Review: View from The Right: A Critical Anthology of Contemporary Ideas, Volume I

View from The Right: A Critical Anthology of Contemporary Ideas, Volume I: Heritage and Foundations
Alain de Benoist (Ed.), trans. Robert Lindgren
Arktos, 2017; orig. published, 1977, with an updated preface (2001) by de Benoist

After 40 years, and following translations into Italian and Portuguese (1981), German (1984), and Romanian (1998), we finally have an English translation of Alain de Benoist’s 650-page magnum opus. Vu de Droite: Anthologie critique des idées contemporaines was first published in 1977 when de Benoist’s GRECE (Research and Study Group for European Civilisation) think-tank was at the height of its influence. It took the French political and intellectual worlds by storm, receiving widespread attention in the mainstream press and winning the Grand Essay Prize from l’Académie française in June 1978.

It is little short of remarkable that we should have to wait four decades for an English translation of a text with such critical acclaim and intellectual pedigree. Credit for bringing about the English translation (published in three handsomely designed volumes and with an updated 2001 Preface) is due to Arktos Media, founded in part in 2010 with the goal of bringing the works of de Benoist to an anglophone readership. A final push to ensure translation of Vu de Droite was initiated in 2016, when seventy-three backers contributed a combined total of around $10,000 via to bring the project to completion. The dedication and generosity of all involved was not in vain. Although we eagerly await the imminent publication of Volumes Two and Three, the first volume (published in late 2017) is an invaluable work in its own right. Intellectually thorough yet written with admirable economy and agility, View from The Right Volume I: Heritage and Foundations is a useful tool, an invaluable point of reference, and a resounding call to action which has lost none of its relevance or vitality in the decades since its first printing.

The central purpose of View from The Right is to break the taboo on the assertion of right-wing ideas and to present clearly defined intellectual positions (or pathways to positions) on a wide range of subjects as they pertain to right-wing thought. In Volume I, these positions pertain to matters of European racial and cultural heritage, and the broader foundations of contemporary right-wing ideologies. The author describes (ix) his intention to “prepare a portrait of the intellectual and cultural landscape of the moment, to establish the state of affairs, to signal the tendencies, to open the pathways and provide benchmarks to aid (and incite) the task of thinking in a world that is already in the process of considerable change.” For the most part, this effort takes the structural form of powerful and succinct essay summaries of the state of current mainstream scholarship on a number of crucial and fascinating topics. These summaries are then supplemented with commentary from de Benoist and developed still further in his very generous footnotes. Translator Robert Lindgren also deftly assists the reader by occasionally including his own useful commentary on the text, along with a number of very helpful translations and updates of de Benoist’s scholarly citations.

An important question immediately presents itself: how does de Benoist define right-wing thought? De Benoist prefigures Jonathan Bowden in asserting unambiguously that right-wing ideas are fundamentally about inequality or, in de Benoist’s formulation (2):

I hereby define the right, by pure convention, as the consistent attitude to view the diversity of the world, and by consequence the relative inequalities that are necessarily the product of this, as a positive thing; and the progressive homogenisation of the world, extolled and effected by two thousand years of egalitarian ideology, as a negative thing.  I call of the right those doctrines that believe that the relative inequalities of existence include the relations of force of which historical becoming is the product — and which deem that history must continue — in short, that ‘life is life, that is to say a combat, for a nation as for a man’ (Charles de Gaulle).

De Benoist thus defines as his true enemy not ‘the left,’ ‘communism,’ or even ‘subversion,’ but ‘the egalitarian ideology.’ I recently saw it remarked on social media that the 2001 Preface to View from the Right, a magnificent anti-egalitarian polemic, was alone worth the purchase price. It’s difficult to disagree and, to my mind at least, the Preface, an immensely important essay in its own right, is one of the most concise, coherent, sophisticated, and forceful condemnations of modern egalitarianism ever published. The author remarks at the outset that in 1978 the right-wing stance of the book was no obstacle to getting reviews in the mainstream press. Today, “this tendency is brutally reversed. The rise of ‘uniform thought,’ exploited by those whose interests it could best serve, has done its work.” A zone of “ostracism and prohibition” has steadily exiled all but the most conformist of thinkers to the fringes of culture. Despite manufactured discourse within the mainstream, we witness there only the “complete obsolescence of the right-left split,” the only difference between the mainstream factions being the fixation of the ‘right’ with “the logic of profit,” and the fixation of the ‘left’ with “the progressive homogenisation of the world.” Both goals, quite obviously, feed effortlessly into the globalist project.

