The Populist Moment, Chapter 9, Part 2:
Alain de Benoist
“Conservatives of the Left” & the Critique of Value
Translated by F. Roger Devlin
Introduction here, Chapter 9 Part 2 here, Chapter 10 Part 1 here
The Revolution of 1789 was itself above all a liberal and bourgeois revolution — even “ultra-liberal,” as the very liberal Gaspard Koenig affirms, not failing to celebrate this. “The French Revolution,” he writes, was at its origin ‘ultra-liberal,’ aiming to establish the rule of law and the market as tools of individual emancipation.” Hence the Allarde Law (March 1791), which suppressed guilds and forbade strikes and trade unions, followed by the Chapelier Law (June 1791), which outlawed workers’ fraternal organizations [le compagnonnage] and corporations, as well as any gatherings of workers or peasants. “Everyone today senses the need to establish social unity on the destruction of orders and of all large corporations,” wrote the Abbé Sieyès in What Is the Third Estate? Gaspard Koening comments:
The terms are laid down. It is in the name of free competition that the fight against the Ancien Régime will be led. . . . By creating undifferentiated citizens, . . . [the new freedom] makes general competition possible, where orders created frontiers and particularities. . . . Particular interest is essential, for it constitutes the motor of the market and of progress. . . . It is by separating individuals from one another that the rule of law [État de droit] can be born.
At the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when France was still largely rural and workers balked at the working methods of industry, workers’ socialism was often quite reserved toward the idea of progress. Thibault Isabel emphasizes:
Far from unilaterally defining themselves as progressives struggling against obscurantism, the [first] socialists saw themselves rather as forces of resistance to the modernization of society. . . . The enemy, for the early militants, was none other than the rapid and brutal transformation of society which cast the little people into the street and changed the living conditions of the common people for the benefit of the wealthy. . . .
In the age of Proudhon, socialists laid into technocracy and the cult of experts, the rise of finance, the disappearance of the world of peasants and shopkeepers for the benefit of industry, downward pressure on salaries; they set store by land, militant heroism, sacrifice in the service of the group, and often religion as well.
As Jean-Claude Michéa has often recalled in his books, they contested — and rightly so — the hierarchies of the Ancient Régime, but were in no way disposed to abandon the solidarity, forms of mutual aid, and social bonds which allowed people to face up to those hierarchies within traditional societies.
Many of them were also patriots, for their internationalism was not the same as cosmopolitanism. As Alain Peyrefitte has written (following many others), “It is the proletarians who feel the most intransigent nationalism, and the bourgeois who are the most tempted by cosmopolitanism.” The Commune’s patriotism hardly needs to be recalled, since it was born of the refusal of the people of Paris to see the capital handed over to the Prussians. At that time, many socialists considered themselves the only real patriots (Eugène Fournière, a disciple of Jules Guesde and then of Benoît Malon, denounced the nationalists of the Right as “fake patriots”). “The poor defend the country, the rich sell it” (Péguy). Marx himself said that the class struggle is international in its content, but national in its form. “The opposition between nation and internationalism,” writes Denis Collin, “is perfectly absurd, at least for anyone who has gone through Marx’s school.”
The socialist movement has unfortunately too often clung to the mere class struggle, incorrectly believing it would permit a departure from capitalism. Now, the theory of class struggle (the “exoteric Marx”) limits itself to criticizing the unequal distribution of wealth, without questioning its substance or taking any interest in the intrinsic nature of the economy and labor. Disputing what is the most just way of distributing surplus value is one way among others of legitimating the principle of surplus value. Substituting the State for the market as the place where value is distributed in no way changes the deeper nature of capitalism, which explains why Soviet “Marxism-Leninism” merely ended up instituting a State capitalism (or, as Jean-Claude Michéa says, a “State imitation of capitalism”). Besides, experience shows that the proletariat has no intrinsic tendency to its own abolition, and so is not revolutionary per se. If the dominated classes become dominant classes, the means of production merely change hands, without themselves being changed. The struggle of the working class, most often based on purely quantitative demands, have not opened up any post-capitalist perspective, but merely transformed the proletariat into a petty bourgeois subject.
Beginning in 1918, the Left social democrats progressively mutated into partners of capitalism, limiting themselves to demanding salary increases or better working conditions, which opens the door to de facto collaboration in the perfecting of social compromises. The rise of Fordism accentuated this reformist orientation in which one no longer sought to overturn the system in place, but to obtain a better position within it; the consequence was the creation of a vast middle class living in ever closer symbiosis with the demands of Capital as long as Capital favors consumption and agrees to rising purchasing power.
