In many ways the identitarian movement is a thoroughly modern one, utilising new technology and social media to spread their ideas and influence political debates. Identitarian activism as we think of it today found its earliest incarnation in 2003 with the creation of the Bloc Identitaire (BI) organisation in France. BI (which turned into a party and then an association, ‘Les Identitaires’) helped nurture the country’s identitarian movement and, especially, the now independent youth organisation, Generation Identitaire (GI), launched in 2012. GI has since spread from France and has official branches across Europe. Identitarian groups have also sprung up around the world, completely independently of GI, though based on a similar core ideology.
Many of the ideas that make up the bedrock of this international grouping have in fact been around for over half a century and can be traced back to a European far-right movement known as the European New Right (ENR). The ENR is, broadly speaking, a current of thought derived from the ideas of the French far-right philosopher Alain de Benoist and his GRECE organisation (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne) [Research and Study Group for European Civilization] founded in France in 1968.
De Benoist set out to create a right-wing movement that would be both modern and intellectual, operating via articulate publications and discussion groups. The ENR claims it is an alternative to social democracy and conservative liberalism, a “laboratory of ideas”, a “school of thought”, a “community of spirit” and a “space of resistance against the system”, that has transcended the existing political left-right schema. Such claims can be dismissed as scholars have shown clearly the movement’s direct ideological parallels with classical fascism and the historical continuity from then, through post-war fascism, until the emergence of the ENR in 1968.
In reality, the ENR sits comfortably within the far right, and its ideas are best understood as a quest for the recovery of a mythical European Identity. It fundamentally rejects the ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment and of Christianity and fights back against “materialist” ideologies from liberalism to socialism. In their place, the ENR advocates a pan-European nationalism and a wider world of ethnically homogeneous communities.
GRECE came to be known as the French New Right (Nouvelle Droite) and, in 1999, de Benoist and Charles Champetier published a synthesis of their first 30 years of thought as a Manifesto for a European Renaissance. In it the duo talk of the “Crisis of Modernity” and examine “the main enemy”, liberalism. In essence, de Benoist and Champetier argue that globalisation, liberalism and hypermodernism have led to the “eradication of collective identities and traditional cultures”. and bemoan the “unprecedented menace of homogenisation” wrought by immigration, which – in blanket fashion – is held to be an “undeniably negative phenomenon.”
In place of liberal multiculturalism, they call for ‘ethnopluralism’: the idea that different ethnic groups are equal but ought to live in separation from one another. This is coupled with the ‘right to difference’: “The right of every people, ethnos, culture, nation, group, or community to live according to its own norms and traditions, irrespective of ideology or globalist homogenization.” Furthermore, this right carries the assumption of “cultural differentialism”: the idea that there are “lasting differences among and between cultures.”
It is these ideas that make up many of the core tenets of identitarian ideology. However, despite being in essence the offspring of the ENR, identitarianism is by no means identical. One major area of divergence is around the importance placed on race. While also being a racist movement, the ENR and de Benoist himself has excoriated the excesses of “Identitarian tribalism” and bemoaned how Identitarians assign “ethnic factors the role that Karl Marx assigned to economic factors.” His failure to place race front-and-centre is perhaps one of the reasons that many in the identitarian movement have found greater affinity with the work of his one-time GRECE ally, Guillaume Faye, who was, in the later years of his life, much more open to overt racism. The divergence from de Benoist is best seen in Faye’s adaptation of the Nouvelle Droite motto of “cause of peoples” to “cause of our people” and his criticism of de Benoist and his ENR colleagues for “howling with the wolves against racism.”
For many years the people and groups espousing these ideas “perceived themselves as the rear guard of a dying world” what Julius Evola described as “men among the ruins.” Yet, over the last decade confidence seems to have grown within the movement and as Philippe Vardon, a founder of the identitarian movement in France, wrote: “Far from being the last expression of a world in its death throes, they [identitarians] are the first pangs of a new birth.”
