Action Française

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French Action
Action Française
General SecretaryOlivier Perceval
Founded20 June 1899; 123 years ago (1899-06-20)
Split fromLigue de la patrie française[3]
Headquarters10 rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, 75001 Paris
Student wingFédération nationale des étudiants d'Action française
Youth wingCamelots du Roi
Women's wingLadies of the French Action
Think tankInstitut d'Action française[4]
MembershipSteady 3,000 (early 2018 est.)[5][full citation needed]
Political positionFar-right[16][17]
ReligionRoman Catholicism
International affiliationInternational Monarchist Conference
Colours  Royal blue   Yellow
Slogan"All that is national is ours"
AnthemLa Royale[18]

Action Française (French pronunciation: ​[aksjɔ̃ fʁɑ̃sɛːz], AF; English: French Action) is a French far-right monarchist political movement. The name was also given to a journal associated with the movement.

The movement and the journal were founded by Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois in 1899, as a nationalist reaction against the intervention of left-wing intellectuals on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus. Charles Maurras quickly joined Action française and became its principal ideologist. Under the influence of Maurras, Action française became royalist, counter-revolutionary (objecting to the legacy of the French Revolution), anti-parliamentary and pro-decentralization, espousing corporatism, integralism and Catholicism.

Shortly after it was created, Action française tried to influence public opinion by turning its journal into a daily newspaper and by setting up other organizations. It was at its most prominent during the 1899–1914 period. In the inter-war period, the movement still enjoyed some prestige from support among conservative elites, but its popularity gradually declined as a result of the rise of fascism and of a rupture in its relations with the Catholic Church. During the Second World War, Action française supported the Vichy Regime and Marshal Philippe Pétain. After the fall of Vichy, its newspaper was banned and Maurras was sentenced to life imprisonment. The movement nevertheless continued in new publications and political associations, although with fading relevance as monarchism lost popularity, and French far-right movements shifted toward an emphasis on Catholic values and defense of classical French culture. It is seen by some as one progenitor of the current National Rally political party.[19][20]


The ideology of Action française was dominated by the precepts of Charles Maurras, following his adherence and his conversion of the movement's founders to royalism. The movement supported a restoration of the House of Bourbon and, after the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, the restoration of Roman Catholicism as the state religion, all as rallying points in distinction to the Third Republic of France which was considered corrupt and atheistic by many of its opponents.

The movement advocated decentralization (a "federal monarchy"), with the restoration of pre-Revolutionary liberties to the ancient provinces of France (replaced during the Revolution by the departmental system). It aimed to achieve a restoration by means of a coup d'état, probably involving a transitional authoritarian government.

Action française was not focused on denouncing one social or political group as the conspiratorial source of ills befalling France. Different groups of the French far-right had animuses against Jews, Huguenots (French Calvinists), and Freemasons. To these, Maurras added unspecific foreigners residing in France, who had been outside French law under the Ancien Régime, and to whom he invented a slur name derived from ancient Greek history: métèques. These four groups of "internal foreigners" Maurras called les quatre états confédérés and were all considered to be part of "Anti-France". He also opposed Marxism and the October Revolution, but antagonism against them did not have to be manufactured.


Founding and rise (1898–1914)[edit]

In 1899, Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois left the nationalist mouvement Ligue de la Patrie française and established a new movement, called Action française, and a new journal, Revue de l'Action française. This was their nationalist reaction against the intervention of left-wing intellectuals on the behalf of Alfred Dreyfus.[21]

Charles Maurras quickly joined Action française and became its principal ideologist. Under the influence of Maurras, Action française became monarchist, counter-revolutionary (objecting to the legacy of the French Revolution) and anti-democratic, and supported integralism and Catholicism. The Dreyfus affair gave some Catholics the impression that Catholicism is not compatible with democracy. Therefore, they regarded Action française as rampart of religion and the most fitting expression of the church doctrine regarding society.[21]

