By Karl Ekeman
The question of the relation between theory and practice that this year’s 13/13 seminar has set as its theme has a striking parallel in the discourses on strategy within the intellectual traditions from which the alt-right draws their inspiration. Even though the alt-right – much like other nationalist milieus in Europe – seems to have been coalescing around a ‘metapolitical’ strategy, the finer details of this approach is less coherent in the movement as a whole. In the readings for this week, one can see three examples of how writers on the right relate to this concept: in Guillaume Faye’s Why We Fight, originally published in French in 2001; in Daniel Friberg’s The Real Right Returns, first published in 2015; and in A Fair Hearing (most apparent in Friberg’s contribution) published 2018. Here, I will focus on outlining a trajectory of this concept – i.e. metapolitics as theory and/or practice – within the context of the radical right, and remark on some points in the debate.
When Friberg writes, in The Real Right Returns, that the concept of metapolitics was developed by Antonio Gramsci, this is only partly true. As far as I have seen, Gramsci never used the term. When the word ‘metapolitics’ first seems to have emerged, it was in the context of German liberal thought, where thinkers such as Gottlieb Hufeland, August Ludwig von Schlözer and Carl von Rotteck gave to the word a meaning which Bruno Bosteels defines as a “metaphysical study into the principles of politics, its fundamental grounds and its ultimate ends”. It was also in this form that the counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre latched on to the concept:
I hear that the German philosophers have invented the word metapolitics to be to politics what the word metaphysics is to physics. It seems that this new expression is well invented to express the metaphysics of politics, for there is one, and this science is deserving of the attention of observers.
Already the idea of a metaphysical study beckons the question of what such an adjective might add to the understanding of the study pursued. When Aristotle’s Metaphysics acquired its name in the first century, the title likely indicated the place that the questions discussed were intended to be situated in the context of a wider philosophical curriculum: meta physics, literally, ‘after the Physics’. The preposition ‘meta’ has historically had a complex bundle of uses, designating ‘in the midst of’; ‘among’; ‘between’; ‘in common with’; ‘along with’; ‘by aid of’; ‘in pursuit of’; ‘after’, ‘next after’ and ‘behind’. This complexity is here not stressed in order to muddle the analogy of a “metaphysics of politics”, but rather in order to pave the way for a discussion on metapolitics that moves beyond the idea of the concept as primarily serving to designate a cultural struggle for political power (“meta” as “overarching” or “underlying”) – which is otherwise the popular way of introducing how radical nationalists have come to appropriate ideas and strategies of thinkers usually found on the left of the political spectrum.
When the concept first emerged within the radical right, it was in relation to the founding of what later came to be called “the New Right”. Calling it such might in some sense be misleading, firstly, since many of its proponents understand themselves as being positioned beyond left and right on the political spectrum, and secondly, since the “New Right” was not a chosen name, but a name given by the French press in the 70’s. What it referred to was a particular school of thought, centered around the French think-tank GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne), founded in 1968, and who in their first international seminar asked precisely: “What Is Metapolitics?”.
Fascism scholar Tamir Bar-On writes that several of the leading thinkers originated in the ultranationalist milieu of the 1950s and 1960s, and especially in the struggle for French Algeria. He furthermore stresses that the people around GRECE were convinced, especially after the events of 1968, that the liberal-left had acquired cultural hegemony, supposedly controlling universities, schools, media, and the intellectual elite, and that neither elections nor militant resistance would prove to be viable means for the right to return. Instead, inspired by Gramsci, the way forward for the right was deemed, by GRECE, to be ‘metapolitical’: a cultural struggle aimed at changing perceptions, affections and worldviews, so as to naturalize a politics from the right, and to enable the reintroduction of ideas that had become anathema after the Second World War. This undertaking – which stressed a long-term perspective –also became a leading idea as ‘New Right’ initiatives emerged in other countries, constituting the New Right not only as a French but European phenomenon (hence the references to a ‘European New Right’).
It is however worth opening up a crack in the understanding of metapolitics as conceived by the initial members of GRECE, in order to better understand some of the controversies, within the radical right, that were to come. Alain de Benoist, who is arguably the French New Right’s most well-known writer, claims that the inspiration behind the think-tank was, among others, the Frankfurt School and the counter-revolutionary Action Française. In an interview from 2016, he says that shortly before GRECE was launched, he had broken with the extreme Right and with politics at large because he was tired of the ready-made ideas that they worked with. Instead, he wanted to “systematically inventory all the domains of knowledge in order to lead to the development of a new conception of the world capable of clarifying the historical moment we live in”.
