The French Ideologues Who Inspired the Alt-Right
NICE, France—Alain de Benoist is the prolific and quintessentially Gallic icon of France’s New Right, the political and philosophical school of thought that formed in Nice in January 1968—and somehow wound up as a principal inspiration for America’s alt-right.
Benoist, 72, and Guillaume Faye, 67, another key figure in the often-controversial Nouvelle Droite who later broke with Benoist, are far from household names in Europe or the United States. But references to these two elderly French intellectuals pop up regularly in the alt-right and pro-Donald Trump forums on Reddit and 4chan. Their work is reviewed and promoted by many key white nationalists in the U.S., including Richard Spencer and Greg Johnson.
Ideas cribbed from the New Right, which peaked in the 1970s, are also part of the engine fueling the rapid rise of the extreme right in Europe, including the brand-new, anti-immigration National Party in Ireland, whose first meeting at a five-star hotel in Dublin was canceled this week after a public outcry.
In particular, Faye’s Why We Fight—a call to whites to unite against the “colonization” of Europe by non-whites—has become the literary cri de coeur for right-wing nationalists all over the world, from 65-year-old Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of the white-supremacist American Renaissance magazine, to a young Swedish man called “The Golden One” who has thousands of followers on YouTube, to a 28-year-old Paris-based porn star-turned-alt-right goddess named Electre.
Earlier this year, Benoist and Faye were cited as dangerous influences by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside Rush Limbaugh and the Ku Klux Klan, after Breitbart News published a video made by members of the European anti-immigrant Identitarian youth movement.
The Identitarians formed in France in 2002 before spreading throughout Europe—and they also cite France’s New Right as inspiration. Breitbart News calls them “right-wing hipsters,” and they champion Donald Trump as much as they do far-right politicians all over Europe, especially France’s Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
Benoist could have hardly imagined that one day he’d help lead the charge against cuckservatives the world over.
Reached at his home in Paris this week, he laughed and then started coughing when asked if he ever envisioned that the ideas contained in his more than 100 books—such as Manifesto for a European Renaissance or On Being a Pagan—and his more than 2,000 articles could ever be linked with the real-estate developer soon to occupy the White House and his consigliere, Steve Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News.
“Monsieur Trump?” said Benoist. “I know him only by reputation. Monsieur Bannon, non. I know nothing of their milieu and I find it hard to believe they know much about mine.”
Benoist’s history with the New Right is as complicated as the movement itself, which was labeled racist and fascist in its early years but was more rooted in populist ultranationalism and opposed to multiculturalism, immigration, and the idea of the American “melting pot” forced on European culture than anything else.
The New Right grew out of the think tank called GRECE, formed in Nice, and was largely an academic pursuit into the early to mid-1970s, when it morphed into a set of ideals that led to various nationalist parties like France’s National Front.
Benoist, once the culture editor at Le Figaro, told The Daily Beast he feels some of the alt-right is “white supremacist” but rejects that label himself, and indeed he has written extensively against racism. He’s also long been opposed to the National Front, though many others in the New Right have been allied with it. He considers Faye, long the bad cop to Benoist’s good cop in the Nouvelle Droite, to be an “extremist.”
Yet while Benoist claims to know little about the alt-right, he and Faye have appeared at white-nationalist conferences in the U.S., including Jared Taylor’s annual American Renaissance conference.
Greg Johnson, who runs the Counter-Currents website, and other white nationalists told The Daily Beast they’ve met de Benoist at conferences in the U.S. and Europe, and have communicated with him over the years while overseeing translations of his books. Yet Benoist said their names were barely familiar to him.
“The French New Right has been a big influence on me and the alt-right,” Johnson told The Daily Beast. “Benoist and Faye come up with great stuff. Europe’s being colonized by Islam. They replicate their forms of society within our forms of society, and the end result is that we will lose our homelands. Faye tries to understand why people won’t defend their own. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the French were more concerned with Islamophobia than with those who were massacred for their opinions.”
Benoist and Faye owe one white nationalist in particular for the spread of their work outside the French-speaking world.
Daniel Friberg, 38, a Swedish-born former mining executive, began Arktos, now the biggest alt-right publishing company in the world, seven years ago. Friberg grew up happily in a small, homogenous town in Sweden with what he said were “leftist liberal” parents. All that changed, he said, when at 13 he went to junior high school, where there were many immigrant students, part of the first wave of the large-scale immigration that began in Sweden in the mid-1980s.
“I had been taught to think multiculturalism was great until I experienced it,” Friberg told The Daily Beast. “But the reality was a culture shock. The media and everyone else told me that it was all good. It was a rude awakening. It wasn’t good. There was a lot of chaos, crime, drugs, bringing guns to school, you name it.”
Feeling he’d been lied to “by everyone” and wanting to “understand this transformation Sweden was undergoing,” Friberg started reading political-science books voraciously, in particular Benoist and Faye. Even though Friberg had only a schoolboy knowledge of French, he understood the texts.
“The French New Right books were the first I read, and they were an eye-opener for me,” Friberg said. “I couldn’t find anything in them I disagreed with.”
In 2009 Friberg left his day job to start Arktos and Right On, a blog for the alt-right. One of the first things he did was approach Benoist and Faye, and buy the rights to publish their most popular books in English—and later other languages.
“We’ve red-pilled people all over the world, even China and India, with these books,” Friberg said, using the term favored by the alt-right to describe the process of turning others on to their ideas. “Many of our customers are surprisingly young and surprisingly well-educated. Many are former leftists who as we like to say [are] former members of the ‘regressive left.’ A lot are disenfranchised libertarians.”
Friberg has written his own book, The Real Right Returns, and like pretty much everyone in the alt-right universe, he is thrilled with Trump’s election.
“We’d be growing with or without him,” Friberg said. “But now it’s clear. Right-wing populism is here to stay.”