuse the boundaries. Nevertheless, the emphasis is on forerunners and co-workers of National Socialism, who prepared the way for you. You pay homage to the nationalist Ernst von Salamon, who took part in the murder of von Rathenau, and celebrate the trigger happy Freikorps as knights of the Weimar Republic – a glorification of ultra-right terrorism.
BENOIST: In my view you are conflating various nationalist currents.
SPIEGEL: You have dealt particularly intensively with the political theory of Carl Schmitt, who was important for the Nazis. Next to Arnold Gehlen, you count him as your most important model.
BENOIST: Today, the immensity of Schmitt’s (who came into conflict with the Nazis) philosophical work is recognised throughout the world.
SPIEGEL: You named the conservative and elitist writer Ernst Jünger, and not Heinrich Boll or Gunter Grass for example, as the most important living writer in the German speaking world.
BENOIST: Because of his fundamentally existentialist attitude, Jünger is one of the most beloved German authors in France. I find it strange to be reproached for finding your writers interesting.
SPIEGEL: It is against the objects of your interest. In almost every issue of “Nouvelle Ecole”, for which you are responsible, German authors of the Nazi period are quoted on culture and race. In an edition dedicated to Richard Wagner, a treatise on genotype and musical talent can be found, which almost exclusively quotes race-geneticists from the Nazi-period.
BENOIST: Quotations do not mean one agrees with them. Furthermore, I quote various views.
SPIEGEL: Ernst Anrich, a supporter of the NPD sits on your patrons’ committee along with a South African apartheid theorist and apostles of biogenetics from the USA. Among your closest friends is Armin Mohler, who has never been suspected of any liberal sentiment.
BENOIST: There are 200 world famous personalities on our board of patrons, including the likes of Arthur Koestler, Konrad Lorenz and Mircea Eliade amongst others. By the way, I’m very annoyed that you don’t differentiate between the various types of conservatism in Germany.
SPIEGEL: To judge from your journal, between your idea of “rerootedeness” and race theory from the Nazi period there exists a certain affinity for the nonsensical - also in your scientific beliefs, which give the impression that the genetic continuity of European cultural values will be proved by natural science.
BENOIST: I have always asserted the opposite, myself. I find this view risible. We are concerned with the values that have outlasted the two thousand year history of Christianity.
SPIEGEL: What could these values be, how should they be rescued?
BENOIST: Through the falling away of Greek and Latin lessons in school, we have completely lost our relationship to antiquity. We must appropriate this past.
SPIEGEL: Ancient Greek as the first foreign language, Celtic and Germanic as second and third… Would this be a school reform for 21st century Europe?
BENOIST: One can learn the languages of our cultural past without making them first and second foreign languages, unless you want to mock everything.
SPIEGEL: Herr de Benoist, we thank you for this interview.
Together with ultra-right students, Alain de Benoist grounded the “"Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation francaise (sic)", whose acronym “GRECE” intends to recall ancient Hellenistic culture. This organisation of around 5000 became the kernel of the “New Right”. It leads a “cultural war” against everything which does not appear to be primevaly European: Christianity, Communism and Americanism. For 11 years de Benoist, 36, has also been publisher and editor in chief of the “New Right” theoretical journal “Nouvelle Ecole” and the he of publisher “Editions Copernic”, whose books allege to scientifically justify racial theories, as well as elitist thinking and the idea of naturally given inequality. Benoist’s encyclopaedic 1977 treatise “Vu de droite” is today seen as the standard work of the “New Right”.