Charles Maurras (1868-1952) was a right-wing French intellectual and founder of the reactionary group Action Française. He was known for his royalist, anti-democratic political thinking that served as an antecedent of fascism, particularly influencing Francisco Franco. He was an agnostic but respected the Roman Catholic church as a conservative social force, and in turn was supported by them. He was opposed to Protestants, foreigners, and freemasonry, but above all he was very antisemitic, from his early years agitating around the Dreyfus affair to his imprisonment for making death threats against the Jewish socialist politician Léon Blum and his support of the Vichy regime.
He has retained a certain influence among Conservatives and right-wingers.
He was born in Provence in 1868 and raised in a Catholic and monarchist home. His early childhood was a time of instability with the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, but France gradually moved in a more stable and democratic direction in the later 19th century. In his teens he seems to have become an agnostic. He started his literary career aged 17, moving to Paris to write for the right-wing, royalist journal L'Observateur. Initially he seems to have written about philosophical and artistic topics, defending Classicism against Romanticism, and was influenced by Catholic thinkers such as Léon Ollé-Laprune.
He became involved in politics in the 1890s with the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused of treason, and all the antisemites got together to say he was guilty based on forged evidence and his Jewishness. Maurras seems to have been firmly opposed to Jewish people by then, and the affair became a life-long obsession.
In 1899, he founded the journal Action Française, which promoted nationalism and monarchism and suggested a coup d'état against French democracy. It campaigned against an imaginary establishment comprising Jews, immigrants, and freemasons. Maurras supported World War One and rooted out imaginary Jewish spies in French society.
In 1925 he received a suspended jail sentence for calling for the murder of Abraham Schrameck, the French-Jewish minister of the interior who had taken action against right-wing paramilitary groups. In 1936 he was convicted over death threats against Léon Blum and spent eight months in jail; in return he received a lot of support from the right-wing and Catholic establishment. In the late 30s, he supported Franco's new fascist government in Spain and Mussolini in Italy, but was less sure about Hitler, in part due to anti-German prejudice.
Nonetheless, he advocated Appeasement and peace with Germany rather than war, and though previously an admirer of de Gaulle, he supported Pétain's client regime based in Vichy as the best way to achieve freedom for France; its many anti-Jewish measures helped too. After the war Maurras was convicted of complicity with the Germans, and sentenced to life imprisonment (the impartiality of his trial has been questioned). In 1952, he was released from prison after falling seriously ill. He allegedly re-embraced Catholicism on his deathbed, before dying later that year.
Intellectually, one of his main influences was the positivist sociologist and philosopher Auguste Comte.
in Maurras's time, there was a prominent strain of Romantic nationalism of which Maurice Barrès, author of The Cult of the Self, was a leading exponent. This talked heavily of mystical abstractions such as the power of the individual ego, national spirit, and essentialist views of the French people. While Maurras and Barrès were friends and collaborators, sharing views about Dreyfus and other causes, Maurras's work can be seen as a counter to Barrès's Romantic mysticism. Influenced by Comte, Maurras attempting to argue for right-wing nationalism with some kind of bad sociology.
Maurras played an important, if baleful, role in the development of nationalism. In the 19th century, nationalism was often associated with liberalism or socialism, partnering with ideas about democracy, freedom, and popular sovereignty, against vast multi-ethnic empires and international royal families that ruled much of Europe. However, Maurras helped reshape it into the modern right-wing form, conceiving the nation as comprising true French (very vaguely conceived) who were constantly beset by traitors within: Jews, immigrants, non-Catholics, and anyone else who could be used as a bogeyman. This conception is still widely seen in populist nationalist figures such as Donald Trump or Nigel Farage.
He seems to have had fans in the American alt-right circles around Donald Trump. Steve Bannon enthused about Maurras to a French diplomat in Washington DC. Bannon reportedly approved of Maurras's division between the "legal country" (pays légal, the political institutions that the right imagined were serried against them) and the "real country" (pays réel, people Bannon or Maurras agreed with, and definitely no Jews or foreigners).
The conservative, Anglo-Catholic intellectual and poet TS Eliot defended Maurras as a great writer and a rationalist, arguing that it was impossible to be both a royalist and a fascist and therefore Maurras could not be the latter; Eliot did acknowledge Maurras was "wrong-headed in his politics".
- Charles Maurras, Jewish Virtual Library
- The antisemite admired by Steve Bannon, Robert Philpot, The Jewish Chronicle, April 1, 2017
- Steve Bannon loves France, Politico.EU, Mar 22, 2017
- Charles Maurras. To the Editor of Time and Tide, TS Eliot, 17 Jan 1953, in The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Vol. 7: A European Society, 1947-1953