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Thoughts on the European New Right: Part II

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

This is continuation of my commentary on Tom Sunic’s Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right in part I.

David Stennett, Preface to the Second Edition:

…Spengler notes than an excess of rationalism and technology will all but kill the spiritual world that is a prerequisite to make the soil in which culture develops fertile. To Spengler, decline was inevitable, but the modern European-Faustian culture was not necessarily doomed […] The New Right, like their Conservative Revolutionary predecessors, eschews technology, and for good reasons. However, its ignorance of how to utilise technology and its failure to access an important segment of the population have weakened its effectiveness, If the New Right wishes to counter this, it must take to the airwaves and to the internet…Those intellectuals who fail to embrace new technologies are destined to die out (p. 34).

John Law on Faustian Technology:

There are two main strands inside the alternative right as it developed after the failure of the “old right” in Europe in WWII: a right that welcomes modernity and a right that laments the passing of traditional society and romanticizes Eastern cultures. The European New Right (ENR) belongs to the latter and in this respect its main source of spiritual sustenance comes from thinkers such as Julius Evola and René Guénon, both of whom are hostile to Western individualism and rationalism while being admirers of Eastern metaphysics and collectivist identities in which individuals are lacking in personality. While the ENR wishes to connect Europeans to their Indo-European pagan past and Greco-Roman religious traditions, and is not anti-European or anti-Western in this respect, it is very difficult to separate its criticism of modernity, the roots of which it traces directly to ancient Christianity, from a certain animosity to what has made the West unique. The ENR ignores the original sources of European individualism in the heroic culture of Indo-Europeans and ancient Greeks, and the immense contribution of the classical Greeks to modes of intellectual expression derived from reasoning rather than from pagan ritualism and religious exhortation. The ENR shows little appreciation for the immense intellectual and technological achievements of the West.

Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics

The ENR critique, I understand, is directed mainly against the modern West, rather than Europe, or the West generally, for it is really in the modern era that Western culture tends to express its energy primarily through science/markets/technology. Still, the impression cannot be avoided that ENR writers equate the worst elements of modern technological culture with the West as such, without ever saying anything substantively positive about modern Western culture. It is easy to say the ENR wants to reconcile “what is good in modern society with traditional society,” but these are just words unless one addresses the modernizing imperatives of science and technology, the way our functionally differentiated social systems depend on highly specialized technicians for their operation, impersonal ways of communication, based on purely technical codes, the functioning of which presuppose the termination of traditional ways of life and thinking.

It is not only, as Stennett says, that the alternative right needs to take to the internet; Europeans have always been original, 97 percent of the great scientists in history came from Europe; almost all the inventions of the last century, even after East Asians embraced modernity, have come from Europeans, and more than ever, with genetics and computer programming, competing in science is “our duty”. “What the day demands,” as Goethe would put it. Some interesting ideas can be found in a group of European academics, influenced by Nietzsche’s call for “overcoming the human”, transcending our current biological constitution through new forms of evolution “powered by technology”, in which we are the intelligent designers of our evolution by re-engineering our genes and implanting technologies into our bodies. This Nietzschean group talks about “humanity”; we would talk about Europeans.

John Law on Spengler’s Liberal Prussianism:

Sunic dedicates chapters to Spengler, Schmitt, and Pareto but it would have been truer to the spirit of the ENR if he had concentrated on Pagan sources, traditional texts, and leftists thinkers enamoured with Third World cultures. We will see later that the ENR uses these conservative thinkers (wrongly identified, in my view, as anti-liberals) to counter the idea of progress in defence of traditionalism; but, if I may add a few sentences about Spengler in response to Stennett: he is correct Spengler did not say the European Faustian spirit was already dead in his time. There are two Spenglers: an earlier one who lamented the spreading of bourgeois materialism and philistinism, and a later one who saw in science and technology a continuation (for some time) of the vitality and transformative energy of the West. Spengler was a geopolitical realist and a great proponent of German power politics through the employment of modern industry within the framework of Germany’s Prussian socialist traditions of loyalty and duty. Nevertheless, I still think Spengler was a liberal in his immense admiration of Europe’s diverse intellectual currents and novelties, in painting, music, architecture, mathematics and philosophy.

