The American “Right” is a strange beast. The more one looks outside the bubble of the United States of the past five minutes, the stranger it looks, because what Americans usually call the “Right” is simply the Republican Party, an incoherent coalition of neoconservatives, social conservatives, Tea Partiers, and right-libertarians. What these groups have in common besides opposition to the various groups that make up the Democratic Party’s coalition isn’t at all clear to me. Indeed, it’s not at all clear how most of these are meaningfully “right-wing” at all, except in the relativistic sense of “less liberal than the faculty of Harvard.”
Admittedly, part of this confusion comes from American history (a “Conservative” wants to preserve his country’s traditions, American traditions stem largely from the Founding generation, but the Founding Fathers were Liberal revolutionaries). However, a similar confusion over what exactly constitutes a “right-wing” position seems to exist throughout the Western world. So, how does one figure out a definition of the Right more coherent than “yesteryear’s liberal?” One good method would be reading through Julius Evola’s short book Fascism Viewed from the Right.
Now, obviously the main focus of Evola’s work is an analysis of fascism, which is absurdly, but often, used as a shorthand for the Right as a whole. Since this assumption that the Right simply is fascism is so common, I would strongly recommend reading this just so one can clear up any confusion about what exactly fascism is. Nonetheless, Evola examines Mussolini’s speeches and policies, especially from his twenty years in power, to determine what the fascists did right and wrong from a Rightist perspective (and for those curious, he does occasionally comment on National Socialism, but covers that more thoroughly in another book, Notes on the Third Reich). Evola is difficult to summarise, so I’ll try to give an idea of the work by sharing a few excerpts.
To begin, Evola praises fascism for correcting some of the faults of the parliamentary government that preceded it. One of that state’s chief problems, he says, is that it “lacked a ‘myth’ in the positive sense, that is, a superior animating and formative idea that could have made of it something more than a mere structure of public administration. It became increasingly obvious that a nation in these conditions was in no position to confront the serious problems imposed by the forces set in motion by the war and the post-war period, nor to combat the revolutionary social lures diffused in the masses and the proletariat by Leftist activists.” Fascism provided a myth, and “revived in Italy the idea of the state and to have created the basis for an active government, by affirming the pure principle of authority and political sovereignty.”
Among fascism’s faults, Evola criticises its occasional totalitarian tendencies. “The principle of a central authority that cannot be controverted becomes ‘sclerotic’ and degenerate when it is affirmed through a system that controls everything, regiments everything and intervenes in everything according to the noted formula, ‘Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.’” What should the state look like? It should be strong, but “strong” is a quite different concept that “totalitarian.” He writes:
The traditional state is organic, but not totalitarian. It is differentiated and articulated, and admits zones of partial autonomy. It coordinates forces and causes them to participate in a superior unity, while recognising their liberty. Exactly because it is strong, it does not need to resort to mechanical centralising, which is required only when it is necessary to rein in a shapeless and atomistic mass of individuals and wills, from which, however, disorder can never be truly eliminated, but only temporarily contained. To use a happy expression of Walter Heinrich, the true state is omnia potens, not omnia faciens; that is, it keeps at the centre an absolute power that it can and must use without obstacles in cases of necessity and ultimate decisions, ignoring the fetish for the so-called ‘rule of law’. It does not, however, meddle with everything, it does not substitute itself for everything, it does not aim at a barracks-style regimentation of society (in the negative sense), nor at a levelling conformism instead of free acknowledgement and loyalty.
There is a great deal more; his discussion of the “dyarchy” of Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III is valuable for understanding how the fascist government operated, and the chapter on Mussolini’s opinions and policies regarding race, which is usually, but mostly unfairly, lumped in with the much more dogmatic National Socialist attitude. However, if one is intellectually curious enough to be reading Evola at all, one is probably already aware that fascism is merely a subset, not the whole, of right-wing thought. More interesting are his comments on what constitutes the true Right. I believe he treats the subject more comprehensively elsewhere, but even his relatively brief discussion here provides food for thought for anyone used to equating the “Right” with free markets and limited government.
For instance, he begins the fifth chapter by saying “We can reasonably affirm that a true Right without the monarchy ends up deprived of its natural centre of gravity and crystallisation, because in almost all traditional states the principal reference point for realizing the independent and stable principle of pure political authority has been the crown.” This, I think, is almost inevitably true; I understand the Right to be concerned primarily with order and legitimate authority, and monarchism is almost always the best form of government for upholding that. In practice, too, it seems that most of the major conflicts between Left and Right have centred around the institution of monarchy in some way (e.g., the American, French, and Russian Revolutions), and Rightist movements within republics appear to either splinter or drift continually leftward.
Yet, the American “Right” takes for granted that republicanism is the only legitimate form of government. Evola does grant that there have been a few traditional states that aren’t monarchical, but notes that they “owed their traditional character to situations that belonged in the distant past,” and if they were to exist now “they would end up being immediately denatured.” As for democracy, his comments strike at the heart of any sort of egalitarianism:
About the principle of representation and the concept of a parliament, today we have grown accustomed to associating them exclusively with the system of absolute democracy, based on universal suffrage and the principle of one man, one vote. This basis is absurd and indicates more than anything else the individualism that, combined with the pure criterion of quantity and of number, defines modern democracy. We say individualism in the bad sense, because here we are dealing with the individual as an abstract, atomistic and statistical unity, not as a ‘person’, because the quality of a person — that is, a being that has a specific dignity, a unique quality and differentiated traits— is obviously negated and offended in a system in which one vote is the equal of any other, in which the vote of a great thinker, a prince of the Church, an eminent jurist or sociologist, the commander of an army, and so on has the same weight, measured by counting votes, as the vote of an illiterate butcher’s boy, a halfwit, or the ordinary man in the street who allows himself to be influenced in public meetings, or who votes for whoever pays him. The fact that we can talk about ‘progress’ in reference to a society where we have reached the level of considering all this as normal is one of the many absurdities that, perhaps, in better times will be the cause of amazement or amusement.
So much for representative government. As for economics, merely attempting to grow the GDP is hardly a priority. He does go into some detail in discussing the fascist economic policies but makes sure to state early in the book that “Between the true Right and the economic Right there is not only no common identity, but on the contrary, there is a clear antithesis.” The economic obsession of GOP supporters stems in part, I think, from the lack of a myth of the state, as mentioned above. There is some praise for the Constitution, but not for the state itself, which is seen merely as a threat to be contained.
At this point, though, I could probably just quote the entire book, so I’ll just say that if you have any interest at all in right-wing thought, you need to read this one. Fascism Viewed from the Right is easily the best book I’ve read so far this year, and maybe the best I’ve read in a few years.