A war of words
As Lucien Lebvre and Marc Bloch launched their influential historical journal, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, in 1929, Febvre was expressing concerns within l’Encyclopédie Française that France was in the midst of a “crisis of the state and a crisis of civilization.” (Febvre via Gemelli 2002). Although in some regards, these crises were renewals of the animosities and fears engendered during the decade-long Dreyfus Affair of 1894-1904, the vitriolic nature of the crises of the 1930’s was spreading deeper and multilaterally through the norms, the language, and the civility of French culture than it had before. Gone in the 1930’s was the professional and relatively conciliatory in tone and language that was evident in Seignobos’ high-profile debates and printed exchanges with Charles Simiand, (as covered by Henri Burr in the Revue de synthèse in 1903 and by Léon in 1907, or in his various exchanges with Durkheim (Durkheim 2008). Despite Simiand’s open criticism of Seignobos’ methods in the debate of 1903, or those of Berr in various op-ed pieces (some of which were included in his book 1921 book L’histoire traditionnelle et la synthèse historique which can be read here, Seignobos appears to have harbored little ill-will toward those who criticised him. As Stéphane Haffemayer wrote in 2003, Seignobos seemed “impervious” to these and other professional criticisms (Haffemayer 2003). Four after his 1903 debate with Simiand, the two men would intellectually spar again in a round-table discussion. In his opening remarks, , Seignobos would refer to Simiand as “my friend” (transcript via Léon 1907)(1) .
It may be meaningful that these three men, Durkheim, Simiand, and Seignobos all shared a Parisian societal connection: they had all attended the same elite Parisian lycée, École Normale Supérieure (ENS), the preparatory college which had produced virtually all of France’s greatest scholars (Collins ibid). Even though Seignobos was older and had already established himself a professor in Dijon by the time Simiand was attending ENS, the social importance of their Alma mater may have imbued their relationship with a sense of kinship. Historians routinely allude to such an intrinsic rapport among who attended la École Normale and the men who had attended this school, for the remainder of their lives, were known as normaliens. Among the many references to the social relevance of having attended that particular teaching college, Vetina Datta writes it was common for former schoolmates to maintain life-long friendships (Datta 1999). Marine Dhermy-Mairal writes that there was an inherent validity to any given idea or movement if a nucleus of normaliens were supportive (Dhermy-Mairal 2014).
Yet, twenty-seven years later, we find that Lucien Febvre, a man that who was well aware of the rapidly degrading civility within French culture, who too was a normalien with excellent connections at that school (Fink 1991), would attack Seignobos zealously with an abundance of ridicule and cruelty. Had times changed so drastically, or did Febvre’s extreme resentment of the methodological historians (read here) and an unbridled desire to reach the highest level professional achievement to justify his antisocial behavior and risk rebuke and possible ostracization by fellow historians and normaliens? In either case, the amity that was observable two decades before, between both Durkheim and Seignobos, and Simiand and Seignobos, was nowhere evident when Febvre launched blistering attacks in 1933.
Language, the Church, and the rise of the influential moralists
In his 1966 book, The Obstructed Path, Henry Stuart Hughes writes that witty opposition was an erudite tradition in which the French played – and knew perfectly – how to ‘decode the rhetorical flights” that proliferated words and literature.
Wit and répartie was a joyful art in which the upper-classes had carefully maintained, beginning with the salons of the 16th-century in which “elegance and courtesy” were founded to counter man’s bestial instincts, writes Benedetta Craveri. The salons, she wrote, “established its own laws based on a code of behavior marked by the strictest veneration of form.” This tradition of the nobility of the ancien régime, continued after the Revolution, if not in salons, within in the relaxed and unregulated format of French culture, which led to the inclusion of the bourgeoisie, scholars, writers, artists, and other miscellaneous intelligentsia.
Easy examples of this joie de vie were documented by outsiders, many decades apart, who commented on this aspect of the French character and culture. The writer/philosopher Friedrich Schlegel, wrote, while living in Paris between 1804 and 1805, that “the native cheerfulness of the French character shows itself in its finest flowering as the culture of wit” (Schlegel via Curtis 1972). Seventy-five years later, Karl Hillebrand wrote in 1881, that “Paris practices the easy art of criticism and the agreeable and entertaining game of witty opposition,”(Hillebrand 1881). This character seems to have held sway across the political divides.
It seems strange that Hughes would finger the 1930’s as a singular point of change, for he well knew of the social decay that surrounded the decade-long Dreyfus Affair 1894-1904, with its zenith circling Dreyfus’ second trial in 1898. It could be said that the following the release of Dreyfus from prison, and the socio-ideological and political win for those who demanded Dreyfus’s acquittal and release, the nation receded from the social precipice it had teetered, and perhaps this is Hughes’ point in this omission. While we can quibble over the exact dates of this change, the metamorphosis and ultimate degradation of the social norms and civility did occur, perhaps most accurately, in stages which are defined less by time, and more by the decline in civil discourse among particular social groupings. There is always the vanguard of change and it this case the far right played the vocal provocateur even after issues the Dreyfus issue had finally extinguished itself among most parties. It would not be until the 1930’s that the far right would successfully draw an increasingly broad swath of French society into what can only be described as a social melee.
