Life after West

Europe, Tiers Monde Meme Combat by Alain de Benoist, Laffont Paris 1996

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE one of the most significant and rapid developments in the world since 1945 has been the abandonment by Europe of its former colonies and the corresponding rise of a so-called "third world" nominally at least, independent of white rule. Traditionally the left has been seen as favouring this development and the right opposing it. The legitimacy to which conservative political movements appealed included the legitimacy of imperial order. It is a salient feature of the so-called Old Right. It is an outstanding feature of the European New Right as opposed to the Old Right, that the "old empire" is not regarded as necessarily desirable, nor its loss regretted. On the contrary, thinkers of the right such as Alain de Benoist took as their intellectual point of departure in the sixties the notion that there must be more to right-wing thinking than a defence of the old colonial way of life.

The argument of the "new intellectuals" was that it was simplistic to ascribe to the left the "high moral ground" of anti-colonialism, since from the point of view of respect for national and cultural differentiation it would be wholly consistent for European conservatives or nationalists to defend the rights of colonial subjects to assert their identity viz. a viz. Europe and for the universalist left, with rationalist and humanist doctrines embedded in European thinking, to oppose such a development. There was after all, always a contradiction in patriotic appeals to ethnic homogeneity at home while at the same time claiming the right to colonies abroad. This was the point which GRECE increasingly emphasised in the course of the seventies and early eighties.

The appearance of the polemically named Europe, Tiers monde, meme combat in 1986 along with an issue of elements with a similar title marked the culmination of the "neutralist" orientation of GRECE in general and Alain de Benoist in particular. This was not in fact a new point of departure but a drawing of conclusions from its own anti-Western and anti-racist stance. This book can therefore be described as a summing up of the GRECE position to European relations with Africa, Asia and South America. The writer traces attitudes towards development and the colonies (later "Third World") over the last hundred and fifty years. He points out with abundant historical illustration, that there is a pro-colonial tradition on the Left especially, but not only the French Left. He offers us a kind of "genealogy of colonialism and neo-colonialism" from which we learn for example, that Francois Mitterand was an enthusiastic supporter of French Algeria and that in the years of the Third Republic champions of French colonial policy were predominantly politicians of the left, such as Jules Ferry, while the right took a more isolationist position.

The Left break with colonialism came at the same time as the abandonment of hope in the Western proletariat as a force of world revolution. The Third World, a term sweepingly used to embrace a whole range of different countries, replaced the Proletariat as the "oppressed of the world" and the figure of poverty on which the well-to-do could exercise their bad conscience or use against their parents. The Third World peasant vied with the Working Class Hero as the mythological figure with which the children of the privileged classes of the West sought to identity themselves.

The quest for exoticism and the increasing yearning to return to a "natural state" led to a rejection of the industrial model of Marxism in favour of a peasant, non-white kind. This followed the time of a frenetic xenophilia in general and sinophilia in particular. Pascal Bruckner even wrote of Mao replacing Christ as an example for humanity. It was the time of Vatican Two and the rise of the World Council of Churches when an emotional "love thy neighbour far away" replaced "defend the working class at home" as the main cause of the left, in other words when Christian egalitarianism began to oust Marxist dialectics as the bedrock of leftist moral judgements.

It is interesting to speculate on the extent to which the replacement of Russia by China as the role model country was responsible for the anti- white leftism of the sixties. This anti-imperialist (for which read anti-white imperialist) leftism, although Marxist at the outset has become increasingly difficult to identify with Marxism in the course of time. As the Marxist historian V.G. Kierman has argued (see his collection of essays: Imperialism and its Contradictions published recently by Routeledge), an interpretation of European colonialism which makes all Europeans "guilty" and all non-Europeans "innocent" is not only historically simplistic, it is thoroughly non-Marxist, since it makes the issue of race more important than that of class. A Marxist, should accept, argues Kierman, that the European working classes belonged to the exploited class and certain native elites to the bourgeoisie. Non-European landlords, employers or slave drivers are not exempt from the charge of class exploitation by virtue of the colour of their skin. Kierman is not the first Marxist to ask whether the concentration on race in leftist attitudes to colonialism has not been a major factor in letting native elites "off the hook" through a process of inverse racialism. In fact, modern attitudes has as much or more to do with Christian beliefs about the equality of man than specifically Marxist ones. For a Christian, racialism must be logically abhorrent, since it divides God's kingdom, it differentiates among the community of souls. Christianity could only support racial Apartheid for as long as it could argue that the non-white was not fully human. Once full humanity was accepted, preferential treatment to whites becomes inadmissible to the Christian.

Militant priests like Gonzales Arroyo and Gustavo Gutierez were the spearhead of a new "liberation theology" aimed at winning over the Third World to the cause of Christ and at the same time challenging the privileges of the West. What Pascal Bruckner called the "Calcutta syndrome", so brilliantly satirised in Jean Raspail's Camp des Saints, preached the end of frontiers and that "the future belongs to the half- caste". The Western view, as expressed in the Marshall Plan and subsequently elaborated by John Foster Dulles, Truman's Secretary of State, largely ignored the issue of race as such, concentrating instead on "the fight against communism" and warning that the Third World was in "danger of becoming communist" for just so long as it remained poor. Aid and education would help it to reach a standard of living which would ensure its attachment to democracy and a free-market economy. Old imperial divisions of privilege were seen as redundant and had to be replaced by the privilege of money. The racial elite was replaced by a financial elite, but this financial elite maintained good contacts with the West and was swift to exploit the anti-communism of the West for its own ends. Uprisings in the Muslim world in the fifties were less pro-communist than anti-Western and it was a crucial failing of American and Russian strategic thinking to be blind to the difference. But the Manichean view of Third World politics was not really laid low until the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it become clear to even the most obtuse that there was something more to anti-Western agitation than "communist subversion".

