Version classiqueVersion mobile

L’Action française

Michel Leymarie
Jacques Prévotat



Texte intégral

Around the Maurrassian notion of heritage

1«The Action française, Revolution and Restoration», Philippe Boutry

2The French Revolution, as a founding event in French history, is a central issue in the political, social and cultural design of the Action française. The article expresses some considerations on the relationship between Charles Maurras and his political movement and the history of the Revolution. It explores the main characters of Maurras'critical thought on the Revolution, the situation of the Action française's historians in revolutionary studies and their difficulties and contradictions about the definition of what could be a "Restoration".

3«The Action française and republican spirituality», Jérôme Grondeux

4Charles Maurras' thought can be understood as a radical critical about attempts to edificate a republican spirituality. These attempts took place during all french 19th century. From this point of view, Charles Maurras' thought takes place in a long lasting debate, whose study helps us to understand religious modernity. Compared with Victor Cousin's, Quinet's and Renouvier's ventures, the maurrassian one discloses both its relevance and incapacity to put forward a real alternative.

5«The conceptions of history according to the Action française from 1910 to 1940», Christian Amalvi

6The conception/s/ of History according to the Action française, and not the conception: the plural is imperative. Indeed, if there is well a true “capetienne school”, whose ideas are strongly structured by the integral nationalism developed by Charles Maurras’ work - detestation of the Reform, this criminal individualistic movement of revolt against any form of authority; diabolisation of the French revolution considered as a sanguinary crisis of madness and a river of mud and blood; enthusiastic rehabilitation of monarchical Ancien Régime - one also notices, among the historians belonging to the Action française, many divergent interpretations of the past.

7While Jacques Bainville, a brilliant journalist, intends to show that the same situations reproduce throughout the French history, in particular the military confrontation between France and Germany, and that men are always identical, Frantz Funck-Brentano and Pierre Gaxotte, historians by training, are able to show that History, far from being an eternal restarting, constitutes a perpetual and living change.

8«The nationalist leagues and the Action française: an heritage both suffered and rejected» - Bertrand Joly

9The Action française had a complex relationships with the antiDreyfusard nationalism which it partly came from but which it always wanted to outship. Even before the foundation of AF, Maurras worked out an extremely close criticism of the ideology of the leagues – or rather, he said, of their absence of ideology- and their tactics, whose shortcomings, in his opinion, explained their final failure. They led him on the one hand to the adoption of an ideology and well-considered strategy consisting in a “cultural” breaking away from such tactics when facing the Dreyfusards, together with what could be called a sort of pedagogy of violence, and on the other hand to a policy of selective seduction towards nationalists, among whom he carefully distinguished those he handled more gently (Jules Lemaitre), who finally joined the movement, and the diehard he despised (Paul Déroulède).

10The success was mixed. The Action française first seize a large part but not all the heritage of the dying nationalism after 1902, as was shown that year by the definitive refusal on the part of Barrès to accept the monarchist system.

11This half success shows that the analysis of the antiDreyfusard nationalism by the Action française was incomplete, and so inaccurate, and its ideological reality was underestimated.

The Action française and the social spheres

12«The Action française and the legal circles» - Gilles Le Béguec

13The Action française wielded real influence in law circles, mainly thanks to its groupings among Catholic lawyers, such as the Society of Catholic Legal Advisors. Even more important was the early penetration of Maurrassian ideas in the traditionally powerful networks of royalist barristers. The central figure of the Marquis de Roux, president of the Bar in Poitiers, provides an excellent example of this set of phenomena. But lawyers were only marginally involved in the day to day activities of the movement, except at local level, especially in the South of France. Similarly, AF took a long time to develop an organisational framework to accommodate the legal professions, and its attempts were largely unsuccessful. As the years passed, the influence of AF declined considerably, especially as a result of the papal ban. During the 1930s, Maurras’s influence could still be felt, but AF as a movement could no longer compete with other networks and structures within the ‘nationalist’ family.