Already in this statement, and perhaps particularly in referring to a “conception of the world”, one can discern a particular reading of Gramsci that can be said to regard theory over practice – or thought over action, in the Fascist coupling of the terms, which is incidentally referred also by de Benoist. (The reason to stress this latter point is not in order to ascribe guilt through association, but due to the fact that Benoist and GRECE, by both Guillaume Faye and by Bar-On, has been said to employ double-speak: toying with words and allusions on the fringe of accountability, not completely unlike the way in which Nazi imagery within the Alt-Right often has balanced between humor and gravity, irony and sincerity.)
Following Benoist’s account, the development of a new “conception of the world” seems to have been a central question for him, and the preoccupation with thought rather than action that this apparently amounted to has been central to Guillaume Faye’s critique of GRECE. Faye was starting to orient himself towards the think-tank while writing his dissertation in Political Science at the Institute d’études politiques de Paris. By the time of 1973, Faye had become GRECE’s “number two”, as Michael O’Meara writes in the foreword to Faye’s Archeofuturism.
During this time, GRECE was increasingly influenced by the ideas of Konrad Lorenz and Arnold Gehlen, and the philosophical anthropology of the latter came to become important to GRECE’s critique of liberal ideology and individualism. According to their reading of Gehlen, an individual is never distinguishable from her or his culture, and can never be more than an individuated expression of that culture – “if culture is ‘peeled away’, the only ‘nature’ remaining is animal or physiological”. A culture is what gives you identity, and thus provides sense, meaning, direction, relation, which, outside of culture, would amount to nothing at all.
Whereas GRECE, according to Bar-On, still experimented with biological racism in the 70’s, they would thus take a cultural turn in the 80’s, launching a differentialist approach focusing on the “rights to difference” (according to the logic of which identity can only be maintained through difference). Such an understanding of identity, coupled with Gehlen’s stress on culture, is, as far as I understand, central to the claim that the threat against culture is of an existential nature. It also ties into the ethnopluralist structure of argument which has become popular among right-wing populists: the idea that all cultures (or peoples, or races, in the alt-right sense) are valuable; that they cannot be hierarchized from an outside position; and that they should be kept apart for the sake of their preservation.
The stress on culture could be deemed a differentiating aspect of metapolitics in the vein of Benoist and GRECE (who I for the sake of brevity will be discussing as interchangeable), in the sense that metapolitics is a struggle for that which undergirds politics, but not necessarily a struggle subservient to power in politics. Political power could, in other words, just as well be deemed subservient to the preservation and perpetuation of cultures. In Benoist’s writings, it seems however as that which is ultimately at stake – whether it be in relation to the perpetuation of culture, or otherwise – is the above-mentioned ‘conception of the world’, and if we allow ourselves the comparison, one might say that between Benoist and Faye, the former reads Gramsci as a Hegelian while the latter reads him as a Marxist.
The differences in Benoist’s and Faye’s respective reading of Gramsci does not constitute a clear-cut distinction, but the neglect of the political struggle is pertinent to Faye’s critique of Benoist and GRECE. Whereas the activities of GRECE, according to O’Meara, had been effective in the 60’s and 70’s, their influence waned in the 80’s. This was around the time when Le Pen’s National Front was gaining prominence, and while the National Front can be seen as adopting ideas of the French New Right, the interrelation between them can also be understood in light of the fact that between twenty and thirty people left GRECE in order to become a part of the Front as it was gaining momentum.
Faye would later write that the people who left GRECE did so in order to go where “something was happening” – a point related to his critique of Benoist. Whereas Benoist would come to adopt less provocative positions (in the 1990’s admonishing Le Pen for his “sickening” and “disheartening” scapegoating of immigrants), Faye, after a break from politics and metapolitics alike, would begin to lean towards a more radical wing of the revolutionary right. In 1998, he publishes Archeofuturism, in which he also launches a critique of the grécistes.
In short, he claims that they – himself included – never actually read Gramsci, and if they had, they would understand the importance of collaboration between intellectuals and political activists and organizations. Metapolitics, as it had been understood and practiced in GRECE, was not something that could be carried out merely in the realm of ideas.