The brinkmanship, notably of Dulles and Khrushchev in the fifties, when France and Britain were ignominiously scuttling out of their former colonies or fighting losing rearguard actions against new liberation movements, excluded any possibility of a "third way" or even a "third world". But a number of events came about to change the division of the world into "West" and "East": the Sino-Soviet split, the return of de Gaulle to power in France, the rise of "neutralist" leaders outside the direct American-Soviet spheres of influence, led by India, the increasing attraction to those outside the immediate nuclear firing line of "neutralism", the attraction being increased by the realisation of the possibilities of playing one super-power off against another. Essentially, de Benoist's plea is for a stepping up of this "neutralist" policy, a rejection of the confrontational, Manichean politics of the fifties in favour of a confrontation between West and non-West in the next century, with Europe on the side of the neutralists. The triangle would be West, East, Europe and Third World.

In one sense this book has been overtaken by events, in another it is events which have finally caught up with this book. The Socialist bloc is no more. The confrontation of the United States and Soviet Union has given way to a more complex shuffling of positions for influence among a number of different power blocs, Dulles' nightmare. The notion of a "third way" so strong in this book, has lost much of its punch with the possibility of forth or even fifth and sixth ways. At the same time, the chances for Europe to cut itself off from the United States have never been better. The old argument of the better of two evils no longer applies. The anti-Russian politics played by Europe towards Serbia may or may not be commendable ethics but they are not politically inevitable.

Alain de Benoist points out the irony of the fact that the former colonies had liberated themselves in the name of nationalism and self-determination, whilst it was internationalists in the West who supported their struggle. The end of colonialism was not "inevitable" but a matter of political will, as Francois Perroux among many others, has observed. But it requires political realism to accept that today the appeal to an alternative to capitalism and communism is appealing to peoples for whom both doctrines may seem alien, European. If the liberation of Europe involves the rejection of the 3 Cs (Christianity, Communism, Capitalism) then it is, according to de Benoist, exactly this liberation towards which Europe as a whole is also striving. Materially so different, he is saying, spiritually, Europe and the Third World are following the same way. They are enslaved to the same system, known as "the West".

In 1958 Aime Cesare at the first international conference of black poets said, "the surest way into the future is through the past", a sentiment at complete variance with the uni-dimensional Western attitude to "growth". One aspect of the arrogance of the West, as de Benoist points out, is to make no-distinction between growth and development, both being understood under the catch-all word "progress", but progress to what? The answer for de Benoist is clear. When the West talks about progress is means progress towards integration into the Western economic, political and cultural model. He provides this excellent definition of neo-colonialism, "making the Third World believe and act in the belief that their problems are solved to the extent that the Third World becomes Westernized".

With the growing rise of economic liberal thinking and the political "right" which preached this doctrine, many former Maoists and other Leftists converted to the Western model (Pascal Bruckner is a case in point). The rediscovery of pro-capitalist economic theorists such as Hayek, Adam Smith, Ricardo, the new popularity of Ayn Rand, the political success of Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, was accompanied by an increasingly critical attitude to the state generally and to Third World leaders and politics which had taken protectionist measures or indigenization decrees. The right now preached the autonomy of the economy. It is this doctrine which Alain de Benoist has always challenged, one thread of consistency in the writings of an intellectual who at times appears to fluctuate wildly in his beliefs. ( A sub-title for this book could have read: "Against the Autonomy of the Economy". The writer quotes Levi Strauss, the ethnologist, with approval, "man does not realise his nature through an abstraction called humanity but in traditional cultures." (Race et histoire in Anthropologie structurale II Plon p.385). De Benoist notes that Alain Finkelkraut inveighed against UNESCO in an article in the journal Debat for pursuing a philosophy in the spirit of this rejection of abstract man, something which Finkelkraut describes as "ethnic paganism"!

It was Levi Strauss after all whom Jean-Paul Sartre attacked for believing that a bonding of the individual and society was an integral part in the formation of the individual character itself, in other words that an individual acquired identity through a given cultural milieu and not by his independent achievements. Ultimately the health of the individual is dependent on his relationship to a community of values. It is de Benoist's thesis that economic liberalism cuts the roots of all pre and supra-individual associations with the purpose of removing all impediments between the individual and the universal market.

De Benoist does not mention the role played by the philosophy of the state, in say, the scramble for Africa, but surely the role of the state was crucial in supplying the support and not least financial support to make colonisation feasible. Gladstone was despised for not relieving Khartoum in time and leaving Captain Gordon to his fate. The politics of a Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Mosley, Joseph Chamberlain, span the left-right divide when it comes to colonialism. The post-colonial era was dominated by elites educated in the schools of European statism. The great enemies of colonialism were not so much specifically "left" or "right" as sceptical of the state. The fact that de Benoist omits this point is serious, since the reader is left with the uncomfortable feeling that the omission is not so much a slip as a wish to avoid a historical analysis which would place a greater responsibility for colonialism on philosophy of the state than on that of free trade.

The book, in short raises more questions than it answers and leaves the reader with the impression that the attitude of the New Right to the subject of colonialism and neo-colonialism is glib but not original. Nevertheless the dedication to the cause of peoples is genuine, and is it not, as the more percipient of establishment journalists themselves seem to believe, the definitive challenge to the New World Order? In an article published in The Atlantic Monthly (March 1992) and significantly if puerilely entitled Jihad Vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber emphasises that the forces of Balcanisation and Universalism are set on collision course with one another. Neither, he claims, are much concerned with the future of democracy, but that's another story.

Dominic Campbell

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