14«The Action française and the doctors» – Bénédicte Vergez-Chaignon

15In the years between the two World Wars, the relations between the Action française and doctors were strong and numerous, with respect to ideas as well as militant involvement. AF managed to vocalise or use the concerns of the medical profession to suggest to them that it might be their most natural advocate. To that purpose, it built upon a basis of commonly held convictions (such as the value of traditions, respect for hierarchies, the superiority of the elite), which it adapts to more matter-of-fact concerns (such as the financial threat from the competition allegedly represented by foreign and Jewish doctors, favoured by “the Republic gone mad”). It developed groups and written media aimed at doctors and harboured such professional questions in the pages of its paper. It seduced parts of the elite and was often the gateway for students entering the political arena. But their common ground was limited to the anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric, as the royalists were unable to embrace the reality of the practice of medicine in all its socioeconomic dimensions. AF kept to violent protestations and rather vague propositions of a corporatist character. These ideas seemed to find their ideal outlet in the laws passed by the Vichy government on the exclusion of foreign and Jewish doctors and on the creation of the Ordre des Médecins. Their final failure contributed to invalidate the links between the French medical profession and AF.

16«The Action française and the Army» - Olivier Forcade

17This article focuses the relationships between the League of the Action française and the Army in France between 1899-1939. Recent researches of French historians have developed analyses on two aspects of this evolution: the attractive influence of the nationalist leagues since the ninetieth century’s end and before the Great War; than, after 1918, the competition between some political movements such as the Federation nationale catholique, the Croix de feu and the Parti social français after 1936. In fact, a lot of officers haven’t been convinced by Charles Maurras ideas, but the League and its journal have proved a real influence on political debates inside the French military society.

18«The Action française et the economic circles» - Olivier Dard

19Relations between Economy and the Action française are not much treated with the historians. This paper is divided in three parts: what is the project of the Action française for Economy and Society? what are the ways she uses to get it? for what results? The balance of the penetration of the Action française in the economic circles is a failure, including the different steps of Georges Valois. The explanations come from the particular relation between the Action française and the Economy and also because of the inadequacy of her project with the real situation of the French interwar.

The Action française and the religious spheres

20«The Action française and the catholic circles» - Jacques Prévotat

21The term «milieux catholiques» in the case of the Action française is a very broad one that lends itself poorly to detailed, exhaustive analysis. Instead of a sociological treatment of the different types of Catholics in question, a twofold question may be asked: what were the reasons that encourages, at the beginning of the 20th century, so many from the country’s catholic elites to adhere to Maurras’s League and, then afterwards, to feel obliged to break with it, on orders from Rome in 1926-1927? This crisis manifest through a variety of personalities and positions, calls for a typology of Catholic reactions. These reactions varied according to the extent that the minds of different individuals were marked by Maurrassian ideology. A wide range of factors – historical, social, cultural, aesthetic, theolpogical – entered into play. When one combines autobiographical material left by such diverse personalities as Xavier Vallat, Gustave Thibon and Georges Vedel with the new light thrown by the opening of the Vatican archives (pontificate of Pius XI), it becomes clear that new approaches to the subject matter are needed.

22«'How could one be Protestant and Royalist in the era of the Popular Front?» - André Encrevé

23How was it possible to be Protestant and Royalist in the era of the Popular Front? In 1925 a small group of Royalist Protestants close to the Action Française founded the Action protestante, which took the name of the Association Sully in 1930. In December 1933 the Groupe Bas-Languedoc of this association launched a Bulletin, which was published up to July 1939. But the Association Sully attracted only a small number of adherents. In general, Protestants identified with the principles of 1789. Yet, on this matter, those writing for the Bulletin chose not to express themselves prudently and with moderation— a moderation that would have lessened the sense of shock felt by their fellow believers. Instead, they broke with most Huguenot rules or precepts. And, consequently, the vast majority of Protestants were not far from treating the members of the Association Sully as simply traitors.

24«The "Français Israélites" and the Action française movement, 1900-1940» - Catherine Nicault

25How, before the time of the Occupation, did assimilated French Jews (“Français israélites”) view the Action Française movement? How did they react to its propaganda and provocative action? For the period running from 1900 to 1940, in the face of anti-Semitism in general and that of the AF in particular, four basic types of attitude may be identified. First, there was that of so-called “official” Jewry (that is, the prominent figures at the head of the main institutions of French Jewry and those in charge of the Consistory’s press): it was a mixture of wariness and disdain, marked also by an unwillingness to counter-attack, even if internal disagreement on this score increasingly emerged. Then, confined largely to the 1920s, there was the attitude of those favourable to Zionism, which was one of resolute openmindedness and unconcern. Another attitude was that of the “patriotes” or “nationaux”, whose blindness could even lead to their flirting keenly with AF anti-Semites. Finally, there was the attitude of the professedly anti-Fascist Jews, who favoured direct, aggressive confrontation. Such differences— both ideological and tactical— in the face of the anti-Semite threat in France explain why French Jewry was incapable of realizing its own “union sacrée” before the worst occurred.

