Tomislav Sunic And The European New Right
From the desk of Michael Presley
Tomislav Sunic’s Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right is the third book from Arktos Media we have reviewed, the two previous being Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, and Alain de Benoist’s The Problem of Democracy. Whereas de Benoist’s book length essay was a general discussion of the form of democracy and its sometimes contradictions, Sunic’s book is more in keeping with Faye’s in that it is specific to European New Right (ENR) issues, and both should be read together as compliments. Unlike the Faye, Dr. Sunic’s book is written specifically with the non-European reader in mind. It is not a translation but an original English monograph, now in its third edition.
For the latest release the publisher graciously added additional material, and the author translated a separate preface from the 2009 Croatian edition penned by de Benoist. The original edition’s introduction by American scholar Paul Gottfried is retained as is the second edition’s preface. In appendices are a brief introduction to major ENR figures along with a translation of de Benoist’s relevant essay, Manifesto for a European Renaissance; we also want to mention the book’s index, since we were critical of the lack of indices in our previous Arktos reviews. A thorough bibliography is included, and as in other Arktos releases, for the benefit of the non-specialist reader editor John Morgan added notes wherever the text might require additional technical explanation. This is a first class edition, and it is clear that considerable time went into its preparation.
Before discussing Sunic’s main text we want to mention several points brought up by his thoughtful contributors. Dr. Gottfried points out that the book mostly deals with the “Continental European Right since 1945.” While the book’s arguments are grounded in a political philosophy going back to classical and biblical times, there is no significant discussion of classical, medieval, or modern political philosophy prior to the 20th century. This is unfortunate inasmuch as the author’s intention is to lay down an intellectual foundation for the ENR, and we expect that highlighting older historical precedent would be quite interesting. At the same time, such a request is beyond the scope of Sunic’s self-imposed task inasmuch as his arguments are viewed as contemporary and immediate. Professor Gottfried understands this limitation, not so much in Sunic’s presentation of the topic, but rather as a limitation of the ENR when he writes of their “political immaturity.” I take this to mean that the movement, if it can be considered a unified force at all, is nascent in its own search for an integral intellectual foundation. Also, Gottfried understands the movement’s need for greater “rigor and consistency” in its ideological pronouncements.
David Stennett, whom we believe to be Tom Sunic’s intellectual colleague, views the ENR as a “diagnostician of cultural malignancy.” Thinking Nietzsche and Spengler, Stennett affirms present-day Europe to be in spiritual and political decline. European life reduced to the “pursuit of material comfort” renders human existence a “profane and unbearable mess,” and all is exacerbated by democratic mobocracy. Certainly he is unhappy, and with ENR specifically in mind laments the lack of political results. Thoughts of Ernst Junger, and visions of storming the Bastille trouble his mind.
For his part, Alain de Benoist is not so quick to excite as he works toward the recognition of a “consciousness of ideas,” and a cautious discounting of the “reactive mode of action” in favor of reflection. It is here that de Benoist introduces a “problem of democracy,” and also introduces the classical democratic ideal as he sees it. As the word’s definition implies, citizen sovereignty requires citizen action. A kind of action that, in his opinion, is consonant with our classical Greek heritage. That is, a compelling demand for general political participation, but not “the freedom to withdraw oneself into the private sphere.” But is this actually the case? And is such a thing desirable in practice? In fine, do we really want all men participating? We recall when discussing de Benoist’s book that it was helpful to consider an approach suggested by another, the German educated political scholar, Leo Strauss. Strauss can be taken as an example of a thinking that both contrasts and supports certain ideas put forth by de Benoist and other ENR thinkers. And Strauss has an added benefit in that his arguments are generally well known.
Strauss read and interpreted the classics, especially Plato (in the guise of Socrates) using their dramatic form as a groundwork. The setting, along with who spoke and why was as important as what was said, and what was said was not offered as argument in the strict logical sense, but was instead social conversation among non-equals. Generally we find Socrates holding that the best rule (in the sense of the ideal) is rule of the wise. However the wise, that is to say the philosophers, are not naturally inclined to participate within the city. Because they are wise they understand the nature of their ideas, and understand that their views are not helpful to many—at least in raw form. Instead, philosophical thinking requires a kind of softening in order to be palatable to those disinclined toward philosophy. Alexander Duff, in his critique of of Stanley Rosen’s own Straussian critique [Review of Metaphysics, March 2010], explains:
“The city is concerned with deeds or actions, the most elevated of these perhaps being speech. Nonetheless, the disjunction between intellect and discursive reasoning, or between vision and speech, is permanent: the philosopher will never, inasmuch as the city is the location of deeds, be perfectly at home within the city. Philosophy remains, in its essence though not necessarily in its effects, a solitary, private activity.”
