A Friendship of Differences: A Conversation with Alain de BenoistAlain de Benoist
Translated by György Balázs Kun
The following interview was published in Hungarian in the autumn 2021 issue of the journal Kommentár.
The best-known Hungarian conservative author, the greatest contemporary counter-revolutionary thinker, and the most productive Catholic philosopher of the twentieth century, Thomas Molnar, was born a hundred years ago this year. Béla Király, who is one of Alain de Benoist’s comrades-in-arms and discussion partners, conducted and translated an interview with him which reveals the two Right-wing thinkers’ parallel careers that lasted for decades. Among other things, this led to the publication of a book about desacralization (L’eclipse du sacre, 1986) which deals with the disenchantment of the world from both an Indo-European and a traditionalist Catholic point of view.
Even if the old-fashioned conservative Tamás Molnar and the New Rightist Alain de Benoist came from different positions, they always felt an affinity for each other — especially because both of them were well-known representatives of francophone culture.
Brothers in arms
You had a considerable role in popularizing the Catholic philosopher in France, and it’s been revealed in your correspondence as to which Parisian publishers you mentioned to him. I’ve often found your name in Tamás Molnar’s archives. According to Luc Gaffié — an essayist who now teaches in the United States but lives in Toulouse –, apart from Dominique Venner, you wrote the most beautiful of Molnár’s obituaries in 2010. What do you remember about the Hungarian philosopher?
I have quite vivid memories of him, since we shared a close friendship for nearly 30 years. His most characteristic attribute was perhaps his free spirit. I knew him as a brave, exceptionally learned, and endlessly kind person who never lost his remarkable sense of humor. On the other hand, he had really deep sorrow, which left a visible mark on his face. This was due to a simple reason: He was deeply hurt by events surrounding him. He had spent most of his life in the United States, which wasn’t dear to his heart, moreover during a period when he found little to be joyful about.
If I recall correctly, we met in Paris on June 10, 1967, so more than half a century ago. Back then, when I was only 23 years old, I was quite active politically and I’d published numerous articles. I can’t really recall the exact circumstances under which we met . . . The only thing that I’m sure about is that, a couple of weeks after we met, on June 30, we participated in a political gathering in the Mutualité conference center, along with Tamás and Dominique Venner. After that, our relationship gradually evolved and deepened. Of course, he was from another generation, and our religious and philosophical positions weren’t quite the same, but these differences only made our friendship deeper.
From the start of the ‘70s we met again numerous times, sharing our ideas and having long conversations, and even debates as well. In 1972 he became a member of the advisory board of the journal Nouvelle École, which had been established by me some years prior. During that period, we worked with the same publisher, Éditions Beauchesne, and often when he visited Paris we would have dinner with Ms. Cadice, its director. Even later, whenever he was visiting Europe from the US, we would have a lunch or dinner in Paris. These visits usually happened in June. Naturally, we also met at various European conferences and symposiums as speakers or invited guests. For example, in January 1973, we both participated in an international congress in Toronto that had been organized regarding the topic of the defense of culture. During that same year, in April, we had met in Rome at a conference for the creation of an international association for defending Western culture organized by the philosopher Armando Plebe. Three months later we visited Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing, an essayist who invited us to Munich for the launch of his new journal, Criticón. I remember well that, among others, Armin Mohler and Ricardo Paseyro also attended this event. In 1993, we met in Anvers at a dinner debate organized by Ordenprins at the instigation of my friend Luc Pauwels.
During the early ‘90s, hardly more than a year ever passed without our meetings in Paris, so I had the chance to introduce Tamás to interesting people such as Pauwels, Jean Raspail, Ricardo Paseyro, Mohler, Denis Tillinac, and Paul Barba-Negra. But he also invited me to his place, and I visited him in the US at least three times. The first time was on February 10, 1973, when I spent a few days at his place in New York, where he was living with his first wife. Later, on March 21, 1980, I visited him in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where he had moved with his second wife, Ildikó. On March 26, 1993, we met in Chicago at the Knickerbocker Hotel for an international symposium hosted by the organizers of the Telos journal, namely Paul Piccone and Gary Ulmen.
As you also know well, I had the good fortune to write a “piece for four hands” with him. L’éclipse du sacré (The Eclipse of the Sacred) was published in 1986 by Table Ronde, having been born out of our conversations and debates. Later, in 1992, it was translated into Italian, and in 2017 a second French edition was issued, but unfortunately it hasn’t been published in other European languages. The last time I saw him was on September 10, 1995 at a dinner where Father Guillaume de Tanoüarn, the editor of the journal Monde et Vite, was also in attendance. Not long after that, my friend Tamás moved back to Hungary, his native land, where he began teaching at a university. As far as I know, his last books were published in Hungarian. In his letters he described his joy at returning to his homeland, but sadly, he told me about his declining health as well. The news of his death deeply saddened me.
The French connection
You have given several lectures in Budapest, the last time being in December 2018, and four of your books have been translated into Hungarian. That’s quite a small number considering that you’re the author of more than 100 books. Which of your recently-published books would you advise to be translated, and why?