Returning to Hughes, and his contention that despite France’s long engagement with literary overstatement and barbed witticisms, he would write that “somewhere in the interwar years,” the French seemingly “lost the knack” to “decode” what were becoming increasingly piercing allegations. Hughes ideas here become somewhat abstract, but at the crucible of the change which Hughes describes, we find the case the novelist and avant-garde intellectual, Maurice Barrès (1862-1923). Barrès, having been raised and excelled amid this culture of intellectual wit, was also an active participant in destroying that tradition. During much of the 19th-century, Barrès was a socialist writer whose work was quite famous within France. Known as “vivacious and unapologetically French,” Barrès was remembered for his “frivolity” and his “flippant egotism” (Beaujour, via Kritzman et al., 2006). Yet it was his intense belief that defense of the patrie, of the motherland, was the paramount issue for Barrès in upholding Dreyfus prosecution, that to reverse the ruling would irreparably injure France. Thus the Dreyfus affair dramatically altered his political his political outlook and toward those whom his loyalties stood. Landing on the wrong side of history, as the memes of today go, the historians of the twentieth century would paint Barrès in the light of a man who would plumb the lower classes for sociopolitical capital, dispensed antisemitic and xenophobic diatribes, all the while draping that ugliness the guise of nationalism. Ultimately, history would revile Barrès, a writer, not a politician, as a progenitor of French fascism, and though he had died nearly two decades earlier, a conspirator by association, of the future Vichy France.
“Words,” wrote Hughes, “were taken as actualities” and knowing that this war of words existed, he insists, “is crucial to our understanding of the epoch.” Such was this societal breakdown that it penetrated so deeply, affecting simple communication, where statements were increasingly emitted at an emotional level, though still clothed in this tradition of “wit” and “frivolity,” and received with an increasingly reactive one. As academics began finding themselves insulted by what can only be described as mocking and increasing level of vitriol, well beyond what one would reasonably consider witty literary flourishes which had for so long marked French literature, academic journals became vehicles for ideological warfare, pitting one academic gang against the next. Hughes described the ensuing rumble “a cacophony of abuse” which carried with it an “unprecedented shrillness”(Hughes 1966).
There was, for a time, a détente that existed between those on the right and the left, which, once the war was upon them, grew into a solidarity between virtually all factions of the French, a national unity termed union sacrée. Early in 1914, Abbé Ernest Dimnet supplied a look on how this détente had played out. The French press, wrote Dimnet, as well as the intellectuals, had begun to temper their candor regarding the church. Two decades earlier (circa 1894) intellectuals and journalists who supported the anti-clerical measure, he wrote, could not “refrain from shrugs and smiles, which meant, as plainly as elaborate treatises might have, that these were things in which a modern man could not possibly believe.” But this, seemingly, Dimnet states with some incredulousness, was no longer the case. “Men inclined to speak harshly or satirically of religion feel it is better to refrain and refrain they do.” Newspapers, such as Figaro, and l’Illustration, now showed an “unfeigned respect for the tenets, ethical teaching, and constitution of the church” and any comments concerning the “Church, of priests, monks, and nuns” were made with a tone of “seriousness and respect.” Moreover, “this state of affairs may be found to be the same in all the literary circles of Paris”… They “may not [have been] believers,” he wrote, but they made a definite show of “conversion from indulgence to morals.” (Dimnet 1914).
Dimnet is slow to reveal the true source of this change in France – and perhaps he misreads this change – but at its heart was the French clergy’s reluctant submission to the loi de 1905, which separated the affairs of the church and the state. To read Dimnet is to deduce there was a détente between the Radicals and the Church; that this deference, given by the left, was something of a truce between factions, both of whom were tired. “Anti-clericalism was political, and it never spread far outside political circles. Let this kind of politics wear itself out, and anti-clericalism was sure to pall” (Dimnet ibid.).
This may have been true, but between the Republican legislative victory of 1905 and the weakened state of the French church, there was no longer will or the power to fight back. “Bishops,” writes Dimnet, with “not a farthing of the old Church property left, found themselves confronted with the necessity of procuring accommodations for their seminarians and money enough to keep their priests.” The political clout of the church, explains Dimnet, was almost non-existent. “French Catholics not only have no power … but they have hardly any weight: there is not one constituency in twenty which they can control an election.” The role that the Church would play going forward within French society had been won by the radicals (republicans), and their silence had far less to do with deference or détente than that there were few issues left to comment upon, snidely or otherwise.
Although the Catholic church had been eliminated from within the organs of the French state, the French Catholic community, like all peoples who are politically or militarily beaten, were not reduced to inactivity. The Catholic press remained a large enough circulation “to appear comparatively influential,” although most of the power it wielded lay primarily in the countrysides (Dimnet 1914). But any influence these papers had, he wrote, was made “by showing their conservative, rather than their religious, tendencies” (Dimnet ibid.). This shift in the fight, from religious issues to political ones, came about in France, under the false equation of Catholicism with social conservatism, at a time when the Vatican itself was beginning to embrace social liberalism and championing the moral rights of its poor.
