Freemasonry In France: A Brief History

Masonic history has been (and still is) the area of predilection for inducements or hasty generalizations, made more hazardous by passionate allegiances, including the eternal conspiracy theory. Conspirators are definitely everywhere. The alleged Freemason plot comes to us from Abbé Barruel whose work consisted of asserting (more than truly establishing) that the French Revolution had been a process organized for decades in lodges and clubs, especially Jacobin, in order to allow the liberal bourgeoisie to seize power.

There is some basis to this intuition, but it must be examined through the small end of the telescope, if only to give some solid arguments to this entirely sensible idea which deserves to have its rational character and historical foundations demonstrated.

Freemasonry was introduced in France in 1725. The founders were three Catholic Jacobites with flowery names, exiles from their own country – Derwentwater, MacLeane and O’Héguerty.

At its beginnings in France, the movement was an almost exclusively Parisian even and even an event of the “Left Bank,” and was born and developed in the district dominated by the Maurist abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, that cosmopolitan district, where lived most of the foreigners to the capital. The meeting of the first Saint-Thomas Lodge took place at an English caterer’s, in the rue des Boucheries, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; and the first known members were mostly emigrants.

The history of the beginnings of French masonry quickly becomes that of its divisions. Ideological diversification took place within this Parisian setting, around 1732. Very quickly, personalities from London set up Anglican rite lodges: the history of French masonry would be played out for a few years on this original duality.

After 1732, there arose ateliers, under the great lodge of England, whose spirit contrasted with that of the first Masonic houses of Jacobite origin. From its first beginnings, French Freemasonry encountered politics. The reason is not difficult to understand. Founded and animated by Jacobites, the first Saint-Thomas Lodge (the lodge of the grand master), could not but be suspect by the Grand Lodge of London, for it sought to create a rival masonry on the continent. Hence the recognition granted in 1732 by the Grand Lodge of England to Saint Thomas No. 2, which included the Duke of Picquigny, governor of Picardy; M. Chauvelin, State Councilor and former Intendant of Amiens; the poet Gresset, the marquises of Locmaria and Armentières; Mr. Davy de La Fautrière, adviser to parliament and former member of the Club de l’Entresol, who rubbed shoulders with a silversmith named Le Breton. If the left bank provided shelter for the first assizes of the order, soon enough, it became customary to hold meetings either on the right bank, in the hotels of Soissons and Gèvres – famous gaming houses in Paris – or outside the city walls, in some cabaret in the suburbs, at La Courtille or at the Quai de la Râpée.

Worried about the growth of predominantly Jacobite masonry and which therefore was hostile to the Hanoverian monarchy, the Grand Lodge of London created rival lodges. At the end of 1735 or 1736, a third lodge (of Louis d’Argent) was born in rue de Bussy, where the British Ambassador, Montesquieu, the Count of Saint-Florentin, Secretary of State, the Duke of Kingston met. It had for master the Duke of Aumont and for Worshipful Master, a painter and restorer of paintings, by the name of Collins, of English origin, who organized the new rite. A little later, in 1736, the lodge of Coustos-Villeroy was born (which had links with the Protestant bank) whose northern note was strongly marked – it included Germans and Scandinavians who outnumbered the French. Its most active and influential member was an English subject, Goustaud or Coustos, a goldsmith by trade, descendant of French Huguenots who had emigrated after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Paris therefore had four lodges at the end of 1736.

In 1737, Freemasonry, which had enjoyed rapid favor, particularly in high society, established itself in Lorraine with the new court, which gathered there around King Stanislas in 1737. Without being strictly certain, the affiliation of the king is infinitely probable and this Masonic affiliation coexisted without apparent inconvenience with the spirit of the Enlightenment and a religiosity with very emotional forms. You could call it syncretism.

There was thus very early a double current among the freemasons of France: the “Gallican” current, Catholic and anti-Hanoverian, and the “Anglican” current, of a democratic and Protestant tendency. This reformed and liberal tendency ended up supplanting the Catholic and Jacobite elements which, however, survived in the provinces, in particular at the court of Lunéville, thanks to the tenacious actions of three persons: Dominique O’Héguerty, Louis de Tressan and the abbot, François-Vincent-Marc de Beauvau-Craon, Primate of Lorraine.

Many of these noble-lineage Masons, often flanked by an enterprising commoner who was the real animator, did not go beyond snobbery. The Goustaud-Villeroy lodge maintained that the order was not an order of chivalry, but of society; and that although several lords and princes were happy to be in it, any man of probity could be admitted without wearing the “sword.”

The nobility was found more in the Scottish rite, with its glorification of the Christian knight, according to a very hierarchical ceremonial, and with all its traditions and its outlook. This explains the permanence of the two Masonic obedience. One according to the Jacobite rite, esoteric and chivalrous, refuge of an aristocracy still attached to its past splendor. The other, the Hanoverian rite, rationalist, liberal and anti-Roman, welcoming to the big bourgeoisie admiring the Enlightenment. The first developed in societies that remained both seigneurial and Catholic, such as that of Lorraine; the second, naturally, found its chosen ground in Paris.

How did they develop in the rest of France? It is up to historians to respond to that; and this is undoubtedly enlightening in the French regions and the differences in resistance.

These associations were then secret, in the sense of being unofficial and private. To the notion of association, the Masonic practice of the time added those of leisure, pleasure, agreement and spontaneous sociality (outside the State and traditional hierarchies) – all notions that cut across and transcended orders and classes. Put into practice, they had every chance of attracting everybody; and there were many, including those forms of sociability which fulfilled more or less avowed and expected egalitarian aspirations. Relations were based on the principle of equality between men as individuals; and the internal hierarchy of lodges was independent of the hierarchies of the surrounding society. According to historian Ran Halévy, Masonic lodges were thus at the origins of democratic sociability. We can certainly believe that.

It was not until 1737 that the existence of Freemasonry was revealed to a still small public, and at the same time as the political orientation of the movement was revealed. Before that date, the police gazettes made no mention of it. No more than that of London, the French government, could not ignore the activity of the lodges. Its attitude was quite embarrassed. The all-powerful Cardinal de Fleury, who narrowly prevented Louis XV’s initiation into the mysteries of the order, very much warned against Freemasonry. He was behind the police searches carried out in 1737, which brought to light rather suddenly the existence and activity of the Parisian lodges. The police confined themselves to harassment – they bothered a few accomplices, innkeepers who had hosted lodges, but they were careful not to prosecute influential Masons or dignitaries, which would have raised a considerable scandal, affecting the entourage of the king. It was difficult to question or arrest princes, dukes and peers, knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, a Minister of State (Marshal d’Estrées), two Secretaries of State, not to mention magistrates, ecclesiastics, and so on.

On the eve of the Revolution, there were 650 lodges and some 35,000 affiliates, if not more. It was this new, predominantly Protestant Freemasonry that undoubtedly played a major role in the genesis of the Revolution. The revolutionary principle was at work there, all the more effective as it was more involuntary, implicit and discreet. From discretion to secrecy, there is only one step. The Grand Lodge was regulator until 1773. It was then that the Grand Orient took over. It emphasized the revolutionary trait, and therefore enforced it.

French freemasonry after 1773 was more clearly in contradiction with what remained of order in society – for instance that which traditionally embodied this order, in particular, the Church, which was often reproached for its tendency to recognize the authority of Caesar, and thus alienating the law of Jesus.

Faced with the event called “Revolution,” the “fourth estate,” that of the pen, was divided into two, regardless of rank, status, or fortune. But besides the means available to those who held state power, the fight of the Friends of the King was not fought on an equal footing and it was valued above all by the quality of a thought that asserted itself. It ended in a bloodbath. Those who left in time survived.

But it was easier to guillotine than extract the idea whose line of development (or survival) we can readily follow – from the Friends of the King to ultracism and legitimism, from legitimism to the moral order, from traditionalism to Action française. The continuity of such a current of though tests, in a way, the assertion of the Masonic conspiracy dear to Father Barruel, who had glimpsed a relationship that he was unable to explain and that serial history has begun to shed light on.

“Church of the Republic,” “Missionary of liberalism,” “School of equality” – all would gradually assert themselves as a true society within society.

There is hardly any chance that this history will find today the historical light which is necessary to understand how we went from a seemingly innocent association to a secret society, to a Church of the Republic, whose avowed aim today is to build a counter-Christianity – and therefore to destroy Catholicism.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows the initiation of an apprentice Freemason, a colored engraving from ca. 1805, based on a French one of 1745.

Napoleon: Dictator, Or Political Visionary? An Interview With Thierry Lentz

In this “Year of Napoleon,” we are highly honored to present this exclusive interview with Thierry Lentz, who is the foremost authority on Napoleon Bonaparte. He has written over sixty books on the Consulate period as well as the First French Empire. He is the current director of the Fondation Napoléon, and a Professor at the Institut catholique de Vendée.

On the occasion of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death (May 5, 1821), Professor Lentz is interviewed by Arnaud Imatz, on behalf of the Postil.


Arnaud Imatz (AI): 2021 is the year of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death at Longwood on the island of Saint Helena, May 5, 1821. The historical figure of the Emperor of the French (although it might be more appropriate to say the “historical figures” of the Emperor) has inspired in the world, and not only in France, an infinity of novels, historical works, films (more than a thousand) and pictorial or musical works. The two legends of Napoleon, black and golden, are now firmly established. But why does Napoleon still remain so much in our memories?

Thierry Lentz.

Thierry Lentz (TL): Napoleon is present in our memories for all the reasons you have just mentioned. He occupies a very special place in French history and memory. But beyond that, he is also linked to our daily life and our habits. Our state still resembles the one he created, our institutions are his and, above all, our daily life is influenced by the Civil Code. Even though this Code has undergone multiple reforms, necessary to adapt to new times and mores, its framework is still the same. It influences our daily lives and even what happens after we die through inheritance law. We are thus aware of the importance of Napoleon in our history… without always remembering that he is indeed there, in our present.

AI: In 1815, the 15-year adventure ended in disaster; the black legend certainly seemed to have definitely won. Napoleon “the warmonger” deserved nothing but ignorance and oblivion. However, the situation did quickly change. How and why did he become the hero of the 19th century liberal romantics against monarchists and traditionalists?

TL: The defeat at Waterloo, and the Treaty of Paris of November 1815, were indeed a catastrophe for France: it was occupied for three years and had to pay a formidable war indemnity. As a result, the image of Napoleon was tarnished; and we can say that it is then that the black legend triumphed. Even his death, announced in Europe in July 1821, went almost unnoticed. The displays of mourning were sporadic.

It was two years later, with the publication of The Memorial of Saint Helena by Emmanuel de Las Cases, that things started to turn around. As Lamartine came to observe, while France was bored, and Charles X passed away as the restorer of the Ancien Régime, that the image of Napoleon, presented as liberal by the Memorial, “recovered” and came to permeate both the arts and politics. The accumulation of references created a somewhat imaginary Napoleon; at the same time as the struggle to maintain the achievements of 1789 was once again becoming a reality. We put the emperor at the head of these struggles.

AI: Should we consider Napoleon as the continuator of the French Revolution, or as its “channeler,” if not its gravedigger? Did he want to conquer Europe in the name of a kind of revolutionary internationalism, or did he paradoxically contribute, by his invasions, to the creation of European nations? Was his ambition to disseminate ideas, relating to the rights of peoples, the defense of civil equality, the “intangible principles” of the Revolution? Or was he quite simply the continuator of Louis XIV, the bearer of the hegemonic aims of France, which then wanted to be dominant in the world as Spain had once been and as England and Germany would be or wanted to be, not to speak of the United States, Russia and China?

TL: Napoleon was undoubtedly the stabilizer of the Revolution, in his own version of 1789. He was certainly not a liberal in politics. But in social matters, he established civil equality, the right to property, the non-confessionality of the state and civil liberty (which is therefore not political). At a time when the country aspired to restore order and enjoy the achievements, he was the right man on the inside. In 1802, he had already accomplished much of the task: the great reforms were launched and civil peace returned.

Outside of France, things were a bit different. He was indeed the continuator of the diplomacy of the Ancien Régime and of the Revolution, halfway between seeking to impose French dominance in Europe and intending to spread the revolutionary principles (of 1789) in Europe. This is why the evaluation of his work outside France is so difficult. This was his main failure. While there is nothing left of the “Great Empire,” a great deal of its political and social accomplishments yet remain in France and in Europe.

AI: Why was the French military superior to others at that time?

TL: The French military benefited from its modernization throughout the Revolution, mainly in terms of manpower through conscription. They were now fighting for ideas and every citizen was invited to participate. Napoleon reorganized everything again—his army corps, the doctrine of the employment of cavalry and artillery, the excellence of command, and the amalgamation of old troops and conscripts. He also benefited from the concentration of the army at Boulogne, where for two and a half years, the soldiers lived together and trained, while awaiting the hypothetical invasion of England.

This army would long remain the best in the world and would show this excellence in the campaigns from 1805 to 1807. It was finally led by a true military genius, with a unique eye and quick decision-making. Things did turn sour afterwards, with the war in Spain, which devoured ground-troops, prevented amalgamation and demonstrated that this Grand Army was not invincible.

AI: Until 1795, France had the third largest population in the world, behind only China and India. Isn’t this the major explanatory factor for the Napoleonic conquests, rather than the merits and faults of the emperor?

TL: Regarding French military losses, which were poorly understood, it was not until the 1970s to have scientifically established figures. They are essentially derived from the work of demographer-historian Jacques Houdaille. Making use of large-scale scientific surveys in the extensive records, he estimated that there were about 450,000 men killed in action and about as many deaths from injury or illness, along with a few tens of thousands of the “missing.” It can be assumed that the actual losses are in the range of 900,000 to 1 million fatalities.

As for the allies and enemies of France, they suffered, it is often said, but without knowing how to prove it, losses that were “slightly higher” than those of the Grande Armée. If we adopt this principle, the wars of the Empire cost Europe from 2 to 2.5 million men over ten years. While this death toll is significant, it is still lower than in many previous and subsequent wars.

What is more, Europe was not drained of blood at the end of the period, neither economically nor demographically. There was no systematic destruction of towns and villages, and even less of the means of production, except in the Iberian Peninsula where the responsibility was largely shared between French and English troops.

Regarding demography, specialists have shown that France had nearly 1.5 million more inhabitants in 1815 than in 1790. For the whole of Europe, population growth was greater for the 1790-1816 period to what it had been from 1740 to the Revolution. These results are of course due to advances in medicine and the decline in infant mortality. But this general finding will no doubt surprise more than one.

AI: Politically, was Napoleon a “classic” dictator, in the Roman sense, or a totalitarian dictator in the modern sense? Do you consider that despite his mistakes, especially in the choice of ministers, often traitors and incompetents, he remained an exceptional leader or even a political visionary?

TL: It goes without saying that from 1799 to 1815, Napoleon spent every minute strengthening and defending the reign of the executive, even if it meant showing himself to be more and more authoritarian. But to speak of a dictatorship and, moreover, of a military dictatorship, is to make fun of history and the meaning of words.

According to the jurist and political scientist Maurice Duverger—who has devoted a good part of his work to the concept of dictatorship—three simultaneous conditions are necessary to characterize it: 1) that the regime be installed and maintained by force, in particular military; 2) that it be arbitrary, that is to say that it suppresses freedoms and controls the decisions of arbitral or judicial bodies; 3) that it be considered illegitimate by a large part of the citizens. The study of each of these points for the Napoleonic regime leads to the rejection of any such peremptory conclusion. Under Napoleon, the establishment of a strong and embodied state was not accompanied by the systematic use of illegitimate coercion or indiscriminate force, much less for the benefit of the army.

AI: In economics, was Napoleon an interventionist or a liberal?

TL: In economic matters, Napoleon was more of a “liberal.” For him, the state did not have to intervene in the day-to-day economy, except for foreign trade which was carried out “for the grandeur of the state.” It was also important to him that the social situation be as stable as possible; and that is why he was able to intervene with public orders at the time of the crises, in particular that of 1810, which was extremely serious.

AI: Is he the “father” of the modern French state?

TL: Napoleon put an end to the trial-and-error approach when it came to the organization of the state and its administration. He simplified the grid into a pyramid model, at the top of which was the executive, not always himself in person, but those who represented the government, such as ministers. This has been called the “French model,” moreover adopted by most European states, with adaptations, even among its enemies.

AI: In his will Napoleon declared himself belonging to the Catholic religion. Can the leader of an army of soldiers from the Revolution, whose members were seen as dechristianizers in most countries of Europe, be presented as a Catholic? Wasn’t his Catholicism more of interest than conviction?

TL: We will never know whether Napoleon believed in God or not. What is certain is that he saw religions, especially the Catholic religion, as an intermediary body that should contribute to social stability and public order. This is why he “reestablished” Catholicism, organized Protestantism and Judaism, leaving them a certain dogmatic freedom, but subjecting them to the law of the state.

AI: What is the difference between the non-denominational Napoleonic state and the tradition of French republican secularism that prevailed from 1880 onwards, under the Third Republic?

TL: The Napoleonic non-confessionality, established in principle by the Civil Code, is a first step towards secularism. It proclaims that the various churches are subject to the state and to the law. But with Napoleon, this is expressed through concrete measures: public and civil status, acceptance of divorce, submission of faiths to the laws governing public order. He had no ambition to intervene in beliefs; but on the other hand, he left nothing to be organized outside of social and political necessities.

AI: Freemasonry lived fifteen extraordinary years under Napoleon, multiplying the number of lodges which went from 300 to 1220. Napoleon had many Freemasons in his family (including Jérôme, Louis and Joseph, whom the Spaniards nicknamed Pepe Botella); 14 of the first 18 marshals were Freemasons, as were a number of generals and most of the great dignitaries of the Empire. What was his relationship to Freemasonry? Was he himself a Freemason?

TL: Even if he himself was not (there is no proof of a supposed initiation in Egypt), Napoleon was surrounded by initiates such as his brothers, as well as Cambacérès, Lebrun, Fouché, Talleyrand, etc. In his Masonic policy, he relied above all on Cambaceres, who appeared to be the “protector” of the Order.

Initiated in 1781 in a lodge in Montpellier, Cambaceres climbed all the ranks and took this commitment very seriously, including at the time of the revolutionary interdicts. He then helped his friend Alexandre-Louis Roëttiers de Montaleau, grand master of the Grand Orient, to “rekindle fires” within the Directory. He thus participated in the first ranks in the meeting of June 22, 1799 by which, in the presence of five hundred masons, the Grand Lodge merged into the Grand Orient.

From that moment, French Freemasonry had almost regained its unity, further supplemented by the addition of the Grand Chapter of Arras to the Grand Orient, on December 27, 1801. It was not affected by the creation of a Scottish lodge, in 1803, an experiment immediately stopped by a new act of union signed a few days after the Imperial Coronation.

This unification of December 5, 1804, sometimes qualified as a “Masonic concordat,” confirmed the primacy of the Grand Orient which, in exchange, admitted the maintenance of several rites within it. Napoleon would have liked Freemasonry to constitute an intermediary body supporting the regime. But it was too plural for that; it crossed too many parties to be able to be a real support. It was never that, and continued its existence without problem under other regimes.

AI: It has often been suggested that after his military expedition to Egypt (1798 – 1799), Napoleon Bonaparte professed great sympathy for Islam? Was he sincere?

TL: Napoleon studied Muhammad, especially through the works of Voltaire. He admired his determined and almost warlike aspect. His sympathy for Islam hardly went beyond that. He did not convert, nor was he inspired by it for the Civil Code, as we can sometimes read on websites that are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

AI: Almost all European people had a place in the Grand Army (Dutch, Saxons, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Belgians, Austrians, Bavarians, Swiss, etc..). Allied strengths even made up between 20% to 48% of the total force, depending on the campaign, but only the Poles remained loyal to the end. How do you explain that?

TL: It has been said, and we have come to believe, that it was out of pure personal ambition that Napoleon made war. But this forgets that, at that time, peace was a state of emergency and that all states were primarily concerned with preparing for inevitable conflict. This is also forgets that history and geopolitics often made it inevitable. I have written dozens of pages on this subject to which I refer interested readers. I will just repeat here that Europe was not simply divided into two camps during the Napoleonic episode; otherwise, it would not have been until the fall of 1813 that a general coalition was formed against France.

Before that, the continental powers had come to terms with French dominance and tried to make as much profit as possible for themselves. It was the great success of British diplomacy to succeed in uniting all of Europe around its lowest common denominator (bringing down France and its leader), by playing on resentments and unfulfilled promises to some, and to others, on the economy and finances—much more than on the principle of a “liberation” of the Continent. This explains why many foreign contingents were placed at the disposal of the Grande Armée for nearly fifteen years, most often with the consent of their sovereigns.

AI: The controversies surrounding the figure of Napoleon have redoubled in virulence on the eve of the celebration of the bicentenary of his death. The exaltation of heroism and the spirit of sacrifice have now largely given way to victimist and navel-gazing ideology. On the other hand, the wave of political correctness and the nihilistic modes embodied in the woke spirit or the cancel culture originating in North America seem irresistible. As a result, the vast majority of the media see Napoleon only as a tyrant, an instigator of war, a misogynist, a supporter of patriarchy, a slaver (for having reestablished slavery eight years after its suppression and imprisoned Toussaint Louverture, a black separatist, who had been appointed general under the Directory). How do you answer these charges?

TL: I answer them at length in the book I just published, Pour Napoléon (For Napoleon). I think we are at an important time in the fight against the trends that you describe.

Our rulers are paralyzed by groups which have made a specialty of amalgams and historical untruths to impose their “agenda,” and to accuse their country of having “murdered” entire categories, and then defiling public places or calling for action and riot?

Nothing was done either to prevent or to combat the iconoclastic fever that came from the United States, after the tragic death of George Floyd. Even though we sometimes think that the famous “submission,” nicely denounced by Michel Houellebecq, is a bit tricky, it is all the same the first word that comes to mind.

If one believes Montesquieu’s warning that “oppression always begins with sleep,” one can only be frightened to see those we mandate to preserve national cohesion and unity sleeping soundly—or pretending to sleep so as not to see anything, which in the end comes to the same. As a historian and as a citizen, I thought that I could not remain inert in the face of this danger.

AI: Monsieur Lentz, thank you for this delightful conversation.


The featured image shows, “Napoleon I, crowned by the Allegory of Time, writes the Code Civil,” by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, painted in 1833.


The featured image shows a portrait of Napoleon by Andrea Appiani, painted in 1805.

Douai And The English Counter-Reformation

In the year of Our Lord 1558, the last Catholic queen of England, Mary Tudor, died. Her successor, Elizabeth I, upon taking the throne, implemented the well-organized and devised scheme of re-establishing English Protestantism. After the death of Edward VI in 1553, Sir William Cecil, at the head of the active Protestant party, organized the future executive committee for the restoration of Protestantism in England.

To all appearances, a pious Catholic and in self-imposed retirement in Wimbledon, Cecil set up the body of “Sustainers,” persons of wealth and influence who acted as a committee of ways and means. Through their work, performed while in exile on the continent, the scheme to train students for the future Protestant clergy of England came about.

When Elizabeth became queen, this same executive committee under Cecil effectively took the reins of power in England. Through the infamous Act of Supremacy – which act declared that “no foreign… prelate… shall exercise any… jurisdiction… spiritual or ecclesiastical within this realm… but the same shall be clearly abolished out of this realm… forever” – thus making Elizabeth the Head of the Church in England – and the Act of Uniformity, which abolished the Catholic Mass and restored the Edwardian Prayer Book of 1552 – the religious revolution in England had again returned.

In this article, we will examine the reaction of the Catholics of England, which included their attempts at effecting a Catholic restoration of their country. More specifically, we will examine these attempts through the work of one man – William Allen – and the realization of his dream to establish an English College on the Continent. This dream materialized in the territory of Spanish Flanders, in a town called Douai (or, rarely, Doway) by English speakers. Douai is located South and East of the city of Lille, which is located at the very northern tip of France.

The Catholic historian, Philip Hughes, writes: “It was through the practical genius of William Allen, that the greatest achievement of early Elizabethan Catholicism came, the founding of the college at Douai. For here, under God, was the principal means of preserving the Catholic Church in England for the next two hundred years. Superlatives come very easily, even to practiced observers of human endeavor as history records it, but it is scarcely possible to exaggerate what the Catholic Church owes to the work of this Lancashire priest. The day of Douai’s foundation should be indelibly marked in the calendar of every English Catholic.”

Some Background

In the years of Elizabeth’s reign there arose a great opposition, on the part of Catholics, to the execution of the new laws regarding the religion of the realm. This was surprising, for during Henry VIII’s time, the whole body of clergy went over to his schism, and during the reign of Edward VI, the new liturgy was generally accepted.

But in 1559, every bishop, save one, stood firm against the royal impositions, and by the end of that year, every one of them had been deprived of their sees and placed in custody. Everywhere, too, the higher clergy stood firm: the cathedral dignitaries, the heads of colleges, and the professors in the universities. The religious orders were no less loyal. Along with the bishops, seven deans of cathedral chapters were deprived, as well as ten archdeacons, seven chancellors, twenty-five heads of colleges (nineteen at Oxford, six at Cambridge) and, at Oxford, thirty-seven fellows of colleges.

However, the parochial clergy were less attached to the Catholic Faith. Conservative estimates say that of the approximately eight thousand priests in England at the time, only a quarter to a third of them resisted the taking of the new oath. This is a sad commentary due to the fact that the penalty for not going over to the new worship was only deprivation, not the death sentence as in Henry’s time.

Also necessary as background to this story is a short discussion of the means by which the Protestant imposition was implemented and by whom it was accomplished. It is fundamental to any understanding of the Catholic reaction to realize that the religious revolution was simply the victory of a seditious minority, or a clique, which by skillful trickery had possessed itself of the confidence of the sovereign and the machinery of government.

Father William Allen would later write the treatise True, Sincere and Modest Defense of English Catholics, wherein he would state: “We set forth the truth of all these actions for the honour of our nation, which otherwise, to her infinite shame and reproach, would be thought wholly generally to have revolted from the Catholic Faith.” However, the truth is that the disorder proceeded only from “the partiality of a few powerful persons abusing Her Majesty’s clemency and credulity…” and “the whole state (excepting the authority of the Prince) may yet be rather counted Catholic than heretical.”

In fact, a shrewd and calculating politician of the time, William Paget, one not to be counted as a biased observer in favor of the Catholic side, noted that only one-twelfth of the nation was in favor of the new religion!

What was the effect of this imposition by a few, then, on the Catholic majority of people in the country? Many historians tell us that this latest “change of service” was no great novelty for them, since the English had become accustomed to these liturgical variations made by the State over the past thirty years, by both illegitimate and legitimate authority. The testimonies of Catholics at this time state that the greater part of them went to these new services.

The penalty in 1559 for staying away from the Protestant services was a fine equal to two days’ wages for a laborer, with the penalty increasing to such an extent that, by 1580, the fine, if paid, would have reduced a wealthy man to poverty. Father Allen suggested that it was all but inevitable that many should have fallen. He said that fidelity was “a most difficult thing to obtain in that country because of the iniquitous laws and the punishment of imprisonment, as well as other penalties, which it entails.” He counseled that their more fortunate brethren should deal leniently with those who fell.

Pope Clement VIII, in later years, would echo Father Allen’s counsel when he reaffirmed the unlawfulness of assisting at Protestant services. Led by the Marian priests (priests formed during the reign of Mary Tudor), the people began to wake up to the fact that it was wrong to attend such services. Then the fight against “Church Going,” came as the first sign of a reaction to the novelties of Anglican worship. In general, Catholics thought that this Queen, who was a frail sort, would soon die, or that she would marry a Catholic, since no Protestant prince existed as her peer.

Due to the highly organized and well-financed minority that now controlled the machinery of government, the great body of Catholics, whatever the degree of their loyalty to the old Faith, was wholly at the mercy of the enemy. The Catholic leaders were removed, and the majority of English Catholics, as a body, was destroyed as an organization. And while English Catholics hoped that some foreign prince like Philip of Spain would come to their rescue, they did not know at the time that Philip himself had counseled a patient toleration of the English persecution! Not only had he counseled it, but also he imposed his policy on the pope and Philip stood between any appeals for violent action the Catholics made to the pope and any favorable hearing of those appeals.

However, while the thought existed that English Catholics simply hoped and did not act, this simply was not the case, for the English Catholic was far from being an idle spectator of his own tragic fate. In every diocese, even in London, there was the activity of priests who remained true to the Faith.

There was also a large literary venture launched from abroad, on the part of English Catholics who had fled overseas to Antwerp and Louvain. For example, in the years between 1564 and 1567, there were no fewer than eighteen Catholic writers who published books of devotion, religious instruction, and religious controversy. Over twenty thousand copies of these scholarly works were smuggled into England and sold there despite the government’s police measures. Nicholas Sander, one of the great Catholic resistance leaders of the time, commented: “A new zeal for Catholic truth made the Catholics dare everything in order to learn about their Faith and to defend it.”

Along with these genuinely religious refugees that ended up in Spanish Flanders and France, a very high proportion were priests. They made their way abroad with difficulty, at their own expense, and most of them lived in utter destitution once they arrived.

It is to the story of the endeavors of one of these exiled priests that we will now turn.

William Allen And His Dream

Lancashire was a very Catholic county in England, and it remained the most Catholic of all the counties through the several-hundred-year persecution of the Church in England. In fact, a speaker in the House of Commons in 1641 made the statement that in Lancashire and Yorkshire there were more Papists than in all the other counties put together!

William Allen was from Lancashire. He was born there in 1532 and, at the age of 15 he went to Catholic Oxford to receive his secondary education. In 1550 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and was made a fellow of Oriel College. Four years later, he received his Master of Arts and was chosen as Principal of St. Mary’s Hall. When Elizabeth became queen, Allen, being the staunch Catholic that he was, resigned all of his positions, left the country, and took up residence at the University of Louvain.

A year later we find him back in England evangelizing his native countrymen, though he was not yet a priest. He recalled later how his arguments and instructions on the authority of the Church and the Apostolic See brought about, in a very short time, a vast number abstaining altogether from communion, churches, sermons, books, and all spiritual communication of any sort with the heretics. These next three years of his life had a profound effect on his future course. He found everywhere he went that the people were not Protestant by choice but by force of circumstances; the majority were only too ready to return to Catholicity.

As such, he was convinced that the Protestant wave over the country could only be temporary, and that the whole future of English Catholicism depended on a supply of trained clergy and controversialists ready to come into the country whenever Catholicity should be restored. He later spoke to a friend of the needs of England as regards the Faith.

That friend we will get to soon enough. For now, we paraphrase Allen’s thoughts in that letter as follows: In the course of time death would carry off the existing clergy, and what would be the plight of the Faith if, when the expected restoration came, there were no English priests? Even though Elizabeth died and a Catholic succeeded, heresy would triumph if there were not Catholic preachers, writers, and priests to seize the opportunity. It would be an excellent thing to have always-ready men of learning outside the realm, to restore religion when the proper moment should have arrived.

A college would serve to gather all that Catholic talent which, homeless and without means of living now for eight years and more, was slowly decaying in half a dozen cities of the Low Countries. The students could finish their education; the priests could perfect their studies. Priests could be formed; books could be written. The English Church would possess once more an essential instrument of her continuance: a shelter for her intelligence, a hearth whence her Faith might continue to be fed.

In 1567, William Allen made a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his return trip he met, on the way, one John Vendeville, a professor of Civil Law at the new University of Douai. (Vendeville was the friend to whom the above-mentioned letter was sent.) The meeting was no accident in God’s Providence, for it put together the two ingredients needed for such a project to be realized – the will for it to happen and the means.

John Vendeville, eventually named Bishop of Tournai, was at this time a very successful young lawyer who had influence with King Philip II himself. Vendeville was one of the most celebrated teachers of law his generation knew. At the young age of twenty-nine, he was already professor of civil law at Louvain, and had been recommended for a seat on the ruling Council of the Low Countries for Charles V.

John Vendeville was instrumental in the beginnings of the University of Douai, which university was founded by Pope Paul IV in 1562 under the patronage of King Philip of Spain. In 1558 Vendeville had urged upon the ruling Council of the Low Countries that colleges and seminaries were the best weapons with which to fight heresy, and it was from this standpoint that he had pressed upon the King the foundation of a university which could be for the French-speaking provinces what Louvain was for the Flemings and the Dutch. Thus, a new university was established at Douai in 1562, and Vendeville took the chair of Civil Law.

The Birth Of The English College At The University Of Douai

The newly founded University of Douai became the home of the crème de la crème of the faculty of Catholic Oxford and Cambridge. Five of the early University’s professors were from Oxford. There was great desolation, an almost total academic destruction at the Catholic universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which followed upon the Elizabethan legislation of 1559.

I will mention some of them briefly. Richard Smyth was given the highest chair, that of Theology. It was he who advocated that the first generation of professors of this new undertaking should be men of mark. After all, wasn’t it precisely and principally the idea to produce good theological thinking upon which this new university was founded?

Owen Lewis was given the chair of canon law. To William Allen, in 1567, were given the practical posts of the chair of catechetics and of controverted doctrine. Thomas Stapleton, the most celebrated doctor of them all, would follow Allen in these positions.

In essence then, the University of Douai, while founded upon the model of the University of Louvain, from which the majority of its first professors came, became the continuation of Catholic Oxford with the addition of these learned Catholics. As such, the University began to attract the English exiles living in the Low Countries.

Now, the next step in the realization of Father Allen’s plans began to take shape: that plan, of course, being the establishment of an English college which would be attached to the University of Douai, and which would be used to supply the English Church with good Catholic priests.

John Vendeville set about finding patrons, in the material sense, for this new project. They would be needed to provide the money to buy a house and keep the community in food for the first few years. While providing much from his own holdings, Vendeville was able to enlist the sympathy of three Benedictine prelates, the Abbots of St. Vaast in Arras, of Anchin, and of Marchiennes – all local abbeys.

The three contributed generously. Allen was able to afford the purchase of two large houses and the gardens attached to them. And so, on Michaelmas Day, September 29, 1568, the English College opened with four English students – Richard Bristowe (who would become Allen’s right-hand man), John Marshall, Edward Risden, and John White, all from Oxford.

Four years later, in 1572, the first priests would be ordained. In 1574 there were six, ten in 1575, eleven in 1576, and by the end of 1578, after ten years of work, the college had produced seventy-seven new priests who were returning to England to work there against the express wishes of Elizabeth and the ruling clique of that country. As Father Allen had first planned to generate priests for the English and have them in waiting for the Catholic Restoration of England, the situation changed in 1574 when it was decided to send them to England to help with the good work of the underground priests then living there. This “new venture” was to become the main purpose of the college. By 1580, there were a hundred Douai priests at work in England. By 1603, 450 priests had been sent from the English College.

As the English College was part of the bustling university world at Douai, and the college leaders were important personages there, many of the students were also pupils of the University.

Douai became the chief center of English Catholic life, and its secondary activities were little less important than the main purpose of training priests. Among these secondary activities was the education of laymen who came to Douai to study the humanities and philosophy, and to take their degrees in arts. They desired to receive a Catholic education, but despaired of receiving such from Oxford and Cambridge, where “no art, holy or profane, was thoroughly studied and some not touched at all.” Protestants doubting their new faith came as well, as did Catholics who had apostatized. Such were duly catechized and reconciled to the Church. Over five hundred of these conversions occurred in the first ten years.

Visitors came out of curiosity, interested to see what became of those who had left England years before. Also, the college served a very practical purpose in providing temporary homes for the priests who, without leaders, without help or encouragement of any kind – from any source save their personal friends – had fought the good fight in England since their deprivation. These came to Douai to find the peace of normal Catholic life which they thought they had lost forever, and they also found there a means to replenish and refurbish their theological armament.

The Spirit And Formation Of The Douai Priests

Douai College flourished, and its rule was the will of its president, Father Allen. The secret and history of its first years is discovered in the character of William Allen and the love and veneration he inspired in all. Details of the system whereby the English College trained the missionary priests are found in the letters and thought of Father Allen.

But first let it be mentioned that the new missionary seminary had a strong adherence to university ideals and that there was a real reverence for learning with much etiquette practiced in its attainment. Within the first ten years of the college, there were twenty-two students who proceeded to degrees in theology at the University, and it was only for the lack of money that other promotions were hindered.

For the spirit of the formation of these future missionaries, Allen strove to supply a competent working clergy. He wrote: “Our students, intended for the English harvest, are not required to excel or be great proficients in theological science… but they must abound in zeal for God’s house, charity and thirst for souls.” However, they were not to shirk those things of theological science. He described what kind of knowledge his priests must possess. Deep knowledge is not any hindrance to a priest’s usefulness: “…the more knowledge they possess concerning the Scriptures and controversial divinity, and the greater the prudence and discretion they couple with this knowledge, so much the more abundant will be their success.” If only the missionaries “have burning zeal, even though deep science be wanting, provided always that they know the necessary heads of religious doctrine and the power and nature of the sacraments, such men, among the more skilled laborers whom we have in nearly all the provinces of the kingdom, also do good work in hearing confessions and offering sacrifice.”

To hear confessions and to say Mass – it was to these points that the training was especially directed, and the first and most fundamental part of the training. “Our first and foremost study” was to brace the aspirant “to a zealous and just indignation against the heretics” by placing all his college life in the setting of the liturgical offices of the Church, carried out in the best manner possible, as the best of all means to awaken their minds to the ruin and desolation of their native land. And while encouraged to this hatred of the forces which had wrought such destruction, the student was reminded that the source of all ills is man’s sin, and that all men are sinners, and he was bidden to dedicate himself to the work before him in a spirit of contrition and reparation for all his own sins. To make amends for the routine confessions of past years, “there is now a special devotion to the sacrament of Penance and, a most important detail of the spiritual formation of the missionaries, they make “the spiritual exercises under the fathers of the Society [of Jesus]. The student must never lose sight of the land he has left, of the evils there wrought, of the sufferings of his kinsfolk and friends at the hands of “the impious persecutors.” This will brace him to sacrifice himself utterly for his calling: “they are happy to whom it is given to suffer something for their country, kinsfolk, religion, and Christ… There is nothing, then, which we ought not too readily to suffer rather than see the evils of our nation.”

As to the course of studies, Father Allen first speaks of Sacred Scripture. It was of the utmost importance that the missionary priest should be thoroughly familiar with the whole of it and “have at his fingers’ ends” the passages in dispute between Catholics and the Reformers. Hence there was a daily lecture in the New Testament; a running explanation daily of a chapter of the Old Testament in the refectory after dinner and of the New Testament after supper; and a dictation of all the controverted passages with notes of the arguments for the Catholic interpretation and answers to the Protestant case.

Every week there was a disputation, students being trained not only to put the Catholic case but to understand the Protestant side by themselves defending it, as well as by putting the Protestant objections; and twice a week a student made a kind of scriptural sermon on one or other of the controverted points. “The holy bible is always read at dinner and supper, while all listen attentively… four or at least three chapters at a time,” and every one read over daily, in his room, the passages read in the refectory and those expounded. “Those who are able to do so read them in the original. In this way the old Testament is gone through twelve times every three years or thereabouts… the new Testament is read through sixteen times in the same period; and this is a great help towards acquiring a more than common familiarity with the text.”

The rest of the students [those not able to read the Scriptures in the original], “are not required to excel or to be great proficients,” but are “successively taught Greek and Hebrew, so far as is required to read and understand the Scriptures of both Testaments in the original, and to save them from being entangled in the sophisms which heretics extract from the properties and meanings of words.”

The Douay Bible

From this devotion on the part of the Douai priests to the Holy Scriptures, we can see the greatness of the achievement on the part of the English college in the translation of the whole Bible into English. This project began in 1578, the same year as the removal of the college to Rheims. In those years in France and the Low Countries, continual religious wars were raging between the Catholics and the Calvinists.

William Cecil was financing much of the anti-Catholic side with the express purpose of destroying anything and everything Catholic in that part of Europe. Certainly, he thirsted for, and sought, the destruction of the English College and there is much information available that testifies to his many efforts at accomplishing just such an end. Rheims, in 1578, was under the control of the Catholic League of France and was a safe haven for the English during the next twenty years or so. Rheims lies 130 miles directly south of Douai. One man, Father Gregory Martin, accomplished the translation during the next four years. In fact, he gave the last four years of his life to this work!

This priest, Gregory Martin, was another Oxford man. While at Oxford University, one of Gregory Martin’s closest friends was Saint Edmund Campion. It was through the efforts of Gregory Martin that Edmund Campion came back to the Faith – which he did at Douai – and ultimately became a priest. Saint Edmund stayed at Douai for his theological course and its lesser degree, later entering the Jesuits. Martin was a brilliant scholar and linguist; proficient in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

According to the famous Douai Diaries, Father Martin, under the supervision of Father Allen, began the translation in October 1578, and completed it in March 1582. He adhered very closely to the Latin Vulgate with some careful comparison with the Greek. In this project, Father Martin “transliterated” rather than translated many technical words, words that are now very familiar to us: “evacuated,” “gratis,” “holocaust,” “victims,” and “evangelize.” This was due to the fact that no literal translation into English was available from the Latin and Greek.

After Father Martin finished with some portion of the text, then to Fathers Allen, Richard Bristowe, Thomas Worthington, and John Reynolds would go the task of revising the text and preparing suitable notes to the passages most used by the Protestants.

The reason given by Father Allen for the project of vernacularizing the Bible was that of alleviating the handicap to Catholics, where the priest did not “commonly have at hand a quote from Scripture save in the Latin,” when dealing with the heretics. “Unless there is some English version of the words,” and he remembers it, the preacher must, there and then, translate “on the spur of the moment,” and this, unfortunately, “they often [did] inaccurately and with unpleasant hesitation.” “This evil might be remedied if we too had some Catholic version of the bible, for all the English versions are most corrupt.” And he states very momentously, “we, on our part, if his Holiness shall think proper, will undertake to produce a faithful, pure, and genuine version of the bible, in accordance with the edition approved by the Church… Perhaps indeed it would have been more desirable that the Scriptures had never been translated into barbarous tongues; nevertheless at the present day… it is better that there should be a faithful and Catholic translation than that men should use a corrupt version to their peril and destruction.”

Douai Priestly Training

The students at Douai were taught to preach by weekly exercises on the Sunday epistles and gospels, and they were taught to preach them in English. “We preach in English in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue, a thing on which the heretics [pride] themselves exceedingly, and by which they do great injury to the simple folk. In this respect, the heretics, however ignorant they may be in other points, have the advantage over many of the more learned Catholics.” Father Allen was well aware of the weaknesses in the Catholic action of his time, and he was willing enough to learn where the enemy’s superiority could teach him.

There were two lectures daily on the Summa of Saint Thomas Aquinas. “For we teach scholastic theology (without which no one can be solidly learned or an acute disputant) chiefly from Saint Thomas, though sometimes also from the Master of the Sentences [Peter Lombard]. Once a week there is a disputation on five specially chosen articles of the Summa.”

There were two classes weekly in moral theology with the Manual of Azpilcueta, serving as a text. Cases of conscience had a place of their own in the timetable, and those cases sent in from England and those of more frequent occurrence were written up in a book and the student kept a copy for future guidance. As a kind of preparation to these studies, the students “were most carefully instructed in the whole catechism.” Particularly stressed were those sections on ecclesiastical censures and the “marvelous power and authority of the Sovereign Pontiff.” It was “the exceeding neglect and contempt with which this was treated by pastors and people alike, that God has punished [England] with the present miserable desolation.”

A list of books was recommended for private reading by the students as well. This included, the dogmatic decrees of the recent Council of Trent; the decrees of the English provincial synods (William Lyndwood’s Provinciale ); “the whole of church history, especially that of Venerable Bede, in order that they may be able to show our countrymen from it that our nation did not receive in the beginning any other than the Catholic Faith which we profess, and was converted to no other form of Christianity except that we preach to them, and that their forefathers bore the name of Christians and were such only as members of this Catholic Christendom;” St. Augustine against the heretics of his time, especially on the unity of the Church, such as his letters to certain Donatists (the De utilitate credendi , and the De cathechizandis rudibus); St. Cyprian’s De unitate ecclesiae; Vincent of Lerins; St. Jerome’s Against Vigilantius and Against Jovinian; Thomas of Walden for his refutation of Wyclif, “the father of all modern heretics.”

For their spiritual life, all said the Divine Office and everyone used “the Blessed Virgin’s rosary with the meditations attached.” Mass was heard together each morning at five, and, before Mass the Litany of the Saints was said for the Church and for the conversion of England. Every Sunday and on the greater feasts they received Holy Communion.

In those times, the reception of Holy Communion was a rare event, even though the ancient practice of daily Communion was endorsed by the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Those who were priests said Mass every day. The feasts of Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Augustine the apostle of England, and Saint Thomas of Canterbury were kept with special solemnity. Days of solemn intercession were kept for the conversion of “our country,” and for this same intention the college fasted twice each week.

Fruits Of The Labors At Douai

As mentioned earlier, by the end of the 1500s, the English College at Douai had produced over 450 priests for the harvest in England. Of that number, about a hundred would suffer martyrdom at the hands of the heretics in England, and another hundred priests would be banished from that country. By the end of the persecution of English Catholics, Douai had given to the Church more than one hundred and sixty martyrs.

Father Allen became William Cardinal Allen, and, after he died in 1594, the English College underwent much turmoil. This was only natural since the will of Allen had been the rule of the college. But English College survived and it continued to supply the Catholics of England with the priests necessary to keep the Faith under tremendous difficulties.

In fact, the English College continued on for the next two hundred years, up to the time of the French Revolution, during which event the revolutionaries expelled the collegians from France and forced them to move into England, where the Penal Laws had recently been repealed. There the “Douains” founded two colleges to continue the work of Douai: Crook Hall, afterwards Ushaw in the north of England, and St. Edmund’s Old Hall in the south.

Before Father Allen’s death, he was able to write of the glorious martyrdoms suffered by his students at the hands of the impious English heretics. They were for him a very special fruit of his labors at Douai.

In preparing his book on the martyrdoms of the Douai priests, Father Allen stated in a letter to a fellow priest: “About our brothers and yours, who have lately been murdered, I have already written to you; and deeply grieved though I am, I am now constrained to compose the history of their deaths and of the others. It must be written in English first, for our people desire this very much and send me information for it. Afterwards we shall perhaps also publish it in Latin. You will see in it a constancy quite equal to that of the ancient martyrs. Their fortitude has marvelously moved and changed all hearts. Men of good will and moderation are repentant, the wicked and the enemies are amazed. Loud, indeed, is the cry of sacred blood so copiously shed. Ten thousand sermons would not have published our apostolic Faith and religion so winningly as the fragrance of these victims, most sweet both to God and to men. The other prisoners have become more courageous, our men are more ready, and the harvest increases. With labor and constancy, and God as our leader, we shall conquer. The enemy rages more than ever, for they are desperate.”

Some Glorious Sons Of Douai

This article will end with some of the final words of the glorious martyrs of Douai, words spoken just before they were martyred in a most cruel manner by the enemies of our holy Faith.

In Father Allen’s histories, he describes how the murder scene typically unfolded. Upon arrival at the place of execution, a proclamation for keeping the peace was read. The martyrs were not immediately let free from the hurdle (a frame or sled used to drag the prisoner to the place of execution), but while the first was hanging, the second was brought up and made to turn backward and look at the first, while he was being quartered. Occasionally, they were allowed to kneel and pray.

Standing in the cart, and having the rope round their necks, they generally began their last prayers with the Sign of the Cross and the Pater, Ave, and Credo in Latin. Sooner or later, they would be called upon to pray in English or with the Protestants. The latter was uniformly refused. At this point they were subjected to what was known as the “bloody question,” namely, what did they think of the excommunication of the Queen by Pope Pius V? An opinion on this matter was not why the martyrs were there in the first place, but the answers inevitably given by the accused would only serve to excite the fanatics in attendance who came to gloat over the slaughter of the priests. Thus the execution could take place without much attention being given to the palpable injustice of the charges actually alleged against them.

The last words of some of these martyrs follow:

Asked by the Sheriff what he thought of the queen’s title of Head of the Church in England, Father John Shert replied: “I will give to Caesar that which is his and to God that that belongeth to God. She is not, nor cannot be; nor any other, but only the supreme pastor.”

Sheriff: “What, do you mean that whore of Babylon the Pope?”

Father Shert: “Take heed, M. Sheriff, for the day will come when that shall be a sore word for your soul, and then it shall repent you that ever you called Christ’s vicar-general on earth, “whore.” When you and I shall stand at the bar, before that indifferent judge, who judgeth all things aright; then, I say, will you repent your saying. Then must I give testimony against you.”

Then just before the hangman readied the rope, Father Shert ended his earthly life with these words, “Whosoever dieth out of the Catholic Church he dieth in the state of damnation” (May 28, 1582).

After climbing into the hanging cart with the help of the executioner, Father John Roberts turned to the criminals in the gallows and said: “Here we are all going to die, nor have we any hope of escape, but if you die in that religion now professed and established in this country, without any doubt you will be condemned to the eternal fire of Hell. For the love then of our Blessed Savior, I earnestly pray you to return from the evil path, so that we may all die in one and the same true Faith…”

And then a little while later, he turned to the people who had gathered there and spoke to them: “Memorare novissima tua – Let man remember his end. “Quia nos omnes manifestari oportet ante tribunal Christi – We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ there to render an account of our Faith and of our deeds. Those who have done well will have eternal life, and those who have done evil will suffer eternal torments.”

Having said this, he exclaimed loudly for all to hear: “Extra ecclesiam nulla est salus – Outside the true Church of Christ there is no salvation.”

After Father Thomas Somers was prepared for hanging, he was allowed to speak. He now said, in a loud and cheerful voice: “Benedicat nos omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus,” and added, “Father Roberts has told you the reason why we are to suffer death, and so it is not necessary that I should repeat more than one thing. I did not refuse to take the oath because I refused any sort of allegiance that his Majesty the King could justly demand of me. I refused on account of the matters of Faith included in that oath, and that is why it has been forbidden by His Holiness the Pope, whom all of us who are sheep of Christ are bound to obey in matters of Faith. I pray you all therefore and exhort you to be obedient to the chief Shepherd of the Church of God.” And then Father Somers concluded with these words: “Out of the Church there is no salvation” (December 10, 1610).

Fathers Shert, Roberts, and Somers, Pray for us!

War In The Vendée: Why It Was Genocide

This month we are so very honored to present this interview with Monsieur Jacques Villemain, the highly regarded French jurist and diplomat. His recent and magisterial work on the war in the Vendée is the subject of this interview, which is conducted by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.

Christophe Geffroy (CG): In 2017, you published a book entitled, Vendée 1793-1794. Crimes de guerre? Crimes contre l’humanité ? Génocide ? Une étude juridique (The Vendée 1793-1794. War Crime? Crimes Against Humanity? Genocide? A Legal Study), in which you seek to demonstrate that these three types of crimes were indeed committed in the Vendée by the troops of the Convention. Why write a new book on this subject today? What is particularly important about this question?

Jacques Villemain (JV): After establishing the legal qualification of the crime, it must be explained. How could a French revolution that began in 1789 on the pretext of proclaiming the rights of man and of the citizen, in just four years managed to commit, and in the very name of these ideals, these mass crimes? This is the first part.

But the main part of the book is devoted to the reasons which prevent us in France to look this past in the face – when Reynald Secher published his thesis on “the Franco-French genocide” in 1986, it created a beautiful scandal! This is because the University, at least the university sector dedicated to the history of the French Revolution, has been from the beginning (1891) organized solely for the celebration of the Revolution. Originally it was about producing a doxa legitimizing the republican regime, which was at that still contested in France.

The revolution was a “bloc” to use Clemenceau’s famous phrase, there was no question of admitting that there could be abuses and crimes. The Vendeans were criminals, traitors, debris of a bygone past, and the Terror was absolved in the name of “circumstances.” We are not there anymore. The very half-hearted celebration of the Bicentenary in 1989 clearly showed that there had been several phases in the Revolution, and that we could hardly celebrate the period 1789-1792 (and especially not all of 1792), that is, in effect, the “liberal” period, that of the affirmation of human rights. These rights were the great victim of the period that followed, and in the massacres of September (1792) to at least until 9 Thermidor (1794). The Vendée genocide falls within this interval.

Now that the Republic is no longer contested in France, we can make distinctions and exercise our right to inventory the revolutionary period, which includes the “good,” the “less good,” and the “totally criminal.” This the radical Left does not admit, and it is entrenched in the University, that high place which Marcel Gauchet termed as “cultural leftism,” and which is a bunker all the more comfortable since it has no hold on reality (apart from training history and geography teachers – disaster subject matters in a National Education which is itself not in great shape).

University historians, who specialize in the revolutionary period, and who are mostly radical left activists, can thus say just about anything, none of it having the slightest practical importance. A number of their outright Communist works (say from 1920-1989) cannot be read without a smile today, and their current fallacies are no less ridiculous.

I try to continue what Reynald Secher showed earlier, but by as a legal demonstration, to show that one can acknowledge this genocide without calling for “repentance,” without “pulling down the statues,” and without hatred and contempt for our national history.

CG: You insist on the legal character of the concept of genocide, thereby distinguishing yourself from a historical or social analysis. How important is the legal character of the concept of genocide in such an investigation?

JV: First of all, the notion of genocide is an exclusively legal concept. It was conceived for the sole purpose of the penal repression of a crime which, until the Shoah, had no name, but whose concept was recognized by international custom – this “human right” was expressly invoked as a basis by the UN Convention of 1948 which defines it.

Historians and social scientists, committed to denying the genocide thesis, ignore it cleverly if not willfully. Some forge their own concept of genocide in order to then be able to demonstrate that it excludes the Vendée case – their demonstration is in their basic assumptions. We even see aberrations by historians claiming that “extermination” in the eighteenth century does not mean “killing everyone” as today, which is of course denied as much by the dictionary of the French Academy (1762 edition) as by the use made of the word, for example in Racine or La Fontaine – so already a century before the facts.

I devote an entire chapter to dismantling the fallacies of historians denying the Vendée genocide, more than one of which oscillates in practice between obvious bad faith and being completely ridiculous. Thus, for example, François Furet, could only have a career outside the University which, in the field of studies pertaining to the revolutionary period, we can point out, is completely “hogged” by the Robespierrists. The “Social Sciences,” as you say, have become a combat sport of the radical left where they engage in powerful relay races.

Today, for example, it is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who calls himself Robespierriste, and it is the LFI (the left wing political party La France insoumise, Unbowed France) which is trying to have a “Rue Robespierre” created in Paris (for the moment there is only one metro station called, “Robespierre” in the commune of Montreuil, historically communist, which gave it this name in the euphoria of the Popular Front in 1936).

Robespierre remains a symbol of social revolution and of the legitimization of violence in politics – to say that he was involved in the commission of genocide is obviously blasphemy for a whole politico-university fringe which supports the “Right to blaspheme” but only on the condition rthat said right spares his convictions.

CG: So, there is a precise and universally recognized definition of genocide, to clarify the debate?

JV: Yes. It is stated in the UN Convention “On the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” (1948), as interpreted in the 1990s by the case law of the courts established by the same UN to judge genocides in ex -Yugoslavia (Srebrenica), in Rwanda; then with its assistance in Cambodia (genocides of the Khmer Rouge); and finally by the International Criminal Court.

This is the basis of my analysis. Because if the notion of “genocide” is from the 20th century, the reality of the fact (systematically massacring a whole “stable and permanent human group” by targeting it “as such”) was well recognized as criminal in the 18th century. Such a thing was condemned without having the word “genocide” to designate it. But it was precisely at this time that its equivalents appeared, used by committed revolutionaries, and in no way favorable to the Vendéens. It was Joseph Lequinio who, 1794, spoke of “depopulation” (because the word “depopulation” could evoke an involuntary phenomenon). And, in 1797, Gracchus Babeuf, who is often taken for one of the first Communists, forged the adjective “populicide” which has exactly the same etymology as “genocide.”

What the evolution of law and especially of the jurisprudence of the twentieth century brings us is the way of analyzing criminal intent in the context of mass crimes. In these cases, we cannot reason as in the matter of individual criminality, because in mass crimes it is not an individual who kills another, but a collective of criminals who attack a collective of victims – the first do not know the latter and vice versa. Hitler or Himmler certainly could not have been individually linked to any of the 6 million Jews they killed, and yet they are very well responsible for these crimes.

How to establish mass crime? This is the subject that the Nuremberg Tribunal focused on, followed by the international criminal tribunals created by the UN to try mass crimes (crimes against humanity and genocide) committed in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, then the courts set up in Cambodia with the support of the UN to try the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

It is this experience, I was going to say this criminological know-how which, as such, is not attached to a particular period, that I use to reason about the atrocities committed in the Vendée – and which I demonstrate were indeed genocide.

CG: What is the difference between genocide and crimes against humanity?

JV: It was especially during the Nuremberg Trials that we became aware of the difference. Admittedly the Nazis had exterminated en masse Russians, Poles and Ukrainians, but that was to free up a “living space” for the future Reich and one would then have preserved these populations to reduce them to bondage for the Reich’s profit. There was no general extermination plan or principle against these people, even though there were undeniable mass killings. On the contrary, the Jews were targeted in general and absolute terms and “as such,” their very existence being intolerable; and in principle not a single one should have survived, if the Nazis had achieved their ends.

The difference between the two exterminations was a difference in nature and not just in degree. This is why no sooner had the Nuremberg Tribunal closed its doors than the UN launched the work of drafting what would become the 1948 convention which made “genocide” a crime distinct from other “crimes against” humanity, because it is not the same criminal intent.

A crime against humanity involves the general context of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, but not necessarily with the aim of exterminating it entirely “as such.” For example, there is no doubt today that the reduction to slavery of human groups constitutes a crime against humanity; but by hypothesis, when we want to reduce people to slavery, we do not want to kill them since then we could no longer make them work – qualifying the slave trade as genocide on the grounds that it caused a very large number of deaths is not supported.

The generalized massacre of American Indians is not a genocide either – besides the fact that the causes are much more involuntary (spread of European diseases such as smallpox to which these populations had no immunity) than premeditated, the goal was not to exterminate them but to steal most of their land (and for the rest they would be confined to “reserves”). We are quite clearly within “crime against humanity” but not within “genocide.”

On the contrary, when it comes to the Jews, the Nazis wanted them to disappear from the face of the earth as some kind of pollution of the human species.

The Convention also thought that the very existence of the Vendeans was incompatible with that of the France they wanted to build; and we find, for example, revolutionary authorities who speak of the “crime of their existence” – the crime of the Vendeans was to exist. The consequence is extermination, as complete as possible – genocide.

CG: The texts of the Convention, of the Representatives on mission, of the Committee of Public Safety as well as of the generals that you quote are often chilling with cynicism in their will to exterminate. How do you explain that the will for such a crime was possible and shared by so many?

JV: I think one could say, cynicism and/or blindness. The Vendée uprising asked revolutionaries this unbearable question: how can a notable part of the people rise up against them? They claimed that they were acting in the name of the people and for their happiness! Yet August 10, 1792 was only the coup d’état of a small minority and the Convention was elected in a climate of terror (90% abstentions). The Vendée uprising sent this government back to its imposture, which it neither wanted nor could recognize or understand.

Bertrand Barère, of the Committee of Public Safety, spoke of “the inexplicable Vendée” before the Convention. The revolutionary still had an explanation in which he either believed (blindly), or which he held on to because it was convenient (cynicism) – that the Vendeans had been brutalized, degenerated by centuries of clerical and nobiliary domination. “It is out of the principle of humanity that I purge the earth of these monsters,” Jean-Baptiste Carrier said in Nantes. Here by “humanity” is meant “progress” and “monsters” literally designates “abnormal.” There is no other choice but to eradicate this sub-humanity for the happiness of true Humanity, that of the future.

The Convention members spoke of the Vendeans as the Nazis came to speak of the Jews – “the accursed race,” “the execrable race,” “to be exterminated to the last,” etc. are all recurring terms in their rhetoric. The genocidal logic is also, and perhaps first, there. This will is then relayed by a flawless “chain of command:” this concept and that of a “joint criminal enterprise,” which is the culmination of the experience of the Nuremberg Tribunal on “Criminal Organizations” (like the SS, for example), are essential to the demonstration that there was indeed genocide.

It should be understood that the genocidal will did not form overnight. François Furet spoke about the policy of the Convention in the Vendée of an “election of hatred” – it is a gradual process. At the beginning (March 1793) the Parisian revolutionaries believed in a simple jacquerie: they had the required troops and decided to put all the insurgents to death, even if they had not taken arms.

It was an avalanche of war crimes. And yet the revolt not only was not put down, but it extended to the point of siege before Nantes. From then on, the Convention grew fearful and with two laws, of August 1 and October 1, ordered a policy of scorched earth in the Vendée (it is “Destroy the Vendée” repeated six times in the speech by Barère to get the vote for the first of these laws), which characterized a “generalized or systematic attack against a civilian population,” and therefore a policy of crimes against humanity.

And yet the Vendée continued to fight. When it was finally defeated in December 1793 at Savenay, and henceforth there was no more Vendée military force, except perhaps François de Charette who moreover only had a few hundred men in the region of de Retz – one might have expected the Convention members to seek pacification.

But this is precisely the moment when they decided to unleash the “infernal columns” on the Vendée, whose mission was to comb the country by burning everything and killing all those they met, including, where applicable, the Republican Vendéens (because there were still a few in the “Catholic and Royal” country). The Vendée must become a “national cemetery” (said General Turreau), a kind of blank page on which we can finally build the new society. As is obvious, genocidal logic crowns the spiral of violence, a criminal intent that had been built up gradually, but also that had hardened until it could be implemented.

CG: Why do you qualify the Vendée war as a “religious one?”

JV: In 1789, the “Vendéans,” had rather welcomed the Revolution. But both their religious culture and their social life were structured around Catholicism. Living in small parishes, isolated in their bocage around their “good priests,” who came from their own ranks and so were close to the people. These priests now saw their world crumble when they began to be hunted down for refusing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in order to remain faithful to Rome.

When, in addition, the priests were required to go and fight at the borders to defend this new order that fell upon them (in March 1793), there was an explosion. Opposing them was the “Republic,” which took on the value of a true “political religion” or “secular religion” – Jules Michelet did not invent anything when he spoke of the Revolution as a new “Church” and a new “Gospel.” Mona Ozouf describes the search by the revolutionaries for a “transfer of sacredness” to found the new regime on a new legitimacy, like that of the king which was based on the coronation at Reims. But this required a “transfer of faith.”

The core of this war was religious – but religious on both sides. What really put an end to the war in the Vendée was the Concordat of 1801 (agreement reached between Bonaparte and the papal representative during the Consulate). Because the war continued at low intensity after Thermidor and the first attempts at pacification in 1795 (treaties of La Jaunaye, La Mabilais and Saint-Florent) – these agreements were never respected on either side, because Parisian authorities could not agree to restore the freedom of worship, which was the real reason for the Vendée uprising.

God the King badge of the rebels.

In 1797, there was even an upsurge in the policy of de-Christianization (it was under the Directory that most religious buildings would be destroyed, for example, such as the famous Cluny abbey). This is made clear in the report made to the Council of State by Joseph-Jérôme Simeon for the ratification of the text negotiated between Bonaparte and Pius VII – it is religious persecution which is at the origin of the revolt; and if freedom of public worship had been restored to the Vendéens earlier, we would have had peace sooner, or even no war at all.

After all, even the execution of the king in January 1793 had not caused an uprising. And after the Concordat there would be no more Vendée uprising. The Duchess of Berry in 1832 did not succeed in stirring up the region against Louis-Philippe. As in 1815, only a few nobles, for whom the monarchist cause counted as much or more than the Catholic cause, rose up. But the peasants did not follow – they had obtained the return of their “good priests,” and that was enough for them.

One question remains: why was there only one Vendée? In fact, there were many uprisings against the revolutionary Parisian dictatorship, since there were up to 60 departments in insurrection out of the 83 in France at the time. Either Vendée Catholicism was particularly internalized and “militant,” or it was particularly structured for the population which lived in what became the “Military Vendée,” or its initial successes allowed the uprising to become wide-spread and durable (and all these causes can be cumulative). But it is a fact that only the Vendée uprising was qualified, and this from the beginning, as a “war” by the Parisian revolutionaries themselves.

CG: What are the main obstacles to the recognition of the Vendéan genocide?

JV: It is the revolutionary faith that is in question, this idea that violence “brings about history” (Marx) and is the necessary and thus legitimate means of political and social progress. The revolutionary studies at the French University were organized under the Third Republic, first to celebrate the Revolution as the founding myth of the Republic. We then convinced ourselves that 1917 would be the new 1793, or the continuation of the movement of social revolution previously launched by the sans-culottes, but without Thermidor this time.

The marching wing of the Left, now Communist, then took over the management of this university sector – since 1937 all the holders of the chair of the history of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne, which sets the tone on this subject, have been members of the Société des Etudes Robespierristes, and almost always inset Communists or “fellow-travelers.” They have powerful political links. Today it is Jean-Luc Mélenchon especially, who calls himself Robespierriste, but even in yesteryears a François Mitterrand or a Lionel Jospin did not want to nurture an image of “the Left” that the economic policy they were pursuing was chipping away at was enough to dissociate themselves from it. This is still very true today.

Even if no historian can continue to claim like Clemenceau in the last century that “The Revolution is a bloc,” it nevertheless remains the doxa of the radical Left for whom the faith and especially the revolutionary hope remains intact, and which cannot therefore endure the questioning of this revolutionary tale which François Furet qualified as “vulgate Lenino-populist” and which takes the place of Holy History. It is a very small minority, but it is focused and activist, and propped up on strong institutional positions.

Today, the Republic is no longer a contested regime in France; we can afford to take stock of the good, the bad and the unacceptable in the legacy of the period of 1789-1799. Moreover, what we call the “Republic” today has nothing to do, institutionally or otherwise, with the terrorist regime of 1792-1794. It is interesting to note that President Macron celebrated the Republic in the Pantheon, taking as a reference the Republic’s proclamation on September 4, 1870. It is indeed the birth of the parliamentary and democratic republic which is the one in which we live today.

It is no less interesting to note that it was a Jean-Luc Mélenchon who responded to Macron by saying that the real date to remember is September 21, 1792, that is to say, precisely the foundation of the terrorist republic which would bloody France until Thermidor and make the very name of “Republic” odious in France until 1870.

During most of the 19th century France tried to find a form of constitutional monarchy. We tried with the Bourbons in 1815, with the Orléans in 1830, with the Bonapartes in 1852, and even a return to the Bourbons/Orléans in 1871-75, which would fail because of the irreconcilable divisions among the different monarchist groups. The different families who reigned over France having shown themselves incapable or having refused to make room for the representative regime, the Republic is in a way “by default;” and finally what is today its most stable form is another form of “republican monarchy.”

We no longer need the revolutionary myth to found the Republic. On the contrary, this idea that it is from violence that political and social progress comes appears to us today for what it is – a dangerous chimera. Disorder is not the climate in which justice progresses. On the contrary, it is the climate in which all injustices and all crimes become possible, if not inevitable.

CG: Why does official recognition of this genocide seem important to you today? What would be the point?

JV: It is a past that does not pass away. The Vendée has not forgotten. Otherwise, Philippe de Villiers would not have been able to found his “Puy-du-Fou” with so many volunteers, and continue it until today on the same basis, that is to say for more than 40 years.

We must also consider that the Vendée genocide is the high point of a trauma that has permanently rotted relations between the Church and the Republic. They were not necessarily meant to be confused with hostility, however. The republican form of the regime did not, even at the time, pose any problem to the Church, where it was not accompanied by antichristianism (the case of the United States); and it was even clearly preferred by the Church in some cases (Ireland, Poland).

Because of this initial trauma that even today we have not really succeeded in appeasing by a process of truth, we have invented a concept of “secularism,” anti-religious in fact, if not in principle, and which only exists in us to the point that this term is untranslatable in other languages. Recognizing the origin of the problem is essential, if we want to overcome it. The recognition of the Vendée genocide, which is in no way attributable to “the Republic,” but to a terrorist group which seized power under this name in 1793-94, just as another terrorist group will seize power in Russia in 1917 to remain there by violence for 70 years – only this recognition can allow us to strengthen our national unity and consider more serenely the moral and intellectual future, even spiritual, of our country.

The more violent a revolution, the more it delays the advent of a peaceful and democratic society. In England, the revolution of 1649 was followed by ten years of civil war at the end of which a successful Restoration allowed the country to regain its base, even with the crisis of 1688.

In France, where the Restorations (Bourbons, Orléans, Bonaparte) did not succeed in taking root, it took almost a century to begin to digest the period of 1789-1799 – we did not begin to enter into truly democratic mores until around 1880; and political liberalism took even longer to come about.

In Russia, the violence of the Revolution in 1917 was such that even more than 30 years after the collapse of Sovietism, it is clear that liberal democracy is not yet relevant there even if a whole segments of Russian society aspire to it. You do not make flowers grow by pulling on them or, as Talleyrand already said, “Time does not respect anything that we try to do without.”

The Revolution is not a means of progress – sometimes necessary, or rather inevitable, to bring down an unjust system, or one that has become incapable of ensuring the common good, it can destroy – but it does not build anything. It is time that we realized, that we admit in France, that the democracy in which we live owes nothing, except perhaps symbolically and nothing more, to 1789-1799, which was overall a formidable regression of civilization, right up to genocide.

The liberal ideas of 1789 would have finally prevailed anyway, in the great movement of political reform which manifested itself everywhere in Europe from the 17th century onwards. These ideas could certainly have won out much more gradually, as was done in the United Kingdom, which descends gently from the “limited monarchy” of 1689 to the aristocratic regime of the 18th century and its progressive democratization in the mid-19th century. And that would have been preferable: England has undergone a much more reasonable development, and democratic mores have taken root much more deeply there than in France, where even still in 1940 the Republic aroused enough hatred and opposition as historical trauma that it was overthrown in favor of a regime which renounced even its name.

It is therefore not the Republic that is at issue here, but the myth of political violence as a means of progress that must be deconstructed. Realizing that the Human Rights Revolution was able to degenerate into genocide should undoubtedly make us collectively more reasonable about what we can expect from violence in politics and about the tragedy of an ideological regime that claims to bring about a “new world” and a “new man.”

I see no better conclusion on this subject than to quote the speech Solzhenitsyn made on September 25, 1993 at the Historial of Vendée, built on the initiative of the Vendée departmental council, then chaired by Philippe de Villiers:

“It was the 20th century that considerably tarnished, in the eyes of mankind, the romantic halo that surrounded the revolution in the 18th century. Men have at last come to know, based on their own misfortunes, that revolutions destroy the organic character of society; that they ruin the natural course of life; that they annihilate the best elements of the population, giving free rein to the worst; that no revolution can enrich a country, just a few unscrupulous hustlers; that in its own country, generally, it is the cause of countless deaths, widespread impoverishment and, in the most serious, lasting degradation of the population.”

The French version of this interview appeared in La Nef.

The image shows “La déroute de Cholet, octobre 1793” (“The Rout at Cholet, October 1793”) by ules Girardet, painted in 1886.

Translated from by French by N. Dass.

End Of The Myth Of The French Revolution

Celebrated with great pomp at the end of the last century, the bicentenary of the French Revolution (1789-1989) did not fail to rekindle debates and controversies over the interpretation of the event. Many French intellectuals and academics were still dreaming of the “blessed” era when Clemenceau invited them to take the “Revolution as a bloc.” After all, it was justifiable or excusable for them to pass over in silence the Terror, the Vendée “genocide,” the terrible treatments inflicted by the Republic and its leaders on “monsters,” “sub-humans,” the “execrable race,” that it was appropriate to “exterminate” or “purge” the nation.

Under blows from foreign authors, in particular English-speaking ones, it had to be admitted that the “heroes” of the revolutionary gesture could not escape historical research. The corruption of Danton, the intrigues of Mirabeau, the paranoid delirium of Robespierre, the fanaticism of Saint-Just, the violence of Marat, the deceit of Hébert, the villainy of Barras were very troublesome. These men hardly corresponded to the idealized image that Republican education (primary and secondary school) had long given of this period to legitimize the foundations of a regime that had become uncertain. How many already seemed old and outdated, such as, the Robespierrolatry of a Laponneraye (1842), or the hagiographies of Danton by Quinet (1865), of Saint-Just by Hamel (1859) or of Hébert by Tridon (1864). But on the whole, the myth of the Revolution as a veritable monolithic bloc still held firm. No one imagined the magnitude of the earthquake that a group of researchers and academic historians would cause in the late 1980s.

For nearly two centuries, the theories of interpretation of the Revolution have opposed each other and clashed. But justification, advocacy, and respect for the vulgate remained the rule of research and higher education – a strict, imperative prescription that no reasonable researcher could break without risking his career.

Diverse and contradictory, the theses and interpretative theories of the French Revolution can be grouped into three categories. Of course, the historiography of the subject cannot be reduced to these three antagonistic schools, but this classification at least has the merit of clarity and convenience.

The first school of thought sees the Revolution as a mythical phenomenon, as a revelation of absolute values pushed onto the stage of history under the pressure of Justice, Liberty and the People. Suddenly enlightened and responding to the call of revolutionary divinities, the People spontaneously revolted against tyranny. The archetype of this dogmatic literature is the Histoire de la Révolution française by Jules Michelet, published from 1847 to 1853. It is perpetuated, to varying degrees, in the spirit of primary and secondary education textbooks and in cultural news delivered by the mainstream media. We find it sometimes in the liberal-Jacobin form, sometimes in the socialist form, the latter mainly deriving from L’histoire socialiste de la Révolution française, by Jean Jaurès (1901-1904).

A second school, to which most academics are closely or remotely attached, sees the Revolution as a mechanism, a social phenomenon. This positivist, sociological interpretation inspired classic Marxist historians from Georges Lefebvre to Albert Soboul (and later Michel Vovelle), but also historians of socialist (Blanc), radical (Mathiez), radical-socialist (Aulard), Jacobin- republican (Reinhard, Godechot), liberal-conservative (Mignet, Thiers, Guizot, Tocqueville) and nationalist-republican (Edgar Quinet) alliance.

One of the main representatives of this interpretation, Hippolyte Taine, who published from 1875 to 1894 Les origines de la France contemporaine, saw the Revolution as a process of degeneration and dissolution. His thesis was then systematized by Augustin Cochin (La Mécanique de la Révolution, 1926) who gave a remarkable description of the fundamental role of the Societies of thought (Sociétés de pensée) in the genesis and development of the Revolution. His teaching would later be taken up in terms of the reconstruction of facts and events, by Pierre Gaxotte in his Révolution française (1928).

Finally, a third school, that of the “traditionalist” or “counter-revolutionary” current (Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald) considered the Terror as the fruit of the principles of 1789 and, more generally, that revolutionary logic inevitably leads to terror. One part of this approach, the supporters of a conspiracy theory, refers primarily to the works of the Jesuits Augustin Barruel and Nicolas Deschamps, or to those of Crétineau-Joly and Monseigneur Delassus. According to them, the French Revolution was the fruit of a triple conspiracy hatched by Jansenism, Masonry and other sects such as the Illuminati of Bavaria. This conspiracy theory has been the subject of fierce criticism from pro-revolutionary historiography, deeming it fanciful and untrustworthy. However, it received an unexpected reinforcement from Marxist or socialist historians, like Albert Mathiez, and Freemasons, like Albert Lantoine and Louis Blanc, who, without using the term “conspiracy,” insisted heavily on the “project” and on the “plan” of the Jacobin group and of the Masons, which could not be fully realized, solely because of the lack of maturity of the masses and their ignorance.

The proponents of this third school of thought point out that for the most conscious protagonists of the Revolution, the revolutionary movement was imagined and executed against Christianity, against the Church and in the last analysis against God. This is the thesis set out in the works of Louis Daménie, La Révolution (1970), and Jean Dumont, La Révolution française, ou, Les prodiges du sacrilège (1984), for whom the Revolution was persecuting and oppressive of the Church and the people, of God, because it was anti-Christian, capitalist and bourgeois.

Since the 19th century the various currents dominating French political life have not ceased to oppose and tear each other apart on the subject. On the right, for the Orleanists, the Bonapartists and soon the nationalists, 1789 is sacred, 1793 is hated. For legitimists and traditionalists, the distinction is not appropriate: 1789 announces 1793. With them, Maurras’s Action Française placed a heavy responsibility on an Old regime that had been contaminated for too long. On the left, they chose 1793. The left said, “No” to so-called human rights that it stigmatizes as individual, formal and bourgeois rights. The fascists of the 20th century followed suit. Drieu la Rochelle explained that Hitlerites and Mussolinians wanted to break with the legacy of 1789, which was liberal, but not with that of 1793, which was Jacobin and totalitarian.

For more than a century and a half, the battles of the Revolution, like its internal struggles, were an inexhaustible fuel for the political battles and ideological quarrels of the time. Under Louis Philippe (1830-1848), after the adventures of the Revolution and the Empire, French liberalism drew lessons from the double experience. It refocused on the right. The golden mean, eclecticism, compromise, seeking the middle ground were now the watchwords. A moderate historiography was forged by Thiers (Histoire de la Révolution, 1827) and Lamartine (Histoire des Girondins, 1847). But gradually the official discourse was radicalized on the left.

At the turn of the 20th century, outside of the usual minority, the “Revolution” was taboo. Its protests were sometimes seen as unpleasant, but it was also seen as the necessary step in achieving universal equality, freedom and prosperity. The basis of the consensus rested on a few words: “Let us forget, and do not question what is achieved.”

The first specialized chair in the history of the Revolution was created at the Sorbonne in 1866, on the initiative of the Council of Paris. It was occupied by Alphonse Aulard. The act was clearly political. Aulard until then taught only literature and philology. On the other hand, he was an ardent republican, appreciated by the authorities and by Clemenceau. Radical and aggressive, he was soon overtaken on his leftism by his pupil and rival, Albert Mathiez. The master was radical and anticlerical, the disciple was radical-socialist and Robespierrist. The two antagonists imposed their truth on the Sorbonney.

Allied to communism in 1917, Mathiez presented himself and imposed himself for succession to Aulard in 1926. To his posterity belonged primarily Georges Lefebvre, Albert Soboul, Michel Vovelle and Claude Mazauric – and later, in the 2000s, the pure Jacobins, Jean-Pierre Jessenne and Michel Briard. All were or had been militants, sympathizers or “fellow travelers” of the Communist Party. They reigned almost unchallenged over the French University for more than forty years. “The Revolution,” historian Pierre Chaunu would say, “was the privileged place of ideological manipulation padlocked by a Sorbonicole nomenklatura from Mathiez to Soboul… Masters who knew the way, ensured the scholastic self-functioning in a vacuum closed by the monopoly of recruitment.” They have thus built “one of the most beautiful monuments of institutionalized stupidity” (Le Figaro, December 17, 1984).

After the Second World War, the ideological and cultural hegemony of Marxism oriented and directed official historiography. In the 1960s, Albert Soboul still appeared as “the great specialist whose work is essential.” Intellectual terrorism marginalized or condemned to silence the independent, non-conformist researcher. The revolutionary catechism mechanically identified revolutionaries with the capitalist bourgeoisie.

This catechism made 1789 the first step in a process of which 1917 and the Russian Revolution was the final step. This thereby legitimized the Jacobin=Bolshevik equation.

But times and fashions change. The 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s were marked by a major break. English-speaking historians, little suspecting of espousing the quarrels of French academics, were the first to open the breach. Let us take two titles among others. The first, The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789–1800 by Alfred Cobban, was published in 1950 and translated into French in 1984, after the author’s death. This incisive book helped shake the commonplaces and conventionalisms of the Marxist vulgate, destroying the simplistic thesis of a bourgeois and capitalist revolution which would have replaced an old feudal regime.

Not everything is memorable in Cobban’s work. Thus, he is wrong when he insists on the population explosion. Pierre Chaunu demonstrated, with Jacques Dupâquier and Jean-Pierre Bardet, that France was the country in Europe where the population had increased the least (from 22 to 28 million in a century), and whose demographic dynamism was broken, everywhere, twenty years before 1789. But we must nevertheless salute in Cobban the first truly operative iconoclastic approach.

A second English, quite remarkable, should be cited – The French Revolution and the Poor by Alan Forrest, 1981 (translated into French in 1986), in which the author masterfully dismantles the mechanism of the evils of revolutionary ideology, the deadly refusal of realities on the part of revolutionary leaders.

François Furet and Denis Richet took up where these two English-world authors left off. In La Révolution française (1965), they tackled the already old thesis of the slippage from a first liberal revolution of the elites to a second Jacobin revolution. From a position that was still on the left, since they refused to take the plunge and to think that 1793 could have been contained to a certain extent in 1789; or, in other words, they refuse to think that the logic of the revolution carried massacre, extermination and genocide within it. Nevertheless, they did undermine Marxist dogmas.

A former communist (1947-1959), François Furet did not yet distinguish clearly enough between Jacobin liberalism (Latin, essentially egalitarian), from English liberalism (essentially elitist or even aristocratic). But in 1978, in Penser la Révolution, he rehabilitated the forgotten and proscribed analyses of Tocqueville, of Taine, even of Augustin Cochin. Notably absent in his book is Edmund Burke, the brilliant Irishman who differentiated 1793 from 1790. Furet’s work was later continued by Patrice Gueniffey (see, La politique de la Terreur: essai sur la violence révolutionnaire, 1789-1794). But it may also be useful to recall the words that Pierre Chaunu confided to me: “When Furet and I discuss in private the origins, causes and consequences of the Revolution, know that we are 90% in agreement.”

An important point must be stressed – the reflection initiated by French academic historians on revolutionary terror comes at the very moment when Marxist ideology is experiencing its first major cultural setbacks. At the top of the state (François Mitterrand was then president), reactions were quick to come. Max Gallo, spokesman for the socialist government, was sounding the alarm bells.

Gallo, historian, novelist and essayist, a former Communist who joined the PS in 1981, then reacted as the guardian of the temple. He left the Socialist Party and supported Sarkozy’s UMP in 2007, but in the 1980s, he was at the forefront of the political and cultural struggle of the Mitterrandist left. Censoring the new Muscadins in an Open Letter to Maximilien Robespierre, he churned out articles and virulent statements against them in the media. The politically condemned academics were accused of nothing less than Vichyism, even Nazi nostalgia. They were “guilty,” he said, of spreading a “right-wing” vision of the Great Revolution. Behind him were the ex-fellow travelers of the communist organizers, responsible for more than 100 million deaths around the world. All shamelessly set themselves up as masters of republican morality. Ridicule is not fatal!

It did not matter to Gallo and his political friends at the time that non-university historians, such as Jean-François Chiappe or Jean Dumont, published anti-revolutionary works. What was unbearable and unacceptable to them was “the betrayal of the University.”

One of the main targets of the socialist authorities was Pierre Chaunu, professor at the Sorbonne, member of the Institut de France (of the l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques). The prestige of this Protestant historian was considerable. Renowned Hispanist (author with his wife Huguette Chaunu of Séville et l’Atlantique, 1504-1650, in 11 volumes), specialist in classical European civilization (La civilisation de l’Europe classique), and enlightenment civilization in Europe (La civilisation de l’Europe des Lumières), founder of “quantitative history,” he was one of the outstanding figures of French academia.

But Pierre Chaunu was not the only intellectual blacklisted. There was no shortage of targets for government hostility. In the disorder let us mention Frédéric Bluche for Septembre 1792: Logiques d’un massacre; Jean Baechler, for his Preface to the reissue of L’esprit du jacobinisme by A. Cochin; Jean-Joël Brégeon for Carrier et la terreur nantaise, and co-editor with Sécher of La Guerre de Vendée and the depopulation system of Gracchus Baboeuf; and finally, Reynald Sécher for La Vendée-vengé. Le génocide franco-français ,and Du génocide au mémoricide, supplemented in 2017 by the work of Jacques Villemain, Vendée 1793-1794. The latter cited documents that leave no room for doubt – the Committee of Public Safety wanted to exterminate the entire Vendée population.

The genocide thesis was supported by Reynald Sécher first in 1986 and 25 years later in Du génocide au mémoricide. The Robespierrist point of view, denying the genocide, is still developed in particular by Jean-Clément Martin. The losses are estimated at a minimum of 100,000 souls from a total population of 800,000 inhabitants.

To this incomplete list of “reprobate authors,” we must add the names of Jean Tulard, co-author of Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution française and responsible for the university edition of La Révolution française by Pierre Gaxotte; Émile Poulat for Liberté, laïcité: la guerre des deux France et le principe de la modernité; Stéphane Rials for Révolution et contre-révolution au XIXème siècle; Florin Aftalion for L’Économie et la Révolution française; Jean-François Fayard for La Justice révolutionnaire; René Sédillot for Le coût de la Révolution; François Crouzet for De la supériorité de l’Angleterre sur la France; Jean de Viguerie for Christianisme et révolution and Histoire du citoyen; Xavier Martin for Naissance du sous-homme au cœur des Lumières and Régénérer l’espèce humaine; and finally a whole host of young academics who, at the turn of the 21st century, are at the dawn of their careers. Among them Philippe Pichot Bravard, author of a quite remarkable overview, La Révolution française (2014), has to be mentioned.

Clearly, the death of Lenin-Soviet eschatology has done immense damage to the Marxist and crypto-Marxist historiography of the French Revolution. The simplistic idea, popularized by vulgar Marxism, that the French Revolution is a bourgeois revolution which destroyed feudalism and replaced it with a new, essentially capitalist regime, is totally questioned. The objections are significant.

Professor Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, himself a former Communist, sums them up in these terms: “The first is that the bourgeoisie which made the revolution is not a capitalist class of financiers, traders or industrialists, who were then ‘apolitical’ or ‘aristocrats.’” The bourgeoisie was thus juridical; it was composed of officers, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, whose role and action could not consist in giving birth to an industrial revolution. Second objection, the example of England shows that in a rural society, like 18th century France, the evolution towards agricultural capitalism passed through the great seigniorial domain. On the contrary, the Revolution tended towards the fragmentation of farms and further retarded their technological progress. Finally, the third objection, “it put a definite halt to big capitalism, that is to say, colonial capitalism, foreign trade and big industries.” Foreign trade did not regain its high level of 1789 until 1825. The Revolution “represented in a sense the triumph of the landed strata of society, conservatives, large and small, including many former nobles… a landed bourgeoisie… and finally small peasant owners” (Le Figaro, December 17, 1984).

The revolutionary explosion of the summer of 1789 appears to be the culmination of the contradictions of the Ancien Régime, which was unable to reform in time. At the origin of the Revolution there was the financial crisis – the debt had become too heavy a burden for the finances of the kingdom. The expenses of the American War were too great. After forty years of economic expansion and prosperity, the situation deteriorated in the 1780s. A succession of bad harvests, the great drought of 1785, and a particularly harsh winter increased the difficulties.

At the same time, an “aristocratic reaction” from the traditional nobility and the nobility of the robe challenged absolute monarchy and demanded parliamentary control, which would allow it to better retain its privileges and prerogatives in the face of the rise of a bourgeoisie that desired its share of power. To this can be added the evolution of ideas, the social critiques of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the encyclopedists, the determining role of “Sociétés de pensée.” Finally, we must also take into account the errors of Louis XVI, who was undoubtedly a good man, but who was not on top of things.

Scientific history has shown that the Revolution ruined France; that it broke its economic momentum; and that it downgraded it. This is the conclusion of the most serious studies. Le livre noir de la Révolution française, published in 2008, leaves little room for doubt. But while academic research has shed all kinds of light on the horrific gray areas of the French Revolution, its results still needed to be accessible to the general public. Pierre Chaunu achieved this objective, thanks to a comprehensive, rigorous and attractive work, Le grand déclassement (1989), about which it is appropriate to say a few words.

Republican, Protestant and Gaullist, hardly suspected of sympathy for the “complex of counterrevolutionary sensibilities,” Pierre Chaunu (1923-2009) has undermined the sacrosanct myth of the two revolutions, one liberal, the other authoritarian, centralizing, liberticide – striking head-on one of the pillars of official historiography. And he got it right.

Let us sum up his argument. In 1789, France was roughly fifth in size, in Europe; but in power, it commanded nearly a third of available resources. Overall, she was pretty much the first. An example – the literacy rate was higher in England, Scotland and a few provinces of Prussia, but France had many more literate people than England, Scotland, Prussia and practically as many as the rest of Europe. Between 1710 and 1780, the number of those who reached the stage of independent reading and fluent writing tripled and quadrupled. After the great ebb that the Revolution brought about in this area, in which progress did not resume until 1830.

In 1789, France had at least 28 million inhabitants. Its population growth rate of 0.5% per year was one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in Europe. 16% of the population was urban. The distribution of the population was relatively more equitable than in the rest of Europe. Two million households owned 40% of the land (with some 5% of communal property). The rest of the land belonged to the nobility (25%). Finally, 10% was Church property, and 25% bourgeois property. The Third Estate therefore owned 65% of the land and the so-called “clergy” were, in large part, social assets, that supplied schools and hospitals. Peasant property was encumbered with seigneurial rights, but they were more irritating and vexatious than limiting. Common land was more expensive on average than noble land.

Overall, seigneurial rights were less heavy in France than anywhere else on the continent, except in England. Nowhere else was peasant ownership so widespread.

England broke the record in the West for the concentration of land in a few hands. But in France, the Revolution would not change anything. Since taxes were generally heavier afterwards, the levy on the peasant mass was roughly the same in 1815 as in 1789. Social upheavals affected only one tenth of the population at most. The Revolution only distributed a tenth or a fifth in value of a good part of the land, and therefore brought wealth and prestige to just a minority of its apparatchiks and associates. It was all really restricted to a few permutations at the top.

In 1758, the tax burden per capita was double in England, being around 190 in 1789, while France was at 100. At equal wealth, from the second half of the 18th century, the English paid at least one and a half times as much as the French. France, a tax haven, would nevertheless engage in a rotating strike. Almost 15% of the GNP and 3.5% of the population were in the service of the state. The King of France had 10 times fewer men on hand to control his capital than the King of Prussia, or the British Parliament.

The entire 18th century was driven by the halt that the Parliaments, recklessly reestablished in their prerogatives by Louis XVI, brought to the ministerial reform initiative. Here was the drama of the monarchy. From 1774 to 1789, the Parliaments, where only the privileged strata of society were to be found, were the winners across the board. The Ancien Régime was paralyzed by the encroachment of the law. Parliaments do not represent society, either in their composition or in their thoughts. The court was never less costly, yet its usefulness never less evident. The system was jammed, unable to match its resources to its needs; it was considered tyrannical when it was only powerless.

In 1789, most French people were Catholics and most were devout – 97 to 98% of the French people believed in God, more than 80% were attached to their Church. On the intellectual and moral quality of the clergy and on their generosity, which redistributed a good half to the poor and a share to hospital and school assistance, there was no real criticism, no bad marks. Better, the almost unanimous claim of the register of grievances is that the priests, who were well-loved and whose worth was widely felt, should be give more.

Finally, no one died had of hunger since 1709. It was not until 1794-1795 and run-away inflation that the specter of famine loomed again and that people died from it as before. In the 1780s, faced with a population growing at a rate of 0.5% annually (a growth rate lower than the English rate), production increased at a rate of 1.9%.

Paradoxically, in general, it is prosperity, not misery, that carries the risk of revolution. French society remained sufficiently open. France lived, changed, evolved. The state was jammed, motionless, paralyzed. Between the two, tensions continued to grow.

The Revolution began with a plunder, the easiest – that of the property of the Church. Monastic France was soon sold. The finest jewels of Romanesque and Gothic art were broken. They were removed, disassembled, sawed apart, broken, looted. The artistic rampage was immense. No modern war has destroyed so much wealth.

The Revolution was not the mass phenomenon that they want us to believe. There were 50,000 Parisian sans-culottes, 80,000 profiteers of national property and 200,000 onlookers. The number of angry, hateful and guillotinous dechristianizers hardly exceeded 40,000. But you only win and lose if you convince the small active number.

When, on July 12, 1790, the civil constitution of the clergy was adopted, only 4 bishops out of 136 agreed to swear to the constitution. 44% (40% after withdrawals) of the clergy swore. This is not much, because not to swear meant the loss of employment, of all resources, misery, the threat to freedom and life, banishment from the community. Since dozens of episcopal seats had to be filled all at once, Talleyrand, “a pile of shit in a woolen stocking” as Napoleon called, devoted himself to the task. He was the only one of four bishops who accepted to carry out coronations. All those poor jurat priests, some of whom claimed to have rediscovered the simplicity and rigor of the primitive Church, would know by the end of the winter of 1791 what the words of the constituent deputies were worth – a reprieve for the guillotine.

Thanks to the assignat, famine and the ruin of the economy, people died as much and more than from the guillotine during the winter of 1794-1795. The famous paper money assignat was criminal folly. To pay off its promises, fuel its fantasies and finance the war of aggression against a peaceful Europe, the Revolution had only one means – inflation, the most unjust tax.

The mortal sin of the Revolution was, after religious persecution, gratuitous war. The war allowed murder to be legalized, any internal opponent being equated with foreign enemies.

For the period 1792 to 1797, losses amounted to at least 500,000 men. Disease killed more than bullets (3 to 4 times more). If we add the civilian losses, men, women, children (mainly in Vendée), the losses of the revolutionary period came to cost nearly 1 million human lives. The Empire would add a second million to the first. In total, 4.5 to 5 million dead, in a Europe of less than 150 million souls. The responsibility, all the responsibility for the outbreak of war rests with the revolutionary power. It deliberately chose war; it provoked, attacked, invaded.

The war broke France’s growth; it slowed it down everywhere else, even in Great Britain, but in which case the slowdown only affected consumption. In the France-England equality ratio, we go to a gap of 10 to 6. France had, per capita, caught up with England in 1789; it was in the ratio of 100 to 60-65 in 1799. Ten years of assignats and the great massacres definitively downgraded France. The gap would no longer be made up.

Let Pierre Chaunu conclude in a concise manner: “While all the work of history released from the myth establishes that the chaotic process which created the revolutionary vortex was the effect of chance – September (1792), Fouquier Tinville (public accuser of the Revolutionary Tribunal), ruin by the assignat, and the war, the destruction of the artistic, moral and religious cultural heritage, the depopulation and the devastation of the demographic impetus, the genocide-populicide of the Vendée and the populicides of Lyon, Toulon and elsewhere – all this follows implacably from the most implacable revolutionary logic. Once the Revolution is born, it kills. Death is its profession, annihilation its end.”