In its early years, Action française tried to influence public opinion and to spread its ideas. For example, it created related organizations, such as student groups.[22] The political organization of the movement, the Ligue d'Action Française, was launched in the spring of 1905, as was the Action Française Federation of Students, directed by Lucien Moreau.[23] L'Institut d'Action française was created in 1906 as an alternative institute for higher education.[22] In 1908 the movement's periodical was turned to a daily newspaper, called simply Action française.[21] Camelots du Roi, the movement's youth wing, was created in the same year to sell the newspaper in the streets. Its members also served as a paramilitary wing, providing security for meetings and engaging in street violence with political opponents. The newspaper's literary quality and polemical vigor attracted readers and made Maurras and the movement significant figures in French politics. By 1914, Action française was the best structured and the most vital nationalist movement in France.[22]

First World War and aftermath (1914–1926)[edit]

Ideas of post-WWI Europe by French extremists, published in Paris 1915; Germany is partitioned into several states, France gains territory to the east, the Swiss receive western Austria.

During the First World War, Action française supported the prime minister Georges Clemenceau and the will to defeat the Germans. France's victory in the war, and the movement's anti-German intransigence on the peace terms resulted in a peak of success, prestige and influence in the inter-war period. For example, in 1917 it moved into new spacious offices on the rue Caumartin, near St. Lazare train station.[22] However, in the French legislative elections of 16 November 1919 Bernard de Vésins, president of the Ligue d'Action française, was defeated in the first district of Paris.[24]

Action française exploited the disquiet aroused on the right by the victory of the left-wing coalition in 1924 (Cartel des gauches) and the horror of communism, sending about thirty candidates to the French parliament.[21][22] Well-known writers endorsed the movement, which advertised itself as the thinking man's party. Literary reviews, especially Revue universelle, spread the message of Action française. The polemics of the review, its personal attacks on leaders, and its systematic exploitation of scandals and crises helped detach some of the intellectuals from their allegiance to the republic and democracy. This agitation culminated in the 6 February 1934 crisis.

The successes shaped the ideology of Action française. It became more integrated into mainstream conservatism, stressing patriotism and Catholicism as opposed to monarchism.

Papal condemnation and decline[edit]

In spite of the movement's support for Roman Catholicism as a state religion and the fact that the vast majority of its members were practising Catholics (indeed, they included significant numbers of clergy), some Catholics regarded it with distrust.

Much of this was due to the influence of Maurras, an agnostic who advocated Catholicism as a factor of social cohesion and stability and a vital element of French tradition. This rather utilitarian view of religion disturbed many who otherwise agreed with him. Its influence on young Catholics was also considered unwholesome. Thus, on 29 December 1926, Pope Pius XI condemned Action française.

Several of Maurras's writings were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum at the same time, on 9 January 1927, with Action française being the first newspaper ever placed on the Catholic Church's list of banned books.[25] This was a devastating blow to the movement. On 8 March 1927, AF members were prohibited from receiving the sacraments. Many of its members left (two Catholics who were forced to look for a different path in politics and life were writers François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos); and it entered a period of decline.

In 1939, following the Spanish Civil War and a revival of anti-communism in the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII decided to end the condemnation. Thereafter, Action française claimed that the condemnation had been declared for political purposes.

Interwar revival[edit]

Despite the 1926 Papal condemnation, Action française remained popular during the interwar period, being one of the most important far-right leagues, along with the Croix-de-Feu and others. As increasing numbers of people in France (as in Europe as a whole) turned to authoritarian political movements, many turned to Action française. It thus continued to recruit members from the new generations, such as Robert Brasillach (who would become a collaborationist), the novelist and former deputy and ambassador Pierre Benoist, Thierry Maulnier, and Lucien Rebatet. It was marginally represented for a time in the Chamber of Deputies, particularly by Léon Daudet, elected in the right-wing Chambre bleue horizon (1919–1924).

However, with the rise of fascism and the creation of seemingly fascist leagues, added to the 1926 Papal condemnation, the royalist movement was weakened by various dissidents: Georges Valois would create the fascist Faisceau, Louis Dimier would break away, while other members (Eugène Deloncle, Gabriel Jeantet, etc.) created the terrorist La Cagoule group.