Up to now I’ve published 115 books, a bit more than 2,000 articles, and given approximately 850 interviews. Of my latest books, the one titled Contre le libéralisme: La société n’est pas un marché (Against Liberalism: Society is Not the Market) certainly deserves to be translated. That book, which was published in 2019, has already been translated into Italian, Spanish, and Dutch, but not yet into Hungarian. I will also mention two other books which were published in 2017: Le moment populiste (The Populist Moment), which is a political book that was intended to describe the clear meaning of the concept, which is nowadays used as a derogatory word. The other is Ce que penser veut dire (What Does It Mean to Think?) in which I describe the works of some theoreticians who I hold in high esteem, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Konrad Lorenz, Carl Schmitt, Arthur Koestler, Charles Péguy, and Henry de Montherlant.
We can’t find any of your books at the French Institute in Budapest, nor any of the exemplary journals you have edited. Can you please describe them and tell us why you founded them?
I started Nouvelle École, a high-level theoretical journal, in 1968, and I’m still its General Editor. The topic of the next issues will be the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Werner Sombart, and Arnold Gehlen [the Tolkien issue was already published in May 2021–Editor]. In 1988 I founded Krisis, another journal which is still being published today. It’s also a theoretical journal, but most of all it is a place for debate and the free expression of opinions, and that’s why it is often possible to read quite different or even opposing opinions in its pages. Many significant people have written for it, each of which always deals with a specific topic, such as questions of sociology, love, politics, the future, and art. Finally, in 1972 I helped to establish the journal Éléments, which is the most well-known one in the intellectual milieu to which I belong. It is a very colorful publication which partially deals with actualities as well. It’s published every two months and is available at every newsstand in France, and online as well.
Three years ago, I advised a Budapest-based publisher to translate your intellectual biography, Mémoire vive (Vivid Memory), which was published in 2012 and is exciting and rich with ideas. In it, you basically answer François Bousquet’s questions. I received a positive response from the publisher’s General Editor at first, but later we weren’t able to come to an agreement — and somebody liked the book so much that they weren’t even able to return my copy of it to me . . . I can’t properly recall what your memories of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 were. You were about 13 years old at the time.
Since I was born in December 1943, I wasn’t even 13 years old yet at the time of the Revolution in Budapest, but it caused a great stir in French public opinion, such that I clearly remember that I was following events on the radio. Of course, I sided with the revolutionaries wholeheartedly, and the repression of the Revolution exacted a heavy toll on me. At that time, the headquarters of the French Communist Party was stormed and occupied by masses of protesters who sympathized with the Hungarian people. Later, I met with some of the people who were involved in these events, as for example the previously mentioned Dominique Venner. During the 1960 and ‘70s I met with a lot of Hungarian émigrés who had settled in France. They had been forced to emigrate from their country because of the roles they had played in the Revolution. My appreciation for the Hungarian nation has been unbroken since then.
The world & politics
I can only recommend your program on TV Libertés about French thinkers, as well as your interviews at Boulevard Voltaire where you examine global politics. What do you think about these developments and the results of the American presidential election?
The fact that, after the unpredictable Donald Trump, Joe Biden moved into the White House means a replay and reenactment of the Obama era. But to properly evaluate the situation, it’s not enough to say that the trend that began in 2016 has now ended. In my opinion, although Trump will not return to power, Trumpism will not simply disappear without a trace. We shouldn’t forget that 12 million more Americans voted for Trump in 2021 than in the previous presidential election, earning 74 million votes as compared 62 million in 2016. This shows that the Democratic Party — which no longer represents the working class, but only minorities — may have won the stronger position in Congress, but the populist wave, which helped Trump get into office, is still very much alive. Because the US has never been as divided before as it is now, the Republican Party undoubtedly has to reform itself. We can’t even exclude the possibility that the party may dissolve and break up into several factions.
We can blame Trump for many things, but he was surely successful in one thing: He never pushed his country into a new war. However, is it certain that the Democrats — as their predecessors did — will embark on a new military adventure? We will see soon enough. But the world has changed. The transitional period we are living in marks the end of the unipolar and bipolar world order that had characterized the era of the Cold War as well. Joe Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to affirm his intention of ensuring that the US will remain the world’s leading power at his inauguration, despite the fact that this was interspersed with the Bible and Lady Gaga and took place in the federal Capitol, which was under siege and being guarded by more soldiers than there are in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. He is going to have less and less leverage to make that happen. Nowadays, nobody believes that the US is an “essential nation” and that its presence is safeguarding us from becoming an autonomous power by virtue of our own possibilities.
What’s your opinion of the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the European Union’s governmental institutions? What kind of lessons can this provide for Europe?
For more than a year, there was nothing that we could call “European governmental crisis control” in relation to the pandemic. This in itself is a significant fact. Just as the virus started to spread, all the European nations more or less started to shut themselves down, closed their borders, and initiated their own independent, autonomous strategies. As in many other situations, the European Union seemed completely unable to cope with the emergency. Things only changed a bit when the European Commission tried to coordinate the distribution of the vaccines. In those situations that Carl Schmitt called the “state of exception,” only the nation-states have the essential tools to react, and they do use them, but in a way that only serves the interests of their own citizens. It is too early to predict the consequences of this healthcare crisis. What we know for sure is that it is going to be catastrophic both for society and the economy. It’s certainly apparent that the European Union is even more inept and paralyzed than it was before.
In the summer of 2017, when I first visited your home near the Père-Lachaise cemetery, among many other things you told me that you would like to meet the Hungarian Prime Minister in order to interview him. Do you still plan to do this?
That’s not really a plan, more like a wish! Viktor Orbán is a really interesting, multi-faceted person. He has a really unique position in Europe through which he has gathered many enemies, but at the same time many friends as well. In many aspects he represents the possibility of “another Europe” for the French. That’s why I would like to interview him.
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