The Real Right?
Posted on: 2009-07-20 10:36:17
New Culture, New Right
by Michael O’Meara
(Bloomington, Ind.: 1stBooks, 2004)
Reviewed by Samuel Francis
It tells us a good deal about the nature of contemporary American culture that Michael O’Meara’s important and often brilliant (but unfortunately sometimes opaquely written) account of the thought of the French “New Right” could be published in this country only by an on-line publishing house and not by a major firm. O’Meara’s book is neither a propaganda tract nor a mere regurgitation of books and writers but a careful and in many respects exhaustive examination of the major theoretical themes that characterize New Right philosophy and social and political theory. It is similar to but broader in scope than Tomislav Sunic’s book of 1990, Against Democracy and Equality, to which O’Meara acknowledges a debt. For Americans, who even on the hard right display little familiarity with the French New Rightists, O’Meara’s book is the place to begin to find out what and who the New Right is, what the writers associated with it think, and why they think it. But those who begin New Culture, New Right without adequate preparation may find parts of it forbidding and many of the ideas they encounter in it strange or even distasteful.
Readers should at once put out of their minds any connection with or similarity to the American “New Right” of the 1970s and 1980s, a collection of direct mail scam artists, religious nuts, and Beltway “populists” with six-digit salaries who were mostly semi-literate and proud of it. Nor is the French New Right, a school (or more accurately an “orientation”) that began to emerge around the same time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, associated with the nationalist movement of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the Front National. Indeed, the New Right as O’Meara uses the term is aloof from practical politics. Influenced by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his concept of “cultural hegemony,” it concentrates almost entirely on cultural and philosophical rather than formal political conflicts, an approach for which it has adapted the term “metapolitics.” (In this respect it most closely resembles the “paleo-conservatives” around the Rockford Institute and Chronicles, or perhaps The Occidental Quarterly itself, although, as will become clear, there are many major differences.) “To wage its own anti-liberal version of Gramsci’s war of position,” O’Meara writes, the New Right’s “metapolitical strategy”
"...sets its sights on three long-range objectives. Through its publications, conferences, and various public engagements, it endeavors to engage the ideas “that inspire and organize our age” (Madame de Staël), recuperating from them what it can for its own project. Secondly, it seeks to undermine the liberal order by discrediting its underlying tenets and affirming those traditional European ideas supportive of the identities and communities it champions. Finally it aspires to cultural hegemony, if not within civil society as a whole, at least within the elite. From the beginning, then, its “Gramscianism of the Right” privileged culture, which was taken as the “infrastructural” basis of both civil society and the state." (p. 46)
The French New Right has centered largely around an organization founded in 1968 called the Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE, or “Group for Research and Study of European Civilization”), and its major exponent has been the journalist and author Alain de Benoist. Entirely unlike the American “New Right” (or for that matter the Old Right), the French New Right is anti-Christian, anti-American, and anti-capitalist. Why then is it a “right” at all?
It is a right (a label Benoist and most of his colleagues have always hesitated to embrace) because it mounts a searching and virtually total critique and rejection of “modernity”—modern philosophy since Descartes, modern science and technology, modern materialistic values and culture, and the modern state and its tendencies toward global hegemony and technological regimentation—and it sees in Christianity the origins and underpinnings of modernity and in America and modern capitalism its most extreme representation. It affirms what O’Meara and the New Right itself describe as “traditional societies”—that is, the hierarchical, traditionalist, particularist, familistic and patriarchalist, communitarian, and usually agrarian and pagan societies that modernity destroys. “Traditional culture” as O’Meara explains in a footnote (55), “refers not to those primitive, tribal formations studied by anthropologists, but to the pre-modern formations that characterized Europe up to the seventeenth century—that is, to the Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, and Medieval forms of the European civilizational heritage.” As the name GRECE suggests, one of the archetypal societies of this kind that the New Right idealizes is that of the ancient Greek polis itself. “Reactionary,” a term usually employed to describe portly suburban dentists or literary monarchists who wear opera capes, does not quite fit la Nouvelle Droite.
But what is most significant about the New Right’s positions is less the positions themselves than its sophisticated and complex philosophical elaboration of them. It is O’Meara’s own intimate familiarity with this elaboration by a wide range of writers over a period of some thirty years (as well as with the ideas of earlier figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger) and in a variety of disciplines ranging from philosophy to social and political theory to mythology, anthropology, and history that makes his book especially valuable and especially fascinating.