The Action française and Sociality

26«The youth movements of the Action française before 1914» - Rosemonde Sanson

27Before 1914, the youth movements of the Action française (students and ‘camelots’) were characterised by their youthful organisation, their virulent proselytising and their efforts to draw young nationalists and young Catholics into neo-royalist opposition to the Republic. These militants acquired a political culture closely linked to the thought of Charles Maurras but were distinguished by their all-out militancy. Their main targets were ‘antipatriots’, pro-Dreyfus Republicans, Jews and ethnic minorities. Provocations (‘le chahut’) were erected into a political method, as in the Thalamas and Bersntein cases. However, their influence on the reawakening of patriotism in the years 1910-1924 was limited. Thanks to their militancy, these ‘fanatics’ (H. Lagrange) contributed to promoting ‘total nationalism’ and neo-royalism without overthrowing the Republic they detested.

28«The Action française and young people between 1914 and 1939» - Guillaume Gros

29After the bloodbath of the first world war, the Action française gave value to the heroic model of a national youth who was to “complete the works of the victory”. Considerable efforts were thus made towards University students with the creation of a newspaper L’Etudiant français in 1920. Until 1939, this newspaper was at the same time an instrument of propaganda, a place of sociality and a means of intellectual shaping in accordance with the organization of the students of the Action française.

30Charles Maurras’s doctrine had a real effect on young people up till the thirties, encouraging the emergence of an original young sociality. Actually, the Action française offered a genuine counter-society to a violent youth in search of identity and eager for violence. The culture of violence lead to the development of a “hectic” young nationalism, an explosive mixture of virulent antiparliamentary government, xenophobia and seditious will. In spite of many dissidents, the Action française operated as an “intellectual mould” on several generations of young people even when they parted from it.

31«The involvement of women in the Action française» - Bruno Dumons

32Contemporary historiography has not completely unveiled all aspects of the Action française. The relationship it had with the involvement of women in the movement remain most often secret and neglected. The Maurrassian movement – a traditionalist right-wing political organisation-seems at first sight an exclusively masculine space. Women were not very numerous within the Action française. Most of them belonged to aristocratic circles.

33Till the eve of the ban, it was possible to keep both forms of faithfulness to the Church and to the king, which entailed an involvement with the Action française. They embodied a model of active member and political involvement.

34After 1927, their visibility within the Maurrassian structure was reduced around a few emblematic figures of the nobility who remained faithful to the royal family. Besides, the Action française attracted leaders of big catholic women’s organizations. They were also from noble families.

35«The parliamentary phase of the Action française: 1919-1924» - Jean Garrigues

36It’s a kind of paradox to work on the Action française in the Chamber of deputies, because antiparlementarism is one of the main themes of Charles Maurras and his league. But in fact this study about the legislature 1919-1924 shows the strong presence of extreme right deputies in the parliamentary life of the post-war period. They have a leader, Léon Daudet, some old aristocratic figures like Baudry d’Asson and some new stars like Xavier Vallat. They have their own style, made of excess, violence and dramatization. They have their obsessions, regarding the post-war treaties, the “reparations” or the place of the “anciens combattants” in the French society. This is a very interesting moment of transition from the legitimist heritage of the traditional elites to the new kind of nationalist Right which is very active during the “entre-deux-guerres.”