Egalitarianism, or the concept of mass equality, may be a key ideological prop of globalism, but it is ultimately, according to de Benoist (xii), intellectually bankrupt: “Articulated as a principle sufficient in itself, it is void of content, for equality and inequality only exist in a given context and through relation to factors that allow it to be situated in order to be appreciated concretely. The notions of equality and inequality are therefore always relative and, by definition, are never exempt from arbitrariness.” Faced with the growing dictatorship of the equality principle, de Benoit argues (xiv) that “it is better to realise that the equality of conditions is not highly possible, nor even strongly desirable. We believe less and less that all inequalities are of a social origin. Conversely, we can certainly see that too many financial inequalities are politically and socially unacceptable, without having to believe in the natural equality of individuals.” The idea of ‘economic equality’ is largely a propaganda ruse, in which the left instinctively rejects the concept of economic liberty (and the equality of opportunity it affords) in favor of equity: “the left, rather than aspiring towards equality itself, seeks the sustainable maximisation of minimum (maximin), that is to say, a compensation or a redistribution that allocates the most possible to those who possess the least.”

Political equality is also a chimera. Here de Benoist cites (xv) Carl Schmitt, who remarked:

The equality of everything ‘that has a human face’ is incapable of providing the foundation for a state, a state form, or a form of government. No distinctions can be derived [….] Nothing distinctive can be deduced in morality, religion, politics, or economics from the fact that all people are human [….] The idea of human equality does not furnish any legal, political, or economic criteria […] An equality that has no contents except for the equality common to all men will be an apolitical equality, because it lacks the corollary of a possible inequality. … An equality without the possibility of inequality, an equality that one has intrinsically and that one can never lose, is without value and indifferent.

Egalitarianism is portrayed, colourfully and accurately, in View from The Right as a kind of slow-growing but ever-expanding plague or tumour; dull, vacuous, suffocating, and malignant. In memorable prose de Benoist describes it (xvii) as “an ideology allergic to everything which is specific, which interprets all distinction as potentially devaluing, which holds differences as contingent, transitory, inessential, or secondary. Its driving force is the idea of Uniformity.” We are now reaching the zenith of this driving force. In the modern era, the drive to human homogeneity was “pushed to the maximum in totalitarian societies by a central power installing itself as the only source of possible legitimacy. In Western postmodern societies, the same result has been obtained by the commodification of the world. It is a gentler yet more effective process: the degree of homogeneity of current western societies largely exceeds that of the totalitarian societies of the past century.”

The reason why historically individualistic Western societies seem to be particularly vulnerable to such a homogenising ideology has confounded me, and presumably many others, for some time. I am intellectually and morally convinced that concerted efforts by a vast number of ethnically Jewish multicultural and ‘White guilt’ propagandists and activists have certainly played a key, though not exclusive, role. Theories of ‘pathological altruism’ have also been usefully put forth and debated. The author of View from The Right offers a provocative suggestion: “The ideology which aims the most at unification of the world is the very one that engenders the most division. Such is the strongest contradiction of the ideology of the Same. The universalist focus is necessarily linked to individualism, for it can only present humanity as fundamentally one by conceiving it as composed of individual units envisaged as abstractly as possible, that is to say, outside of any context or form of mediation.”

Globalisation and homogenisation, despite their pretensions to the creation of national or international communities, thus both engender and thrive upon individualism. This ‘individualism of the Same,’ is of course only a version of individualism — one stripped of liberty. In historical individualistic European societies, individual liberty was in many cases defined, expanded, or contained within certain communal structures (guilds, churches, etc.). In postmodernity, the majority of these communal structures have been abolished or neutered and replaced by a State which slowly takes freedoms from the individual in return for the putative protection of the individual’s ‘rights.’