Spengler rejected modern “Manchester” liberalism, mass democracy and egalitarianism, at the same time that he saw himself as a man of the twentieth century, a modern man, one that believe that the old Prussian spirit was consistent with modernization and with working class socialism. He wanted a socialism that was attuned to the realities of geopolitical competition, an inescapable state of affairs in his time. He did not admire the political anarchism of inter-war France or the weakening divisions of the Weimar republic. He rejected rationalism’s naive view about human nature and a politics based on pure reason unaware of the way life was pervaded by instincts and irrational impulses, the struggle for power. He was also a German rather than a Brit in his emphasis on “duty”, “sacrifice”, “self-denial”. But this way of thinking has to be seen in the context of the inter-war period and the more collective culture of Germans. Spengler was reacting against a liberalism that had embraced radical democratic ideas and that after the 1850s had moved way beyond the meaning the word “liberal” had in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century when voting was restricted to a small percentage of the property owning, educated, and adult male population.

Oswald Spengler, Preußentum und Sozialismus

Prussia initiated a sequence of liberal reforms from 1807 onwards based on Enlightenment ideas. There were reactions and variations in policies but on the whole the following reorganization of Prussia’s government and society had been effected by 1819: the abolition of serfdom and allowing peasants to hold free tenure, suppression of the monopoly of guilds, dramatic increase in the efficiency of the bureaucracy along modern lines of administration and market-oriented institutions and laws, military reforms to create a modern army as well as educational reforms headed by the liberal Wilhelm von Humboldt, who wrote On the Limits of State Action in 1791–1792, in praise of the liberties of the Enlightenment. While it can be argued that these reforms increased the central power of the Prussian bureaucracy, the civil servants manning this bureaucracy were educated to reflect upon the interests of society and the state, as a foci of power that was relatively independent of both the monarchy and the economic classes, ensuring that public policy would not be subservient to the private interests of civil society.

These liberal tendencies were stopped around 1819-20, but during the 1820s significant progress was made in reducing customs duties among German states, creating a national liberal market. The fact that radical democratic ideas associated with the pan-European rebellions of 1848 were rejected by Prussian authorities, in no way would signify that German conservatives wanted to remain feudal and traditional, unwilling to modernize. After 1850 the German economy went on to modernize at the fastest pace in Europe accompanied by the invention of the internal combustion engine (1876), electric train (1879), telephone network (1881), four wheel cars as patented by Daimler and Benz. Then under Bismarck, compensation to workers during illness was introduced in 1883, accident insurance law in 1884, and old age pension scheme in 1889 for workers over seventy.

John Law on Hegelian Aufhebung:

Hegel, a keen admirer of the liberal reforms of 1807-1819, said that “the truth is the whole”, by which he meant that truthfulness in to be found in the philosophical arguments of all the great philosophers. Hegel’s concept of Aufhebung is connected to this idea, for it says that we should learn to view the history of philosophy, which is a history made by Europeans, not as a series of disconnected claims, but as a continuous narrative wherein spirit, which should be defined as the spirit of Europeans and not humanity, comes to see that it is the source of how things come to be known, as they become present to the active mind, and are thus things belonging to consciousness. Spirit comes to see the history of philosophy as its own activity with each philosophical position expressing a moment in the spirit’s coming to be for-itself, the ground of its activity, and thus reaching a point at which the human mind appreciates the kernel of truth contained in each of the outlooks. For every truth-claim, the European mind realizes, there is a counter-claim, and, to this extent, it learns to take seriously different philosophical claims, rather than rejecting them outright; seeing them as part of a dialectical dynamic that slowly reveals the multi-sided nature of truth, with each philosophical claim having played a role, forcing clarifications and revisions, and thus becoming part of a more comprehensive truth, rejected and preserved, and then elevated within a higher level of consciousness.

What Spengler says about duty and self-denial is still truthful but no longer in the same way since we are living a reality in which militaristic competition for territories in the world, and certainly within Europe, no longer makes rational sense, superseded by other forms of competition. Spengler’s emphasis on self-denial and duty, nevertheless, still carries a lasting truth in a different way. Duty to the preservation and enhancement of European identity is more important than ever. The libertarian idea that we should only consider the interests and values of abstract individuals is likewise limited and in need of cancellation within a broader perspective that acknowledges the rights of individuals without undermining their collective obligations and their human need to be part of an organic order with identity-constituting attachments. There is a changing balance between these two poles, individual rights and communitarian belonging, which are always in tension with varying meanings under emerging new situations.

There is a lot to be learned from Spengler, and the ENR should be credited for taking his thought seriously, though we will see later that the ENR, despite its strong anti-liberalism, which I would not attribute to Spengler, since he was not a traditionalist, is actually unappreciative of the Faustian uniqueness of the West and the importance of power politics in the West’s relationship with the traditional states of the world.

David Stennett, Preface to the Second Edition:

Liberalism means equality before the law, but it cannot find remedy to the inequalities of histories, races, human biology and IQs (p. 35).