Product of chance, execution of a deliberate project, direct or indirect consequence of one or more social factors, the debate on the interpretation of the Revolution is not about to end. But one point is clear – for rigorous and serious history, the Revolution led France to a terrible moral, social, economic and political collapse.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows, “The Zenith of French Glory: The Pinnacle of Liberty. Religion, Justice, Loyalty & all the Bugbears of Unenlightend Minds, Farewell!”. A satire of the radicalism of the French Revolution. A picture by James Gillray. February 1793.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Violence In The French Wars Of Religion

For no less than thirty-six years, from 1562 to 1598, the kingdom of France was the scene of eight wars of religion – in reality, conflicts that were just as political as religious. These wars comprised those who opposed the “Huguenots,” those who supported the Reformation, and those who defended the traditional Catholic faith. The Reformed message, in its predominantly Calvinist but also Lutheran version, spread rapidly, from 1555, first in the towns and then among the nobility, and especially in the southern part of France, but also in Normandy.

Once peace returned in 1598, the demographic, political and economic toll was heavy: the monarchy was in enormous debt and the country was considerably impoverished. It is estimated that the population of the kingdom had fallen from 17 to 16 million inhabitants. But in this deficit, it is not known what was the share of actions of violence and war, famines, plague and harsh climatic conditions.

After the decades of the “beautiful 16th century” corresponding to the reigns of Francis I and Henry II, the kingdom of Valois fell for nearly forty years into the throes of what historians of the 19th century came to designate as the time of “Wars of Religion” – an era of iron and blood which saw France torn between supporters of the Calvinist Reformation and defenders of the traditional Catholic faith. They would clash in eight civil wars interspersed with fragile truces that were regularly called into question.

These were wars with complex origins that mixed religious and political issues, nobiliary rivalries and popular violence, all in an international context which remained dominated by the antagonism between the monarchy of the Valois and the Empire of the Habsburgs, at a time when European Christianity had also to contend with the Ottoman threat.

These civil wars saw the outburst of extreme violence that collective memory has come to identify with one event known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), which cannot, however, account on its own for the magnitude of this outburst. Violence generally attributed to Catholics seeking to maintain religious unity of the kingdom and therefore hostile to freedom of conscience; the weakness of the last Valois rulers; the intrigues of the queen mother and regent, Catherine de Medici; the ambitions of the Guises; and the “fanaticism” of the Catholic League – all have long imposed the idea that the Protestants were the victims of “intolerance,” which then generated the violence.

Rather than looking for those responsible for this violence within royal power which, it appears, frequently sought conciliation, or within the rival ambitions of the great nobiliary families and their respective clients – instead, the historians of today, familiar with the study of mentalities, insist more, as historian Jean-Marie Constant explains to us, on “religious sensibilities, on Catholic and Protestant violence because of systems of representation, and these imaginary phantoms carrying such irrational intransigence that they precipitated the populations one against the other.” This is how, in his Guerriers de Dieu, Denis Crouzet deciphered the nature of the imaginary phantoms, which then commanded violence, thus profoundly renewing the approach that we had until then of the great politico-religious divide that France experienced, from 1562 to 1598, from the brawl of Wassy to the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes.

It should first of all be remembered, unlike an overly Manichean reading of the period, that violence was widely shared and that massacres and cruelties were carried out by both sides, with the strictly religious factor hardly being the sole cause or reason. In addition to the impossible peaceful coexistence of the two rival confessions of faith, it should in fact be emphasized that the conspiracy of Amboise of 1560 (a failed Protestant attempt to seize the person of King Francis II), the repeated attacks of the Huguenots, the surprise of Meaux in 1567 (Protestants’ attempt to kidnap King Charles IX), or the devastating campaigns led by Coligny (leader of the Huguenots) in the South were all perceived as challenges to royal authority. As for the cruelties that punctuated the confrontation between the two sides, they were widely shared, as shown by Ronsard – a man of a third party which hoped for reconciliation – in his Discours des misères de ce temps (Discourse on the Miseries of these Times), he strongly condemns

These new Christians who have pillaged, plundered France,
Stolen, murdered, despoiling all by virulence,
Beat down the body by blows a hundred thousand
As if it were a virtue to be a brigand,
Living sans chastity, and to hear them declaim,
It's God who leads them, when simply they laugh at Him.
And then what? Burn houses, plunder and brigandage -
This is what all of you now call the Reformed Church?

The explosion of violence which occurred after the 1560s, echoes the continuous progress of the Reformation and the failure of the attempts to eradicate it implemented by Henry II, who accidentally disappeared in 1559. The concessions made by the regent Catherine de Medici were not enough to calm the impatience of the Protestants, who were perceived as dangerous heretics by the Catholic masses worried about their salvation, in a time of eschatological expectation which generated extreme anxiety.

The will of the Protestant minority to assert itself openly, and the growing visibility of a faith perceived as rival and dangerous, exasperated the Catholic people, who were infuriated by the arrogance and contempt the new faith inspired among the adherents of the cause of Geneva. But we must also take into consideration the recent availability of the warrior-class, deprived – since the conclusion in 1559 of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis which put an end to the Italian mirage of the Valois – of the glories that the campaigns carried out for half a century beyond the Alps, once assured them. The entirety of the Nobles of the Sword was now available for the violence that was to unfold within the realm. Murders, massacres and vendettas, therefore, under these new conditions, continued for nearly four decades, until the peacemaking and restorative reign of Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV.

Violence took on new forms during this period. In addition to the pitched battles between opposing armies, in the traditional manner – in Dreux, Jarnac, Moncontour, Coutras or Ivry – it now becomes necessary to speak of the common practice of the sacking of towns controlled by the enemy, general massacres targeting the places or the regions supposed to be won over to the opposing side, popular “emotions” which threw the supporters of one confession against their neighbors attached to the opposite faith.

Violence no longer concerned soldiers alone; it affected all strata of society and even broke free from the chivalrous rules which until then governed the conduct of war. Non-combatant populations were no longer spared, especially women and children, and, churchmen, Protestant pastors or Catholic clerics, were even specially targeted. The code of honor, which once ritualized the exercise of violence, and was imposed in particular to spare the wounded, appeared largely to be forgotten.

The new characteristics which the fighting then took on were revealed in the first “wars of religion”. On March 1, 1562 in Vassy, in Champagne, the men of the Duke of Guise confronted Protestants celebrating their worship inside the village, which was not permitted by the January edict which only authorized it outside the city walls.

The initial quarrel degenerated into a generalized brawl and the Catholic soldiers of François de Guise massacred their opponents, leaving about twenty to fifty dead on the ground, including five women and a child, and one hundred and fifty wounded. The event aroused immense emotion among Reformers and Catholics alike and, according to Protestants, started the civil war, the first act of which was identified by Catholics with the attack launched by Condé on Orleans a month later.

The conflict immediately reached unprecedented levels of violence and signified the abandonment of the chivalrous ideal still embodied by Bayard (1475-1524) under the reign of Francis I, a model by which the nobility of the time had long been recognized. A Huguenot gentleman, François de la Noue, author of Discours politiques et militaires, published in 1587, lamented the loss of the principles which every good captain should obey.

Certainly, several great leaders whom he worked with, in particular the Duke of Guise, were able to show both magnanimity and bravery, which earned the author – after the defeat suffered by the Protestants at Moncontour – to be spared by the Duke of Anjou, the future Henry III. François de la Noue insisted on the fact that “such beautiful acts should not be buried in forgetfulness, so that those who make profession of arms shy away from imitating them and move away from cruelties and unworthy things, where so many let themselves go in these civil wars, so as not to know or want to curb their hatreds.” A wish that says a lot about the reality of the times and the primacy given to “the spirit of revenge;” the desire for revenge most often overriding the demands of honor and virtue so dear to the nobility as a whole.

Thus it was that prisoners were routinely killed, for they are too numerous to be kept and maintained by the victors, and the low social status of the greatest number denied any hope of ransom. It should also be considered, in these times of religious mobilization, that this also ensured these same prisoners would not again be fighting the present winner in the future. For Blaise de Monluc, one of the most famous Catholic captains, “There was no mention of prisoners at that time” because “we had to come to austerity and cruelty.” In this case, the concern to obtain legitimate revenge for the losses suffered by his own side was added to the conviction that to get rid of the adversary was part of a process of militant piety in the service of true faith threatened by heretics.

Merciless for the foot-soldiers, the war also did not spare the most prestigious leaders, who were no longer protected from ignominious death. Several of them were coldly murdered on the battlefield. In Dreux, in December 1562, the Marshal of France, Jacques d’Albon de Saint-André, taken prisoner, was killed, shot in the head by the Protestant Jean Perdiel de Bobigny, a former servant of the Marshal, who had condemned de Bobigny a few years earlier.

In February 1563, outside Orléans, Duke Francis of Guise – the defender of Metz, the victor of Calais, one of the best warriors of his time – was treacherously shot down by the Protestant Poltrot de Méré, a relative of whose had been one of the victims of the repression that occurred in 1560, during the conspiracy of Amboise.

In 1569, Louis of Condé, the leader of the Protestant side, was killed by a Gascon captain by the name of Montesquiou when, wounded, Louis had surrendered, after a fall from his horse, in exchange for two officers of the Catholic army. His body was then carried on the back of a donkey to the nearby town where, leaning against a church pillar, it was desecrated by the Catholic crowd. By getting rid of enemy leaders in this way, some people thought they were finishing off the other side, according to La Noue “by way of the body they sought to cut off the head.”

Often, private vendettas came to mingle with confessional antagonisms, exacerbating, according to the historian Olivia Carpi, “The strong propensity of the nobles to seek justice through bloodshed, for offenses they or members of their family had suffered… This, within a nobility that the sovereign could no longer control, as in the past, because of his inexperience and financial difficulties that led to the reduction of his liberality; the civil conflict subverted all the rules, to the point that some no no longer distinguished between a legitimate act of war and the expression of private violence, between vendetta and the service of a public cause.”

The authors of the time, La Noue or Agrippa d’Aubigné – who left us Histoire universelle, giving an account of the wars, in which he had been a participant – stressed the barbarism shown by the soldiery towards defenseless populations, the main victims of the troubled times. Providing for the needs of armies on the march was a most severe test from the start, with the looting, destruction and rape that this implied. These crimes were tolerated by leaders who saw them as a reward for their troops and a sure way to terrorize populations believed to be unlikely to come to terms with the enemy if the fortunes of arms turned.

The practice of “spoiling,” or scorched earth, was thus established as a legitimate means of deterring any attempt at resistance with terror. To keep Guyenne for the king, the lord of Monluc did not hesitate to hang all Protestants suspected of defying monarchical authority. This encouraged, because of the terror inspired by such measures, subsequent surrenders.

The sacking of conquered towns and villages also allowed the leaders to retain troops who might otherwise be tempted, during long and exhausting campaigns, to desert or mutiny. Baron des Adrets (a loyal supporter of Protestant troops who later joined the Catholics in 1564) thus believed that “if we do not want to see the troops slip away from behind in good measure, we must take away from them the hope of any forgiveness so that they seek no refuge nut in the shadow of the flags, no life except in victory.” The same war-leader also affirmed that “the only way to put an end to the barbarities of the enemies is to pay them back with revenge… because no one practices cruelty by returning it.”

We then see to what degree of unprecedented violence such a vision of war could lead. Thus, although life had been promised to them during their surrender, the Protestant defenders of Orange (commune of Vaucluse) were all killed after their surrender when the city was recaptured by the Catholics, which also brought many atrocities inflicted on “civilians,” who were burned alive, impaled, cut into pieces, while women and girls were raped and young children smashed against the walls. Applying the law of retaliation, which he had made his code of conduct, Baron des Adrets encouraged his Protestant troops to behave in the same way when they seized Pierrelatte, Pont Saint Esprit and Bollène.

We know that the apex of violence was reached during the night of August 24, 1572, during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Historians have distinguished the operation aimed at neutralizing the Protestant nobility – gathered in Paris for the marriage of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois and mobilized by the failed attack against Coligny – from the anti-protestant pogrom which was under-taken, beyond all control, by the Parisian Catholic mob – and all in the context of eschatological expectation, finely analyzed by Denis Crouzet.

The Parisian event had aftershocks in the provinces; and this dramatic episode largely contributed to the victimization of the Reformed minority. But it should be remembered here that the Michelade of Nîmes in 1567, which saw dozens of notable Catholics thrown into wells, was five years prior to the Paris massacre.

Huguenot violence was also expressed, during these terrible years, in the form of large-scale iconoclasm, heralding the “vandalism” denounced by Father Gregory during the Revolution. The destruction of images, the sacking of shrines, the looting of church treasures, or the desecration of relics could only arouse legitimate anger on the Catholic side, bringing about a fierce desire for revenge.

It was the same with the massacre of clerics ordered by Protestant leaders. From July 1562, ten years before the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the parish priest of Saint Paterne d´Orléans was executed in front of all the Huguenot leaders. The same year, during the capture of Pithiviers, the Catholic fighters were spared against an oath not to fight the Reformers any more, but all the clerics were killed. I

n the South and in Normandy, similar decisions cost the lives of many priests and monks. The most terrifying case is that of a Franciscan monk from Mâcon who was taken, rope around his neck, around the city in a sinister route, punctuated by mutilating stations. His ears, fingers and nose were cut off one-at-a-time, his feet were burnt, and he was not finished off until he was castrated. Even during truces, priests were forced, in many regions, to go underground to escape death because the Huguenots intended to deliver the world from “shavelings and superstition,” who all collected tithes for their own benefit.

These outbursts of extreme violence naturally provided the material for interpretive disputes that remain far from being appeased. The uncertainty about the prospects for salvation, the eschatological concerns specific to the time, the militant millennialism of the end of the period all contributed to a crisis of conscience which would not subside until the first part of the 17th century. This resulted in “panic” reactions to the challenge posed by the Protestant heresy, to the point of generating behavior of unheard-of violence among the population, which remained overwhelmingly Catholic.

Protestant violence seems at first to be more psychological and provocative, and iconoclasm was part of this initial violence. Affirming the rejection of the Catholic faith in the name of the fight against “superstition” could also only elicit an extreme reaction. Once wars started, Huguenot violence became physical but appeared to be more thought out and more planned than Catholic violence, the latter most often expressed in the form of an instinctive reaction of self-defense in the face of people who called into question that which the faithful held most sacred.

In the Dauphiné and in Provence, the Baron des Adrets intended to multiply – with massacres and prisoners thrown into chasm – the examples which would dissuade the Catholics from continuing the struggle. The purpose of the extermination of the priests was to tear the populations, which followed them, from their deadly influence and the hate speech which accompanied this “purification” has very contemporary overtones since it is a question of “expelling the vermin of the shavelings, do away with this malicious breed of the devil, clean up the foxes and cockroaches.”

At least as fanatical as the Catholic, Huguenot violence is reminiscent of that which revolutionary France would experience two centuries later. It is a question here of imposing the new conception, based only on the Scriptures, of the kingdom of God. This was all based on a total contempt for those who remained attached to “superstitions,” affirming a religion forged over the centuries, of the presence of God in the world – while their opponents, attached to the single letter of Scripture, always identified themselves on the side of Truth and Good.

Historian Philippe Conrad was seminary director at the École supérieure de guerre and director of the Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire. He is the author of several books devoted to the First World War, the conflicts in the Middle East and the Spanish Civil War.

The image a colored print showing the Battle of Jarnac in 1569.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Why Is The Sacré-Coeur Basilica Hated?

The Sacré-Coeur, that is, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is one of the most emblematic places in Paris and in all of France. It is the second most visited monument each year in the French capital with more than 10 million visitors. But this historical monument was never officially regarded as a historical monument, despite the fact that it was erected more than a century ago.

On October 13, the Ministry of Culture and the regional commission for heritage and architecture of Ile- de-France, the region that includes Paris, finally decided to register this church as a historical monument. It was begun in 1875, completed in 1923 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacré Coeur Paris, interior.