French Catholics rallied to politics of the right for three major reasons: they remained resentful and in opposition to the Republicans who had attacked and diminished the strength of the church. They had open disgust for the loose morality of the left-leaning avant-garde of la Belle Époque and the Années folles, and the relatively unrelated fear that the communists would rise up in revolution as Marx and Lenin promised. This cocktail of rejection and fear forced the catholiques confits into taking political positions which naturally allied them with proto-Fascists, who quickly preyed upon and expanded these fears and insecurities.
The early twentieth-century philosopher and novelist, Julien Brenda, identified such voices in his 1929 book, La Trahison des Clercs, as “influential moralists.” Brenda contended that, in the way that the religious clercs of the Middle Ages spread the word of the Church, men spread indignation with the goal that men would “rise up against other men” (Brenda ibid.). So contrary was the message of “influential moralist” writes Brenda, to that of the gospel, that the ‘influential moralist’ had, in effect, replaced the gospel with “the new religion of the ‘national soul.'” Brenda points out that this was an entirely new paradigm. Before the creation of the modern state, nationalism had never before beat within the common man; it was born out of democracy and cradled by romanticism (Brenda ibid.). It is ironic, he writes, that “the worst enemies of democracy and romanticism have adopted” nationalism and used it to sew seeds of fear, hate, and a distrust of the same democratic institutions which had created nationalism (Brenda ibid.).
Two (of several) influential moralists were the aforementioned Maurice Barrès, as well as his friend and political ally, Charles Maurras. Both men, as writers, were adept agents of provocative, inflammatory rhetoric, though Barrès, who as a novelist and a one-time intellectual of the avant-garde, achieved far-greater esteem among erudite circles, in 1906, elected to the prestigious forty member panel of l‘Académie française. Did this accolade achieved by Barrès, trigger a competitive jealousy in Maurras? We do see Maurras return to literary essays and books after the Dreyfus Affair and the temporary loss of the use antisemitism as a political weapon. Maurras pursuit of a seat on the l‘Académie française was a 1930’s and surprisingly achieve in 1938, only to lose it in disgrace a few years later.
Maurras would, in the meantime, become the leader of France’s most powerful, ultra-nationalist movement, l’Action française. Although an atheist himself, he adroitly forged a following among disaffected catholiques confits, whose anti-Republic and xenophobic views were incongruent with the policies being pursued by Rome.
Where the Vatican was pursuing policies of reproachment with the French government and adopting a new liberal agenda of social morality that would better serve its often impoverished followers, many French Catholics saw this move as a betrayal of the French Church which had been fighting to retain its importance and influence within the state since the Revolution. With this dissatisfaction firmly established among French Catholics, Maurras was able to effectively pursue an image of his being être plus catholique que le pape, (more Catholic than the Pope). From his pulpit in the center column of l’Action française newspaper (Callil 2008), Maurras held sway over tens of thousands of active and potentially violent supporters. This would last until December 20, 1926, when the Vatican, after years of delays, would issue a condemnation of Action française (Bernardi 2009) and ban its the reading of the l’Action newspaper by practicing Catholics. Penalties for association with l’Action française could be stiff, such as of the denial of sacraments and possible excommunication (Bernardi ibid.). Yet, Action française would rebound in the 1930’s from this Papal censure, with the organization claiming “60,000 adherents” (Curtis 2002) and a daily circulation that may have been as low as 30,000 issues, or as high as 120,000 copies in 1926 (B. Friedman 2010).
The avant-garde, le école romane, and the rise of the fascist right
Maurras viewed individualism as one of the seminal flaws of a disastrous democratic system. Maurras, a fervent student of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) would adopt Comte’s belief that the Revolution of 1789 had been detrimental to the “interest of all classes,” and that, just as had been the case in England and Venice, the aristocracy had acted as “a sort of guarantee of common welfare.” Although he personally had lost his faith, Maurras would come to understand that there was a structural value in the church, as it “secure[s] the subordination of the spiritual power” and just as the Protestant faith was to England, religion was “favorable to the prolongation of aristocratic power” (Comte 1858).
Along with his devotion to Kantian positivism, Maurras had first established himself in Parisian literary circles by publishing essays in which he incorporated a distinctly romanticized version Greek and Roman mythology, philosophy, and literature, threading it as a continuum of intellectualism into his vision of French culture. Never mind, that according to Richard Abel, less than three percent of the children in France attended a lycée, and only a third of those (less than one percent) passed the baccalauréat (Abel 1998). Never-the-less, Maurras’ writings on these subjects made him a prominent figure in the otherwise nominal movement, le école romane, to which Maurras’ early writings are associated. As a high-school aged student, Maurras had gained a great appreciation of the Hellenic age under the personal tutelage of abbé Penon, and a year after arriving in Paris, he had fallen into a group of writers including Raymond de la Tailhède, Maurice du Plessys, and spiritually led by the poet Jean Moréas.