Philosophers, then, seek not participation, but absolution from the political life. In Republic we are presented with meaningful drama: philosophy (the search for truth) stands apart from conventional vagaries adhering within city life (the dialog begins outside of Athens and remains divorced from formal religious acts). Socrates, having sated his curiosity and after performing his duty toward the gods of the city, is thereafter disinclined to participate in on-going festivities. To his chagrin he is “captured” by Polemarchus’ slave, now becoming somewhat of a slave himself vis-a-vis his interlocutors. Held against his will and compelled to explain philosophy as it relates to both the individual and the civic order, what follows is an explication of the “just city in speech,” but an explication that, if taken literally, shows how philosophy cannot be a natural ground for practical everyday politics. We are also reminded how Aristophanes, in Clouds, warned against the usurpation of culture, and by extension politics, from philosophy inasmuch as the nature of philosophical questioning about tradition could very well lead to disastrous consequences. 1 On the other end of the democratic political spectrum we encounter the unintelligent, the barbarians. Can anyone therefore explain how we could ever expect de Benoist’s democratic ideal, to produce anything but discord?
De Benoist writes that in order to understand the ENR one must understand metapolitics. His idea is that ideas should be prior to and precipitate political action. Once dogmatic notions of left and right dissolve, the primacy of ideas distinguished as either false or just can now be debated. Truth is at once associated with justice in a classical sense. At the same time we recognize from de Benoist a tendency to use rather charged language whose usual meaning implies, if not something entirely false, perhaps something not quite true, and certainly something not indicative of a just reading of competing views. Within a critique of Samuel Huntington and the “Atlanticist” mentality, de Benoist brings up the allegation of Islamophobia as an ideological legitimization for United States hegemony. As we have seen, however, Guillaume Faye argues against the ENR’s tacit acceptance of Islam as a foil against Americanism. 2 Faye’s position was not meant as an endorsement of the certainly questionable American neo-conservative project, but only a call to more realistically understand the existential hierarchy of threats facing Europe. In any case, apart from Islamophobia’s pejorative connotation, when discussing what some view as an intrinsic problem within Islam they might, in order to defend themselves against the charge, point to non-American examples of Islam’s actions in places like India, certain former Soviet provinces, the Philippines, Thailand, the Xinjaing Uyghur Autonomous Region, etc.
Moving from theory to practical politics, de Benoist highlights an ENR call for a European federalism, but not the current EU bureaucracy. Perhaps, but if so they should consider closely the American example wherein federalism has essentially disappeared, being replaced by universal democracy and an all powerful center. Structurally, one wonders whether federalism has much chance of existing anyplace not associated with a more traditional agrarian economy, and certainly not among a large diverse population. Federalism demands autonomous local control, and in an age of “free trade” characterized by global industrialism, borders are unwelcome. De Benoist says as much (in a somewhat different context) when he writes, “Flows and fluxes of all kinds are the hallmark of our time, making borders obsolete.”
Dr. Sunic offers his own retrospective twenty years on, agreeing more with Gottfried and de Benoist against Stennett. Ideas must precede action, and the political right must, “first and foremost come to terms with the crucial importance of cultural hegemony if they ever wish to carry out any meaningful political activity…” [italics from the original]. At the same time, not forgetting Stennett, Sunic believes the time for action is nigh inasmuch as liberalism now shows its last phase. Soon action will be incumbent upon those who can, because the alternative will be too horrible to contemplate as reality. However this may be, it is one of the themes of Against Democracy and Equality to contemplate what could possibly manifest, and with that we will briefly consider the Sunic, or rather the ENR thesis.
The author begins by clearing the semantic air, or at least attempting this rather unwieldy task. We like to throw about names as a shorthand for concepts that we often know only vaguely. Once something is named it is easy to act as if we understand the thing’s essence and attributes, and can therefore intelligently parse all inherent and relational meaning. But often we know nothing at all and only speak loosely. Political concepts are some of the worst offenders leaving us with terminology that demands definition prior to speech. Even the idea of a “European New Right” is, at most, a shorthand way of grouping together sometimes disparate figures, but what else can be expected? In general, those authors discussed by Sunic share a distrust of, “socialism, liberalism, and various other forms of egalitarian beliefs, including the Judaeo-Christian origins of modern democracy.” In the past we have criticized the value of the term “Judaeo-Christian” as a useful designation; often, it is not clear exactly what the conjoined word is supposed to denote. We can happily report, however, that when Sunic uses the hyphenated word his context is is generally clear, and we understand whether he means Christian, Jewish, or some combination. 3 Sunic shows how, through its doctrinal universalism, Christianity, and to a certain extent the Jewish religion, can be held responsible for much of the modern egalitarian project. Here we offer a quote from the book’s appendix, the Manifesto for a European Renaissance:
“Actually one finds in Christianity the seeds of the great mutations that gave birth to the secular ideologies of the first post-revolutionary era. Individualism was already present in the notion of individual salvation and of an intimate and privileged relation between and individual and God that surpasses any relation on Earth. Egalitarianism is rooted in the idea that redemption is equally available to all mankind, since all are endowed with an individual soul whose absolute value is shared by all humanity.”
