The Identitarians: the Movement Against Globalism and Islam in Europe, José Pedro Zúquete, 2018, University of Notre Dame Press, reviewed by Ed Dutton
José Pedro Zúquete is a Research Fellow at the Social Sciences Institute of Lisbon University. He received his doctorate from Bath University and has also worked at Harvard. One of the key advantages of Zúquete’s comprehensive study of ethno-nationalist politics is that, unlike some political scientists who have explored related areas, he is scrupulously neutral. He sees himself as an ethnographer. He attends meetings, imbibes literature, and interviews those interested in ethno-nationalist politics, including such relatively well-known names as Richard Spencer, Martin Sellner, Alex Kurtagić and the Finnish philosopher Kai Murros.
Indeed, in his postscript, Zúqute notes that reviewers of the manuscript told him that it was ‘depressing’ – because it indicates that ethno-nationalism in Europe is becoming more influential – and that he should end the book with ‘a sort of therapeutic, healing finale’ which would ‘appeal to students’ humanism and tolerance’ (p.364). He rightly refused, insisting that the book should be an objective, academic analysis.
Zúquete begins with the history of this nationalist cultural movement. Its precursor is the French Nouvelle Droit (‘New Right’) which took off in 1969 with the formation of GRECE (Research Study Group for European Civilization). The leading light in this group is the French philosopher Alain de Benoist. This thinker, influenced by the German philosopher Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), who explored how war could be a transcendental experience, is highly critical of both globalization and Christianity.
He argues that Christianity is a Semitic faith which promotes universalism, unrealistic egalitarianism, and a sense of guilt. It preaches blind faith in progress, when in reality civilizations move in cycles; it tells you to judge people by their beliefs when successful cultures are ethnocentric; and it is anti-intellectual, by virtue of holding certain dogmas and depicting those who question them as evil.
For de Benoist, Europe needs to return to its pagan roots and it will only re-awaken when it does so. This means rejecting not just many Christian ways of thinking, but also the nihilism and materialism of modern life, by adopting what constitutes a form of Traditionalism. Europeans must realise that there are certain perennial truths, that there is a kind of metaphysical reality (there must be to verify anything as true) and that the universe, as the pagans believed, always follows cycles. Editorial note; de Benoist is also an advocate of cultural hegemony but in the form of a “Gramscianism of the right”.
A number of other French thinkers are also significant apropos Identitarianism, including Dominique Venner (1935-2013), who killed himself in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2013 in protest about the Nihilism in modern France, and is thus regarded as a kind of Identitarian martyr and the academic Guillaume Faye (1949-2019), who has written widely on the danger of Islam to Europe.
Identitarians are avowedly ethno-nationalist. In the battle of group selection, as I noted in my book Race Differences in Ethnocentrism (Arktos, 2019), all else being equal, the group that internally cooperates and is externally hostile, triumphs. Identitarians such as France’s Génération Identitaire and Italy’s CasaPound (named after the American poet Ezra Pound) aim to preserve their European ethnic-groups and enable them to flourish. Thus, observes Zúquete, they cross over with, but are also distinct from, the ‘Counter-Jihad’ movements, notably the EDL founded by the British activist Tommy Robinson. Identitarians, however, don’t wish to repel Islam to preserve a materialistic society in which women are free to dress scantily and everyone can eat non-Halal fast food. They wish to repel all foreign incursions, whether Islamic or not, and tear down what they see as a decadent, materialistic, nihilistic society in favour of their own more spiritually-imbued model.
Much of Zúquete’s book is dedicated to the author’s interviews with and observations of members of this broad cultural movement across Europe, with some the groups actually calling themselves Identitarians after their etho-nationalist ‘identity.’ They organize provocative conferences, release popular videos and books to promote their cause and engage in headline-grabbing stunts – such as blockading a ship belonging to an NGO which aimed to assist Islamic immigrants to illegally enter Europe.
One fascinating aspect of this book is that it indicates the aspects of religiousness among its subject’s members. Like many religious groups, Identitarians have their own in-group argot. For example, their ‘conversion’ to the cause is the point at which they become ‘Red Pilled,’ and finally see the world for what it is – a reference to the film The Matrix. Such cultural references are also important because the author notes that most of those attracted to this movement are relatively young. This is not some nostalgic nationalist yearning for the idealised ‘good old days’ of youth. It is a youthful rebellion that strives toward something supposedly better; yet believing the past was, in certain key respects, superior, more united and meaningful.
Zúquete meets movements of this kind all over Europe, in Italy, Austria, France, Spain and Greece. He also explores the connections these groups having to organizations in the US, such as those based around Richard Spencer, who coined the term ‘Alt Right’; Greg Johnson, who runs the popular Counter Currents website, and to many YouTube and other social media dissidents in the USA and beyond, such as Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern. Zúquete’s key interest is in documenting what is happening, where, and who the key figures are. He is less interested in theory, though the author does theorise as well. Accordingly, the book will make a fascinating work of reference for those interested in this growing cultural movement. In general, members seem to feel that there will be war and that from the wreckage, a vital Western civilization will rise again.
A sometime cultural anthropologist, I would have liked the author to have explored his feelings about his fieldwork with these groups. Traditionally, the anthropologist is supposed to immerse himself in a tribe until he sees the world through their eyes. It would be intriguing to have heard how that worked when this involves seeing the world from the perspective of those most academics would consider ‘racist’ and ‘Nazi.’ But these are minor issues. This is a fascinating and detailed book on a little explored and increasingly salient topic. The research implies that, at the very least, Europe is polarising between nationalism and egalitarianism, and that the influence of ethno-nationalist groups of the Identitarian kind, is likely to become increasingly significant in the coming years, especially among young people, who evidently play a large part in Identitarian groups.
Dr Edward Dutton is the author of The Silent Rape Epidemic: How the Finns Were Groomed to Love Their Abusers. He runs a YouTube channel called ‘The Jolly Heretic’.