In this reading then, the naturally individualistic European has been deceived into asserting a false and harmful individualism while the foundations of his true individualism are being eroded under his nose. “I am a free man within my community and my nation,” a statement full of meaning, has become “I am a free man within the world,” a mere empty slogan.

I could easily spend the rest of this review exploring more of the Preface, but it requires full reading to do it justice, and View from The Right is equally rich and provocative throughout. The book’s almost timeless quality is both a testament to the prescience of the author and an indictment of the reticence and sluggishness with which mainstream academia treats European racial history and anything even remotely tangential to right-wing thought. Alain de Benoist remarks (xxxi) at the close of his Preface “I have not changed a world of the text. … This book, which already speaks a lot about ‘cultural power’ and the necessary battle of ideas, remains essential for current events.”

Post-Charlottesville, in the face of overwhelming and renewed cultural oppression of our ideas, the book is probably more essential than ever. Admirably, it is founded on the rejection of historical guilt:

It has been said that the key words of the right’s vocabulary have been discredited by the various fascisms. Let us say instead that this discrediting has been cleverly created and maintained by factions experienced in the diffusion of debilitating and condemning myths. We must be clear about this. We are not in the presence here of an analysis, but of a propaganda. This propaganda consists in assimilating every doctrine that the right affirms, with some vigour, to ‘fascism,’ and as a corollary, to define as ‘democratic’ only those regimes that conceive liberty as some kind of statutory free pass for the revolutionary undertakings of the extreme left. (3)

Who are these factions “experienced in the diffusion of debilitating and condemning myths”? De Benoist leaves the question hanging, though it is interesting to say the least that he reaches immediately (4) for the example of the Jew Ernest Kahane, from the Union rationaliste, who affirmed that the oeuvre of Gobineau “borders on crime.” Whether this is a purposeful dog-whistle to those versed in the Jewish Question, or whether it is instead one of those common coincidences that inevitably emerge when one discusses anti-White activity, I was reminded of Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. In that book, simply by engaging in the process of asking questions, Murray finds himself in a difficult position between anodyne condemnations of anti-Semitism and indirectly discussing Jewish influence. For example, in his attempt to discover the origins of the acceleration of multiculturalism in Britain, Murray’s first reference is to Barbara Roche, “a descendant of East End Jews,” as a chief architect of the multicultural state under Tony Blair. Roche, Murray reminds us, dismissed all her critics (diffusing debilitating and condemning myths) as “racists,” “criticised colleagues for being too white,” and “believed that immigration was only ever a good thing.” After ten years of her highly influential immigration reforms, Roche beamed to an interviewer: “I love the diversity of London. I just feel comfortable.”

Such factions, in which figures like Kahane and Roche are rampant, are assisted in making themselves more ‘comfortable’ by the inability of the right to articulate itself. In his Introduction, de Benoist uses the example (4) of a right terrified of being associated with fascism and “a left, and an extreme left, that can at any moment call itself socialist, communist, or Marxist, all the while affirming, of course, that their doctrines have nothing to do with Stalinism, nor indeed with any form of historically realised socialism.” De Benoist further uses the example of a televised debate:

Stage right, the ‘man of the right,’ usually a gentleman of a certain age, well dressed, well groomed, always smiling, full of good intentions, completely unconscious of the stakes of the discussion. And stage left, some young wolves of the extreme left, bearers of a worldview having its own consistency, refusing the least concession, versed in the art of dialectic, in the play of paradigm and syntagm, who tear their interlocutor to pieces. I think that current society is a reflection of these debates.

In View from The Right, de Benoist asks us to go on the intellectual offensive; to have a position on every new scientific and cultural development and to assert this position aggressively and unapologetically. Within human society, remarks the author, “nothing is neutral.” The left, well-versed in ‘Gramscianism’ and the Frankfurt School has not neglected this reality, and its fundamental starting point for the development of its own position on social and scientific developments has been radical critique or, in de Benoist’s phrasing (10), “the questioning of everything.” View from The Right offers pathways to counter such efforts by fleshing out our understanding of scholarship in key areas, performing an ideological critique of the left and identifying where the right may form its own ideological positions. What does the right have to say about child rearing? About evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, behavior genetics, historiography, sociology or microphysics? Where such positions have already been developed, de Benoist offers useful summaries and suggests further areas for exploration. Where there is a total lack of attention from the right, de Benoist opens these subjects up with admirable clarity and depth.