The various forms of Communism, for their part, took the capitalism they claimed to combat for their model without even realizing it, attempting to outdo it in productivity. In the Soviet Union this resulted in the institution of an economic system that was, as we have said, merely a State capitalism. The goal was no longer to arrange capitalism in a fashion more favorable (quantitatively) to the workers, as in social democracy or reformist socialism, but to create another capitalism piloted by the State and supposed to be more productive than the original. “Socialism in all its various forms, social-democratic as well as Communist,” writes Denis Collin, “functioned as a mechanism for integrating the working class with capitalism.” Jacques Julliard also speaks of “the internalization of capitalist logic by the workers.” The idea thus became established that capitalism, imperfect or open to criticism as it may be, is in the last analysis the only possible system, and that it is impossible to escape it. Hence what Costanzo Preve has called a “collective social impotence without historical precedent.”
The 1970s saw a new turn marked by the oil crisis and the end of the “Thirty Glorious Years,” the decoupling of the dollar from gold, the beginning of the third industrial revolution (that of computing), the rise of a financial capitalism based on speculation, public over-indebtedness and private credit (“fictional capital”) and, in Europe, the beginnings of immigration as demographic replacement.
Michel Clouscard in France and Pier Paolo Pasolini in Italy were among the few to understand early on not only that it was only logical for many of the “’68ers” to quickly come to understand that the capitalist system offered them the best chance of “enjoyment without hindrance,” but also that Form-Capital knew very well how to make use of May 1968 to liquidate whatever still existed of the old organic and traditional societies. Where many saw nothing more than students having it out with riot police, it would have been more accurate to see the sons of the bourgeoisie going up against the sons of the proletariat!
During the 1980s the Left, already in disarray following the collapse of the twentieth century’s ideological “grand narratives,” began to break away from the people, as we have already described. Overtly rallying to the market model, it abandoned all idea of collective liberation and transformation of society by any means other than the attribution of individual rights. They might still criticize economic liberalism, but only to demand a “social” liberalism resting on the same anthropological foundations.
Thus we arrive at the current situation, where Form-Capital has succeeded in completely “liberalizing” the culture, along with family and sexual mores, to the great pleasure of a Left which has replaced the desire for revolution with the revolution of desire — beginning with the desire for money. “The new Left has continued to promote the transgression of mores originating in the disciplinary society, and has thus contributed to the legitimation of neoliberal capitalism,” observes Maxime Ouellet. In fact, the Left has rejoined liberalism insofar as it now adheres to a conception of liberty which amounts to individual desire, the language of rights, and the dissolution of social bonds. It only sets value upon abstract and uprooted freedom in tandem with individualism and “borderlessness”[« sans-frontiérisme »], which implies the suppression of everything that might limit it by making it depend upon a precise socio-historical context, all of which correspond perfectly with the capitalist system’s logic.
By making the fluidity of identities (especially those not recognized in the Fordist compromise, whether women, ethnic minorities, or “alternative” lifestyles) the precondition for emancipation; by replacing social struggles with identitarian struggles for recognition; by preaching uprootedness, the deconstruction of traditional customs, and ways of life; and by defending a model of the “open society” which legitimates the advent of a unified world of rights-bearing individuals soluble in the market, the modern and postmodern Left has gone to meet Form-Capital insofar as “the values associated with the ideology of the network — fluidity, flexibility, the absence of durable relations — are precisely those recommended in today’s configuration of capitalism.”
The “conservatives of the Left” are thus well-justified in maintaining that the Left’s anti-traditionalism prevents the formulation of a serious critique of capitalism’s destructive dynamic insofar as that dynamic above all destroys the traditional structures of life. By preaching the transgression of all limits, the endless demand for private rights, and the “struggle against all forms of discrimination,” social and cultural progressivism, as promoted especially by feminist and anti-racist lobbies, and beyond them by the spirit of the age, is playing into the hands of globalized capitalism.
This has already been observed by Christopher Lasch in the United States when he wrote that the Left “long ago lost any vivid interest in underdogs,” and that it is “unable to explain the persistence of religion, pro-family attitudes, and an ethic of personal accountability except as an expression of ‘false
By defining the individual as a rational calculator of his own advantage, liberal ideology made it impossible to conceive of any form of association not based on the calculation of mutual advantage; that is, on a contract. . . . Orwellian sloganeering about “alternative lifestyles” and the “new diversity of family types” serves to disguise marital breakup as an exhilarating new form of freedom, just as some sloganeering about “women’s liberation” disguises the economic necessity that forces women into the labor market. . . . People still cherish the stability of long-term marital
and intergenerational commitments . . . but find little support for them in a capitalist economy or in the prevailing ideology of individual rights.