The retired Admiral Antoine Schwerer became president of the league in 1930, succeeding Bernard de Vésins in difficult circumstances. He was a talented orator.[26] At the December 1931 congress, "greeted by loud acclamation", he gave himself to a full presentation of "the general situation of France", external, financial, economic, interior and religious. He concluded with a passionate statement,[27]

... the situation is very dark. It would be almost desperate if there were not a cell that is not huge, but that is alive and is the only one able to animate the amorphous environment that surrounds it. This cell is the Action française. Every day more people understand it. There will always be imbeciles in France, men of bad faith, madmen and criminals; but there are in our midst a great many excellent elements now deceived and blinded. Our task is to enlighten them and then to train them to the assault. It requires a huge effort pursued with perseverance. The job is tough. We will not do it by sitting in a good armchair, in flowery salons, lavishing sweet smiles and honeyed words, fighting in white gloves with dainty foils. We must be ready for hard sacrifices. Are you all ready? You want the restoration of the Monarchy. Have you all done what is necessary to achieve this?[27]

Antoine Schwerer was forced by illness to retire to Brittany in 1935. He was succeeded as head of the league by François de Lassus.[27]

John Gunther wrote that of the more than 100 daily newspapers in Paris, only L'Humanité and Action Française were honest.[28] The group participated in the 6 February 1934 crisis, which led to the fall of the second Cartel des gauches and to the replacement of the centre-left Radical-Socialist Édouard Daladier by the centre-right Radical Gaston Doumergue. In foreign policy, Maurras and Bainville supported Pierre Laval's double alliance with Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy and with the United Kingdom in the Stresa Front (1935) on one side, and with the Soviet Union on the other side, against the common enemy Nazi Germany. The Action française greeted Franco's appearance with delight, and supported the self-proclaimed Caudillo during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). But the extra-parliamentary agitation brought by the far-right leagues, including the AF, led Pierre Laval's government to outlaw militias and paramilitary leagues, leading to the dissolution of the AF on 13 February 1936[29] – the other leagues were dissolved only in June 1936 by the Popular Front.

Marshal Philippe Pétain's proclamation of the Vichy regime and of the Révolution nationale after the failure of the Battle of France was acclaimed by Maurras as a "divine surprise", and he rallied the collaborationist regime. Royalist members hoped that Pétain would restore the monarchy, and the headquarters of the movement were moved from Paris to Vichy. However, the AF members were split between supporting the counter-revolutionary regime and their nationalism: after 1942, and in particular in 1943, some members, such as Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie, Pierre Guillain de Bénouville or Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves joined the Resistance or escaped to join the Free French Forces. Others actively collaborated, while Maurras supported the Vichy government, but theoretically opposed Pétain's collaboration with the Germans. After the Liberation, he was condemned to life imprisonment in 1944, though he was reprieved in 1952. Action française was dissolved in 1944.

After World War II[edit]

Election campaign poster by the Action Française Party in favour of Frexit

Action française reformed itself in 1947, under the influence of Maurice Pujo, who created the newspaper Aspects de la France (AF) and the counter-revolutionary movement, "la Restauration Nationale" ("National Restoration"). After the death of Maurras in 1952, two rival newspapers, Aspects de la France and Pierre Boutang's La Nation française revived the Maurrassian legacy, until the demise of La Nation française in 1967.

In 1971, a breakaway movement, the "Nouvelle Action française" was formed by Bertrand Renouvin, Georges-Paul Wagner and others. It subsequently became the Nouvelle Action Royaliste (NAR), which supported the Orleanist heir (although in his 1968 reprinting of his study on the three French right-wing families, René Rémond still classified it in the legitimist movement because of its counter-revolutionary ideology). The movement called for the support of François Mitterrand in the 1981 presidential election, instead of supporting Jacques Chirac's "neo-Gaullism" movement (the Gaullists are classed by René Rémond as Bonapartists) or Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's "Orleanist" movement (because of his support of economic liberalism).