It is one thing to criticize Christianity. Almost everyone on the right expects that from the left. It is, however, another thing altogether to bring up the Jewish religion for criticism, especially given the historical milieu stemming from German National Socialism. Consequently, it is not surprising to find ENR accused of antisemitism. An incident not cited in Sunic’s book underscores the tenuous and frustrating position ENR intellectuals encounter, a position that Sunic does highlight. In 2002 Le Monde published an article by Jewish sociologist, Edgar Morin, criticizing Israel for its Palestinian policies. The paper was sued by some Jewish groups over an alleged libel. De Benoist signed a petition supporting Morin’s right of speech, but as we can read from the JTA News Service:
Several Jewish outlets condemned the petition, saying the signatories acted to preserve friendships in their clique, rather than out of intellectual honesty. “I would bet that many of those who signed the petition didn’t even read Morin’s article,” Clement Weill-Raynal, president of the Association of Jewish Journalists for the French Press, said on Radio Communaute Juive, a Jewish station. “Some of them no doubt signed out of favoritism, out of ignorance, or out of simple intellectual conformity.” Gilles-Williams Goldnadel, president of France-Israel and Lawyers Without Borders, told Radio J, another Jewish station, that before the trial even began, “these so-called intellectuals tried to explain to us in their learned manner that we are guilty of judicial harassment.” 4
The so-called Jewish question, a perennial European question, is evidently debated seriously among ENR thinkers. It is a topic not usually breached by American academics and, when done, the debate often breaks down into a rather low form very quickly. To be sure, in America honest open debate is not often encountered when discussing any minority. Guillaume Faye, whose book The New Jewish Question has not been translated into English, can be briefly mentioned in this context. The book is known to us second-hand, principally from Michael O’Meara’s review, The New Jewish Question of Guillaume Faye [Occidental Quarterly Vol 7 No 3]. Here, we encounter the thesis that Jews dominate through cultural and financial power; they are the principal force promoting Western decadence; and they immunize themselves from criticism through their use of German guilt over the Holocaust. Faye argues against the propositions, or at least believes that any negative Jewish influence is secondary to European Islamification. De Benoist himself presents the case against “racism” in the present book’s appendix, and does not appear to be happy with Jewish criticisms other than as they relate to the Palestinian question. In an interview in Telos [Winter/Spring 93-94] de Benoist responds to the question:
It seems ironic that the Parisian intellectual establishment (or at least forty of its most prestigious members) should sign an appeal warning the unaware masses of the danger that you and the New Right allegedly pose precisely at a time when GRECE is developing its most progressive position vis a vis immigrants, racism, etc., rather than focusing on the leaders of the National Front who, in fact, are guilty of all the charges made in the appeal (violence, exclusion, etc.),
with the comment,
“That is why they organize witch-hunts in the fashion of the anti-Semites who attribute dangerous powers to Jews no one can see, and why they dream of internal discourses in the same way that anti-Semites speculate about forgeries such as the Protocols.”
It is within this social-political context that we find the ENR embracing paganism—almost as if ENR realizes that the only reliable way out of the Jewish-Christian conundrum is for people to abandon these religions altogether. Again, for a counter position we may recall Archeofuturism, wherein Faye writes that such a radical spiritual agenda is naïve; no one really expects paganism to manifest on a popular level, and in any case pagans are no better off vis-a-vis Muslims than Christians or Jews. From our point of view, it is one thing to argue an anthropological or a sociological criticism. Yet to do so misses the actual nature of religion, and the fact that authentic religion is hardly ever a rational choice. Short of coercion, one cannot expect anyone to either give up or change their religion based upon non-religious considerations. Finally, when parsing Sunic’s discussion of Judaeo-Christianity we find a remarkably conspicuous absence of a critique either of Islam as it is, or the question of the transformative effect of European Islamic immigration. Already noted is de Benoist’s “Islamophobia” comment, but we can also report that although it is not explicitly mentioned by name, Islam is implied one other time: a brief quote from Mircea Eliade where we are told that, “intolerance and fanaticism characteristic of the prophets and missionaries of the three monotheistic religions have their model and justification in the example of Yahweh [italics not in original].