The Left thus finds itself in an impasse. Having renounced its inspiration and its original project, and fantasizing now about an aggregation of “emancipated singularities” within a purely abstract universalism, it has hidden away the question of social justice in favor of struggles for “recognition,” “diversity,” and “multiple identities,” as if fundamental inequalities did not result first of all from liberalism and capitalism, and as if the “struggle against all forms of discrimination” could serve as a substitute for anti-capitalism. No longer having either the will nor the intellectual means of analyzing the essence of social relations, it has hitched its wagon to the powers of the market.
As for the Left which opposes these “cultural” deviations and this postmodern nominalism, it remains too often at the level of a vulgar Marxism, in fact a sort of “alternate capitalism” which privileges the class struggle or the Keynesian model while totally denying the question of identity — a procedure not very different in the end from appealing to a (re)territorialized “good capitalism” (“tricolor capitalism”), or to the “real economy” against the “casino economy.”
Opposing the logic of unlimitedness inherent in Capital (constant profit is only possible in a regime of accumulation which never slows down) implies restoring a sense of limits — which joins up with ecological aspirations and the theory of degrowth. This also implies rejection of the currently dominant model of globalization. “Internationalism has today been converted into cosmopolitan individualism,” remark Éric Martin and Maxime Ouellet, “while socialism means the possibility for everyone to belong to a political community of meaning beyond the universal and uprooted abstraction of commercial value.” Opposition to globalization derives its legitimacy from this: By favoring the expansion of the commercial form to cover all social relations from one end of the planet to the other, and by instituting Capital as the only historical subject and exchange-value as the universal norm to regulate social practices, globalization ipso facto generalizes the destruction of socio-historical, cultural, institutional, and symbolic forms of common existence. As soon as globalization identifies itself with an abstract universal which denies humanity, humanity must negate that negation to affirm itself as freedom.
The “conservative” rehabilitation of popular pre-capitalist values and traditions is perfectly legitimate in this context, provided it occurs without idealization or nostalgia. It is not a matter of preaching a return to the past, which would be impossible (moreover, no one would agree to living in the conditions peasants lived in under the Ancien Régime); but rather of appealing to the past, which involves taking a critical, selective — or more precisely, dialectical — view of this past, identifying that in it which is always “actual” (wirklich), as Hegel would say, in order to put traditional virtues in step with an emancipatory project. Karel Kosik was not wrong to speak of a “dialectic of the concrete.”
As Anne Frémaux writes:
Modernism takes a wrong turn as soon as it plans to make all reference to the past disappear as a sign of a conservatism and immobilism dismissed in advance as “anti-modern.” There could be no progressive project (turned toward the future) without conservation: conservation of ecological processes in the face of policies of destruction and private appropriation, conservation of existing goods in the face of their systematic destruction by an established system of squandering, conservation of a humanist conception of culture and education in the face of attacks by neoliberalism, conservation of solidary activities and social bonds in the face of the capitalist decomposition of human relations. . . . The spirit of “tradition” in question here does not mean the return to a way of life hierarchized according to natural categories that are very difficult to defend. It is rather a matter of a rehabilitation of the practices which in the past simply honored common sense before the colonization of our actions by the spirit of abstraction, bureaucracy, productivism, and the spirit of competition. . . . This is why we can maintain that conservatism is the only coherent radical position of our age, or even that conservation is today a resolutely revolutionary act.
George Orwell thought that society must not be built from the top, but rather on a democratic base, beginning from a certain common anthropological ground, a certain common sense, and a common sensibility cemented by the common decency of the popular classes. Communism, in the best sense of the term, itself supposes that the common good is posited as the most valuable good, and that society think of itself as a self-governing community. To struggle against the grasp of capital demands something common, collective — local solidarities, organic bonds, and sovereignties reconquered in the face of the world of economic reproduction. The role of politics itself is to produce the common. But “for there to be something in common, there must be cultural proximity, and not merely proximity institutionally or in principle” (Laurent Bouvet). The common does not exclude disagreement (without which there would be no political life), but it appeals to shared values. One cannot both promote a life in common and encourage that which weakens it by spreading distrust, reciprocal hostility, or the uncoupling of social bonds. The bond is that which attaches, but also that which connects. There are connections which hinder and imprison, but there are also those which liberate. We must rediscover the “bonds that liberate.”
As Éric Martin and Maxime Ouellet said:
The challenge of this age is to reconcile the search for emancipation with the maintenance of conditions for the existence of nature, as well as for a decent life and society. It is remarkable that to seek to consider the dimensions of progress and the preservation of a common world together is considered reactionary. . . . Individualism has made so much progress that the word “common,” contrary to what it meant in Marx’s age, no longer inspires hopes of freedom, but rather distrust, because it would necessarily threaten the pluralism of the monadic “systems of values” which all of us have become.