In the beginning of the 1980s, various AF figures, such as Georges-Paul Wagner or Philippe Colombani [fr] joined the ranks of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN). Until the 1999 breakaway of the National Republican Movement (MNR) led by Bruno Mégret, Jean-Marie Le Pen's success was partly explained by his unification of the various far right families (such as traditionalist Catholics, royalists, neofascists, etc.) which share few ideals apart from a distrust of liberal democracy and a staunch anti-communism.

In the 1990s, the leader of the movement was Pierre Pujo (Maurice Pujo's son), who died in Paris on 10 November 2007.[30] The student movement, called Action française étudiante, has approximately 15 local delegations (in places such as Paris, Normandy, Rennes, Bordeaux, and Forez) and a newspaper, Insurrection. Its president is Oliver Perceval.

Action française today[edit]

Action française has 3,000 adherents in 2018, grew from 18% in 2017 and 53% between 2013 and 2018. The movement stands for a traditional, hereditary, anti-parliamentary and decentralized monarchy and is strongly anti-European Union. The organization sees itself as a thinktank and not a political party. The movement presents ideas to answer to all issues regarding national interest such as sovereignty, ecology, and globalization.[31]

Political line[edit]

Politically, Action Française remains a royalist, nationalist, and counter-revolutionary movement. Its objective is to restore "a sovereign state fully exercising its regalian functions" in France through the establishment of a decentralized and representative monarchy that guarantees the "just exercise of lasting power". Politically, the movement advocates the establishment of a monarchy "adapted to our times that is not a return to an ancient order but a serious response to current issues" with the Orleans family at its head. The movement also supports the idea of a "royalist compromise around the monarchy".[31]

  • AF is opposed to the European Union, which it describes as unitary and utopian in spirit. Thus, in its words, "the EU would have put in place a centralizing federalist system", a transfer of sovereignty of nations to European bodies.
  • Refusing the "party system", Action Française puts the salvation of the nation above all individual and partisan interests, in accordance with its slogan "All that is national is ours". As the heir of Charles Maurras's ideas, Action Française remains unparliamentary.
  • Arguing that the family is the foundation of the nation and that there can only be marriage between one man and one woman, AF participated in 2012 and 2013 in La Manif pour tous and the Printemps français against the legalization of same-sex marriage, adoption of children by homosexuals, surrogate motherhood, and medically-assisted procreation.


The official entity of the organisation is called "Centre royaliste d'Action française", even if the forbidden name is used in the communication of the movement. It publishes a magazine called Le bien commun.

The AF is organized in region federations, in which stand local school, student, and workers sections. Those sections circulate their ideas and debate in circles. The most known is the Parisian literary circle, "Cercle de Flore", which invites French conservatory and right wing authors intelligentsia. Most of the circles are internal and are designed to train young members to the ideas of the movement. This is the case of the Parisian Charles Maurras circle which gathers the Parisian students.

Following its tradition, the movement edits a newspaper which is sold by its supporters in the street. This allows the young adherents to learn how to debate and publicly defend their ideas. Each year, on the second Sunday of May, a traditional cortege in honour of Joan of Arc is organized.[32]

During and after the manifestations "la manif pour tous" (2013–2014) opposing the Same-sex marriage in France, Action Française created "le printemps français", an activist submovement, and grew a lot recruiting a young generation.[33]

The students of the movement have organized a summer university called "camp Maxime-Real del Sarte" since 1953, gathering approximately 200 activists.[34]

Action française is active on the Internet and is followed by 11,000 accounts on Twitter and 24,000 people on Facebook. The movement uses YouTube videos and memes to spread its ideas.[35]

Judgment of political scientists[edit]

Classification as fascist[edit]

In 1965, the German historian Ernst Nolte claimed that Action française was fascist.[36] He considered Action française to be the first fascist party.