The Action française. Regional Case Studies

37«The renewal of a royalist tradition in Provence» - Gérard Gaudin

38Provence is often thought of as being ‘red’, whereas the region was ‘white’ between 1815 and 1848, and a significant royalist minority remained there until the early 20th century, especially in the area known as the ‘Provençal Vendée’ between Arles and Avignon. However, Charles Maurras lived in ‘red’ towns such as Roquevaire and Martigues. Between 1906 and 1914 he aroused a somewhat slumbering royalist tradition. From 1919 to 1945 the strong-man for the Action française in the area was Major Louis Dromard, whose family came from the Franche-Comté. Despite the papal ban between 1926-7, the movement remained vigorous until 1939

39«The Action française in the mediterranean Languedoc: nostalgy for the king and attract for Maurrassism» - Philippe Secondy

40In the Mediterranean Languedoc, the departments of Gard and Hérault were bastions of the Action française. This was a geographical space charcterized by the nostalgy for the king. Monarchical ramifications remained strong until the middle of the 20th century. They benefit from the existence of an intransigeant Catholicism, represented by Mgr de Cabrières, the bishop of Montpellier from 1874 to 1921. The Action française rested on the network of traditionalist royalists.

41«The Action Française in the South-West: a Royalist territory, an ambivalent link with Catholicism» - Marc Agostino

42The term “South-West” comprises for our purposes the present Aquitaine region and also the two Charente departments, both closely tied to Bordeaux in the eyes of the Action française. Well-rooted Royalist loyalties and conservatism favoured the start of the AF’s implantation in the area. Of note from the beginning were the Basses-Pyrénées, the Gironde and its heartland of Bordeaux, and the lower Charente (where the AF’s implantation was particularly vigorous and striking). Traditional notables— including wine-growing landowners of the Bordelais— were initially to the fore in the movement’s expansion. They were joined by others coming from the middle classes. And journalists played their part. The AF’s presence in the region was marked by a number of forceful personalities (aristocrats, artists). The ambivalent link with Catholicism assumed its importance in Bordeaux, the locus and special setting of the crisis of 1926. The effects there of the condemnation proved to be dramatic; they weakened the movement and reoriented it. The electoral climate was, moreover, unpropitious. Competition came from the quarters of both the classical Right and Christian Democracy, not to speak of the sustained opposition of the Radicals, so strongly anchored in the region.

43«The Action française in the North: variations of a different radicalism» - Jean Vavasseur-Desperriers

44Before 1914, the Nord Department provided fertile breeding ground for the Action française movement which spread amongst religious hardiners in various circles: the Catholic University in Lille, bar associations in the seats of jurisdiction and business leaders, in particular, in the textile industry. During the 20s, limited sociological recruitment along with the evolution of Catholic advocacy which placed greater emphasis on social issues to the detriment of the political slowed down the development of Action française. Later, the Papal condemnation was to strike a severe blow. Yet, during the 30s, the league preserves its dynamism in the backdrop of militant righ-wing radicalism in 1934-1936.

45«The Action française in Bretagne: between renewal and interment of royalism»-David Bensoussan

46In an area deeply marked by the divide between the “Blancs” and the “Bleus”, royalism long maintained itself through the political commitment of the rural aristocracy; meanwhile it progressively diluted into social conservatism and the uncompromising defence of the Catholic Church. In the early 20th century, the “Action française” and the Maurrassian trend gave it new life, reviving the monarchist idea with the “nationalisme intégral”. Although the activist presence actually remained modest, the interest for the “A F” in Brittany was mainly based on its influence on the local Catholic elite, and in particular among the Church hierarchy.

47The condemnation by the Pope then brought a decisive change. Indeed, little by little, and rather reluctantly, the Breton bishops would give their support to Pie XI, and thus force the Catholic elite to choose between their religious loyalty and their political sympathy. The impact of the condemnation then resulted in an irreversible decline of royalism in Brittany.

Doctrinal diffusion and oppositions

48«Bi-monthly and daily L’Action française, 1899-1914. Intellectual and political strategies» - Laurent Joly

49In the context of the Dreyfus Affair, members of the nationalist movement broke with the republican values and regime. It was probably inevitable; but quite curiously, it wasn’t driven by the leagues which were born or regenerated by the Affaire but by a journal which from the start wanted to rethink “nationalism” in its political, moral and intellectual dimension. Launched in June 1899 by Henri Vaugeois, the movement of the Action française only exists through the fortnightly publication of a little “grey journal”: L’Action française.

50The journal breaks with the principles of the republican regime and soon embraces the monarchist positions of Charles Maurras (1901). Trying to profit from the heritage of intransigent Catholicism and of the nationalists opposed to Dreyfus, Af communicates through its newspaper: L’Action Française (1908). The journal of Maurras and Daudet which is clearly anti-Semite and against Dreyfus remains until 1914 the voice of the “coup d’etat” and the merciless fight against the republican regime.