Confronting the rationalization of the world by value, and confronting the planetary deployment of Form-Capital, forms of discourse which limit themselves to demanding a more egalitarian distribution of wealth are just as ineffective as the theories of John Rawls (whose theory of justice is merely a social-democratic reformulation of the neoliberal theory of social choices), of Hardt and Negri (recourse to the “multitudes” with no institutional mediation), of Gilles Deleuze (the emancipation of “productive singularities”), or of Michel Foucault.
Liberating oneself from capitalism does not mean replacing the bourgeoisie with the proletariat in a simple class struggle, allowing the latter to appropriate the means of production, nor limiting oneself to denouncing “obscene wealth” or the practices of commercial bankers or wicked “speculators,” if not “anonymous and vagabond fortune” symbolized by a scapegoat (“the Rothschilds”). It means liberation from the practices constitutive of the fetishistic forms of subjectivity induced by the mediation of money. It does not mean liberating labor, but liberating oneself from labor as a form of organized social relation. It does not mean seeking “growth for everybody,” but breaking once and for all with the ideology of growth. “Emancipating society from capitalism means leaving the ontology of labor and value which drives individuals to a war of all against all and subjects them to the depersonalized domination of self-interested calculation.” The “conservatives of the Left” can help with this task.
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 Gaspard Koenig, “14 juillet : une révolution française ‘ultralibérale’,” website Contrepoints, July 14, 2016.
 Thibault Isabel, “Socialisme ?”, in Krisis, no. 42, December 2015, 5 & 9.
 Thibault Isabel, “Le socialisme comme alternative à la gauche libérale,” in Rébellion, no. 73, December 2015-January 2016, 29.
 Alain Peyrefitte, De la Chine (Paris: Omnibus, 1996), 294.
 Denis Collin, “Marx, le communisme et la République,” in Krisis, no. 42, December 2015, 55. For his part, Costanzo Preve observes that “where revolutions inspired by Marx have triumphed, even temporarily, the national question — and more precisely the question of liberation, independence, and national sovereignty — has been absolutely decisive” (“Communautarisme et communisme. Une réflexion historique et philosophique sur deux termes,” in Krisis, June 2009, p. 30). Cf. also K. Steven Vincent, “Nationalisme et patriotisme dans la pensée socialiste française du XIXe siècle,” in Krisis, June 2009, 42-50.
 Collin, “Marx, le communisme et la République,” op. cit., 49. Cf. also, by the same author, Le Cauchemar de Marx (Paris: Max Milo, 2009).
 Costanzo Preve, “Un socialisme pour le XXIe siecle,” in Krisis, no. 42, December 2015, 24-25.
 A desire falsely presented as entirely natural, whereas “man does not desire ‘by nature’ ever more money, but quite simply to live according to his habits and earn as much money as is necessary for that” (Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).
 Maxime Ouellet, “Les ‘anneaux du serpent’ du libéralisme culturel,” op. cit.
 Martin & Maxime Ouellet, “La crise du capitalisme est aussi la crise de l’anticapitalisme,” op. cit., 35.
 Christopher Lasch, “Why the Left Has No Future,” Tikkun, vol. 1, no. 2, 1986, 92-97.
 Cf. Walter Benn Michaels, The Trouble with Diversity (New York: Metropolitan, 2006. Cf. also Razmig Keucheyan, Hémisphere gauche. Une cartographie des nouvelles pensées critiques (Montreal: Lux, 2010).
 Cf. e.g., Roger Martelli, L’identité, c’est la guerre (Paris: , Les Liens qui libèrent, Paris 2016).
 Martin & Ouellet, interview with Emmanuel Casajus, op. cit.
 Cf. Michel Freitag, L’Impasse de la globalisation. Une histoire sociologique et philosophique du capitalisme, (Montreal: Écosociété, 2008), interviews with Patrick Ernst.
 Karel Kosik, La Dialectique du concret (Paris: Éditions de la Passion, 1988).
 Anne Frémaux, “La décroissance et l’idée de progrès : entre progressisme et conservatisme critiques,” website Journal du MAUSS, November 3, 2014. By the same author: La nécessité d’une écologie radicale (Paris: Sang de la Terre, 2011). Cf. also Jean-Paul Besset, Comment ne plus etre progressiste sans devenir réactionnaire
(Paris: Fayard, 2005).
 Martin & Ouellet, interview with Emmanuel Casajus, op. cit.
 Ouellet, “Les ‘anneaux du serpent’ du libéralisme culturel,” op. cit.
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