Certain present-day scholars disagree with Nolte's view. For example, in 1999, the British historian Richard Thurlow[37] claimed that "his [Nolte's] linking of Action française to the fascist tradition was misleading".[38] Later, René Rémond and Stanley G. Payne described the differences between Action française and Italian fascism.[21][39]

Influence on national syndicalism and fascism[edit]

In the books Neither Right nor Left[40] and The Birth of Fascist Ideology,[41] Zeev Sternhell claimed that Action française influenced national syndicalism and, consequently, fascism. According to Sternhell, national syndicalism was formed by the combination between the integral nationalism of Action française and the revolutionary syndicalism of Georges Sorel. National syndicalism spread to Italy, and was later a part of the doctrine of Italian fascist movement. In France, national syndicalism influenced the non-conformists of the 1930s. Based on the views of the non-conformists themselves, Sternhell argued that the non-conformists were actually a French form of fascism.

René Rémond's classification[edit]

Although it supported the Orléanist branch, according to historian René Rémond's categorization of French right-wing families, it would be closer to the legitimist branch, characterized by a complete rejection of all changes to France since the 1789 French Revolution. According to Rémond, supporters of the Orléanist branch tended to favour economic liberalism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Osgood, Samuel M. (21 November 2013). French Royalism Since 1870, Springer. p. 56. ISBN 978-94-017-5071-4. retrieved 2016-03-09
  2. ^ Biographical notice on Maurras on the Académie française's website (in French)
  3. ^ Rémond, René (2006), "Action française", in Lawrence D. Kritzman (ed.), The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 8. ISBN 978-0-231-10790-7.
  4. ^ Nolte, Ernst (1965). Three Faces of Fascism: Action Française, Italian Fascism, National Socialism. New York: Mentor. p. 128.
  5. ^ "Action française 2000 ne paraîtra plus".
  6. ^ Stéphane Piolenc (21 April – 4 May 2011). "Pour un compromis... royaliste!". L'Action française 2000. p. 13.
  7. ^ René Rémond (1954). Les Droites en France. Aubier. ISBN 9782700705348.
  8. ^ Mayeur, Jean-Marie (1987). The Third Republic from Its Origins to the Great War, 1871–1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 298.
  9. ^ Laurent Dandrieu, Valeurs Actuelles, link to be provided
  10. ^ David Miller, Janet Coleman, William Connolly, Alan Ryan. The Blackwell encyclopaedia of political thought. Second Edition. Malden, Massachusetts, USA; Oxford, England, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 1991 Pp. 328.
  11. ^ Badie, Bertrand; Berg-Schlosser, Dirk; Morlino, Leonardo, eds. (7 September 2011). International Encyclopedia of Political Science. SAGE Publications (published 2011). ISBN 9781483305394. Retrieved 9 September 2020. ... fascist Italy ... developed a state structure known as the corporate state with the ruling party acting as a mediator between 'corporations' making up the body of the nation. Similar designs were quite popular elsewhere in the 1930s. The most prominent examples were Estado Novo in Portugal (1932–1968) and Brazil (1937–1945), the Austrian Standestaat (1933–1938), and authoritarian experiments in Estonia, Romania, and some other countries of East and East-Central Europe,
  12. ^ Jacques Prévotat (2 November 2004). L'action française. Presses universitaires de France. p. 78.
  13. ^ David Brown, Contemporary Nationalism, Routledge, 2003, p. 68.
  14. ^ Eugen Weber (1985). L'Action française. Fayard. p. 47.
  15. ^ Rao, John. "Catholicism, Liberalism and the Right: A Sketch From the 1920s". Faith and Reason, Spring 1983, pp. 9–31.
  16. ^ Girardet Raoul (1957). "L'héritage de l'Action française". Revue française de science politique. pp. 765-792.