Politically, our attention is drawn to the fact that ENR attempts to, “influence all Indo-European peoples—Slaves, Celts, and Germans alike. At the same time it is said to be unsympathetic to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front. We believe this still to be the case, and wonder how they might respond to a recent [March 9th, 2011] article in The Economist reporting that polling showed Marine Le Pen (Jean-Marie’s daughter and new head of the National Front) more popular among voters than either Nicholas Sarkozy or an hypothetical selection of Socialist candidates. In a 2003 interview de Benoist indicated that as a “young woman of our times,” and without the baggage of militant Catholicism, she made a more attractive figure (both literally and figuratively, one suspects) than that of her father. 5
Egalitarian thinking is not relevant for the ENR. It is anti-Communist and anti-liberal. We must understand that in this context the word “liberal” is typically used in its more classical sense. Sunic writes:
“The error that liberal thinkers fail to discern is that the liberal doctrine of individualism, economism, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ cannot constitute a solid weapon against Marxism, since liberal intellectuals, while denouncing the consequences of Marxism, are unable to critically examine the egalitarian premises of their own doctrine.”
Much has been written on the idea of equality. Today it is accepted by the majority as a kind of natural law, one violated historically by traditional Western culture. Sunic speaks of the alleged masterminds of Western egalitarianism, including Jefferson, and picks a quote from Richard Herrnstein referencing Jefferson’s “self-evident truths.” We believe from his text that Sunic understands Jefferson was not guilty of promulgating a modernist doctrine of equality, in spite of the famous wording used within the Declaration. As mentioned in our review of de Benoist’s The Problem of Democracy, the Founder’s words cannot be discounted from their historical context, and have little meaning apart from it. That is to say, it was written as a redress of grievances to their King, and must be interpreted in that context—or the way the Founders meant it. Some modern egalitarians (both right and left) have argued that the Founders recognized the principle of equality, but at the same time realized its political impracticality. Therefore they “planted a seed” that could grow into the full range of social emancipation—not only for blacks, but women, homosexuals, the miserable ones suffering from prickly-heat rash, and even non-citizen illegal aliens that now have the right of life, liberty, and in-state tuition. Such anachronism is absurd, and we need only review Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia in order to realize it. 6
The egalitarian aspect of the liberal social contract is implied in Sunic’s discussion, and can be elaborated briefly. Hobbes’ view of nature was pre-political and required an implicit natural equality simply because only equals can be fairly imagined to be morally capable of entering into a binding contract. Second, without the force of positive law (an artifact of the covenant creating the Leviathan, or artificial Sovereign) the right of nature was held by each individual. Hobbes himself is not clear in his description on the extent of the right of nature, but at the very least it is the right of the individual to secure what is minimally necessary to preserve one’s life from a trespass of others who are disinclined to facilitate a general well-being. Hobbes’ civil union is a rational construct, and in spite of the trappings, unconcerned (or at least logically unconnected) with religion. 7
Locke and Rousseau are briefly discussed, however again it is questionable how Locke’s psychology/epistemology squares with the idea of natural law, upon which natural right is said to be based. 8 On the other hand, Rousseau’s idea of the General Will along with his influence upon the French Revolution are very clear.
Unlike the traditional American right, ENR is not committed to unchecked capitalism, and its economic critique is integral to its overall political position. The idea is that through globalization and the expansion of capital, politics, what should be the province of natural organic political units, has become simply a tool of borderless capital in its drive toward global economic hegemony. And with this drive comes a universal rationalism consisting of “repetitious economic transactions” in all aspects of life. Spiritual degradation of Homo economicus is a well known theme, even apart from the ENR, and although theorists of anarcho-capitalism (Carl Menger, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Ludwig Mises, F.A. Hayek, etc.) all presented compelling arguments supporting their description of the natural economic law—that is, the catallactics of market exchange within an a priori praxeological framework guiding human action, we must ask whether the individual’s spiritual life is greatly enhanced by the presence of exceedingly cheap DVD players of ephemeral quality, produced in a Shenzhen factory, and found on a shelf in the blue light section at a Walmart Supercenter, or whether man ought to have something else in his life? Contra the free market, ENR theorists are not averse to government intervention, but de Benoist’s call for “a single European currency managed by a central bank under the control of a European political authority” may require some rethinking.
For the American right, ENR ideas must appear rather alien. Its tenets would certainly not be very accepted by neo-conservatives, nor would it pass muster among the libertarians. Perhaps so-called paleo-conservatives would be more accepting, though. American left-liberals could also find agreement with ENR on certain essential points, but probably would not want to be associated due to their own embrace of egalitarianism.