Maurras, Charles Marie Photius (1868–1952)

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Maurras, Charles Marie Photius (1868–1952)

Maurras, Charles Marie Photius (1868–1952), French political writer and reactionary. Moving spirit and principal spokesman of Action Française, Charles Maurras was an antidemocrat, racist, monarchist, and worshiper of tradition and of the organic nation-state.

Charles Maurras was born in Martigues near Marseilles. He studied philosophy in Paris, where he was influenced by Auguste Comte, George Sorel, Henri Bergson, Maurice Barrès, and the racist journalist Édouard Drumont.

With Jean Moreas, in 1891 Maurras helped found the École Romane, and in 1892, with Frederico Amouretti, successfully took over the Felibrige de Paris, both movements dedicated to the purification of the French language and culture.

In both literature and politics Maurras sought to identify in history, especially in 17th-century classical traditions, all these concepts, ideals, institutions, and attributes of character which seemingly had succeeded. He considered his historical approach empirical and from this data sought to distill or induce a method for correcting evils and solving problems. He was committed to rescuing France from supposed literary and political degradation and corruption brought on by the Revolution, individualistic materialism, and predisposition toward relativism, eclecticism, and nihilism.

Believing the liberal individualism of the Revolution had opened the floodgates to degrading foreign forces—especially Jews—Maurras was clearly racist. Though nominally a man of letters, by 1899 his interests inclined toward politics, and he carried both his ideas and energies into the Ligue d'Action Française, which he and Barrès quickly appropriated and converted into the still-existing Action Française. Maurras's reverence for the past remained, and applying his literary methods to political analysis, he coined in 1900 the term "integral nationalism"—"the exclusive pursuit of national policies, the absolute maintenance of national integrity, and the steady increase of national power"—a concept remarkably paralleling Barrès's "collective egotism." Then, combining the classical ideals of order, hierarchy, and discipline with attitudes of authoritarianism and the spirit of romantic patriotism, he sought to lay the foundations of an effective political movement.

Having conceived the principle, Maurras then developed his method—"organizing empiricism"—the use of historical experience as a model and guide for programs of action. Application of the method, in his hands, indicated that a return to monarchy alone could save France. This movement, too, was perhaps as much literary as political, despite Maurras's fanatic insistence upon the latter orientation. His insistence brought him imprisonment. In 1926 five of his works were put on the Index, and the Action Française was banned by the Church.

Though against collaboration, following the German invasion, Maurras strongly supported Marshal Pétain. His efforts were in vain. His anachronistic ideas could not effectively be written into Vichy legislation. In 1945, for his part in the Vichy regime, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and deprived of his civil rights by Liberation leaders. Simultaneously, he was condemned and dismissed from the French Academy, to which he had been elected in 1938. Because of illness, in 1952 he was released to a clinic in Tours, where he died a few months later. Throughout these years, except for reconciliation with the Church, he remained intransigent and wrote prodigiously, both literary works (reminiscences) and political polemics. Maurras provided footnotes for French rightists—so long as such remain. The Action Française still exists, is admired by some, and lists a few members in the French Academy.