By Christine Collins
Bar-On attributes the transnational success of the Nouvelle Droite (ND) outside of France to three key factors. One of these is the prestige of the ND leader, Alain de Benoist. An intellectual, philosopher, political commentator and—perhaps most importantly—an ultranationalist, Benoist was able to “capture the hearts and minds of the masses” through his personal appeal to the average Frenchman, and eventually Europeans transnationally.
Leaders like Benoist are able to more easily challenge the status quo through their cult of personality and rally around the flag approach to leadership. We see this success reflected in many right-wing leaders ranging from Mussolini to Hitler to Le Pen to Trump. However, despite the cults of unity inspired by such individuals, we must practice caution in our naming conventions when distinguishing ultra-nationalism from fascism.
Benoist claimed that fascism may reappear in society with “another name, another face.” So can we consider the ND the second coming of fascism? According to fascist experts Allardyce and Paxton, maybe not. Contemporary historians have defined fascism as:
- The revolt of the masses
- The moral crisis of civilization
- Modernization process
The May 1968 developments in France certainly give strong reason for checking boxes one and two. However, despite the characterization of the ND movement as a right-wing Conservative Revolution, the last two points are a bit more difficult to sell. On this distinction, I agree with academics like Wegierski and Sacchi: while the core values of the ND were certainly very right-leaning, experts like Allardyce and Paxton are right to confine fascism as a term to describe the political movements from 1919-1945 exclusively, no matter how tempting it may be to do otherwise.
When describing the aims of GRECE (the ND’s principle think tank), Bar-On highlights how reimagining the ideology of the ultra-nationalist movements away from ethnic concepts of the nation and militaristic expansion was one of the goals of Benoist and the ND. This account pokes holes in the arguments made by Griffin linking the ND to fascist ideologies. As noted in Griffin’s colourful introduction, such connections are a bit of a stretch, and not widely accepted in academia.
Marchi attributes the success of the spread of the ND school of thought across Europe in part to leaders’ ability to shape the ND agenda to their own political strategy. This thinking links back to our previous class discussions on gender and sexuality in authoritarian regimes: homosexuality was permitted and even encouraged in the Soviet Gulags while at the same time being outlawed in broader society; homosexuals were further persecuted in Nazi Germany, but lesbians were able to survive under the radar. In both these cases, leaders shaped nationalist ideologies to suit their particular needs.
In the example of the ND, it is reasonable to assume that right-wing leaders across Europe were not attracted to embracing all aspects of the ideology. It appears their support of the ND can be attributed to their interest in the legitimacy associated with labeling a political movement, be it the ND of 1968 or fascism from 1919-1945. In cases like this, we are reminded of the importance of defining terms, as these labels tend to stick without regard for their accuracy.