John Law on IQ:

This quick invocation by Stennett of IQ race differences is a topic that is either avoided by the ENR or seen by de Benoist as inconsistent with his defence of the value of differences among the cultural beings of the world, and his opposition to the ranking of peoples according to monological scientific schemes. Contemporary liberalism is incompatible with inequalities, I agree; but not classical liberalism. By classical I mean a belief in the worthiness of representative institutions (with educational and property qualifications), freedom of expression, and religious tolerance. Science presupposes open inquiry and institutions permitting scientists to pursuit knowledge in an open atmosphere. There is no way around the modern Western reality that we inhabit a society in which reason is operative, which means that we Europeans cannot accept truth-claims by authoritative fiat. The suppression of research on IQ is illiberal. One can have a society that is committed to equality under the law with social scientists who are cognizant in their policy proposals about inequalities in human talents and in the average abilities of races.

Paul Gottfried, Preface to the First Edition:

It [ENR] has become parasitic on other movements, mostly on the far Left, that preach anti-Americanism, environmental control, and the demilitarisation of Western Europe (p. 39).

John Law on Alexander Dugin:

Gottfried, a paleo-conservative and sympathizer of the ENR, is correct. I am not qualified, plus it would take too long, to go into the leftists the ENR relies on; suffice it to say indirectly by way of another ENR thinker, Alexander Dugin, that I was very surprised at the importance Dugin (who views de Benoist as the most significant thinker of our times) attaches to prominent individuals in the far Left, starting with Karl Marx, whose ideas he describers as “tremendously useful and applicable” (p. 50), continuing with Fran Boas, whom he calls “the greatest American cultural anthropologist” (p. 63), and Levi-Strauss, who, apparently, “convincingly showed” that primitive cultures in Africa were as complex and rich as European cultures (p. 109), not to say anything about his sympathetic reading of Baudrillard, Foucault, and Deleuze. These citations come from Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory, which positions within the 20th century the three major political theories, Fascism (or the “Old Right”) Communism (or Economic Marxism), and Liberalism (I would say, Cultural Marxism). This book also makes a strong case for a new and “Fourth” political theory that draws a lot from the ENR, in its defence of traditionalism, a cyclical view of history, its rejection of the Americanization of the world, and its call for a world in which major civilizational centers, with regional and national identities, agree to co-exist with each other without any one seeking to undermine the identity of others.

Alexander Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory

I can’t disagree with Dugin’s defence of the ethnic identities of civilizations, their traditional heritages, in the face of American efforts at spreading its way of life beyond what would be expected from a country exercising its legitimate geopolitical interests. I am sympathetic with his realistic appreciation of Russian’s legitimate and historical role as a major power in the world, and for Indian, Chinese, and Islamic cultural spheres of influence, as a counterweight to American foreign policy today. Europe too should act as a counterweight to American globalism.

My disagreement is with the way Dugin, and the ENR, equate contemporary liberalism with American globalism, and American culture with Western civilization, and Western civilization with European Christianity and history. Dugin does not mince words: the idea of America is “in essence…an updated version and continuation of a Western universalism that has been passed from the Roman Empire, Medieval Christianity, modernity in terms of the Enlightenment, and colonization, up to the present-day” (p. 74). As I argued in prior essays at CEC, though this requires a lot more thinking, it cannot be denied that Western civilization produced universal ways of thinking which are implicit in any effort at discovering “the laws of nature” and understanding “human nature”, and, beyond this, that liberals created a language of “the rights of man”. Is not modern science universal; did not modern science spread around the world and, in this way, showed itself to have a universal significance? The ENR never addresses these questions, the crucial relationship between the “universal” and the “rational”, the unique development of mathematics, deductive reason, the inductive method, logos itself, which was intrinsically a development with universal significance, not only because modern science has been assimilated by multiple cultures, but because deduction and inferential thinking, formulation of codes, standardized technologies, are inherently universalistic.

Dugin does not raise the possibility that America may be controlled by a hostile elite that is determined to push America as a “Universal Nation” to break up the identities of Europeans in the first place and create a new Mongrel Species that is actually in tune with the ideals of the far Left the ENR draws upon.

Tom Sunic:

The anti-liberal and anti-socialist theories developed by Pareto, Spengler, and Schmitt constitute important epistemological tools in the New Right’s own analyses of modern politics […] The New Right has not hesitated to publicly criticise all extreme Right-wing movements and parties, including the French Font National and its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Conversely, it has never been a secret that the New Right is sympathetic to the ideas of many French Leftist and socialist leaders…” (pp. 48, 53).

