Alain de Benoist was born in Saint-Symphorien (now part of Tours, Indre-et-Loire) and attended the Sorbonne. He has studied law, philosophy, sociology, and the history of religions. He is an admirer of Pan-European nationalism and neopaganism.
Benoist is the editor of two journals: Nouvelle Ecole (New School) since 1968, and Krisis since 1988. His writings have appeared in Mankind Quarterly, Tyr, Chronicles, and various newspapers such as Le Figaro. The New Left journal Telos has also published Benoist's work. In 1978, he received the Prix de l'essai from the Académie française for his book Vu de droite: Anthologie critique des idées contemporaines (Copernic, 1977). He has published more than 50 books, including On Being a Pagan (Ultra, 2005, ISBN 0-9720292-2-2).
In 2013 he spoke at a National Policy Institute gathering and gave an interview with American Renaissance. Prior to that, English translations of his books began to be published by Arktos Media.
From being close to French-Algerian movements at the beginning of his writings in 1970, he moved to attacks on globalisation, unrestricted mass immigration and liberalism as being ultimately fatal to the existence of Europe through their divisiveness and internal faults. His influences include Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Jünger, Jean Baudrillard, Georges Dumézil, Ernest Renan, José Ortega y Gasset, Vilfredo Pareto, Guy Debord, Arnold Gehlen, Stéphane Lupasco, Helmut Schelsky, Konrad Lorenz, the German Conservative Revolutionary movement and the Non-conformists of the 1930s.
Against the American liberal idea of a melting pot, Benoist is in favour of separate civilisations and cultures:
"I favor a pluralistic world, a pluriversum, which reconstitutes the world around a certain number of great continental blocs. Only the advent of a multipolar world will preserve human and cultural diversity and regulate globalization in a way not exclusively favorable to the interests of a single dominant power. I do not believe in Huntington's clash-of-civilizations thesis: Civilizations are not unitary or homogeneous blocs and no miracle will turn them into the principal agents of international relations".
He opposed Jean-Marie Le Pen (even though many people influenced by Benoist support him), racism and antisemitism. He has opposed Arab immigration to France, while supporting ties with Islamic culture. He favors "ethnopluralism", in which organic, ethnic cultures and nations must live and develop independently.
He also opposes Christianity as inherently intolerant, theocratic and bent on persecution. He said,
"All told, I do not think that one should be pleased by the appearance of Christianity and its development", and goes on to say, "Christianity is not a unitary block. St. Francis of Assisi and Torquemada gave the same Church quite different faces! There is nothing wrong with preferring the former. I have written a book entitled On Being a Pagan, but that has never prevented me from appreciating Catholic authors like Léon Bloy, Charles Péguy, Georges Bernanos, and Gustave Thibon, or from feeling agreement with certain aspects of the social teachings of the Church."
He also opposes reconstructivism:
"The New Right has never preached a “return” to paganism or a “return” to roots, or a return to anything for that matter. Instead, we wish to go beyond current society, but we wish to envision the future through the lens of a clear consciousness of the past. These two approaches are quite different: recurrence is not synonymous with return! Let us say simply that one can “futurize” the present only by “historicizing” the past."
De Benoist has made pointed criticism of the United States: He has been (mis)quoted as saying "Better to wear the helmet of a Red Army soldier," he wrote in 1982, "than to live on a diet of hamburgers in Brooklyn." (Preferred translation: "To have to wear someday the cap of the Red Army would be an awful perspective [in French: "une perspective affreuse"]. This is not a reason to have the desire to spend the rest of our life living on a diet of hamburgers in Broolyn's [sic] surroundings." ) In 1991, he complained that European supporters of the first Gulf War were "collaborators of the American order."
Benoist has devoted an entire book to refuting biological racism (Des animaux et des hommes), and has written three books against racism. His views on racism are thus:
“Racism is a theory that postulates, either that qualitative inequalities exist among the races such that one can distinguish generally ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races, or that the value of an individual is defined entirely by his or her racial belonging, or again that race constitutes the central determining factor in human history. These three postulates may be held together or separately. All three of them are false” (Manifesto).
He opposes political violence, saying he is building "a school of thought, not a political movement." While he has complained that nations like the United States suffer from "homogenization," he has also distanced himself from some of Jean-Marie Le-Pen's views on immigration.
Benoist considers himself both left and right-wing ("I happen to define myself as a “man of right-left,” as a rightist from the left and a leftist from the right, i.e., as an intellectual who simultaneously refers to the ideas of the left and the values of the right."), and throughout his career has continued to adapt and alter his views: in his preference for Martin Heidegger over his first influence, Friedrich Nietzsche; his support of multiculturalism rather than disappearance of immigrants' identities (though he does not support immigration itself); his interest in ecology; and a less aggressive view of Christianity. He has said that he hopes to see free-debate and greater popular participation in democracy, although he is also critical of modern liberal-democracy.
Benoist is also a proponent of the idea of integral federalism, in which the nation state is surpassed, giving way to regional identities and a common continental one at once ("What the ND wants is a federal Europe, founded on the principle of subsidiarity and participatory democracy at every level, where the political clearly predominates over the economic, where the financial markets do not rule everything, and where commercial and merchant values are put back in their proper place"). This would be distinct from what he sees as the consumerism and materialism of American society, as well as the bureaucracy and repression of the Soviet Union. This vision looks to a Europe of specific peoples, each with their own cultures and heritages.
His critics, such as Thomas Sheehan, argue that Benoist has developed a novel restatement of fascism. Roger Griffin, using an ideal type definition of fascism which includes "populist ultra-nationalism" and "palingenesis" (heroic rebirth), argues that the Nouvelle Droite draws on such fascist ideologues as Armin Mohler in a way that allows Nouvelle Droite ideologues such as de Benoist to claim a "metapolitical" stance, but which nonetheless has residual fascist ideological elements. Benoist's critics also claim his views recall Nazi attempts to replace German Christianity with its own paganism.