On the Ideology and Strategy of the New Right

The political goals of the New Right can largely be summarized by two central concepts: the intellectualization of right-wing extremism through the formulation of an intellectual metapolitics, and the pursuit of a (right-wing) cultural hegemony. Here, metapolitics denotes efforts to take intellectual control of public debates, shaping them on a theoretical meta-level by coining particular ideas, terms and meanings. The metapolitical focus of the New Right highlights the intellectual weaknesses manifested in the large parts of the far-right scene that reject theory and cultural engagement, and counters this by emphasizing the need to intellectually substantiate political ideas in order to legitimize them. This intellectualization is built upon the idea of a metapolitics that strives towards a conservative cultural revolution, one in which the New Right:

“is prepared to ally with a “modernity” faithful to Europe’s daring spirit—that is, to a modernity that frees Europeans from what is dead in their culture. At the same time, though, it rejects everything seeking growth not in Europe’s expansive spirit, but in its negation—specifically in the functional—and ethnocidal—culture fostered by liberal market societies.”[1]

Here, the metapolitical intellectualization of the New Right also means that völkisch (ethnonationalist) positions, which are also supported by the New Right, are to be rigorously justified along with supporting references from the history of ideas, whereby—as Roger Griffin has rightly emphasized— the metapolitical ideas of the New Right “still contains a residue of fascist ideology in its call for cultural regeneration.”[2] For the New Right, as a loose movement that does not actually want to achieve political power through party politics and assuming governmental responsibilities, the goal here is to achieve cultural hegemony, in aiming to establish its positions as the hegemonic ones in society, although this struggle for cultural hegemony always includes culturally pessimistic traits as well. While a political party might also (in a subtle way) take on its positions, the New Right is still more oriented towards influencing attitudes and value judgments on a wider social level.

Activists needed to persuade people to accept far-right viewpoints, and had to first conduct a struggle for cultural hegemony—to borrow a concept from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci—thus also employing the strategy of political mimicry (as exemplified by the adoption of this term), meaning to copy the terminology and strategies of political opponents and work them into one’s own public discourse in a camouflaged way.

Therefore, the New Right also emerged as a conscious counter image to the New Left (itself developing in the late 1960s among student movement activists and Vietnam War protesters), adopting certain strategic approaches from them and even plagiarizing them. One of these approaches was to gather the diverse strategies, loose circles, and groups and give them the advantages of a large common organizational front. Another was to focus strongly on intellectual debates within the media sphere. Finally, grouping under a New Right umbrella also meant that existing organizations could preserve their fluid character more so than if they joined a party structure, for example.

The 1970s were a decade that witnessed the founding of numerous publications, some of which developed into important mouthpieces for the New Right scene, while others hosted influential debates before eventually losing currency, sometimes even disappearing without a trace. One example in Germany was the nationalist revolutionary magazine wir selbst (we ourselves), whose chief ideologist Henning Eichberg was an important influence not only on ideological development in the early phase of the New Right movement, but also on building bridges to the green/alternative scene. Another factor that should not be underestimated, even though it did not really become influential in the Federal Republic of Germany until the late 1980s and early 1990s was the French Nouvelle Droite, anchored by the GRECE organization with its chief thinker Alain de Benoist. In regards to terminological politics, he was particularly influential with his concept of ethno-différencialisme— a terminological variation on the far-right ideology of ethnic inequality, but one that argues in terms of culture rather than race and is connected to the idea of ethnopluralism, whose formulation in Germany is largely attributable to Eichberg.

Building on the aspect of being (mostly) free of organizational structures while also adapting left-wing cultural techniques, the political strategy of the New Right is characterized by a political mimicry and an attempt to advance an intellectual metapolitics aiming at a conservative cultural revolution. Here too, the terminological appropriations from the political left are obvious, especially those taken from Gramsci. The strategic goal behind the quest for cultural hegemony is to disguise one’s own intentions through the use of mimicry, meaning the use of superficial (terminological) adaptations for the corresponding environment (e.g. for politics or media). This is a way to slip into the social mainstream—not in order to change it in terms of specific details, but to shape and define in metapolitical terms the basic mindsets of a society, thereby occupying the zone of (political) culture. This should then lead in the medium to long term to a political ‘new order’ along New Right lines. It thus represents a more indirect route, but one that also includes seemingly apolitical (or prepolitical) spheres like art and music, as a strategic component beyond the formation of far-right political parties.

With regard to the ideological foundations of the New Right, it should first be emphasized that this “new” label is a rather misleading one, since— with the exception of the ethnopluralism concept—there is nothing in the New Right worldview that is actually ‘new’. In fact, it expressly and explicitly borrows a great deal from the Weimar Republic’s “conservative revolution” (as it was called in a 1950 book by Armin Mohler, a key figure in the effort to unite the various camps of the far-right milieu in Europe), whose protagonists have been rightly seen in retrospect as the ideological forerunners and precursors to National Socialism, while also being intellectually superior to it. Therefore, the intellectual and historical sources referenced within the New Right are the same intellectuals of the Weimar period who shaped— whether directly or indirectly—the basic ideological framework of National Socialism, including thinkers such as Max Hildebert Boehm, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Oswald Spengler, Othmar Spann, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, Georges Sorel, Edgar Julius Jung, Ernst Niekisch, and Ernst Jünger.

The New Right (like every other stream of right-wing extremism) assumes the fundamental inequality of people, an idea that continues to seek its justification on ethnic grounds, if no longer on explicitly racial ones. Here, its anti-universalism leads not a concept of extermination (as in Nazi ideology), but rather to one of segregation or ethnopluralism, meaning the strict spatial separation and geopolitical division of people according to ethnic and cultural criteria. This separation by ethnic categorization is based on a notion of difference that is both homogenizing and sociobiological in nature, looking at people only in terms of ethnic/cultural identity and not their subjectivity or individuality. They are always just part of a collective (which is unalterable), one that stands apart from and in opposition to other collectives. This also implies a hawkish friend-versus-foe dichotomy that solidifies into a heroically masculine ideal of the “manly nation,” as Gabriele Kämper pointed out.[3] In regard to social structure, there dominates—in terms of domestic politics—a völkisch nationalism combined with an authoritarian statism, which translates—in terms of foreign policy—into an ethnopluralist concept of geopolitics. Another significant factor in New Right discourses is the aspect of spirituality and holistic thinking, which not only includes organizing the state along organic and hierarchical lines, but also involves a strong turn towards religious concerns. This extends from Christian and/or fundamentalist agendas and in particular to (neo) heathen, nature-centric, and/or Germanic polytheism in a, in the words of Tamir Bar-On, “quest for a new religion of politics.”[4]

Professor Samuel Salzborn is a Senior Career Fellow at CARR and is a Visiting Professor for Research on Antisemitism at the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at the Technical University Berlin, Germany. His profile can be found here:

© Samuel Salzborn. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[1] Michael O’Meara, New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe. Bloomington, 2004. P. 51.

[2] Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: the Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum,’” Modern & Contemporary France 8, no. 1 (2000): 35–53. P. 35.

[3] Gabriele Kämper, Die männliche Nation. Politische Rhetorik der neuen intellektuellen Rechten (Cologne, 2005).

[4] Tamir Bar-On, Rethinking the French New Right: Alternatives to Modernity (London, 2013). P. 110.