John Law:

Sunic demonstrates well that the ENR was influenced by Pareto, Spengler and Schmitt, particularly their rejection of the excessive individualism and rationalism of liberal-democratic thinkers. But I would say the realistic, pessimistic, and Eurocentric spirit one feels and knows to be in the writings of Pareto, Schmitt and Spengler is absent in the ENR. It is hard to avoid making light headed criticisms in a few paragraphs about what the ENR has accepted from these immensely gifted thinkers. I will cite some passages which either seem consistent with ENR ideas or not, followed by a brief statement of what I think the ENR found to be enlightening or not in these passages.

Carl Schmitt:

To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke and monopolize such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity.

The political world is a pluriverse, not a universe.

John Law: Pluriverse?

Modern philosophies claiming to be for a future in which humanity will be liberated have either engage in extreme acts of violence or have ostracised and pushed out from the realm of “humanity” those who disagree with this liberation. The ENR has also rejected the notion that we can create a political order based on liberal values across the world, on the grounds that the world consists of multiple cultures, a pluriverse of living ways and governments. I sense, nevertheless, that de Benoist envisages a pluriverse in the same way that leftist multiculturalists do, in which notions of enemy, power politics, evil acts, will find resolution in a harmonious pluriverse where each nation respects the different ways of others. Is de Benoist willing to follow through with the idea that unless there is in Europe a sovereign authority willing to identify certain groups as the enemy, claiming exclusive sovereignty over a territory against immigrant strangers, the people of Europe will be taken over by those willing to occupy this political space? Or is de Benoist calling for a pluriverse inside European nations, a multicultural society in accordance with the ideas of the French leftists he admires?

Vilfredo Pareto
Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)

Vilfredo Pareto:

[T]here are some people who imagine that they can disarm the enemy by complacent flattery. They are wrong. The world has always belonged to the stronger, and will belong to them for many years to come. Men only respect those who make themselves respected.

Oswald Spengler:

Talk of world peace is heard today only among the white peoples, and not among the much more numerous coloured races. This is a perilous state of affairs…Strong and unspent races are not pacifistic. To adopt such a position is to abandon the future, for the pacifist ideal is a terminal condition that is contrary to the basic facts of existence. As long as man continues to evolve, there will be wars.

John Law: Pluriverse?

But de Benoist says:

The New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because the right to difference is a principle which has significance only in terms of its generality. One is justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means that the right of difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different (p. 229).

“Only in terms of its generality” — only in terms of its universality. To say that one is justified in defending one’s difference, or that one should have a right to affirm one’s cultural identity only if one acknowledges the right of others to affirm their difference, is to say that one should agree, as a universal principle, that all cultures should be equally respected in their differences. De Benoist has appropriated the ideal of multiculturalism, which is a Western idea, rather than an idea that is automatically presupposed from the mere existence of different cultures, since the particularity of cultures has generally included, as an important trait, or socio-psychological disposition, the exclusion, derogation, or plain indifference towards the fate of other cultures.

Multiculturalism is a Western liberal product driven by the universal principle that all cultures are equally valuable and deserving of respect simply because they exist. This is a reasonable idea which, however, has been extended by cultural Marxists to mean that all cultures are equally important and that the West should welcome within its borders other cultures, at the same time as it objects to the presence of Western values in the rest of the world. De Benoist does not quite endorse multiculturalism within each nation and the West. But his ideal of multiculturalism across the world is still predicated on a uniquely Western moral posture which calls for universal tolerance towards other cultures, and, in this very attitude calls upon members of non-Western cultures to exhibit the same attitude of tolerance and openness, to become multicultural in their relationship with others, which amounts to the making of a universal claim for humanity.

While the idea that other cultures have a sense of their worthiness is a good idea that recognizes that humans have strong attachments to their culture, this idea runs into contradictions when it supposes that other cultures are as interested in being sympathetic to the ways of others, or that other cultures have developed the intellectual wherewithal, the sciences of anthropology and ethnography, necessary to engage in the understanding of other cultures. It fails to understand how peculiar Western individualism and rationalism are, and how universalizing the West is, in its very uniqueness. When Schmitt wrote that “the world is a pluriverse,” and Pareto that the “world has always belonged to the stronger,” and Spengler that “unspent races are not pacifistic,” they had something very different in mind than a multicultural pluriverse. Schmitt was thinking of the plurality of cultures in the world, nations, tribes, civilizations; always contesting, disappearing, conquering — against the liberal effort to create a world order with the same values. Talking about getting along with all the peoples of the world in a state of mutual equality is an irenic act concerned with reconciling and attenuating cultural differences.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
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