The French New Right 52 years On: Alive and Kicking as Ever

Once deemed to have become a marginal movement, the French New Right has gained new momentum. Its flagship think-tank, GRECE (Groupement de recherches et d’études pour la civilisation européenne), plans to hold its annual conference on June 20 (if the pandemic allows) for the first time since 2016 : the topic will be Carl Schmitt’s and Ernst Jünger’s reception in France. Its monthly publication, Eléments, is now sold nationwide at most newsstands. The philosopher Marcel Gauchet, the historian Jacques Julliard, political scientists Jérôme Fourquet and Jérôme Sainte-Marie, some of them moderate Conservatives or even associated with the Left , have accepted to be interviewed by the magazine, which also features a column by Hervé Juvin, a Member of the European Parliament for Rassemblement National. The Left-Wing daily Libération has devoted a full page to Alain de Benoist, faiseur de droites (or “Kingmaker of the Right”), which is a little bit exaggerated. Finally, in an attempt to reach a broader audience, many issues of Eléments (https://www.revue-elements.com/boutique/), of their yearly theoretical publications Nouvelle école and of de Benoist’s quarterly Krisis have been digitized and recently made available on a paying basis through the organization’s website. It is clear therefore that this is an ambitious and ongoing project that will eventually be extended to other, lesser-known publications close to the New Right.

Figure 1: April-May 2020 Edition of GRECE’s “Eléments” Magazine

In France, there is also a more general change in the attitude of the media toward the New Right. Alain de Benoist (b.1943), had remained an outcast in the mainstream media after he was sacked from the weekly Conservative Figaro-Magazine in 1981. He is now interviewed again and also appears in the rising star of Conservative media, the weekly Valeurs actuelles. Even the cultural channel of French Public Radio, France culture, welcomes him on air. This (relative) openness of some media to New Right ideas can be attributed to the ever-present debate on republicanism, national identity and the multicultural society that is characteristic of French politics.

Even more innovative is the opening, in 2018, of the Nouvelle librairie, a bookstore located in the highly intellectual Parisian Quartier latin. With essayist François Bousquet at the helm, this place is unlike the few Radical Right bookshops that fight to survive in Paris. It is highly visible from the street, is only several hundred yards away from the Senate and is surrounded with other, non-political bookstores. There one can buy new and second-hand books, as well as magazines from the whole Identitarian militant spectrum. Several times a week, an author is invited to present his book and/or give a talk. The audience can be as small as the shop itself (around 20 people when Julien Hervier spoke about Ernst Jünger) or become bigger so that the 150 people crowd extends outside the porch (for the commemoration of Dominique Venner’s suicide), and even means several hundred will queue to have their copy dedicated by Jean-Marie Le Pen or Eric Zemmour. Having attended those events, I have been struck by the fact that La Nouvelle librairie is a rallying point for New Right old-timers, from the first generation of GRECE supporters to younger people who were first attracted to the street activism of the anti-immigration Bloc identitaire but have later looked for more intellectually sophisticated shores and turned to the New Right for a more theoretical form of ammunition. With the remaining GRECE founders being over 70, they are the third generation of militants who are influenced by the Ethno-Pluralist, anti-Liberal, and meta-political ideas of the New Right.

Figure 2: Livr’arbitres magazine, with cover featuring poster of the 2018 Iliade conference.
Figure 3: Example of One of Institut Iliade’s Literature on Indo-European Heritage, entitled “What we are: At the source of European identity”
Figure 4: Example of Institut Iliade’s leaflet with reference to Dominique Venner

One of the most divisive issues among New Rightists is, however, the extent to which metapolitics – the strategy of focusing on gaining intellectual hegemony before looking for political power – means that one has to keep away from the political dead-end street of militancy. With the Rassemblement National being a serious contender for electoral victory, should those who find their intellectual home in the New Right also become involved in Marine Le Pen’s party as a compromise to attain efficiency, or shun party politics altogether? An answer to those questions may be given by Institut Iliade, whose key figures are Jean-Yves Philippe Conrad and Jean-Yves Le Gallou, who have been prominent figures of the New Right since the 1970s. Launched after the very influential Dominique Venner committed suicide in May 2013, Institut Iliade is a think-tank whose primary goal is to spread a purer form of the key ideas of GRECE as they were formulated bluntly some 30 years ago : Ethno-Pluralism, Indo-European heritage, Illiberal democracy, fighting  Renaud Camus’s “Great Replacement” and even the necessity to discriminate that “whites” are at the core of political power. One of the several books published by Iliade is Thibaut Merciers’s Athéna à la borne : discriminer ou disparaitre (“Athena at the Frontier: Discriminate or disappear?”). The name of the Institute is in itself a reference to Homer’s book and more broadly, to Greek philosophy as the perennial cornerstone of European culture. Institut Iliade is into Metapolitics : another of its activity is to train “a new generation of actors who are involved in the reawakening of the European peoples and nations”. In this vein, the Institute chooses around 20 young people (aged between 20 and 35) already involved in the “mouvance” (that is, the broader Identitararian/New Right/Right radical scene), in France and abroad, to attend the Institute six-times-a-year, one weekened conference and are also ask to prepare a personal, academic-like project at the end of the training cycle in order to prove  their radical right credentials.

Figure 5: Institut Iliade’s (September 2019) “Renaissance(s), portraits et figures d’Europe” Exhibition
Figure 6: Institut Iliade leaflet for prospective trainees

 Finally, the Institut Iliade also organizes an annual conference, held at the prestigious Maison de la Chimie, in Paris. The audience often reaches a little over 1,000 attendees. The next conference will take place on  September 19, on the topic of “La nature comme socle” (“Nature as a foundation”), a clear reference to the long term interest of the New Right in Ecology. Finally, as a proof that the New Right is still able to innovate, one should mention Iliade’s initiative of staging an arts exhibition in a Paris gallery, in September 2019, with the chosen topic, “Renaissance(s), portraits et figures d’Europe”  (“Rebirth, portraits and figures of Europa”) The exhibition, which attracted a crowd of several hundreds, was a deliberate challenge to the (traditionally Left-Wing leaning) artistic establishment, as it took place in its stronghold close to the river Seine and the French Academy. It is another proof that the New Right has not slowed down at the turn of the new century, with a core agenda that remains faithful to its weltanschauung (or “worldview”) but adjusting to the present political landscape and topical concerns among radical right actors in France and elsewhere.

Dr Jean-Yves Camus is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Director of the Observatory of  Radical Politics at the Foundation Jean-Jaurès. See his profile here.

© Jean-Yves Camus. 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).