The 2013 book, Die identitäre Generation: Eine Kriegserklärung an die 68er [Generation Identity: A Declaration of War Against the ‘68ers] by the Austrian Markus Willinger is understood as the manifesto of the Identitäre Bewegung Österreich, the Austrian branch of the identitarian movement. In it Willinger declares:
“A new political current is sweeping through Europe. It has one goal, one symbol, and one thought: Identity. […] This book is no simple manifesto. It is a declaration of war. A declaration of war against everything that makes Europe sick and drives it to ruin, against the false ideology of the ‘68ers. This is us declaring war on you.
While it would be easy to dismiss Willinger’s manifesto as nothing more than an angry young man stamping his feet, Generation Identity is a lively and accessible articulation of the often dense and arcane ideas espoused by the likes of de Benoist. It is a reaction against the ‘68ers and the left’s perceived cultural hegemony. Willinger rails against political elites who “disgust us”; condemns the increasing acceptance of LGBT+ people in society – what he calls “the union of nothingness“ – and instead calls for a return to traditional gender roles as “Women want to be conquered.” He also rejects multiculturalism outright, stating “we don’t want Mehmed and Mustafa to become Europeans” and, like de Benoist, argues instead for ethnopluralism.
Worryingly, the spread of identitarianism has gone far beyond Willinger’s tirade, and the once marginalised debates of the wider network of identitarian sympathisers discussed by ignored “think tanks” in the back rooms of pubs or in conference centres booked under fake names. It has become the bedrock of an international movement making headlines around the world.
One of the things that marks the international Identitarian movement out from much of the wider far right is the way it does politics. Generation Identity (GI) have garnered headlines, interviews and social media hits via eye-catching stunts and slick videos rather by than standing in elections. This is because the movement believes in a so-called ‘metapolitical’ approach to politics.
While some on the far right point to the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s writing on cultural hegemony as the wellspring for this concept, the current enthusiasm amongst the international identitarian movement for metapolitics is primarily the result of the influence of the European New Right (GRECE) within their movement. De Benoist and Champetier, in Manifesto of the French New Right in the Year 2000, explain that metapolitics:
[…] is not politics by other means. It is neither a strategy to impose intellectual hegemony, nor an attempt to discredit other possible attitudes or agendas. It rests solely on the premise that ideas play a fundamental role in collective consciousness and, more generally, in human history. […] History is a result of human will and action, but always within the framework of convictions, beliefs and representations which provide meaning and direction. The goal of the French New Right is to contribute to the renewal of these sociohistorical representations.
As explained by Tamir Bar-On in his essential Where Have All the Fascists Gone?, de Benoist and GRECE adopted Gramsci’s Marxism “for their own partisan ends” and argued that “the most important route to political power was not elections or violent street combat, but in thoroughly changing the dominant zeitgeist and people’s acceptable ideas and worldviews.” This concept has become absolutely central to the political project of identitarianism.
Many activists however have learnt about metapolitics not from de Benoist but rather from his one time colleague Guillaume Faye and his 2001 book Why We Fight (which is required reading for GI activists). He wrote: ‘Metapolitics is an effort of propaganda“ not necessarily that of a specific party“ that diffuses an ideological body of ideas representing a global political project […] Metapolitics is the occupation of culture, politics is the occupation of a territory’.
In short, metapolitics is the approach of spreading ideas and values through shifting a society’s culture in advance of shifting its politics. Identitarian metapolitics focuses on shifting the accepted topics, terms, and positions of public discussion so as to create a social and political environment more open and potentially accepting, of its ideology. It comes from a belief that this is required before electoral and policy support for their views is possible. GI’s efforts to have the media report on their fear-mongering about “The Great Replacement” of white Europeans exemplifies this, as their intention is to then use the narrative to promote a policy response of “Remigrating” non-white immigrants.
Their metapolitical outlook results in an explicitly countercultural approach to activism, which GI developed from copying traditionally left-wing strategies. Core recommended texts for GI members include Srda Popovićs Blueprint for Revolution, a guide to nonviolent action which draws from the authors involvement with progressive movements (similarly, the US alt-right community has explicitly adopted the strategies of central left-wing community organising text Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky).