Charles Maurras in his library
20 April 1868|
Martigues, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
|Died||16 November 1952
|Part of a series on|
Charles-Marie-Photius Maurras (French: [ʃaʁl moʁas]; 20 April 1868 – 16 November 1952) was a French author, poet, and critic. He was a leader and principal thinker of Action Française, a political movement that was monarchist, anti-parliamentarist, and counter-revolutionary. Maurras' ideas greatly influenced National Catholicism and "nationalisme integral". A major tenet of integral nationalism was put forth by Maurras as "A true nationalist places his country above everything". A political theorist, a major intellectual influence in early 20th-century Europe, his views anticipated some of the ideas of fascism.
Before World War I
Maurras was born in an old Provençal family, and brought up by his mother and grandmother in a Catholic and monarchist environment. In his early teens he became deaf. Like many other French politicians, he was heavily affected by the defeat during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. After the 1871 Commune and the 1879 defeat of Marshall Mac-Mahon's Moral Order government, French society slowly found a consensus for the Republic, symbolized by the rallying of the Orleanists to the Republic. In his youth, Maurras was a disciple of the poet Frédéric Mistral and shared the federalist thesis of the Provençal Félibrige movement. He published his first article, at 17 years-old, in the Annales de philosophie chrétienne review. He then collaborated to various reviews, including L’Événement, La Revue bleue, La Gazette de France or La Revue encyclopédique, where he praised Classicism and attacked Romanticism.
However, some time in his youth, Maurras lost his faith and became an agnostic over time. At the age of seventeen he came to Paris and started literary criticism in 1887 in the Catholic and Orleanist Observateur. At this time, Maurras was influenced by Orleanism, as well as German philosophy reviewed by Léon Ollé-Laprune, an influence of Bergson, or by the philosopher Maurice Blondel, one of the inspirations of Christian "modernists" who would later become his most bitter opponents. He came to know the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral in 1888 and shared the federalist thesis of Mistral's Félibrige movement. The same year he met the nationalist writer Maurice Barrès.
Beside this Orleanist affiliation, Maurras shared some traits with Bonapartism. In December 1887, he demonstrated to the cry of "Down with the robbers!" during the decorations scandal which had involved Daniel Wilson, the son-in-law of the President Jules Grévy. Despite this, he opposed at first the Boulangist movement. But in 1889, after a visit to Maurice Barrès, Barrès voted for the Boulangist candidate; despite his "anti-semitism of the heart" ("anti-sémitisme de coeur"), he decided to vote for a Jew.
In 1894–95 he briefly worked in Barrès' La Cocarde (The Cockade)'s newspaper, although he sometimes opposed Barrès on his views on the French Revolution. La Cocarde supported General Boulanger who almost toppled the Republic in the late 1880s.
During a trip to Athens for the First Olympic Games in 1896, he came to criticize the Greek democratic system of the polis, which he considered doomed because of its internal divisions and its openness towards métèques (foreigners).
He became involved in politics at the time of the Dreyfus affair, appearing at the forefront of the Anti-Dreyfusard side. He supported Colonel Henry's forgery blaming Dreyfus, as he considered that defending Dreyfus weakened the Army and the Justice system. According to Maurras, Dreyfus was to be sacrificed on the altar of national interest. But when the Republican nationalist thinker Barrès accused Dreyfus of being guilty because of his Jewishness, Maurras went a step further, vilifying the "Jewish Republic". While Barrès' anti-Semitism found its roots both in the pseudo-scientific racist contemporary theories and on Biblical exegesis, Maurras decried "scientific racism" in favor of a more radical "state anti-Semitism."
In 1899 he founded the Action Française (AF) review, an offshoot of the newspaper created by Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois the preceding year. Maurras quickly became influential in the movement, and converted Pujo and Vaugeois to monarchism, which became the movement's principal cause. With Léon Daudet he edited the movement's review La Revue de l'Action Française, which in 1908 became a daily newspaper under the shorter title L'Action Française. The AF mixed integral nationalism with reactionary themes, shifting the nationalist ideology, beforehand supported by left-wing Republicans, to the right-side of the political field. It found a wide readership during the implementation of the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State. In 1899 he wrote a short notice in favour of monarchy, "Dictateur et roi" ("Dictator and King"), and then in 1900 his "Enquête sur la monarchie" (Investigations on Monarchy), published in the Legitimist mouthpiece La Gazette de France, which made him famous. Maurras also published thirteen articles in Le Figaro in 1901 and 1902, as well as six articles between November 1902 and January 1903 in Edouard Drumont's anti-Semitic newspaper, La Libre Parole.
Between 1905 and 1908, when the Camelots du Roy monarchist league was founded, Maurras introduced the concept of political activism through extra-parliamentary leagues, theorizing the possibility of a coup d'état. Maurras also founded the Ligue d'Action Française in 1905, whose mission was to recruit members for the Action Française, with the aim of establishing the Duc de Guise on the throne.
From World War I to the end of the 1930s
Maurras then supported France's entry into World War I (even to the extent of supporting the thoroughly republican Georges Clemenceau) against the German Empire. During the war, the Jewish businessman Emile Ullman was forced to resign from the board of directors of the Comptoir d'Escompte after Maurras accused him of being a German agent. He then criticized the Treaty of Versailles for not being harsh enough on the Germans and condemned Aristide Briand's policy of cooperation with Germany.
In 1925 he called for the murder of Abraham Schrameck, the Interior Minister of Paul Painlevé's Cartel des Gauches's (Left-Wing Cartel) government, who had ordered the disarming of the Far right leagues. For this death threat, he was sentenced to a year on parole. He also threatened to death the President of the Council Léon Blum, leader of the Popular Front, in the Action Française of 15 May 1936, underscoring his Jewish origins (he once called him an "old semitic camel".) This other death threat earned him eight months of prison, from 29 October 1936 to 6 July 1937. Fearing Communism, he joined the pacifists' camp and praised the Munich Agreement in 1938, which the President of the Council Édouard Daladier had signed without any illusions. He also wrote in Action Française:
"There are certain conservatives in France who fill us with disgust. Why? Because of their stupidity. What kind of stupidity? Hitlerism. These French "conservatives" crawl on their bellies before Hitler. These former nationalists cringe before him. A few zealots wallow in dirt, in their own dirt, with endless Heils. The wealthier they are, the more they own, the more important it is to make them understand that if Hitler invaded us he would skin them much more thoroughly than Blum, Thorez and Stalin combined. This "conservative" error is suicidal. We must appeal to our friends not to let themselves be befogged. We must tell them: Be on your guard! What is now at stake is not anti-democracy or anti-Semitism. France above all!"
During 1930s – especially after the 6 February 1934 crisis—many of Action Française members turned to fascism, such as Robert Brasillach, Lucien Rebatet, Abel Bonnard, Paul Chack, Claude Jeantet, etc. Most of them belonged to the staff of the fascist newspaper Je suis partout.
Influencing António de Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo regime in Portugal, Maurras also supported Francisco Franco and, until spring 1939, Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime. Opposing Adolf Hitler because of his germanophobia, Maurras himself criticized the racist policies of Nazism in 1936, and requested an integral translation of Mein Kampf – some of its passages had been censored in the French edition.
After his failure against Charles Jonnart in 1924 to be elected to the Académie française', he succeeded in entering the ranks of the "Immortals" on 9 June 1938, replacing Henri-Robert, winning by 20 votes against 12 to Fernand Gregh. He was received in the Academy on 8 June 1939 by Henry Bordeaux.
Vichy regime, arrest and death
Although in June 1940 articles in Action Française signed by Maurras, Léon Daudet and Maurice Pujo praised General Charles de Gaulle, Maurras quickly came to acclaim the fall of the Third Republic, replaced by Marshal Philippe Pétain's Vichy France, as a "divine surprise". Vichy's reactionary program of a Révolution Nationale (National Revolution) was fully approved of by the leader of the Action Française, who inspired large parts of it. The monarchist newspaper was forbidden in the Occupied Zone and under Vichy censorship in the Southern Zone from November 1942. In La Seule France (1941) Maurras argued for a policy of France d'abord ("France First"), whereby France would restore itself politically and morally under Pétain, resolving the root causes in his eyes of France's defeat in 1940, before dealing with the issue of the foreign occupation. This position was contrasted to the attitude of the Gaullists, who fled France and continued the military struggle. Maurras savaged the pre-war French governments for taking an increasingly bellicose position vis a vis Germany at precisely the same time that these governments were weakening France, militarily, socially and politically, thereby making France's downfall in 1940 all but inevitable. Maurras also criticized the 1940 Statute on Jews for being too moderate. At the same time he continued to express elements of his longstanding germanophobia by arguing in La Seule France that Frenchmen must not be drawn to the German model and by hosting anti-German conferences and he opposed both the "dissidents" in London and the collaborators in Paris and Vichy (such as Lucien Rebatet, Robert Brasillach, Pierre Laval, or Marcel Déat). In 1943, the Germans planned to arrest Charles Maurras.
An admirer (before the war) of Charles de Gaulle, who himself had been influenced by Maurras' integralism, he then harshly criticized the General in exile. He later claimed he believed that Pétain was playing a "double game", working for an Allied victory in secret.
Maurras was arrested in September 1944 with Maurice Pujo, and indicted by High Court of Lyon for "complicity with the enemy" on the basis of articles published by Maurras since the war. At the issue of the trial, during which there were many irregularities in the proceedings (such as false dating or truncated quotations), Maurras was sentenced to life imprisonment and deprivation of civil liberties. He was automatically expelled from the Académie française (a measure included in the 26 December 1944 ordinance). His response to his conviction was to exclaim "C'est la revanche de Dreyfus!" (It's Dreyfus's revenge!) Meanwhile the Académie française declared his seat vacant instead of expelling him, as it had done for Pétain, sparing him the fate of Abel Hermant and Abel Bonnard. They waited until his death to elect his successor, Antoine de Lévis-Mirepoix, who was himself close to the Action Française and collaborated with Pierre Boutang's La Nation Française monarchist review.
Imprisoned in Riom and then Clairvaux, Maurras was released in March 1952 to enter a hospital, assisted by the writer Henry Bordeaux, who repeatedly asked President of the Republic Vincent Auriol to pardon Maurras. He was transferred to a clinic in Tours, where he soon died. Although weakened he collaborated with Aspects de la France, which had replaced the outlawed Action Française review in 1947. In his last days, he returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood.
Maurras and Félibrige
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
See the main article: Félibrige.
Maurras' political thought
Central to Maurras' political ideas were an intense nationalism (what he described as "integral nationalism") and a belief in an ordered society based on a strong leadership. These were the bases of his support for both a French monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. Yet he had no personal loyalty to the house of Bourbon-Orléans, and was a convinced agnostic for nearly all of his adult life.
He formulated an aggressive political strategy, which contrasted with the Legitimists' apathy for political action. He managed to bring together the paradox of a reactionary thought which would actively change history, a form of Counter-revolution opposed to simple conservatism. His "integral nationalism" rejected all democratic principles which he judged contrary to "natural inequality", criticizing all evolution since the 1789 French Revolution and advocated the return to a hereditary monarchy.
Like many people in Europe at the time, he was haunted by the idea of "decadence", partly inspired by his reading of Taine and Renan, and admired classicism. He felt that France had lost its grandeur during the Revolution of 1789, a grandeur inherited from its origins as a province of the Roman Empire and forged by, as he put it, "forty kings who in a thousand years made France." The French Revolution, he wrote in the Observateur Français, was negative and destructive.
He traced this decline further back, to the Enlightenment and the Reformation; he described the source of the evil as "Swiss ideas", a reference to the adopted nation of Calvin and the birth nation of Rousseau. Maurras further blamed France's decline on "Anti-France", which he defined as the "four confederate states of Protestants, Jews, Freemasons and foreigners" (his actual word for the latter being the xenophobic term of métèques). Indeed, to him the first three were all "internal foreigners."
Antisemitism and anti-Protestantism were common themes in his writings. He believed that the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the eventual outcome of the French Revolution had all contributed to individuals putting themselves before the nation, with consequent negative effects on the latter, and that democracy and liberalism were only making matters worse.
Although Maurras advocated the return of monarchy, in many ways Maurras did not fit into the French monarchist tradition at all. His support for the monarchy and for Catholicism was explicitly pragmatic, as he felt that a state religion was the only way of maintaining public order. By contrast with Maurice Barrès, a theorist of a kind of Romantic nationalism based on the Ego, Maurras claimed to base his views on reason rather than on sentiment, loyalty and faith.
Paradoxically, he admired the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte, like many of the Third Republic leaders he detested, in which he found a counter-balance to German idealism. Whereas the Legitimist monarchists declined to engage in political action, retreating into an intransigently conservative Catholicism and an indifference to a modern world they saw as irredeemably wicked and apostate, Maurras was prepared to engage in political action, both orthodox and unorthodox (the Action Française's Camelots du Roi league frequently engaged in street violence with left-wing opponents, as well as Marc Sangnier's Le Sillon). His slogan was the phrase "La politique d'abord!" ("Politics first!"). Other influences included Frédéric Le Play, English empiricists, who allowed him to reconcile Cartesian rationalism with empiricism, and La Tour du Pin.
Maurras' religious views were likewise less than orthodox. He supported the political Catholic Church both because it was intimately bound up with French history and because its hierarchical structure and clerical elite mirrored his image of an ideal society. He considered the Church to be the mortar which held France together, and the chain linking all Frenchmen together. However, he distrusted the Gospels, written, as he put it, "by four obscure Jews", but admired the Catholic Church for having allegedly concealed much of the Bible's "dangerous teachings". Maurras' interpretation of the Gospels and his integralist teachings were fiercely criticised by many Catholic clergy. However, towards the end of his life Maurras eventually converted from agnosticism to Catholicism.
Notwithstanding his religious unorthodoxy, Maurras gained a large following among French monarchists and Catholics, including the Assumptionists and the Orleanist pretender to the French throne, the count of Paris. Nonetheless, his agnosticism worried parts of the Catholic hierarchy and in 1926, Pope Pius XI placed some of Maurras's writings on the Index of Forbidden Books and condemned the Action Française movement as a whole. Seven of Maurras' books has already been placed on this list in 1914 and a dossier on Maurras had been submitted to Pius X. However, unlike Pius XI, he took no action on this dossier.
It should be noted that it was not just his agnosticicm which worried the Catholic hierarchy but that by insisting upon politiques d'abord he questioned the primacy of the spiritual and thus the teaching authority of the Church and the authority of the Pope himself. That this was the heart of the matter is shown by Jacques Maritain's book Primauté du Spirituel. Maritain was associated with L’Action Française and knew Maurras. While his unease with the movement pre-dates the 1926 crisis, it was this which occasioned his split from Maurras and L’Action Française. This papal condemnation was a great shock to many of his followers, who included a not inconsiderable number of French clergy, and caused great damage to the Action Française. It was lifted however in 1939, a year after Maurras was elected to the Académie française.
The legacy of Maurras
Maurras is the main intellectual influence of National Catholicism, Far Right movements, Latin Conservatism, and integral nationalism. He and the Action Française influenced many people and movements including General Francisco Franco, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, António Sardinha, Leon Degrelle, and autonomist movements in Europe. The Christian Democrat Jacques Maritain was also close to Maurras before the papal condemnation of the AF in 1927, and criticized democracy in one of his early writing, Une opinion sur Charles Maurras ou le devoir des catholiques. Furthermore, Maurrassism also influenced many writings from members of the Organisation de l'armée secrète who theorized "counter-revolutionary warfare". In Spain, the Acción Española took not only its far right monarchism but also its name from Maurras's movement.
