Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The American 'Alt Right' and Europe's New Right

As American pundits argue over what 'Alt right' means, I'm reposting this article from last year: 

At one point during World War II, Josef Stalin famously asked his then allies, Churchill and Roosevelt, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”, underlining the crucial role of brute force in world affairs. Military might has still not taken a back seat to negotiation, however, there is a growing conviction across the world and across political lines, that morality must play a role in public life.
Notwithstanding Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent posturing in front of the Hiroshima monument to the atomic victims of World World II, nuclear stockpiling continues unabated, while climate change competes as the ultimate threat of annihilation. Any hope of maintaining a human presence on earth can only come from a psychological turnaround. 
The nineteen-sixties call by the American counter-culture for a spiritual transformation was not heard, but since Donald Trump entered the presidential fray, and refugees from US wars in the Middle East stormed Europe, progressive warnings about the rise of fascism are. In Europe, everybody knows what fascism is so they don’t use the innocent sounding word Alt or ‘alternative’ to designate the militant far right. 
In addition, Europe has a New Right, that backs the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who has tried hard to shed her father’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. (The nationalist part of her platform also finds favor with the Russian President, who is more of a social democrat than either a cowboy capitalist or a communist, and about whom more later.) 
The US’s ‘alt right’ is not easy to define. It’s nationalist, but so are most religious groups. On the other hand, to say it’s misogynous barely scratches the surface of its attitude toward women, which tends toward disparage-ment, as opposed to the religious right’s ‘respect’. Ultimately, it’s the alt right’s demonization of ‘the Other’ that separates it from the new right. For Hitler’s Nazis, the main ‘Others’ were Jews, but their xenophobia included Slavs, Communists and brown people across the board. The Alt right is against everyone who opposes its gun-toting, flag waving ‘patriotism’, putting it at odds with the New Right.
While both the European and the American left are reduced to desperate cries for ‘equality’, the new right has appropriated the left’s major memes, from individual flourishing to decentralization, anti-globalization and anti-consumerism, while abandoning the old right’s militarism and racism.
Its program is spelled out in a Manifesto published in 2000 by GRECE, a French think tank founded by the philosopher Alain de Benoist. This 14,000 word text could have been written by a leftist were it not for its opposition to multiculturalism, which by the way dovetails with Vladimir Putin’s opposition to the immigration of non-Europeans into ‘Caucasian’ societies. In response to what has hitherto been considered the most progressive view of human relations, the manifesto states:

"The French New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because one is only justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means that the right to difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different. The French New Right respects ethnic groups, languages, and regional cultures, as well as native religions. It supports peoples struggling against Western imperialism. The diversity of the human species is a treasure,  and  ‘universal’, does not oppose difference, but recognizes it. For the New Right, the struggle against racism is not won by negating the concept of race, nor by blending all races into an undifferentiated whole, but by refusing both exclusion and assimilation: neither apartheid nor the melting pot, but acceptance of the other as Other in a perspective of mutual enrichment.” 

Many leftists will agree that this argument makes sense. But they will wonder what a right-wing party could have against Western Imperialism. It’s that imperialism is the flip side of modernity, that generates alienation: While the contemporary left in the developed world has condemned imperialism in a laudable commitment to equality, for the new right:

“Modernity designates the political and philosophical movement of the last three centuries of Western history…characterized by individualization, or the destruction of old forms of communal life; massification, or the adoption of standardized behavior and lifestyles; desacralization, which replaces the great religious narratives by a scientific interpretation of the world; rationalization, the domination of instrumental reason, the free market,  technical efficiency and universalization, the extension of a model of society postulated implicitly as the only rational possibility and thus as superior, to the entire planet."

A couple of decades ago, that was a typical left-wing argument, but Neo-liberalism has traded ideals for efficiency, thought to guarantee the greatest good for the greatest number: “The  ‘free’ market is an exacerbation of rationalization in which standardization is confused with  superiority and equality implies conforming to a host country’s customs and standards of behavior.” 

France has recently revealed the degree to which conformity can become absurd: freedom to dress as one pleases, which enabled western women to abandon stays and long skirts for shorts, is now an obligation to uncover one’s body, turning so-called freedom into conformity. Progressives may argue that this is a convenient excuse for maintaining the bulk of humanity in an inferior condition, yet the abandonment of traditional social memes in the competition for ‘more’, seen as an intrinsic good, also leads to crime, drugs and alienation.

Referring to Russia, Vladimir Putin affirms that “It is clearly impossible to identify oneself only through one’s ethnicity or religion in such a large nation with a multi-ethnic population. … People must develop a civic identity on the basis of shared values, a patriotic consciousness, civic responsibility and solidarity, respect for the law and a sense of responsibility for their homeland’s fate, without losing touch with their ethnic or religious roots.”

According to the Arab website Al Monitor, file:///Users/deen/Documents/PUTIN/Putin’s%20Muslim%20family%20values.webarchive when Putin emphasizes Russians’ shared moral values, he connects them to the “traditional” values of Middle Eastern, Asian and other non-Western societies. “We can see how many Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization … People are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens the door to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis, so we consider it natural and right to defend these values.” While clearly identifying Russia as a largely Christian country, Putin draws a line between religious values and those of a decadent, secular West.

I witnessed the American cultural takeover of Europe, starting in the fifties, with the introduction of coca cola that gradually replaced the typical Frenchman’s glass of wine, as jazz flourished in the ‘caves’ of Paris and Berlin. Little did American expats realize at the time just how far the transformation of a world we loved would go, as together with the multifarious French left, we demonstrated against the Vietnam and Algerian wars. Never in a million years would we have imagined the cost that Europe would ultimately pay for what at the time was called ‘Americanization’ and is now called ‘globalization’ - or that a new right would most eloquently oppose this race to the bottom.

                  The Seagram Building, New York

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