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Maurras, Charles

Maurras, Charles



Charles Marie Photius Maurras (1868-1952), French man of letters, was born in Martigues, near Marseille. He entered public life supporting both Fréderic Mistral’s Felibrige and Jean Moreas, with whom he joined in 1891 in founding the Ecole Romane, a literary movement designed to defend “a common ideal of Romanity.” He became the apostle of integral nationalism, having coined the term in 1900.

Reacting against the dominant relativism and eclecticism of his time, Maurras set out from skeptical and agnostic premises to find some solid basis for thought, style, and action in historical realities which, he argued, having worked in the past, might be expected to work again. He rediscovered the classical ideals of order, hierarchy, and discipline and insistedthat they alone provide an escape from nihilism into the positive realm of “organizing empiricism”—a method of solving current problems in terms of past experience.

Transferred from literary to sociopolitical grounds, Maurras’s empirisme organisateur turned him against what he considered the dissolvent and anarchic qualities of liberal individualism which had triumphed inthe French Revolution. He thought France was in a state of decadence and attributed this to its abandonment of traditions identified with the old regime, campaigning against Protestants, Jews, and metics—all those alien agents of change and corruption to whom the revolution had given free rein in France. When, in the late 1890s, the scandals that periodically shook the Third Re-public culminated in the Dreyfus affair, Maurras set out to elaborate a doctrine which might spark a reaction against the existing disorder and provide the basis of a national revival. Based upon penetrating if frequently unhistorical criticism of the republic and parliament, his critique asserted the necessity of a return to the historical sources of French intellectual and political success: the classical tradition of the seventeenth century and the monarchy. True patriotism, conscious of these conditionsof national prosperity and greatness, demanded, he believed, a return to the stability and continuity which only hereditary monarchy could provide. This was the program of integral nationalism to which he soon converted the founders of the Ligue d’Action Française, a young, pragmatic, and patriotic movement dedicated to France’s political and intellectual regeneration. Henceforth, the story of Maurras was that of the Action Francaise;he became its moving spirit, and most of his writings were published in the review (1899–1914) and the newspaper (1908-1944) of that name.

Despite his insistence that politics must take precedence over everything else (Politique d’abord!), the Action Françhise was less a political than a didactic and literary movement. The doctrine it taught combined traditionalism, regionalism, and corporatism and elaborated the picture of a society that was free of democratic sham, individualistic anarchy, and the struggles of political parties and that was ruled in a stable way by a monarch and by an elite of talent and birth who would consider only theinterests of the nation, not those of particular interest groups. The negative aspects of Maurrasist doctrine were more convincing than its program, and its criticism of the republic and its institutions provided rich ammunition for all other critics. When written into legislation at Vichy (particularly in 1940-1941), Maurras’s views proved anachronistic and unworkable.

Nevertheless, the Action Françhise provided an intellectual structure towhich the French right could refer; Maurras’s doctrine synthesized the ideas of nineteenth-century conservatives from Bonald to La Tour du Pin and influenced several generations of France’s middle and upper classes. Its newspaper never ceased to warn against Germany, against a Red peril—not so much a peril of social revolution as of national disunity—against the popular front of 1936, and, thereafter, against war and warmongers—at a time of national division and unpreparedness to whichits own campaigns had contributed a good deal. A steadfast supporter of Philippe Petain after 1940, though as steadfastly anticollaborationist (his ideas inspired much of Vichy’s nationalist isolationism), Maurras was condemned in 1945 to life imprisonment. In prison, as out, his pugnacity and the stream of his writings never ceased. When his sentence was commuted in 1952 to forced residence in a private clinic, Maurras publicly thanked President Vincent Auriol, congratulating him for finally granting him the freedom that was his due and suggesting the expiatory execution of the minister “responsible for the excesses committed at the Liberation.” He died a few months later, still bellicose but reconciled with the church he had abandoned as a youth.

Maurras’s destructive effect on the democratic and parliamentary ideology has been immense, his constructive influence slight. Yet his ideasaffected the nationalists of all Latin nations, and there are strong tracesof Maurrasism in Salazar’s Portugal and de Gaulle’s France. The Action Frangaise has been and still is well represented in the Academie Frangaise (in 1964, by three of its leaders), and many still respect its ideas in the breach if not in the observance. Still, the movement Maurras ledis now but a memory and a sect. Responsible for much of its success betweenthe wars, Maurras also bears the responsibility for its eventual failure. His intellectual elitism made for overemphasis of the written word, and his authoritarianism brought him into conflict with the Roman Catholic church he professed to admire (not for its Christianity but for its enduring power)and with the royalty he professed to serve (less out of personal loyalty than for theoretical reasons). The deafness which rid him at an early age of faith in God or nature grew steadily worse, isolating him and encouraging his pessimistic and intolerant dogmatism. Younger followers deserted, were excommunicated, or simply drifted away. But this very dogmatism gave him the strength needed to repeat tirelessly and to elaborate endlessly ideas which have left their mark on France and on the Latin world.

Eugen Weber

[See alsoNationalism.]


1931 Au signe de Flore. Paris: Oeuvres Representatives. 1950 Le Mont de Saturne. Paris: Quatre Jeudis. Oeuvres capitales. 4 vols. Paris: Flammarion, 1954.


Buthman, William 1939 The Rise of Integral Nationalism in France. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. DIMIER, Louis 1926 Vingt ans d’Action Francaise. Paris: Librairie Nouvelle.

Joseph, Roger; and FORGES, JEAN 1953 Biblio-iconographie generale de Charles Maurras. 2 vols. Paris: Roanne.

Massis, Henri 1961 Maurras et notre temps. Paris: Plon.

Nolte, Ernst 1963 Der Faschismus in seinerEpoche. Munich: Piper.

Roudiez, Leon 1957 Maurras jusqu’a I’Action Fran-gaise. Paris: Bonne.

Tannenbaum, Edward R. 1962 The Action Francaise. New York: Wiley.

Weber, Eugen 1962 Action Frangaise. Stanford Univ. Press.

Wright, Gordon (1960)1962 France in Modern Times. London: Murray; Chicago: Rand McNally.

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