An Interview with Dominique Venner
The noted French nationalist and historian speaks to the personal imperatives of white liberation.
Translator’s Note: It’s testament to the abysmal state of our culture that hardly one of Dominique Venner’s more than forty books have been translated into English. Venner is more than a gifted historian who has made major contributions to the most important chapters of modern, especially twentieth-century European history. He’s played a key role in both the development of the European New Right and the “Europeanization” of continental nationalism.
It is his “rebel heart” that explains his engagement in these great struggles, as well as his interests in the Russian Revolution, German fascism, French national socialism, the U.S. Civil War, and the two world wars. The universe found in his works is one reminiscent of Ernst von Salomon’s Die Geächteten — one of the Homeric epics of our age.
The following interview is about the rebel. Unlike the racial conservatives dominant in U. S. white nationalist ranks, European nationalism still bears traces of its revolutionary heritage — opposed as it is not merely to the alien, anti-national forces, but to the entire liberal modernist subversion, of which the United States has been the foremost exemplar. — Michael O’Meara
Question: What is a rebel? Is one born a rebel, or just happens to become one? Are there different types of rebels?
Dominique Venner: It’s possible to be intellectually rebellious, an irritant to the herd, without actually being a rebel. Paul Morand [a diplomat and novelist noted for his anti-Semitism and collaborationism under Vichy] is a good example of this. In his youth, he was something of a free spirit blessed by fortune. His novels were favored with success. But there was nothing rebellious or even defiant in this. It was for having chosen the side of the National Revolution between 1940 and 1944, for persisting in his opposition to the postwar regime, and for feeling like an outsider that made him the rebellious figure we have come to know from his “Journals.”
Another, though different example of this type is Ernst Jünger. Despite being the author of an important rebel treatise on the Cold War, Jünger was never actually a rebel. A nationalist in a period of nationalism; an outsider, like much of polite society, during the Third Reich; linked to the July 20 conspirators, though on principle opposed to assassinating Hitler. Basically for ethical reasons. His itinerary on the margins of fashion made him an “anarch,” this figure he invented and of which after 1932 he was the perfect representative. The anarch is not a rebel. He’s a spectator whose perch is high above the mud below.
Just the opposite of Morand and Jünger, the Irish poet Patrick Pearse was an authentic rebel. He might even be described as a born rebel. When a child, he was drawn to Erin’s long history of rebellion. Later, he associated with the Gaelic Revival, which laid the basis of the armed insurrection. A founding member of the first IRA, he was the real leader of the Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916. This was why he was shot. He died without knowing that his sacrifice would spur the triumph of his cause.
A fourth, again very different example is Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Until his arrest in 1945, he had been a loyal Soviet, having rarely questioned the system into which he was born and having dutifully done his duty during the war as a reserve officer in the Red Army. His arrest and then his subsequent discovery of the Gulag and the horrors that occurred after 1917, provoked a total reversal, forcing him to challenge a system which he once blindly accepted. This is when he became a rebel — not just against Communist, but capitalist society, both of which he saw as destructive of tradition and opposed to superior life forms.
The reasons that made Pearse a rebel were not the same that made Solzhenitsyn a rebel. It was the shock of certain events, followed by a heroic internal struggle, that made the latter a rebel. What they both have in common, what they discovered through different ways, was the utter incompatibility between their being and the world in which they were thrown. This is the first trait of the rebel. The second is the rejection of fatalism.
Q: What is the difference between rebellion, revolt, dissent, and resistance?
DV: Revolt is a spontaneous movement provoked by an injustice, an ignominy, or a scandal. Child of indignation, revolt is rarely sustained. Dissent, like heresy, is a breaking with a community, whether it be a political, social, religious, or intellectual community. Its motives are often circumstantial and don’t necessarily imply struggle. As to resistance, other than the mythic sense it acquired during the war, it signifies one’s opposition, even passive opposition, to a particular force or system, nothing more. To be a rebel is something else.
Q: What, then, is the essence of a rebel?
DV: A rebel revolts against whatever appears to him illegitimate, fraudulent, or sacrilegious. The rebel is his own law. This is what distinguishes him. His second distinguishing trait is his willingness to engage in struggle, even when there is no hope of success. If he fights a power, it is because he rejects its legitimacy, because he appeals to another legitimacy, to that of soul or spirit.
Q: What historical or literary models of the rebel would you offer?
DV: Sophocles’ Antigone comes first to mind. With her, we enter a space of sacred legitimacy. She is a rebel out of loyalty. She defies Creon’s decrees because of her respect for tradition and the divine law (to bury the dead), which Creon violates. It didn’t mater that Creon had his reasons; their price was sacrilege. Antigone saw herself as justified in her rebellion.
It’s difficult to choose among the many other examples. . . . During the War of Secession, the Yankees designated their Confederate adversaries as rebels: “rebs.” This was good propaganda, but it wasn’t true. The American Constitution implicitly recognized the right of member states to secede. Constitutional forms had been much respected in the South. Robert E. Lee never saw himself as a rebel. After his surrender in April 1865, he sought to reconcile North and South. At this moment, though, the true rebels emerged, those who continued the struggle against the Northern army of occupation and its collaborators.
Certain of these rebels succumbed to banditry, like Jesse James. Others transmitted to their children a tradition that has had a great literary posterity. In The Unvanquished, one of William Faulkner’s most beautiful novels, there is, for example a fascinating portrait of a young Confederate sympathizer, Drusilla, who never doubted the justice of the South’s cause or the illegitimacy of the victors.
Q: How can one be a rebel today?
DV: How can one not! To exist is to defy all that threatens you. To be a rebel is not to accumulate a library of subversive books or to dream of fantastic conspiracies or of taking to the hills. It is to make yourself your own law. To find in yourself what counts. To make sure that you’re never “cured” of your youth. To prefer to put everyone up against the wall rather than to remain supine. To pillage whatever can be converted to your law, without concern for appearance.
By contrast, I would never dream of questioning the futility of seemingly lost struggles. Think of Patrick Pearse. I’ve also spoken of Solzhenitsyn, who personifies the magic sword of which Jünger speaks, “the magic sword that makes tyrants tremble.” In this Solzhenitsyn is unique and inimitable. But he owed this power to someone who was less great than himself. That should give us cause to reflect. In The Gulag Archipelago, he tells the story of his “revelation.”
In 1945, he was in a cell at Boutyrki Prison in Moscow, along with a dozen other prisoners, whose faces were emaciated and whose bodies broken. One of the prisoners, though, was different. He was an old White Guard colonel, Constantin Iassevitch. He had been imprisoned for his role in the Civil War. Solzhenitsyn says the colonel never spoke of his past, but in every facet of his being it was obvious that the struggle had never ended for him. Despite the chaos that reigned in the spirits of the other prisoners, he retained a clear, decisive view of the world around him. This disposition gave his body a presence, a flexibility, an energy that defied its years. He washed himself in freezing cold water each morning, while the other prisoners grew foul in their filth and lament.
A year later, after being transferred to another Moscow prison, Solzhenitsyn learned that the colonel had been executed.
“He had seen through the prison walls with eyes that remained perpetually young. . . . This indomitable loyalty to the cause he had fought had given him a very uncommon power.”
In thinking of this episode, I tell myself that we can never be another Solzhenitsyn, but it’s within the reach of each of us to emulate the old White colonel.
French Original: “Aujourd’hui, comment ne pas être rebelle?”
On Venner: Michael O’Meara, “From Nihilism to Tradition“