This is the backdrop of the critique of “intellectualism” as a “false struggle” in the selection from Why We Fight. His claim that what is needed is “a return to the real” can be read both as an affirmation of biological and racial grounds for identitarian struggle – as opposed to Benoist’s cultural and differentialist positions – and as tied up to an idea of practice that gives greater priority to practice than theory. What is needed is not so much a continuing critique – as in Benoist’s anthologicalundertaking – but incitement to act: “one doesn’t fight for ‘ideas’,” writes Faye, ”one fights for a people”. The notion of metapolitics thus becomes, as he defines it in his dictionary, “an effort of propaganda […] the indispensable complement to every direct form of political action, though in no case can it or should it replace such action”.
One fights not for ideas (or ideals, worldviews, systems of thought), but with ideas, for “a new world” – this is Faye’s understanding. The antagonist in the struggle is shifted from an abstraction – capitalism, liberalism, or false anthropology – to concrete enemies: the global South, ‘invading’ Europe. In the words of O’Meara, Faye sees “the gate-keepers [as] less of a threat than the gate-crashers”.
Whereas the activities of GRECE had amounted to several seminars, journals, and a myriad of books, effectively constituting a heteroglossic environment, Faye deemed it necessary to subjugate ideology to utility: what is needed is an “ideological regrounding […] a regrounding that is both a synthesizing affirmation of a general doctrine and, at the same time, a rigorous definition of concepts, arguments, and propaganda”. In other words, a dictionary.
The majority of Faye’s Why We Fight (approximately 200 of 270 pages) thus constitutes an alphabetical arrangement of 177 key terms that gathers what he deems necessary to perpetuate the struggle. I would argue that this transition, from the anthological work of Benoist (legein, here, as both ‘gathering’ and ‘speaking’ or ‘ratiocination’) – to the project of diction (style of articulation, delivery, and choice of terminology) in Faye, also mirrors the development of an increasingly hypertextual nature of contemporary discourse, as a horizontal or perhaps rhizomatic arrangement rather than vertical and arboreal. In a sense, it also disjuncts, and shatters the stress of coherence, which Benoist, following Gramsci, saw as a quality pertinent to the kind of conception-of-the-world that critique would amount to – as well as affirming an attitude to the relation between ideas as resonance, rather than dialectics.
The beginning of the new millennium also saw, in Europe, the emergence of new kind of radical right activism in the form of identitarianism – a concept that to my knowledge was first introduced by Faye. Identitarians took their inspiration from the writings of both Benoist and Faye, and adopted ‘metapolitics’ as a strategy – while also seeking to take these ideas to the streets. One of the recurring tendencies in their activism has been to seek to show paradoxes in the prevailing imaginary (such as serving pork soup to homeless people in contexts where the act of doing so becomes an affront to Jews and Muslims).
Daniel Friberg – CEO of Arktos Media Ltd (publisher of the books we have read this week) and co-founder of Alt-Right Corporation together with Richard Spencer – came to pick up on identitarian ideas in 2005, and was heavily influenced by the metapolitical strategy. Like Richard Spencer, Friberg has used the concept of identitarianism in order to describe his political orientation.
As can be seen in his The Real Right Returns – written before the rise to fame of the alt-right –, Friberg marries elements of both Faye and Benoist, at times seemingly seeking to negotiate between them (“a people is its culture, and the culture is its people”); at times choosing an intellectual tone (“Our real task will be to comprehend and develop an alternative to liberal modernity in its entirety”); while at other times adopting a more revolutionary (“Europe is bleeding, but the tiger – liberal modernity – is dying as well. It is time to step down from its back and put it out of its misery”). He also adopts the dictionary, which has prominent intertextual elements in relation to the works of Faye.
With the rise of the alt-right, Friberg has however come to gravitate towards the methods and ideas of the alt-right. Stressing diction, that is, both the terminological and the stylistic aspect of the battle of ideas, the metapolitical undertaking also married well with what came to be ‘the Great Meme War’ of the alt-right during 2016. Memes are, as the alt-right tend to see it, ideasthat are disseminated in different forms and shapes, the most common being images with texts. In terms of a metapolitical struggle, however, it seems rather far from the way Benoist conceives of the task.