Volume I is divided into two sections. In the first, ‘Heritage,’ de Benoist offers scholarly semi-bibliographical essays on ‘The Roots of Civilisation,’ ‘The World of the Indo-Europeans,’ an examination of theories concerning the possible Nordic origins of the Atlantis myth, ‘Homer and the Homeric Epic,’ ‘Zoroaster,’ ‘The Etruscan Mystery,’ ‘Carthage Versus Rome,’ ‘Celtic Civilisation,’ ‘Roman Gaul,’ ‘Structures of Nordic Mythology,’ and ‘The Vikings in America.’ Of these essays, my personal favorites were those on ‘The World of the Indo-Europeans,’ ‘Celtic Civilisation,’ and ‘Roman Gaul.’ De Benoist’s portrayal of Indo-European studies as a somewhat scorned and starved discipline remains broadly valid forty years on. The founding in 1973 of the Journal of Indo-European Studies by Dr. Roger Pearson is celebrated at the end of de Benoist’s essay. The journal is still in print, though it is probably more marginal than ever, and Pearson of course became a victim of those ever-familiar “debilitating and condemning myths,” smeared scornfully now by a cultural status quo which defines him less as an academic than a “eugenics advocate and political organiser for the extreme right.” The field as a whole continues to languish under relentless suspicion, with one commentator stating that “it is difficult to locate a topic of historical debate over the past two centuries that has been more intellectually provocative, ideologically fraught, and politically laden than that of Indo-European origins and expansion.”

Reviewing the findings of Indo-European Studies one is left asking what precisely is so threatening about it. The answer probably lies in the potential of the field to contribute to a common European ethnic consciousness by affirming that the Indo-Europeans were themselves an ethnic phenomenon as revealed by recent population genetic research. The left likely sees ethnicization of the Indo-Europeans as promoting the development of perceptions of group interests based on such a consciousness — a group consciousness of a heroic past peopled by conquerors, explorers, and innovators.

De Benoist offers an admirable and still current overview of the most relevant ideas and developments in the field, my only advice being that anyone wishing to see an ideologically practical application of such ideas (in the form of a direct response to Marxist anthropology) should follow their reading of de Benoist by consulting Ricardo Duchesne’s excellent commentary on the Indo-Europeans in his The Uniqueness of Western Civilization.

The second half of Volume I is more broadly thematic, comprised less of small individual essays than of broad-ranging, interconnected critiques of leftist thinking and analyses of the various philosophical, scientific, biological, ethological, psychological, and pedagogical bases of right-wing thought. The three largest and most impressive essays concern philosophy, ethology, and psychology, though the scale of reading undertaken by the author in all fields under discussion is nothing short of remarkable. I found one anecdote from de Benoist’s critique of Marxist psychiatrists (what he terms ‘anti-psychiatrists’) so profound (and horrifying) that I had to share it here. The context is the Marxist fashion of denying the existence of mental illness:

In 1965, anti-psychiatrists in London set up an ‘experimental community center’ at Kingsley Hall. Patients and doctors lived together. On equal footing. ‘In this hospital,’ says Jean-Michel Palmier, ‘no constraint is imposed on the sick, there are no tranquilisers, we get up and eat when we want, we make love with who we want. There are no longer any sick people, but individuals who have sought refuge in this community because life has become impossible for them.’ But very quickly, difficulties magnified. One of the ‘boarders’ took up the habit of keeping her excrement and smearing it on the wall of her room, which adjoined the kitchen. ‘There were meetings,’ indicates one of the doctors of the center, ‘to decide whether or not that person had the right to do this, as well as to do whatever she wanted in her room. It was then found that the extent of the smell was greater than the extent of the room. She was asked to reduce the extent of the smear of her excrement.’ The ‘experiment’ ended in 1969. A hundred patients found themselves on the street.

Such instances are enough to leave one speechless. De Benoist urges the opposite response — to aggressively condemn the left and confidently articulate a view from the right. His book is an invaluable contribution to the cultivation of such a sensibility, and to the confident intellectual assertion of our worldview.

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