The influence extended to Latin America, such as in Mexico where Jesús Guiza y Acevedo, was nicknamed "the little Maurras", as well as the historian Carlos Pereyra or the Venezuelan author Vanenilla Lanz, who wrote a book titled Cesarismo democratico (Democratic Caesarism). Others figures influenced include the Brazilian Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Maurras' thought also influenced Catholic fundamentalist supporters of the Brazilian dictatorship (1964–85) as well as the Cursillos de la Cristiandad (Christian Courses), similar to the Cité Catholique group, which were founded in 1950 by the bishop of Ciudad Real, Mgr. Hervé. The Argentine militarist Juan Carlos Onganía, who overthrew Arturo Illia in a military putsch in 1969, as well as Alejandro Agustín Lanusse, who succeeded Onganía after another coup, had participated in the Cursillos de la Cristiandad, as did also the Dominican militarists Antonio Imbert Barrera and Elías Wessin y Wessin, chief of staff of the military and an opponent of the restoration of the 1963 Constitution after Rafael Trujillo's overthrow. In Argentina his influence was also felt amongst the nationalist writers of the 1920s and 1930s such as Rodolfo Irazusta and Juan Carulla.
- Biographical notice on Maurras on the Académie française's website (French)
- Alain-Gérard Slama, "Maurras (1858 (sic)-1952): ou le mythe d'une droite révolutionnaire", article first published in L'Histoire in 2002 (French)
- Biographical notice on Maurras on the Action Française's website (French)
- Winock, Michel (dir.), Histoire de l'extrême droite en France (1993)
- Action Française, 25 March 1938. Quoted in Leopold Schwarzschild, World in Trance (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1943), p. 268.
- Bruno Goyet, Charles Maurras, Presses de Sciences Po, 1999, p.73
- François-Marin Fleutot, Des Royalistes dans la Résistance (Flammarion, 2000)
- Le Petit Marseillais, February 9, 1941. Quoted by Bruno Goyet, op.cit., p.84
- Jean Sévillia, Historiquement correct, Tempus, 2006, p.365
- Jean Madiran, Maurras toujours là, Consep, 2004, p.71–72
- In 1942, Rebatet published "Les Décombres" ("The Ruins"), a virulent pamphlet in which he strongly opposed the "en-jewed" Action Française.
- See for example Henri Amouroux, La Vie des Français sous l'Occupation. T2: Les Années noires, Livre de Poche, 1961, p.342 ;
Bruno Goyet, op.cit., p.82 ;
Jean Sévillia, op.cit., p.365
- Robert Paxton, La France de Vichy, Seuil, 1973, p.246
- Robert Aron, Histoire de l'épuration (second volume), Fayard, 1969, p.365, 366, 367.
Listing these irregularities, Robert Aron describes Maurras' trial as "one of the most pathetic and most characteristic of the épuration" (page 362).
- See, for example, this extract from his Dictionnaire politique et critique.
- Le Chemin du Paradis, 1894
- Miguel Rojas-Mix, "Maurras en Amérique latine", Le Monde diplomatique, November 1980 (republished in Manières de voir n°95, "Les droites au pouvoir", October–November 2007)
- Stanley G. Payne, Spain's First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931–1936, 1993, p. 171
- Sandra McGee Deutsch, Las Derechas, 1999, p. 197
- Michael Curtis, Three Against the Third Republic: Sorel, Barrès and Maurras, Transaction Publishers, 2010.
- Maurras.net online library : works of Charles Maurras (in French).
- Charles Maurras, Shaper of an Age by Thomas Molnar.
- Dreyfus Rehabilitated