Just as the line between Faye and Benoist is not clear cut, the French New Right in the version of GRECE cannot be understood as a phenomenon separate from contemporary initiatives in the United States (both Benoist and Faye have for example been invited as speakers at Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute). Fluidity seems to be characteristic of radical right movements, and that counts for the alt-right as well, if not especially. A better way to understand the alt-right is thus as a name given to a milieu of a primarily micropolitical nature.
What I have sought to do above is to sketch a backdrop to the contemporary idea of metapolitics as a cultural and political struggle, which still gravitates between intellectualism (as on the backcover of A Fair Hearing, where the alt-right is presented as “foremost an intellectual movement”) and activism (as seen in the current attempts at transferring online activity to the streets, or, as it seems, to bars and clubs).
The readings for this week’s seminar are in a similar fashion not so much a representation of the alt-right in terms of a coherent doctrine of an equally coherent movement, as it is significant of the alt-right in terms of the texts being attempts at its manifestation. The genre of the manifesto and the speech-act of manifestation are in themselves interesting, given that the infelicities that seems to have haunted the ghosts of radical right initiatives since 1945 up until quite recently are being dispelled. “I still feel like we are faking it until we make it,” Spencer said in 2016. That something is being made in the realm of politics seems clear. One might still wonder, however, what it is that is being madein the meta: ‘in the midst of’ politics – ‘among’, ‘between’, ‘in pursuit of’; not to say, what it would amount to ‘after’.
For all the calls to a return of ‘the real’, the activities so-far employed by the alt-right in the attempts at manifestation seems to have amounted to a corporeality that simultaneously exists and vanishes in touching. To the extent that authors as well as proponents of the alt-right – other than furthering a white identity politics and/or a struggle for white supremacy – also pose a question that is more existential than political, one might be right in asking whether or not their very activity does not work against what they are seeking to achieve.
These documents are, therefore, not only interesting to study in terms of what is being said – as if the point in each of them is to primarily convey a line of argument –, but also, and, perhaps, even more interesting in terms of how they relate to the practice of manifestation as such: that which is brought about by the activity of saying something, the rallying behind a thing, a gathering. In this regard, one might ask as to the nature of this gathering-thing, and how it relates to what they are really after – granted that what they are after really is something other than a mere racist ersatz.
 Joseph De Maistre, Principe Générateur Des Constitutions Politiques Et Des Autres Institutions Humaines (Lyon: Imprimeur-libraire, 1833) at p. vi. The passage is also quoted in Bruno Bosteels, Badiou and Politics (Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2011).
 Alain de Benoist, “The Blessing of Limits”, https://katehon.com/article/blessing-limits last accessed the 10th of November 2018.
See Tamir Bar-On, ‘A Response to Alain De Benoist’, Journal for the Study of Radicalism, 8/2 (2014), 123–68 at p. 125 f. See also Guillaume Faye, Archeofuturism, trans. Sergio Knipe (London: Arktos, 2010) at p. 29.
 Michael O’Meara, “Prophet of the Fourth Age”, in Guillaume Faye, Why We Fight – Manifesto of the European Resistance, trans. Michael O’meara (London: Arktos, 2011), p. 12. It should however be noted that O’Meara, who is a proponent of identitarianism, tends to hold Faye in a higher regard than Benoist, and during the time that GRECE’s influence
Bar-On, Tamir (2000), ‘The Ambiguities of the Intellectual European New Right, 1968-1999’, doctoral dissertation (McGill University).
— (2013), Rethinking the French new right : alternatives to modernity (London: Routledge).
— (2014), ‘A Response to Alain de Benoist’, Journal for the Study of Radicalism, 8 (2), 123–68.
Benoist, Alain de (2017), View from the Right – Volume I: Heritage and Foundations (London: Arktos).
Bosteels, Bruno (2010), ‘Metapolitics’, Encyclopedia of Political Theory (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.).
— (2011), Badiou and politics (Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press).
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Faye, Guillaume (2010), Archeofuturism, trans. Sergio Knipe (London: Arktos).
— (2011), Why We Fight – Manifesto of the European Resistance, trans. Michael O’Meara (London: Arktos).
Friberg, Daniel (2015), The Real Right Returns – A Handbook for the True Opposition (London: Arktos).
Liddell, Henry George, et al. (1996), A Greek-English lexicon (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press).
O’Meara, Michael (2013), New culture, new right : anti-liberalism in postmodern Europe (London: Arktos).