51«The journals and the Action française after 1918» - Hervé Serry

52This paper describes the tension which organize the field of intellectual journals and magazines in the years 1910-1920. At a time when journals played a central role in intellectual socialization and in the diffusion of ideas, the dynamic of this space derived, in part, from the position-taking with respect to the maurrassian ideology and to the league of the Action française. Catholics, as well as defenders of art for art’s sake, took part to political and esthetics debates which allow to analyze the respective positions and the role of the journals that confronted one another. The question of the role of art, in particular, as it appears in the debates around the catholic literature, constitutes a analyzer of the weight that the journals close to French Action occupied at this period. It will be shown how the other periodicals, particularly those which asserted Catholicism, were constrained to take a stand with regards to the intellectual presence of the disciples of Maurras.

53«Opponents of the Action française: Maurice Blondel, his influence, and the repositioning of Jacques Maritain» - Michael Sutton

54Maurice Blondel was the foremost figure among Catholic philosophers or theologians opposing Charles Maurras and the Action française. He first entered the fray in 1910 when in his workLa Semaine sociale de Bordeaux — published under a pseudonym in the Annales de philosophie chrétienne — he criticised the use of a neo-Scholastic understanding of the relation between natural and supernatural to justify, wrongly in his mind, Catholic support for the Action française. Blondel was backed in his polemic by Lucien Laberthonnière. In 1927 and 1928 he criticised Maurras anew. Blondel’s considerable influence as a philosopher shaped directly or indirectly various Catholic reactions to Maurrassian-type ideas during the interwar years, as well as during the period of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. Two main spheres of influence may be distinguished— even if in practice they sometimes touched. One involved lay Catholics, from the ACJF of the 1920s to the MRP of two decades later. Georges Bidault and Robert Schuman were among those so marked. Making for the other zone of influence was the profound, subterranean sway exerted by Blondel’s philosophy over the thinking of French Jesuit theologians, the most eminent of them being Henri de Lubac. Part of the latter’s book Le Drame de l’humanisme athée (1944) was directed against the Positivism of both Auguste Comte and Maurras himself. Blondel in his opposition to the Action Française was eventually joined by Jacques Maritain. The crisis with Rome in 1926-1927 led, after some initial hesitation, to Maritain’s complete break with Maurras and the Action française. His book Trois réformateurs (1925) had, for instance, been well in tune with Maurras’s ideas; his wartime book Les Droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle (1942) and his sympathy for the clandestine Cahiers du Témoignage chrétien represented a considerable change of mind.

55«Don Luigi Sturzo and the Action française: a christian democratic opposition» - Jean-Dominique Durand

56Luigi Sturzo, an italian priest, who founded the Italian popular party and was theorist of popularism, a vigorous and clear-sighted opponent to fascism, constraint to exile in 1924, became between Paris and London the advocate of personalist and democratic principles against the authoritarian and nationalist drifts that he detects among European Catholics, particularly in France. Allergic to the Charles Maurras’clerical positivist ideology, he developed against the AF both a political (against nationalism, against the use of violence in politics and for the respect of parliamentary democratic rules) and a religious (instrumentalisation of the religions for political aims) argumentation. Friend of Maurice Vaussard, Goerges Bidault, Marcel Prélot, and Charles Flory, close to Maurice Blondel, contributor to L’Aube, Politique, La vie catholique, Luigi Sturzo embodies the opposition of the Christian Democracy against the Action française.

57«Dissenters and Critics in the 20’s» - Michel Leymarie

58“A continual stream of dissidence"-it was thus that in 1942 Lucien Rebatet decribed the history of the Action française. In the 1920s the ideological influence and the cultural prestige of Maurras's movement were undeniable. However, participation in elections, the impossibility of a coup de force and the postponed restoration of the monarchy made for a growing divide between the movement's initial ideas and actual practice. Personal reasons as well as differences relating to matters of organization, to the conception of the AF's aims and to the possibilities of their actual realization led to the distancing from maurrassisme of such figures as L. Latzarus, G. Valois, E. Beau de Loménie and L. Dimier — all earlier strongly committed. The personal itineraries and positions of these critics raise the question of whether the eclipse of the hegemony of the Action française had already started before the papal condemnation of 1926.

© Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search