Moréas was most know for once being a leading force in the symbolist movement, famed for having been asked to write a supplement for Le Figaro. The daily introduced Moréas as a leading figure in the Symbolist movement, and what followed “A literary Manifesto.” Moréas had titled the piece, Le Symbolisme, but it is now remembered, colloquially, as the Symbolist Manifesto. In it, he divides new thought from old, the young avant-garde from past thinkers of the same name. Moréas writes:
Like all the arts, literature evolves: cyclical evolution with strictly determined returns and complicated by the various modifications brought about by the passage of time and the upheavals of the environment… “It is because every manifestation of art inevitably arrives to become impoverished, to exhaust itself; then, from copy to copy, from imitation to imitation, which was full of sap and freshness wither and curl up; what was new and spontaneous becomes the cliché and the commonplace…”A new manifestation of art was therefore expected, necessary, inevitable. This event, long incubated, has just hatched.”
Historian Venita Datta, echoes this fleeting new versus old mantra, with idealists on the right an left having solidarity in their avant-garde ideas. As long as the ideas were ever-evolving and open to new possibilities, those of the avant-garde did not stand direct opposition to one another as did their elders. Cherished was the novelty of new ways of inspecting existence, of thinking, of writing and painting. It would not be until the thinking had settled into and finite literary, artistic styles, or equally so in political positions, that these artists, once avant-garde, found themselves established fixtures of mainstream culture and their thinking cliche, commonplace, and steadfastly oppositional, left or conservative, now reductively establishment and unacceptable. The young Barrès, with his radical takes on conservative thought, was as much a member of the avant-garde as the leftist and communistes that we more quickly associate with the ever-changing movement.
This fight of new thinking versus the establishment, as well as symbolism’s opposition to “moralism, rationalism, and materialism” theartstory.org, comes into clear focus when Maurice Barrès was “put on trial” by artists of the avant-garde group Dada in 1921.* The symbolists sought to confront Barrès’ metamorphic change from a revolutionary intellectual to “conformist”(Feldman 2015). André Breton, the Dadaist poet who led the performance, accused Barrès what he called a “moral betrayal” and charged Barrès with “committing an attack on the security of the mind.” Barrès, who had left Paris on the day of the proceeding, was represented in absentia by the poet Louis Aragon (Karpel 1981). – and in the defendant chair, standing in for Barrès was a mannequin (Karpel 1981, Feldman 2015). In Barrès defense, writes Feldman, Aragon insisted that nationalism ensured “the state’s commitment to its citizens” is in fact “a fulfillment of socialism” (Feldman ibid.).
(*) the idea that the symbolist movement, then 35 years since Moréas’ manifesto, was anything but established thought, is questionable in itself.
Although Feldman is often unclear if positions he lays out regarding Barrès’ thought were taken from directly from Barrès writings or they are quotes presented in his “defense” by Aragon, Feldman is astute in his observation that “Barrès impressively intertwines left-wing values to [achieve] right-wing politics” (Feldman ibid.). This twisting of economic and emotional aspects is, as we say today, dog-whistle politics and underscores Breton’s accusation that Barrès greatest crime, was his assault against the “security of the mind.”
In this moment, Feldman’s arguments point toward sometimes close emotional relationship between those on the far right and the far left, that in their goals echo the same concerns: security, stability, equality, and a subtle twist of thought has proved to flip many a proponent, of one group or another, in their political alignment.
Returning to the subject of Moréas and le école romane, it would seem that Moréas’ thinking was gelling quickly, cementing positions to the point where he was compelled to move away from the Symbolists, many of whom he now found himself, politically, in opposition. It is doubtful that he believed he was rejecting the tenants he laid out in Le Symbolisme, for as Moréas was striking out on his own, he was renewing and re-configuring the ideas of the ancient past, founding the aforementioned and now little remembered, le école romane. Had Maurras, newly arrived in Paris, not joined the kindred minds of the small band of writers in the Roman school, men who were repudiating what they considered the moral untethering and philosophical dissatisfaction which had come to define the Symbolist movement, the le école romane would have been inconsequential to history. But for Maurras this moment provided the foundation for future thought and philosophically funding what McGuinness calls “the mythology of the ascendant right”(McGuinness 2011). Further, McGuinness writes, that le école romane used the heroes of Greek and Roman mythology to engage “in a struggle against the dominant culture of symbolism and romanticism with their attractive but dangerous mauvais maîtres [bad teachers]: Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarmé” (McGuinness 2011).
From this movement grew the notion that the French were the single people which held the necessary erudite traditions capable of keeping the Hellenic spirit, ideals, and intellectualism, alight. Julien Brenda, a routine critic of Maurras, responded somewhat dismissively of Maurras’ romanesque essays, particularly critical of Anthinea published in 1901 and L’Avenir de l’Intellligece in 1905, saying, “we have the classic spirit taken as the theme of romantic exaltation” (Brenda via Miller 2005). While many, like Brenda, might not have felt this particular connection of French intellectualism to the Greeks, the immodest belief that France was the light keeper for the intellectual world became fairly ubiquitous within French intellectual circles.
Although Maurras had given his thinking wholeheartedly to the ascendancy of Hellenic thought, writing to Abbe Penon in 1897, that “Greece was the ‘glorious teacher of mankind'”(Maurras via Sutton 2000), Maurras, “quickly…extended and developed the movement’s aesthetics into political activism” (McGuinness 2011). However, it is not completely clear that the movement, such as it was, gave broad support to Maurras’ more militantly nationalistic leanings. McGuinness would more recently write, that “de La Tailhède, denied outright that le école romane had any political programme at all” McGuinness 2015.).
The rise of antisemitism
The rise of French antisemitism began in the early years of the 1880’s after the progroms (riots) against ethnic Ukrainian and Polish Jews who, inexplicably blamed for the assassination of Czar Alexander II, found themselves fleeing the melee, westward, toward Germany and France. For those who sought to escape from the rampages upon them, France was viewed as a refuge. Michael Shurkin writes of the Yiddish promise, Leben vi got in Frankraych – “to live like God in France drew many to France,” and in particular to Paris (Shurkin undated).
For Charles Maurras, it was likely coming across the Jewish ghetto of Marais Saint-Paul in the 4th arrondissement, where he saw for the first time, in 1891, the streets of Paris teaming with overt Jewish culture. A Jewish enclave since the 13th century, the Pletzl (Yiddish for “little place”) was thriving at the turn of the century. This was a Parisian quarter where Hebrew dominated, as well at active openness of Jews leftist agendas and union building (Shurkin ibid.). Perhaps most shocking for Maurras, were the forthright calls for a Zionist state (and related Zionist issues) favored by many French Jews as well as the more recent arrivals (Shurkin ibid.). Lawrence Kritzman writes that Maurras and his ilk “nefariously characterized” the Polish, Ukrainian-Russian Jews who had migrated to Paris, “as the dangerously unassimilated Jew” (Kritzman via Reilly 2007). Maurras would write that these foreigners sought to “form, within the state, another state, [one] which hopes to dominate the first” (Maurras 1889 via Curtis 2002). Twenty years later, in May of 1920, Maurras warned his readers that a second Jewish migration was upon them, writing “the immense ghettos of Central Europe are moving in the direction of Paris. They will be new bohemians in our walls and [introducing] new pathogenic, political, social and moral microbes” (Maurras, via Brustein 2003).
Brustein brings an interesting take on what he deems to be but stops short of saying, were strategic [my word] “attacks” by l’Action Francaise on the bases of “Jewish economic power” as a method peeling away the working class from the socialist left, at an emotional level. Brustein writes, “Daudet identified…”Jews [on a] list of purported enemies of the French nation and working classes”…” included bankers, creditors, union organizers, socialist agitators, and the wage-squeezing employers… Daudet insisted that behind the corrupting capitalist influence in France stood the Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy” (Brustein 2003 citing Weber 1976).
Antisemitism in France, between 1880 and 1930, was not limited to the right as the language of subjugation permeated French culture. Historian William Brustein writes that negative Jewish stereotypes can be found in the works of many of the great mainstream and leftist French writers of the era, including the works of the great pacifist, Romain Roland, the works of 1947 Nobel prize winner, Andre Gide, and the interwar writings of the 1952’s Nobel laureate for literature, Francois Mauriac (Brustein 2003). These writers, however, writes Brustein, did not portray the Jewish people in “explicitly” racist terms, as did those on the far right (Brustein ibid) but rather expressed a language that may rarely have been reflected upon to see its degrading and subjugating message. However, as the fears and pressures and emotions escalated in both the 1890’s and during the 1930’s so to did the normalization of the open bluntness of hate speech, not just of the Jews, the Italians, the Poles, and the Algerian, but against the communists and the fascists, the politicians and any other social division that might raise ire.
For the decade between 1894 and 1904, as a subtext to the French military’s prosecution of treason against the first Jewish officer (Captain Alfred Dreyfus) to be trusted to serve on the general staff, the influential moralists would put the entirety of Judaism on trial. Edouard Drumont would write while the evidence against Dreyfus was unraveling in 1898, that a “frenzied campaign” was upon them, “organized by world Jewry to panic France, dishonor the French army and, in so doing, put it in no condition to play a role in Europe…” (Drumont 1898, marxists.org).
Drumond’s accusation assaulted what the mid-century historian Eugene Weber describes a common belief among Frenchmen “that their country should be powerful and prosperous.” (Weber 1965). This importance of a strong France, particularly in the wake of its defeat by the Prussians in 1870, certainly describes a motivator we see within Maurras. As such, the “factional dissensions and selfish strife” which many French felt, continued Weber, could not be allowed, and the “class warfare initiated by Socialist[s]” were a serious threat to the nation Weber ibid.). Weber continues, that class division espoused by the communistes, were “false and evil myths devised by foreigners to weaken France.” Men like Dumont, Maurras, and Barres, would point to the Jew, even those who had helped economically build and defend France, were “alien[s]-in-residence,” the “ubiquitous exploiter, corrupter, and debaucher of good citizens… “as part of an appeal to the economic fears and resentments of the middle classes” (Weber ibid.).
Here defines is a split in intellectual thinking regarding Maurras, ET Al, Weber writes, above, of an emotional fear that drives the common Frenchman as well as Maurras, while historian Michael Curtis writes of Maurras as a more calculated and manipulative operator, that he, being an atheist, uses fear and religion as a tool to motivate others.
Maurras’ writing, Curtis writes, was founded upon the mantra, politique d’abord (politics first). Maurras, like the generals at military headquarters who prosecuted Dreyfus, and the Republican lawmakers who refused to demand a re-trial, fiercely believed that Dreyfus must be sacrificed.(Curtis 2002) This, despite the nearly overwhelming evidence that another officer had passed military secrets to the Germans. At issue was not justice or personal liberty, something Maurras did not believe in any way, but the reputation and authority of the French Army.
But many within the public sphere did not carry the same philosophical convictions of Maurras and other proto-fascists, and the news 1898 revelations that major Hubert-Joseph Henry had forged a piece of evidence with the intention to seal Dreyfus’ ‘guilt,’ started to turn the tide of sentiment toward Dreyfus. However, it was, historian Maurice Larkin writes, that it was Major Henry’s subsequent and grisly suicide* that really turned public sentiment against the military and would ultimately take the air out of the antisemitic messages pressed by anti-Dreyfusards (Larkin 1974). The death finally gave weight to the given testimony of the former head of French counter-intelligence Georges Picquart, who brought to light the fact that two documents the military had used in its prosecution, could not be attributed to Dreyfus. Despite Picquart’s being relieved of duty and falsely arrested for forgery of supposed documents supporting Dreyfus, the supreme court would move to overturn the Dreyfus conviction, setting in motion a new court-martial (Wikipedia)
(1) The guilt and dishonor felt by Henry were so profound, it is alleged, that he had resorted to cutting his own throat. Yet, Henry’s act of forgery was done on the behalf of others, involving far deeper conspiracy of politique d’abord. It was as he wrote to his commanding officer, General Gonse, from his prison, “You know in whose interest I acted.” Historians don’t write what they don’t know, so history has recorded Henry’s death as suicide, without ever invoking a hint of the very real specter, considering the great lengths that the staff at Army headquarters had already taken, that Henry was, as likely as having taken his own life, silenced by the hands of others. Let’s not be naive. The Dreyfus Affair was a story of conspiracy and complicity from the very top. Cutting one’s throat is one of the least common methods of suicide (Patil, Deokar, Vidhate, Tyagi 2016), although there are a number of high profile cases where this method been availed, Robert FitzRoy 1865, Bernardine Hamaekers 1912, Lillian Hall-Davis 1933, Don Lapre 2011, Charles Rocket 2005. I don”t know if it is fair to include the Indian serial killer, M. Jaishankar who died this year, 2018, from a self-inflicted throat injury while in prison (list from Wikipedia).
While these developments of 1898 swayed those in who were less emotionally invested in the trial, it did little to silence an indignant and angry right, for it was this year that Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois founded l’Action française. Soon after, Maurras would sign on as a key contributor. Over the next forty-five years, L’Action française would become a major force in right-wing politics. Yet, public opinion, which had initially been harshly critical of Dreyfus in 1894, and had been sharply divided in 1898 strictly along political lines, began shifting toward the innocence of Dreyfus and the realization, by many, the need to protect individual liberties. With this shift, consequently, was an inherent, if subtle, rejection of the fear-mongering which proliferated the right-wing media writings.
Although in 1899, the military would again find Dreyfus guilty despite the overwhelming evidence indicating a deliberate attempt to frame him for the deeds of another. Sentenced this time around to ten years of hard labor, he was offered a pardon by the President of France due to “extenuating circumstances,” which would allow him to serve no additional time. In the minds of the French authorities, this arrangement allowed the government an extrication of their injustice without admitting their wrongs.
Llyod Gartner would write that “antisemitism was at a low ebb after the Dreyfus’ release”(Gartner 2001). This rather unquantifiable statement is strengthened by the elections results of 1910, which gave a strong victory to the Radicals (Républicains). In France’s multi-party system, the Radicals won a commanding 38% of the vote, compared to the conservative party, the Alliance républicaine démocratique, which yielded a far thinner slice, only 14%, of voter returns. Adding to the power wielded by the Radicals, their sometime political ally, the socialist SFIO, won 12% of the vote. This was far from a mandate, for France was a country of 38 million, yet the pre-suffrage electorate only totaled only a little more than 2.8 million voters.* Thus, a large percentage of the population remained unrepresented by the governments and legislatures of the Third Republic. Certainly, a number of these unrepresented voices came to be heard through para-parliamentary and religious leaders, who through their publications, found supporters and fomented political and social opinion.
(*) Totaled from election results provided by Wikipedia.
As public sentiment became suspicious of the military and government, both of which acted indifferent to the rights of the individual, Maurras adroitly pivoted from this defacto defeat, to revisit and revamp the nationalistic elements of école romane, by proclaiming that the culture of France was under threat, if not specifically from the Jews or other métèques, but from the influence of their overt and corrupting cultures. Lawrence Rosenthal and Vesna Rodic describe this new campaign as a “fluctuating notion of Frenchness” (Rosenthal, Rodic 2014).
Unlike Dimnet’s writing where he attributes a cessation in anticlerical activities as the reason for the downturn in acrimony, perhaps it is was this single thread, the defense of French culture, that unified the ultra-nationalists, intellectually, with those on the left. In this case, there no explicit truce or detenté, but rather a fear which pervaded French intelligentsia, regardless of ideology, that what it meant to be French was under siege. Perhaps the socialist poet and novelist, Anatole France, perhaps expressed best. “Consider this,” wrote France in 1911, “that our French culture is the noblest and most delicate thing in the world, that it is becoming impoverished, and that the most dangerous attempt of regenerate, it is being made upon all sides… I tremble for our humanities” (France 1911).
Maurras wrapped his early notions of Hellenic classicism into a defined conception of French haute-culture and bought wholly into, as had Anatole France, that it was certainly fragile simply due to it proclaimed refinement. In the face of the loud, course, invasive cultures of the métèque, the things which were special and purely French, surely would be irreparably damaged, or worse, subverted and the French, or so went the supposition, would unwittingly assimilate the cultures of the métèques. This theme of cultural corruption resonated very deeply with many intellectuals and literature became the high ground from where French culture would be defended (Rodic 2014). Within this forum, Maurras’ was a leader and his reputation as a fine writer blossomed among those in literary circles and many bought into (and still do today), that behind his xenophobic, sometimes toxic public persona, Maurras was a romantic intellectual of the highest order. George Bernanos, a one-time member of the Camelot de Roi, turned anti-fascist author, said that “nothing can be understood about Maurras if one judges the man from his writing, for the writings, are not the man. It was for himself, for his personal security that [Maurras] constructed that vast defensive system of which he was at the same time the master and the prisoner” (Bernanos via Miller 2005). It is writings such as this, portending a complex personality, coupled with the admiration and friendship of notable writers like T.S. Eliot, which has lent Maurras a legitimacy, which, by any final accounting, shows to be undue.
Many historians, particularly American, have sought to understand Maurras’ seeming dichotomy between a divisive political activist and champion of literature and culture, and in the process, and in the process have spilled undue ink in exploring this Jekyll and Hyde-like persona. Michael Curtis follows this path, describing Maurras as simultaneously displaying a routine “disregard for the truth and indifference for ethical values,” and then giving Maurras something of a pass, writing that Maurras was neither specifically ethnically or religiously discriminatory, but rather he believed that the French must use any means necessary to “remain masters of their own house”(Curtis 2002). This, Curtis opines, was sufficient justification for (in Maurras mind) for Maurras to release almost four decades of relentless hate-speech, for which he would be best known.
The mid-century comparative literary critic, Rene Wellek, falls into this trap as well, crediting Maurras to be “wisely” able to separate politics from art: “Let the poet be Guelph or Ghibelline, Huguenot or Papist, internationalist or patriot,” Wellek credits Maurras for writing. “I deal only with the soul of the ideas mingled in his song, with their interior structure, with there is a secret economy” (Maurras via Wellek 1955). Yet, it was this passage which appears within Maurras’ and Raymond de la Tailhède’s 1928 book, Un débat sur le Romantisme, which would ultimately divide Maurras and de la Tailhède, ending with de la Tailhède turning his back on, or being shut out of l’Action française (Wikipedia.fr).
T.S. Eliot once commented dryly that the l’Action française had produced “the best writers of invective of their time” (Eliot, Haffenden 2015). Yet, despite the bombastic pose, writes René Rémond, struck a sympathetic chord with the editors of the more literary, royalist-Catholic journal, Revue universelle, and they in-turn endorsed and spread the messages espoused by l’Action (Rémond 2007). Rémond goes on to say that the legitimate reputation Revue universelle, gave co-editors, Maurras and Léon Daudet, who presided over what was essentially a fringe-right movement, the intellectual credibility to radicalize a surprising number among the “intellectual, administrative and social” anti-sémites de salon (Rémond 2007). However, Daudet and Maurras had sufficient literary credentials already, and what Rémond does not disclose, or perhaps did not realize, is that the co-founder and editor of Revue universelle, Henri Massis, had been a contributor to l’Action and was already a close, personal ally of Maurras (Eliot, Haffenden 2015). Moreover, l’Action founder and co-editor, Leon Daudet, actively wrote for Revue universelle,* This prior association changes our understanding of the relationship between l’Action and Revue universelle, and suggests that the target of both publications was upon the same audience. I would suggest that Rémond has misidentified the source for the intellectual support Maurras gained since he most likely found his intellectual prestige in his essays and books on the defense of French identity.
(*) Daudet, considered a member of the avant-garde in his early years, was contracted by many publications to lend literary weight and relevance. As such, Daudet wrote for a disparate array of publications, from the newspaper Le Journal to the anarchist publication La Révolte, which he had connections through bars and cafes in Montmartre and the Latin Quarter, where both avant-garde and anarchists frequented. (Dubbelboer 1977). Dubbelboer does not supply dates – a common problem among historians- but this period was most likely 1885-1894.
Sarah Kay, Terence Cave, and Malcolm Bowie in their book on French literature, write that the trio of writers of Barrès, Daudet, and Maurras, “stepped forward during the Dreyfus years, not as tough-talking demagogues, but as the proponents of an insinuating form of belles-lettres in which the standard antisemitic motifs could be elegantly interlaced. This was hate language with a shimmering surface”… in which “the hated Jew acts as a trigger for word-play, opulent imagery, and rhythmic experimentation” (Kay, Cave, Bowie 2003). Scholars have been all over the map in their estimation of the writings and affect the impact literary ultranationalists, as Samual Osgood observes, pointing to Edward Tannenbaum on one end of the spectrum, classifies the l’Action française movement as one of déclassés and dismissing them as cafe intellectuals, to Eugene Weber claimed the political influence of the paper was immense and did on occasion “shake the foundation of the Republic. (Osgood 2013). Going even farther, Carmen Callil writes, Maurras was a poet, a philosopher, a writer of elegant, classic French, a formidable journalist and polemicist, and thus an intellectual giant within the French canon” (Callil, 2001), and the American Poet, T.S. Eliot, in one letter, used the word “genius” to describe the literary work of Maurras (Eliot 2015).
Maurras importance, in the context of France’s social conflict, was as a man who was in constant search for the next levers of manipulation and felt a continuing need to personally drive the national narrative. With the argument of antisemitism having temporarily run its course, Maurras shifted to espouse that French culture was under threat, and never did he miss, according to Rosenthal and Rodic, the opportunity to exploit and sensationalize scandals that would embarrass the left and damage the Republic (Rosenthal and Rodic 2014). Through Maurras and Barres, in their successes and failures, we see the shifts in French dialogue, in the undercurrent of intellectual thinking. We see the cultural antagonisms and divisions which leading up to 1933, the date which Febvre would unleash his worst against Seignobos, were becoming more and more volatile, and the social norms increasingly relaxed to the point where almost outrageous things were said and done with without considering the repercussions which may come in consequence.
Coming up part V
Lucien Febvre et la représentation de l’État contemporain, Le tome X de l’Encyclopédie française, Giuliana Gemelli , Cahiers Jaurès,www.cairn.info, 2002
Positive Philosophy, Auguste Comte, C. Blanchard, 1858
The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Benjamin M. Friedman, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010
L’Avenir de L’Intelligence, excerpt: Auguste Comte, Charles Maurras, 1905, gornahoor.net.
History of the Jews in Modern Times, Lloyd Gartner, OUP Oxford, 2001
French Jewish History, 1650-1914: The Republic’s liberal principles brought tolerance and opportunity, Michael Shurkin, myjewishlearning.com
Action française, René Rémond, The Columbia History of Twentieth-century French Thought, Brian J. Reilly Columbia University Press, 2007
Nationalism, Positivism and Catholicism: The Politics of Charles Maurras and French Catholics 1890-1914, Michael Sutton, Cambridge University Press, Jun 20, 2002
Antisemitism, Lawrence Kritzman, The Columbia History of Twentieth-century French Thought, Brian J. Reilly Columbia University Press, 2007
Three Against the Third Republic: Sorel, Barres and Maurras, Michael Curtis, Routledge, 2017
Les Juifs Contre la France, Edouard Drumont, Paris, Librairie Antisemite, 1898; translated by Mitchell Abidor;
Creative Commons, marxists.org 2006
Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, Michael Curtis, Arcade Publishing, 2002
T.S. Eliot” The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1922 James E. Miller, Penn State Press, 2005
The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 2, Thomas Stearns Eliot, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden,Yale University Press, 2015
Action Man, Carmen Callil, the newstatesman.com, April 2001).
Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France, Carmen Callil, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008
Writing History in the Third Republic, Isabel Noronha-DiVanna Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010
A Short History of French Literature, Sarah Kay, Terence Cave, Malcolm Bowie, Oxford University Press, 2003
French Royalism Since 1870, Samuel M. Osgood, Springer 2013
Poetry and Radical Politics in Fin de Siècle France: From Anarchism to Action Française, Patrick McGuinness, Oxford University Press, 2015
Abstract, Patrick Mcguinness, Law & Order / La loi & l’ordre: 37th Annual Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium
University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University
October 2011, Philadelphia, PA
The Left Bank: Writers, Artists, and Politics from the Popular Front to the Cold War Herbert Lottman, University of Chicago Press, Nov 15, 1998
Birth of a National Icon: The Literary Avant-Garde and the Origins of the Intellectual in France, Venita Datta, SUNY Press, 1999