Though little known to the general public, René Guénon’s “Traditionalism” has had a very significant affect on politics and political thought over the last half a century.
By “Traditionalism” we do not mean “conservatism,” however, since it is not concerned with the preservation of national or historical cultures in itself. A spiritual worldview, Traditionalism believes that all of the world’s major religions are expressions of a primordial Tradition (and as such, sees a spiritual unity of the different religions). It is, in other words, concerned with gnosis (direct knowledge of the Divine), or what Islam refers to as ‘Irfan.
Ecumenical by nature, Traditionalism tends to be sympathetic to Islam in particular, since Guénon “moved into” Islam later in life.
However, it has also influenced several contemporary thinkers on the Right-wing of the political divide in Europe, especially on the “far-Right,” e.g., Christian Bouchet, a journalist at one time associated with France’s Front National, and Gabor Vona, founder of Hungary’s Jobbik party, and his adviser Dr. Tibor Baranyi.
Julius Evola, Traditionalism, and Fascism
One of the major reasons why Guénon came to the attention of Rightist thinkers is the influence of Julius Evola, an admirer — and, in some sense, disciple — of Guénon. Unlike the latter, Evola believed that the spiritual practitioner should be politically active. Guénon had always warned against it, in particular condemning the Theosophical movement for its advocacy of socialist views through spirituality — inequality was linked to karma and reincarnation, for example.
Most notoriously, Evola was closely associated with the fascist government of Italy during World War II, though this was partly to protect himself from enemies within the party. He appears to have viewed himself as standing somewhat outside the movement, but he nevertheless saw potential in fascism, and believed that, though rough and uncouth, it could be molded and oriented toward higher ideals.
(Such sympathy may seem strange to us today, but it was not unusual. Left-wing Playwright George Bernard Shaw lauded fascism as “progressive,” and Roosevelt himself tried to appropriate elements of Italian fascist economics (which were likewise often seen as “progressive” prior to World War II).)
Evola’s influence is now largely confined to two separate groups: (1) New Age, occult, and spiritual practitioners and thinkers and (2) the controversial intellectual and cultural movement Nouvelle Droite (“New Right”). The latter was initiated in Paris as a self-conscious counter-culture to the New Left that had come to prominence through student activism, protests, and riots, in 1968.
It was in this year that the think tank Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE) was founded by Alain de Benoist, the early leading light of the Nouvelle Droite.[i] De Benoist did not – and still does not – regard himself as a Rightist, but views himself and GRECE as cultural, and, as such, as being outside of politics. (He often notes that some of his views could be considered to be Left-wing, while others might be Right-wing.)
It was not until the middle of the 1970s, however, that the movement came to be dubbed the “New Right” by its critics. Although its adherents ultimately accepted the designation – calling themselves the “European New Right” to distinguish their movement from American neoconservatism (which some Rightists often regard as an enemy Zionist or Jewish movement) – it was not accepted enthusiastically. Former Croation diplomat and author on Right-wing movements and ideas Tomislav Sunic has suggested describing the movement as one of “European Leftist Conservatives.”[ii]
The ENR’s intellectual inspiration is drawn from an array of thinkers on both sides of the political divide. Among these are Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and “a number of prominent socialist and even Marxist authors,”[iii] the most important of which Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), one of the fathers of “Cultural Marxism” (in which the culture of the nation, rather than its economy, is the focal point, and target of Leftist criticism and attack). Recognizing the dominance of Left-wing ideas (such as “diversity” and multiculturalism), the ENR, says Sunic, attempted to use “the Gramscian strategy of political conquest.”
Although the ENR sees itself as offering resistance to militant Left-wing ideas, it can often offer a variation on the same. Like the radical Left, it’s “criticism of monotheism is basically aimed at the Judeo-Christian legacy in Europe”, Sunic observes, “and not against other monotheistic religions elsewhere in the world.” The statement seems somewhat euphemistic. Most other religions are polytheistic.
Despite the influence of intellectual neo-paganism –- which is an affront to Islam’s staunch monotheism — the ENR has traditionally been highly sympathetic to Islam. (An exception to the ENR’s position on Islam, as well as its hostility toward Israel and “Zionists” is Guillaume Faye, a journalist, intellectual, and a prominent member of the French New Right early on (Faye appears to have gone off on his own intellectual journey, and may not consider himself a part of the ENR).)
