Alain de Benoist’s Vivid Memory
F. Roger Devlin
Part 3: The Beginnings of the Nouvelle Droite
Part 3 of 3
Alain de Benoist
Mémoire vive: entretiens avec François Bousquet
Paris: Éditions de Fallois, 2012
During the years 1966–’67, the movement in which Benoist had been a militant went into its death throes. Europe-Action ceased publication following its November 1966 issue; the FEN held its last summer training camp in 1967. Concurrently, Benoist was undergoing a personal evolution which might be summed up as the victory of the philosophy student over the militant.
I felt a strong desire to start again from scratch. At twenty-three, I had just passed several years in a milieu where I had the feeling of having “seen it all.” I had learned a lot, but also experienced its limits. I was aware of having said a lot of stupid things, of having repeated slogans only because they corresponded to what “we” were supposed to think. I wanted to submit all that to a critical examination, perform a sort of triage between the correct ideas that could be kept and the false ideas that had to be abandoned.
I had definitely concluded that I was not a man of power but a man of knowledge. The life of reflection, not to say the vita contemplativa, was more important to me than the vita activa. After having forced my own nature for a time, I had found myself. I aspired to reconstruct a general view of the world on a new basis.
In the fall of 1967, I went to stay in Denmark for a week or so, on the coast of the Baltic, in order to reflect calmly upon what I wanted to do: viz., to lead a “theoretical” life, as Aristotle said—but how? I did not want to set forth any catechism of ready-made ideas, but to set in motion a train of thought. I could imagine the starting point, but did not wish to prejudge where it would lead. It was a matter of taking clear positions, engaging oneself completely, but never forgetting the primacy of questioning.
A few weeks later I arranged a working seminar in an old barn in the Vendée where a FEN summer training camp [presumably the last] had just been held. It was during this meeting that I announced my intention of launching a review entitled Nouvelle Ecole.
The inaugural meeting of the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE) took place at Lyons, May 4–5, 1968. But the idea had been in the air for some time. At the beginning, I conceived GRECE quite unrealistically as a kind of synthesis between the Frankfurt School, Action Française, and the Centre nationale de recherche scientific!
From the chronology, we can see that the Nouvelle Droite was not, as is so often asserted, a “response” to the events of May 1968. Benoist, however, did take an interest in the events of that “revolutionary” month, and witnessed many of them close up.
It was only afterwards that I understood that there were in fact two different “May ’68s.” On the one hand, there was the initiation of a radical critique of consumer society, the society of the spectacle and mercantile values, with which I could only sympathize. On the other hand, it was a pseudo-revolution of “desire” (“untrammeled enjoyment,” “it is forbidden to forbid,” “the beach on the pavement”) which betrayed a spoilt-child individualism beneath its revolutionary appearances. Unfortunately, it was the second tendency which won out.
By 1970, GRECE was expanding rapidly, with “circles” forming in most of the major university towns: the Vilfredo Pareto Circle in Paris, the Henry de Montherlant Circle in Bordeaux . . . even a Leconte de Lisle Circle on the island of Réunion!
By the fall of 1968 it acquired a modest internal newsletter, Eléments, which expanded over the years until it became autonomous, the magazine for the general public it is today. Beginning [also] in 1968, GRECE has organized a national colloquium every year, as well as a summer university which is held in a big provençal building at the foot of the Roquefavour Aqueduct near Aix-en-Provence.
It was a matter of creating a working community, even if the first term was forgotten by some. But it is true that we attached great importance to the idea of community. We appropriated the classic distinction made by Ferdinand Tönnies between community, inherited or acquired, but always founded upon organic bonds, and society, of a contractual nature, and thus more artificial and “mechanical.”
Most of the members of GRECE were then between twenty and thirty years old. Some were still students. It was the time of first marriages and the arrival of first children. Since we were not Christians, there were no baptisms or church marriages. Some members wanted us to work out substitute rites.
I myself got married June 21, 1972—the day of the summer solstice—to a young German from Schleswig-Holstein, Doris Christians, who all her life has always remained a wonderful wife. We would have two sons: Frédérik (1978) and Adrien (1981).
Benoist describes the 1970s for GRECE as a period of “systematic exploration of the ideological landscape, with inevitable ambiguities, some theoretical wavering or mistakes.”
I wrote a number of articles on the nexus between culture and politics. I was struggling to define the idea of “cultural power.” I insisted on the role of culture as an element in political change. A political transformation [merely] sanctions a revolution which has already occurred in minds and mores. Intellectual and cultural work contributes to this mental change by popularizing values, images and themes which break with the order in place or with the values of the dominant class.
The first polemics against GRECE came at the end of 1972 from a far-right royalist organization which accused them of “racism.” Some members even attacked a GRECE seminar, pick-handles in hand. This had no lasting effect, and GRECE “established itself definitively in the intellectual landscape during the next five years.” In 1976, members established the publishing house Copernic, which published some fifty titles over the next few years.
In 1977 a series of events began which would turn Benoist’s little “working community” into an international media sensation. A close associate, the author and journalist Louis Pauwels, began to produce a Sunday supplement for the newspaper Le Figaro in which Benoist published interviews and book reviews. This venture proving successful, in October 1978 it was upgraded to a weekly magazine, Le Figaro-Magazine. Benoist worked closely with Pauwels on the project, and induced many of his associates to write for the magazine. “Nearly all [Pauwels’] editorials were a fairly faithful reflection of the ideas and work of the Nouvelle Droite,” remembers Benoist. After ten weeks of publication, the magazine had boosted Le Figaro’s circulation to 400,000, and it eventually shot up to 850,000.
By the summer of 1979, the ideological mainstream was worried. On the 22nd of June, Le Monde launched an attack under the title Le Nouvelle Droite s’installe (“The New Right Settles In”). This was the first appearance of the term “nouvelle droite,” which had never been used by Benoist or his associates to describe themselves. On July 2nd, the Nouvelle Observateur followed up with a cover story about GRECE. “From that point on,” remembers Benoist, “a snowball effect took hold.”
Within the space of a few weeks, several hundred articles were devoted to the Nouvelle Droite. After the articles there were books, then radio and television programs. I was giving swarms of interviews. One of the most memorable was two full pages in France-Soir of 20th July on the theme “What to Think of the New Right?” Playboy devoted their interview of the month to me. I was also pressed with questions by the television networks of France, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Denmark, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Lebanon, etc. They asked whether I was considering running in the presidential elections. It was surreal.
We may note that not a single English speaking country appears in Benoist’s long list of international media which took an interest in the Nouvelle Droite.
On October 3, 1980 a bomb went off in a Paris synagogue, a crime later shown to have been the work of Middle-Eastern terrorists. The head of Licra (French acronym for International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism) declared that the attack was the consequence of a certain intellectual “climate” to which Figaro-Magazine had contributed. Hysterical reactions followed, and the police told Pauwels and Benoist that they could not guarantee their safety, and recommended that they “beat a retreat.”
I had to leave my house and spend several days undercover in Paris. Pauwels and I arranged a few discreet meetings. He wore dark sunglasses and looked over his shoulder as he spoke. It was like being in a John Le Carré novel. Two months later, a national colloquium organized by GRECE was forcibly attacked by a band of zealots. One of our friends lost an eye in the course of the brawl.
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