The Old Right began as a counter-reaction to the French revolution. It started with Joseph de Maistre, then included Louis de Bonald, Louis Veuillot, and Donoso Cortes among others. We could also say it ended with Charles Maurras, whose thought dominated the French right for decades yet is arguably the last of that line of thought. Yet, there is a new claimant to the Right, again arising in France, but only becoming known in the Anglosphere in recent years: this is the New Right, initiated by Alain de Benoist.
In an interview, Benoist describes his relationship to Charles Maurras. Benoit encountered the ideas of Maurras and his organization, Action Francaise, as a teenager and was apparently at one point politically active in that movement. He claims to possess some 600 volumes by Maurras and his associates, many of them autographed. So, we are justified to assume that Benoist’s knowledge of Maurras is deep and comprehensive.
Nevertheless, Benoist came to reject Maurras, not in part, but in toto. He rejects Maurras’ ideas on French Nationalism, his adherence to the Monarchy, his opposition to democratism, his understanding of rationality, and even his affection for the Ancien Regime. Since this Ancien Regime, which Julius Evola claimed was established by healthy minded and well-bred men, is the very ideal of the counter-revolutionary Right, aren’t we justified to wonder why the New Right is the right?
We perhaps get a clue when Benoist admits:
Like Julius Evola, Maurras is an author of a system. I mean by that that his doctrine forms a closed ensemble, that it constitutes a “perfect” edifice, from which one would not be able to disturb the least element. The result is that one cannot be a Maurrassian by half: one adheres totally to his system or one does not.
Here we see an amibitious young thinker, totally committed to Maurras, come to a crossroad. One cannot simply pick and choose ideas from Maurras. The choice facing Benoist, then, is to either commit himself to being a commentator on Maurras, filling in missing details, or else to go his own way. Benoist chose parricide, rejecting Maurras’ entire program and creating his own movement.
So if Maurras has an excellent system, how then to get from under it? Benoist reveals his point of attack:
All theoretical systems, even the best constructed, are vulnerable in their foundational postulates. Maurras forgets that the truth does not depend solely on the art of reasoning, but also on its first postulates, which are by nature undemonstrable. In social and political matters, these postulates define an anthropology, that is, a way of representing what is man’s nature. According to the idea that one creates of human ends, several anthropologies are always possible.
First postulates, or principles, are supposed to be intuitively obvious, thus not needing demonstration. An intelligent man, and Benoist is quite intelligent, always knows the first principles that guide his thought. There is the temptation, whether due to intellectual curiosity, the need for novelty, a dissatisfaction with their logical consequences, or other reasons, to manipulate these first principles.
Hence, a Bernhard Riemann can reject Euclid’s fifth postulate and create a non-Euclidean geometry; actually, a non-geometry, since it is inconceivable or unimaginable on its own. A Francis Bacon can reject formal causes, thus launching the modernist project. Later generations of men forget how this came about, hence notice there is an epistemological problem, “solved” by Kant by admitting that we really don’t know whether or not our minds conform to reality. Finally, the average college student becomes so immersed in this way of thinking, he has no conception of an alternative way of thinking. For him, if we don’t know what anything is, then it must be a social construct. Hence, a college coed can tell me, in all seriousness, that she rejects gender reassignment surgery, since it reinforces the idea of the bipolarity of the sexes. I was left to wonder if she rejects the idea of birth control pills on similar grounds.
Now, Benoist follows this Kantian path, which was so despised by Maurras. He even goes one step further: he rejects the very idea of a final cause for man. Specifically, this means that Benoist rejects the idea of a human nature, and that man has a specific purpose for his existence. The classical ideal, accepted by Maurras, is that human nature can be known by reasoning. The scientific ideal, in opposition, is that man’s nature must be discovered by observation. But Benoist rejects them both, and asserts that man’s end is something to be created in thought. Thus, just as we can have alternate geometries, we can also have alternate anthropologies.
Benoist’s rejection of principles is clear from this:
He [Maurras] never ceased fighting for “political truth” without seeing that politics is not solely an affair of principles, and that the “truth” in politics is characterized, above all, by an appropriate response, not only to principles, but also to necessarily changing historical and social circumstances.
Here we see Benoist’s embracing of pragmatism. In this perspective, truth in politics is not what follows logically from ideas, but is rather the appropriate response to a given socio-historical situation. Appropriate can only mean that which achieves a given end. And these ends are not given a priori, but are those defined by the political thinker. Thus, in rejecting the system of Maurass, Benoit follows an anti-system. This explains why the New Right has had such a chameleon-like quality over the years, to the point where some have accused Benoist of being an intellectual and political turncoat.
However, Benoist is simply following his own program. His “friends”, sycophants, and epigones do not concern themselves with a lack of first principles, since they are simply interested in his conclusions. Most men prefer to absorb propaganda slogans that can fit on a placard rather than to deal with the intricacies of scientific instruction, and the New Right provides those in abundance in the form of manifestos and slogans. Rather than deal with these head-on, we will instead follow a suggestion made by Benoist himself. Among a few other projects, he proposed this one that interests us:
One could draw up a general picture of the (real) similarities and the (numerous) differences between the thought of Maurras and Julius Evola.
Benoist must think is useful exercise, but apparently is waiting for George to do it. Perhaps he doesn’t feel competent enough to do it himself, or else he feels the results would not be beneficial to his cause. In any case, Gornahoor will take up this project. This will involve providing more translations of both Maurras’ and Evola’s works, including a review by Evola of one of Maurras’ books. This exercise will address several of the major themes of the New Right.