The movement’s attraction to Islam can be explained by its hostility to the “Judeo-Christian” tradition or “Judeo-Christianity,” which it views as the force behind modernity. Judaism and Christianity, New Rightists usually believe, have been and are actively engaged in the wholesale destruction of traditional “virile” cultures, characterized by ethnic uniformity, simplicity of life, strict male and female roles (embodied by feminine women and masculine men), tradition, “rootedness”, self-sacrifice, honor, warrior tradition, and religiosity. For many New Rightists, this is as true in regard to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as it is for Germany, France, Britain, and other European, as well as Anglo-Saxon, nations.
A European New Right-Islamic Alliance?:
According to historian of far-Right religious movements Karla Poewe, GRECE and the ENR more broadly, were influenced by Sigrid Hunke (1913-1999). Hunke was a one-time student of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who went on to become the ideologue of German Unitarianism, a modern movement that believes in the individual understanding of religion, and emphasizes personal responsibility and community. It also asserts that no religion can claim to possess the exclusive truth about God.
Hunke lived in Tangiers between 1942 and 1944 and traveled through several Arab countries in 1967. Rejecting the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is often seen as the foundation of European civilization (at least by Christians and neoconservatives), Hunke proposed that, instead, Europeans shared their thought-pattern with Arabs. This thought-pattern, she believed, had diverged from Christianity during the Middle Ages, the former of which was represented by a line of “heretics”, from Francis of Assisi to the early modern philosopher Georg Hegel.
In 1960 Hunke authored Allah’s Sun over the Occident and followed this with Europe’s Other Religion in 1969. Egypt’s President Mubarak awarded her the highest distinction for science and arts in 1988, making her the only woman and European to sit on the highest Council for Islamic matters.[iv]
The March 1988 edition of the National Front News carried portraits of Gaddafi, Black nationalist and leader of the US-based Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, and Ayatollah Khomeini. This, the organization, proclaimed, was “the new alliance.” “Revolutionary nationalist groups, racial separatists and the anti-Zionist nations of the Middle East”, the paper declared, “are beginning to recognize a common set of interests and enemies which make closer cooperation both beneficial and inevitable.”
The NF even had plans for its own “Green Revolution.”[xxi] (Presumably the phrase was borrowed from Gaddafi’s writings on political theory, The Green Book, with which some of the more intellectual members of the NF were familiar.) One advertisement in the party’s Nationalism Today carried the legend “Smash Zionism – join the N.F.!”
The new direction of the NF created divisions among its ranks, with die hard racists rejecting the new ideological turn, which was being led by a small group of its thinkers, based around the idea of the “political soldier.” This group embraced Third Worldism, and supported the Palestinians. Influenced by a long history of Zionist-Masonic conspiracy theories, the movement also inveighed against the Masonic fraternity, seeing it as a political enemy. Hence, in his Political Soldier pamphlet — the founding document of the movement — Derek Holland proclaims,
The ranks of our enemies are immense: the banks, the Communists, the Freemasons, the Zionists, the Capitalists. They have money and power; they dominate the media; they control whole armies through their control of governments
And again in his International Third Position: A Declaration of Principles, Holland states,
The forms which have done the most damage in our time may be enumerated as: Freemasonry, Liberalism, Nihilism, Capitalism, Socialism, Marxism, Imperialism, Anarchism, Modernism and the New Age. Each of these creeds ‐ materialist at base ‐ is philosophically wrong and discredited in practice. Thus, the Third Position condemns them all unreservedly, and affirms that opposition to all forms of Materialism is central to the ideology of the Third Position.
The denunciation of Freemasonry — of which Holland probably new very little — indicates the influence of The Protocols, and, perhaps, Evola as well.
Holland and the ITP was also overtly anti-Zionist, and probably implicitly anti-Semitic. And, if for no other reason, was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause: “In Palestine, Zionist control has taken on a brutal and overt form,” Holland says in the Declaration of Principles, while in the West it has been “more subtle.” “Whilst the Zionist colossus exists, our nations are being denied their right to national self-determination… all peoples have a right to determine their destiny unmolested, directly or indirectly, by the Zionist power.”
There are, of course, different and competing ideas and factions on the Left and Right, and we shouldn’t generalize from the above examples. Today, most groups described in the media as “Right-wing” are in fact staunchly pro-Israel and anti-Islamist or anti-Islam. Espousing liberal values such as women’s rights, they may not be “Right” in a classical sense, of course, but there is little doubt that they, like the groups and individuals mentioned above, see themselves as defending Western values.
[i] Douglas R. Holmes, Integral Europe: Fast Capitalism, Multiculturalism, Neofascism, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2000.
[ii] Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right,
[iii] Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, p. 45.
[iv] Karla Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis, Routledge, New York and London, 2006.
Angel Millar is the author of The Crescent and the Compass: Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism, and Revolution in The Modern Age.