  17. ^ Nonna Mayer (2002). La Restauration nationale. Un mouvement royaliste sous la 5e République. Éditions Syllepse. Mauvais temps. ISBN 978-2-913165-87-8. Quote: "Born from the fallout of the 1870 war and the Dreyfus Affair, Action Française disappeared in 1944, compromised by its links with the Vichy regime. It was reborn in 1945 through a clandestine publication. Slowly, the supporters of the monarchy and of Marshal Pétain rebuilt their networks. On the eve of the Algerian war, the royalist organization was reconstituted under the name of Restauration nationale. It sided with the supporters of French Algeria and the Secret Army Organization found in it one of its best supporters. This reappearance of the royalist current on the political scene, and its permanence during the last 50 years, will mark the post-war history of the extreme right in France." ["Née des retombées de la guerre de 1870 et de l'Affaire Dreyfus, l'Action française disparaît en 1944, compromise par ses liens avec le régime de Vichy. Elle renaît dès 1945 à travers une publication clandestine. Lentement, les partisans de la monarchie et du maréchal Pétain reconstruisent leurs réseaux. À la veille de la guerre d'Algérie, l'organisation royaliste est reconstituée sous le nom de Restauration nationale. Elle se range aux côtés des partisans de l'Algérie française et l'Organisation de l'armée secrète trouve en elle un de ses meilleurs soutiens. Cette réapparition du courant royaliste sur la scène politique, et sa permanence durant ces 50 dernières années, va marquer l'histoire d'après-guerre de l'extrême droite en France."].
  18. ^ "La Royale (The Royal) - Anthem of the Action Française"
  19. ^ DeClair 1999, pp. 13–17.
  20. ^ Day, Alan John (2002). Political parties of the world. University of Michigan. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-9536278-7-5.
  21. ^ a b c d e Rémond, René (2006). "Action française". In Lawrence D. Kritzman (ed.). The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-231-10790-7.
  22. ^ a b c d e Judaken, Jonathan (2005). "Action française". In Richard S. Levy (ed.). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. Santa Barbara, California, United States of America: ABC-CLIO. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-85109-439-4.
  23. ^ Joly, Laurent (July 2006), "Les débuts de l'Action française (1899–1914) ou l'élaboration d'un nationalisme antisémite", Revue Historique (in French), Presses Universitaires de France, 308 (3 (639)): 701, JSTOR 40957800
  24. ^ Leymarie, Michel; Prévotat, Jacques (10 February 2008), L' Action française: culture, société, politique (in French), Presses Univ. Septentrion, p. 139, ISBN 978-2-7574-0043-2, retrieved 28 July 2017
  25. ^ "Holy See Bans French Paper". Salt Lake Tribune. 10 January 1927. p. 1.
  26. ^ Callu 2008, p. 97.
  27. ^ a b c Callu 2008, p. 100.
  28. ^ Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 179–180.
  29. ^ "Cercle Jacques Decour (Chronology)". Archived 2008-01-11 at the Wayback Machine (in French)
  30. ^ "Mort d'un grand patriote" (in French). Archived from the original on 9 December 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  31. ^ a b "A l'ultra-droite, l'Action française entre souvenir de Maurras et "actions coup de poing"". 21 June 2018.
  32. ^ Erwan Lecœur (dir.)Dictionnaire de l'extrême droite, Paris, Larousse, 2007
  33. ^ "Ex-para, ultracathos et fachos : Les visages du Printemps français". 10 April 2013.
  34. ^ "Qui espère encore en France le rétablissement de la monarchie?". 13 December 2017.
  35. ^ "Youtubeurs, " mèmes " et Tweet cinglants… la féroce bataille des royalistes sur Internet". Le 21 February 2018.
  36. ^ Nolte, Ernst (1965). Three Faces of Fascism: Action Française, Italian fascism, National Socialism. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  37. ^ For details about Thurlow, see "Mr. Richard Thurlow". Department of History Staff. The University of Sheffield. 14 November 2011. Archived from the original on 16 January 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  38. ^ Thurlow, Richard (1999). Fascism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-521-59872-9.
  39. ^ Payne, Stanley G. (2001). A history of fascism, 1914-1945 (reprinted ed.). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 292. ISBN 978-1-85728-595-6.
  40. ^ Sternhell, Zeev (1996). Neither Right Nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France (First Princeton Paperback printing ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00629-6.
  41. ^ Sternhell, Zeev; Sznajder, Mario; Ashéri, Maia (1995). The birth of fascist ideology: from cultural rebellion to political revolution (Third printing, and first paperback printing ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03289-0.

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