Non-conformists of the 1930s

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The non-conformists of the 1930s were groups and individuals during the inter-war period in France that were seeking new solutions to face the political, economical and social crisis. The name was coined in 1969 by the historian Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle to describe a movement which revolved around Emmanuel Mounier's personalism. They attempted to find a "third (communitarian) alternative" between socialism and capitalism, and opposed both liberalism/parliamentarism/democracy and fascism.[1][2]

Main currents[edit]

Three main currents of non-conformists may be distinguished:

These young intellectuals (most were about 25 years old) all considered that France was confronted by a "civilisation crisis" and opposed, despite their differences, what Mounier called the "established disorder" (le désordre établi). The latter was represented by capitalism, individualism, economic liberalism and materialism. Opposed both to Fascism and to Communism (qualified for the first as a "false Fascist-spiritualism [4]" and for the latter as plain materialism), they aimed at creating the conditions of a "spiritual revolution" which would simultaneously transform Man and things. They called for a "New Order", beyond individualism and collectivism, oriented towards a "federalist," "communautary and personalist" organisation of social relations.

The Non-Conformists were influenced both by French socialism, in particular by Proudhonism (an important influence of Ordre nouveau) and by Social Catholicism, which permeated Esprit and the Jeune Droite. They inherited from both currents a form of scepticism towards politics, which explains some anti-statism stances, and renewed interest in social and economical transformations.[5] Foreign influences were more restricted, and were limited to the discovery of the "precursors of existentialism" (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Max Scheler) and contacts between Ordre nouveau and several members of the German Conservative Revolutionary movement.[6] They were in favor of decentralization, underscored the importance of intermediary bodies, and opposed finance capitalism.[6]

The movement was close to liberalism in the attention given to civil society and in its distrust of the state; but it also criticized liberal individualism and its negligence of "intermediate bodies" (family, village, etc.[7] — the reactionary writer Maurice Barrès also insisted on the latter). They were characterized by the will to find a "Third Way" between Socialism and Capitalism, individualism and collectivism, idealism and materialism and the left–right distinction in politics.[8]

After the February 6, 1934 riots organized by far-right leagues, the Non-Conformists split toward various directions. Bertrand de Jouvenel made the link between the Non-Conformists and the supporters of planisme, a new economical theory invented by the Belgian Henri de Man, as well as with the technocratic Groupe X-Crise. They influenced both Vichy's Révolution nationale (Jeune France, Ecole des cadres d'Uriage, etc.) and political programs of the Resistance (Combat, Défense de la France, OCM, etc.) In November 1941, René Vincent, in charge of Vichy censorship services, created the journal Idées (1941–44) which gathered the Non-Conformists who supported Marshal Philippe Pétain's regime.[9]

Post-war legacy[edit]

After World War II, many of these Non-Conformists (Robert Aron, Daniel-Rops, Jean de Fabrègues, Denis de Rougemont, Alexandre Marc, Thierry Maulnier) became activists of European federalist movements. The founder of Ordre nouveau, Alexandre Marc, became in 1946 the first secretary of the Union of European Federalists.[10] He would then create the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE) in 1954, which lives on to this day.

Breaking with part of its legacy, Esprit involved itself in New Left movements and would also influence in the 1970s the "Second Left", gathered around the Unified Socialist Party (PSU).

After May '68, some environmentalist movements renewed with this "spirit of the 1930s" (in particular Denis de Rougemont or Jacques Ellul). They have also influenced Christian Democracy.

Abroad, the Non-Conformists found an audience in Quebec between the 1930s to the 1970s or among Eastern European dissidents, and would also influence Catholic circles in the second half of the 20th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Account of Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle's book in the Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions n°118, on the EHESS website (in French)
  2. ^ John Hellman (2002). Communitarian Third Way: Alexandre Marc and Ordre Nouveau, 1930-2000. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7735-2376-0. 
  3. ^ Biographical notice of Jean Coutrot, Centre d'histoire de Sciences Po (in French)
  4. ^ Prospectus de présentation de la revue "Esprit" Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine., presented by Alain-Gérard Slama, on-line course of Sciences Po, 18 May 2007 (in French)
  5. ^ Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, A 2001 Interview (p.3) in the Revue Jibrile (in French)
  6. ^ a b Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, A 2001 Interview (p.4) in the Revue Jibrile (in French)
  7. ^ Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, A 2001 Interview (p.5) in the Revue Jibrile (in French)
  8. ^ Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, A 2001 Interview (p.6) in the Revue Jibrile (in French)
  9. ^ Antoine Guyader (preface by Pascal Ory), La Revue Idées — Des Non-Conformistes en Révolution Nationale, L'Harmattan, ISBN 2-296-01038-5 (in French)
  10. ^ Janpier Dutrieux 2006 Personnaliste et fédéraliste, le monde d’Alexandre Marc (in French)


Further reading[edit]

  • Pierre Andreu, Révoltes de l'esprit.Les revues des années 30, Kime, 1999
  • Michel Berges,Vichy contre Mounier. Les non-conformistes face aux années 40, Economica, 1997
  • Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, Les non-conformistes des années 30. Une trentative de renouvellement de la pensée politique française, Seuil, 1969 (Points, Seuil, 2001) ISBN 978-2-02-048701-6
  • Christophe Le Dréau,« L’Europe des non-conformistes des années 30 : les idées européistes de New Britain et New Europe», in Olivier Dard & Etienne Deschamps (sous la dir.), Les nouvelles relèves en Europe, Bruxelles, Peter Lang, 2005, pp. 311–330.
  • Jean Touchard, "L'Esprit des années 1930: Une Tentative de renouvellement de la pensée politique française," in Tendances politiques de la vie française depuis 1789 (Paris: Hachette, 1960), 89-118

External links[edit]