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  • The French New Right Neither Right, nor Left?
  • Tamir Bar-On

Led by Alain de Benoist (b. 1943), the French nouvelle droite (ND—New Right) is a school of thought that was created in 1968 and saw its intellectual and political apogee in the France of the late 1970s. The ND focused on the cultural terrain to differentiate itself from extreme right-wing political parties and ultranationalist terrorist movements. Second, the ND valorizes an illiberal, pagan political legacy, which is antagonistic to counterrevolutionary, conservative, and Anglo-American (neoliberal) right-wing traditions, and uneasy about fascism. It was accused of "fascism with a human face" by elements of the liberal-left intelligentsia in France in two mass media "storms" in 1979 and 1993. Third, the ND's ideological syncretism and its antiliberal and anticapitalist "leftist" drift beginning in the 1980s puzzled political commentators. Yet, using Norberto Bobbio's inequality-equality schism to position right and left,1 ND thinkers are more on the right than left because they reject administrative and legal equality, the republican heritage of the 1789 French Revolution, and what they call the "religion of human rights." In short, it is the claim of this article that despite the ND's sincere attempts to transcend right and left, the right-wing positioning of the ND remains.

In Rethinking the French New Right: Alternatives to Modernity,2 I offer four conceptual tools for analyzing ND intellectuals: (1) The ND as a quasi-fascist movement created for antifascist times; (2) A challenge to the [End Page 1] traditional right-left political spectrum; (3) A variant of alternative modernity within a broader modernist framework3 (That is, ND thinkers seek revolutionary alternatives to liberal and socialist variants of modernity rather than destroying all aspects of modernity tout court); and (4) A species of the "religion of politics"4 in the context of a more secular age. It is my claim that ND thinkers embody all four conceptual tools. Moreover, these four aforementioned conceptual tools all illuminate the ND's central concerns surrounding modernity and postmodernity in the early twenty-first century. It is my principle argument that modernity and postmodernity form the central backdrop behind the ND's worldview. The ND's vehement rejection of right and left as political categories (a distinction which dates to the French Revolution), quest for a radical body politic grounded in an alternative modernity, and conversion to a civil religion of politics that emerges only in the late eighteenth century all highlight the ND's seminal preoccupation with the modern world.

The purpose of this article will be to focus on one conceptual tool for analyzing the ND, namely, their intellectuals' desire to forge a new political synthesis that is neither right, nor left. It is my argument that right and left is a political division that dates back to the bloody birth pangs of the French Revolution, the most significant modern revolution in Europe. Moreover, the political instinct seeking to transcend right and left is a modernist one, emerges as a consequence of the two great liberal republican revolutions of the eighteenth century (that is, the American and French revolutions), and leads to the eventual creation of "neither right, nor left" movements and political parties in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moreover, I argue that the ND's metapolitical approach should not obfuscate the reality that its intellectuals desire what the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm defines as a revolution, namely, "a wholescale political change in which men are conscious of introducing an entirely new epoch in human history."5

I begin the article by tracing the origins of right and left and various intellectuals' assessment of the political spectrum. I then demonstrate how Europe's rising extreme right-wing tide from the 1990s onward was in part due to the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union, a key edifice of the right-left political divide. In addition, I argue that like contemporary extreme right-wing parties, the ND was the beneficiary of a shifting, [End Page 2] antiliberal political and cultural climate, which predated the fall of the Soviet Union but was exacerbated by the rapid demise of Communist states and movements in...


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