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Responses to Modernity: the Political Thought of Five Right-Wing European Thinkers in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries Open Access

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This dissertation discusses the political thought of five right-wing European thinkers of the twentieth and early twenty-first century: René Guénon (1886-1951), Julius Evola (1898-1974), Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Alain de Benoist (b. 1943), and Guillaume Faye (b. 1949). The intellectual careers of these thinkers represent a story that runs parallel to the trajectory of the history of the European political right, from the Action Française, through the interwar “fascisms,” to the Cold War era OAS and Ordine Nuovo, and the anti-immigration and Eurosceptic Front National party of the current day. Their thought provided intellectual cover for these movements; at the same time, these movements often inspired active endorsements from them. This dissertation analyzes the strong diversity in this thought, which has more typically been presented as a monolithic right-wing perspective, even at times by the thinkers themselves. A like perception has also generally been the point of departure for analyses of their political thought. Webs of associations have been produced to demonstrate the existence of a single far-right ideology, whose fundamental character nonetheless perpetually eludes definition. We have proposed here to avoid drawing any inferences on the basis of associations, and to analyze the political ideologies implicitly or explicitly expressed in the authors’ works themselves. We claim that three distinct ideologies can be detected on the scene of the twentieth century European right. One, orthodoxy, holds that political legitimacy lies in being able to connect subjects to a metaphysical realm so as to negate the perishability inherent in the sublunary human condition. A second, Prometheanism, is a future-oriented orientation that values creation for its own sake, the as-yet-uncreated precisely because it has never yet existed, and denigrates the past precisely because it has already been. A third, conservatism, has already been documented, but we propose to emphasize the meaning Huntington has given it, as a past-oriented orientation that values what is precisely because it is and has been. We conclude by making some observations on the distinction between right and left, and on the commonalities that all political ideologies tend to come to share in late modernity (which Roger Griffin has identified but which, pace Griffin, do not in themselves indicate ideological orientation as such). Disaggregating right-wing thought into orthodoxy, Prometheanism, and conservatism helps us more clearly understand the insights others have had on the nature of right-wing thought and on political modernism.

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