Alain de Benoist, Beyond Human Rights
I intend to1 write a fuller review of this later, but I have a few2 comments:
• Benoist makes a semi–Montesquieu–ean argument about the non–universality of rights (because legal systems must differ across cultures and situations); he also attacks the (incoherent) philosophical bases of the idea. He admits there are core human aspirations and traits that are admitted in laws, but these are fulfilled differently in different societies. It is not relativist in the common, nihilistic sense.
• He (correctly) portrays how the idea of human rights is used as a carte blanche for Western interference. He makes the obvious (though rarely stated) point that the ideology can only really exist in the presence of an overwhelming & hegemonic military power (in our case, it is obviously the US, but Benoist is not explicit). The brief accounts of the origins of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was new to me; apparently an expert committee was gathered originally, but proved to not be able to provide an agreed–upon result (much less the desired one).
• Where Benoist attempts to create a genealogy of the idea, he frequently goes off the rails, he gets many things correct, but his Nietzchesean influences force him into a position that is not consistent with his own data, which is that the modern idea of universal rights flows inexorably from Christian theological commitment. He quotes from Marx more than Nietzsche, however.
• Benoist does not offer anything in the way of a positive commitment; the book is rather short and mostly devoted to attacking the idea itself.
• There are a number of bon mots throughout the book, many of them unspoken commonsense— Benoist’s popularity among the anglophone ‘alt–right’ is easily explained. It’s sort of an ideological sledgehammer, giving expression to what they likely only dimly suspected. Unfortunately, getting so much from a single author has the same result over many of these persons as it usually does— excessive commitment to the author and his branch of ideology, rather than going out to others who agree with him on these issues, but have differences (even extreme ones) on others. It’s a little like teenagers who read Nietzsche or… Rand. I suppose he at least isn’t as poisonous as their other obsession, Evola.
• Despite the similarity to portions of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws, the man himself is referenced only once. Unsurprisingly, his favorite anglophone writers are Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre.
As with Talyor & MacIntyre, Benoist’s politics are kind of hard to place; there is an obvious attack on the liberal order, but he also has many pro–Enlightenment traits, politically speaking, just as those two have. While he does not specifically address this, I am certain he would agree with Taylor’s argument for the achievement (even if tragic in ways) of disenchantment (rather than taking the typical Evolan re–mystifying route that exists in a lot of the radical right). As (especially) Taylor and MacIntyre are more to the ‘left’ of the Western political spectrum, Benoist’s status as the father of the Nouvelle Droite seems somewhat ambiguous to me, but that may be a result of having only read this single work of his.
• I would recommend it to persons who haven’t heard an argument like this before. I like reading works I mostly agree with from political authors I have not read before (if possible), because it challenges me to pay better attention to their arguments, because I am more familiar with weak and strong variants of them and am challenged to argue against them— and thus, to an extent, myself. This is due to my naturally contradictory nature, and may not work for others.
• I read this in the Kindle edition (which is on the lending library right now, for Prime members), which is quite well formatted; both navigation systems are thoroughly in place, which is not normal. There are a few sentences that are rendered awkwardly in English prose, and a couple of places where there are homophone errors. All in all, for a non–mainstream translation job, this is impressive as it is about equal to most first editions from bigger publishers.
1 Intention & reality have always wildly diverged in my blogging efforts, however.
2 And apparently of a somewhat scattered and occasionally incoherent nature, which should encourage me to write an actual review.