The reactions to this administrative decision have not been long in coming. And the furious criticisms of this decision to protect this well-known church, in fact, hide an important anti-Catholic component, especially from the Masonic and Communist sectors.

A Church Of Atonement

The deep animosity that this basilica arouses among these sectors is because of what it represents: An expiatory church in the face of the defeat by Prussia. Months later, the Paris Commune arose in 1871, which caused thousands of deaths and was responsible for the murder of dozens of people, including many clergymen and Catholics. With these painful events, the expiation of so many crimes also had its place among those who wished to build this church.

[The Paris “Commune” and its proposed method of government, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat, gave rise to the terms, “communism” and “communist”].

Thereafter, and for decades, the Sacré-Coeur has been a target; and as recently as 2017 a popular initiative registered a petition in the Paris City Council with the aim of demolishing this church that “insults the memory of the Paris Commune.” Obviously, the petition went nowhere, but it did show the hatred that the Left and Freemasonry both have towards a church that crowns Paris on Montmartre and where the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has not been interrupted for a second in 135 years, neither in times of war nor of epidemics.

According to the Ministry of Culture, it is because of “a misreading of history” that the Church of the Sacred Heart had not yet been declared a historical monument. And according to its critics there is a reason why that had not been done.

Attacks By Freemasons, Communists and Socialists

Philippe Foussier, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, protested on Twitter against the classification of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre as a historical monument, calling for a “discrediting.” In his opinion, this decision is “an insult to the 30,000 dead of the commune.”

This violent revolutionary process is an icon and a reference point for Communists, as it already was for Marx himself. And to this day it remains a symbol for the French and international Left.

Ian Brossat, leader of the Paris Communists, has sworn, on several occasions, to dismantle the Sacré Coeur and replace it with a “space of solidarity.”

Further, the socialist Lionel Jospin, former prime minister of France and former presidential candidate, when asked in 2017, which monument would he destroy if it had the power to do so, answered without hesitation – the Sacred Heart of Paris, as he said it is a symbol of “obscurantism, bad taste and the reactionary.”

Father Jacques Benoist, one of the leading experts on the Montmartre basilica, explains that the accusation of “reactionary” that is thrown at the Basilica comes from the Communist Party. And this is confirmed by the Communist senator Pierre Ouzoulias, who affirms that the Sacre Coeur “is not a monument like any other,” but created to “expiate the crimes of the Commune.”

The Reasons For This Hatred

For the religious, the official text of the consecration, engraved on a marble plaque placed in the corridor of the Sacred Heart around 1914, bears witness to these crimes. Here one cam read phrases, such as, “amend our sins,” “obtain the infinite mercy of the Lord,” “forgive our faults,” or “put an end to the misfortunes of France.” The Communards are not mentioned, although this event was certainly in the minds of the builders of the church – however, its construction had been decided upon six months before the Communard revolts.

The crimes themselves are indisputable. In fact, the church was erected in the same place where on May 26, 1871, 49 hostages were massacred, including 10 clergymen, by an angry mob. And this act was not isolated. Then came the government repression at the hands of Adolphe Thiers, which ended the commune. “The communists have not forgotten this, who, under the influence of Marx and then Lenin, integrated this event, turned it into a myth, in their collective memory”, explains Father Jacques Benoist. Thus, speaking of expiation for the crimes of the Commune is something that quickly inflames the French Communists.

As for the accusation that the Sacred Heart of Paris is a symbol of “obscurantism,” Father Benoist is surprised by the declarations of the Masonic leader because “those who were in charge of France, from the beginning of the 1870s, were really your [Masonic] spiritual ancestors. There were two types of Republicans: the Blues and the Reds. The Blues, Thiers and Gambetta. Where the Masonic influence was powerful was the bourgeois republic, which feared the Reds, the extreme Left. In 1871, the first massacred the second.”

The Real Origin Of The Basilica

It must be borne in mind that according to the history of Montmartre, the hill where the Sacré Coeur was built, was always a religious place. It was first a druidic place; later, the Romans erected a temple dedicated to Mars and Mercury; and, later, numerous Christian buildings were built there. Moreover, the very name of Montmartre derives from “Mount of Martyrdoms.”

In 1559, a fire destroyed a Benedictine abbey located on top of this Parisian hill, but the religious presence remained. And in 1794, the last abbess, Mother Marie-Louise Montmorency-Laval, bravely climbed the steps of the guillotine. The link, therefore, between Atonement, National Vow, and Mount of Martyrdom was clear.

And so, in order to offer a public penance, to atone for the historical sins of France and to counteract the impending apostasy, the great desire of Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury was the construction of a church on the hill, to illuminate Paris and act as a point of reference for the distracted and indifferent citizens of the 19th century metropolis.

Translated from the original Spanish version by N. Dass.

The image shows the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

The Birth Of The Catholic Reason Of State

I. France, The Anti-Empire

Any attempt to build a metaphysics of nations is doomed to failure. There remains, however, the possibility of affirming a definition of the intimate affinity of nations with certain political forms based on their historical biography. In the case of France, however, this biography arises historically from a truly disconcerting paradox. France, the only nation that retains the name of the Germanic tribe that restored the Empire in Europe, has been the nation that has fought the most. According to Erwin von Lohausen: “Among the various powers that, one by one, were facing the Habsburg Empire, France became, more and more after Louis XI, the soul of the rebellion. While French royalty had the same origins as the German Empire, France was, by nature, the anti-Empire.”

Austrian General Erwin von Lohausen, one of the great experts in geopolitics of the twentieth-century, a veteran of World War II under Rommel, insisted in his analyzes that the meaning, and the relationship with space, of the necessities and the passions of people are engines of world history that no religion or ideology can counteract.

These considerations may seem shocking when applied to the definition of the historical personality of the French nation. Has it not been the country that has poured forth with genuine conviction (at least in its declarations) at the service of a universalist mission, be it religious (the Crusades) or secular (the Rights of Man)? And has not this nation also been one to never hesitate to use these “sacred causes” (to take up the expression of Michael Burleigh) to “profess a fierce national egoism” and a “prejudice for the Fatherland?” It is not easy to find any other European people better able to bear the heavy burden of an impossible symbiosis between sacred universalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Hence the German geopolitical analysis of authors like von Lohausen is so valuable.

It was scholars like these who pointed out the striking freedom of France in choosing its own historical causes in comparison with other nations, conditioned by a geography that limited its scope for action in contrast to the comfortable French geopolitical position: “For German geopolitical scientists, France, because of its geographic situation, enjoys a freedom of action that neither Spain, nor Italy, nor Germany ever had. Historically, these three countries had to directly confront the Saracens, the Slavs and the Magyars. They could only act in relation to their needs. France, however, had the freedom to really choose its policy, to proclaim the Crusades and the Rights of Man.”

Indeed, far from seeing in it an insurmountable opposition, perhaps it is its privileged geostrategic position that explains to a large extent France’s historical fondness for leading the great sacred causes of each era and serving them, by attending first to the interests marked by the politics of national individualism. In France, the universal missions are always framed within the friend-foe political duality.

The peculiar historical configuration of the French identity is one of the most relevant keys to understanding the success with which it confronted empires politically, without ceasing to defend, on paper, the sacred causes with which the latter justified the legitimacy of their hegemony. The first-born daughter of the Church was the Catholic nation that most effectively fought the Holy Roman Empire. Thanks to the testimony of France, we better understand the ineradicable political dimension of the so-called “wars of religion.” Not even in that historical context, of mystical fervor in defense of the faith, could the friend-foe dialectic be translated without historical falsification into any other kind of completely crystalline moral or religious duality. There was France and the policy of its kings to deny it.

Once again, France “chose” its policy with full freedom; and did so against the empire and in the name of the same religious cause. The empire never had a fiercer enemy, because not only did France frustrate its expectations of supremacy with the strength of its armies, but France did so with the authority of its bishops and cardinals, as well as the countless Popes affected by the efforts of her first-born daughter. Although separated very soon from the imperial destiny of Charlemagne, France nevertheless preserved the genetic and foundational mark of a divine mission in “mimetic” competition with the empire. It is perhaps one of the most defining features of France’s identity.

Who is to blame for the French superiority complex, the self-assumed grandeur de la fille aînée de l’Église (“greatness of the first daughter of the Church”)? Psychologists speak of the “child emperor” syndrome to refer to children who end up dominating their parents. It is a curious formula since, in the case of France, the syndrome paradoxically afflicted the nation called to fight the empire pushed by the primogeniture privilege of its affiliation with the Church.

And just as psychologists point to the responsibility of parental education to understand the character formation of these imperial children, so in our case we must also point to the parents of France (the Empire of Charlemagne and the Catholic Church) as mainly responsible for an education conducive to the affirmation of a national pride based on the supreme legitimacy of a divine mission. “The bishops made France as bees make the hive,” wrote Joseph de Maistre. This observation is not without value but even it seems too restrictive. It was the entire Church that fed the religious vanity of the French nation. It was the Church that shaped it, that nurtured it, while continuing to excite and glorify with its education the achievements and conquests of its favorite daughter.

II. A State Against The Empire: Richelieu, Founder Of Modern Europe

A large part of the tensions of the history and identity of France are attuned to the aporia of the political form with which it has wanted to serve its universal mission. The State has been a particularist tool that has determined a good part of the historical dynamics that explain the French opposition to the empire. The victory of France in the seventeenth-century against the Spanish hegemony was also the victory of the state political form over the imperial political form.

Where are the historical roots of this crossroads to be located? The Colombian, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, wrote: “The modern State is the transformation of the apparatus that society has developed for its defense into an autonomous organism that exploits it.” France developed an apparatus for its defense. And the architect of that apparatus was Cardinal Richelieu.

The key to understanding the genesis of this apparatus is found, in full harmony with the Hobbesian thesis, in the civil war that bled a France increasingly divided into religious, political and social factions. As Philippe Erlanger, Richelieu’s biographer, recounts: ”No one was a greater creator than Armand du Plessis. When he took the nation in hand, France was not just a nation adrift; total anarchy devoured it. Its weakness in the face of other powers made it a kind of vacant good, an almost virtual entity. Nothing seemed impossible: Its disaggregation, a Protestant republic of the Midi, provinces that proclaimed their independence, others that fell into the hands of the Habsburgs, a fractionation, a satellization, a decadence similar to that of Italy.”

It is at this juncture that Richelieu’s founding idea and policy appear. The political exceptionality of France destroyed by the wars of religion opened the historical horizon to the affirmation of new possibilities of political definition. As Dalmacio Negro writes: “In the founding moments of a political unit – an important classical locus of political philosophy practically abandoned – the situation is in itself exceptional; the decision then being essential. For the political exception is never about something objectively existing and determinable, but has the character of innovation according to a guiding idea. It is a historical decision, about the future; to make a historical possibility viable. In it, other possible options are discarded, in favor of what is chosen and imposed.”

Erlanger exposes it in his own way by raising the historical dimension of the figure of Cardinal Richelieu to the condition of founder of a new political nation after the construction of the first modern State worthy of the name: Louis XIII wanted to restore greatness and cohesion to this lost kingdom. Relying on this royal wish, Richelieu did much more – he remodeled France, transforming it by a revolution quite similar to those of the twentieth-century, and forced it out of its chrysalis to become a modern nation.”

France was undoubtedly the most advantageous candidate in Europe for the definitive construction of the new political form. Educated by the Church, she also imitated the empire that was reborn with the Frankish dynasty. The new French model took many elements from both one (the Church) and the other (the Empire); and no one better than a French Catholic cardinal, devoted to the service of the Capetian monarchy, to lay the foundations of the new political order that would establish the fortress of the newly inaugurated State, despite many internal enemies and imperial external threats.

In practice, the action and work of ecclesiastics such as Cisneros, Wolsey, Richelieu or Mazarin were decisive for the consolidation and configuration of statehood. […] All of them under the imprint of the still dominant ecclesiastical way of thinking, which determined general attitudes. The result was that the State, (…), imitated and took from it (the Church) much more than power. For example, the secularized idea of the political body derived from the theological concept of the mystical body in which the ontological individual becomes a social individual; or, the idea of hierarchy and a large-scale bureaucratic administration; and, in the background of all this, as the driving force and justification of its activity, the aforementioned dynamic idea of mission, now applied to temporary security.”

In his biography of the Cardinal, Hilaire Belloc christens Richelieu nothing less than the “founder” of modern Europe: “The consequence of this, finally, and above all, was the creation, in the center of Europe, of a new modern nation, highly organized and subjected to a strong monarchical centralism, which, quickly reaching the heights of creative genius both in literature, as in the arts, as in military science, was to constitute a model that would serve as an example to the new nationalist ideal. This new organized nation was France; and the man who carried out all this was Richelieu. He was the one who, subordinating everything to the monarchy he served (and, therefore, to the nation), had to place everything under the authority of the crown… He was the one who, by work and grace of his own will, managed to consolidate the seventeenth-century, and with it, although involuntarily, the Europe of yesterday. His work is modern Europe.”

It is necessary to interpret the work of the new cardinal-minister (or the minister-cardinal, to be more precise as per his historical performance) in the light of the theoretical battle between the rights of religion and those of politics. This far-reaching battle was fought against the backdrop of the wars of religion that shook the old continent, and only reached a solution after the political success of Richelieu’s work at the head of the State apparatus built by him to serve the people – the French monarchy.

According to Marcel Gauchet, the history of the relations between the political and the religious begins with millennia of religious colonization of politics, that is, millennia of religious “occupation” of a political terrain used to living in a protected minority, by an archaic mentality of a mythical-sacred character. It should not be forgotten that “the political came from the bosom of the sacred,” as Dalmacio Negro reminds us.

With the advent of Christianity, “the religion of the departure from religion,” a new framework of relationships was established, in which the political began to gain its independence. In triumphant modernity, the tables were reversed and we witness, on the contrary, the political colonization of religion (political or secular religions represent perhaps the most advanced stage of this process). Today we perhaps arrive at the philosophical-universalist colonization of the political by the humanitarian ideology of religious democracy and human rights, a new form of secular and antipolitical gospel that claims its privileges with messianic fervor.

Octavio Paz pointed out that politics limits one side with war and the other with philosophy. Philosophy represents, in effect, the limit-form of a universalism that was always the focus of the imperial political form (pagan or Christian). Faced with it, the state-form, with a particularist matrix, is defined by the limit and the frontier of enmity, formulated from political criteria, and tending to progressively eliminate moral or religious residues.

What does Richelieu’s work represent in Gauchet’s transhistoric scheme? In the tension of the double condition present in the figure of Richelieu, minister of a Catholic monarchy who ended up blurring a prince of the Church, the modern transition from the religious pole to the political pole is embodied as an epitome. The significance of this epitome may not be (apparently) distinguished from other cardinals with similar political responsibilities, such as Cisneros or Wolsey – but its decisive relevance in the construction of the ratio-status, which the new hegemonic power of Europe was going to impose, necessarily endows it with a superior role.

Richelieu’s work should be interpreted as a declared exercise of affirmation of the primacy of (State) politics and its friend-foe logic over the demands of the religious script that a pastor of the Church was supposed to attend to. What is striking in this case is that this statement does not occur within the framework of the new relationships generated by the Lutheran thinking with which the predominance of the new State hegemony is frequently associated, but in the context of catholic monarchy, the oldest in Europe.

Richelieu’s new State at the service of Louis XIII asserts itself inwardly against the remains of the feudal aristocracy, against the Levantine high nobility, and above all, against the “State within the State,” represented by the Huguenot minority yet infiltrating the political and social body of the nation. In its determined will to fight abroad against the Austro-Spanish Empire, Richelieu’s State also deploys its energies against the internal enemy, the devout “collaborationist” party that, for essentially religious reasons, presented itself as a French ally of the monarchy of the Habsburgs.

The failed coup against Richelieu, on the famous “Day of the Dupes,” ruined the last hopes of the devout pro-Spanish party. As Etienne Thuau summarized in his study on the reason of State in Richelieu’s time, “in relation to organized society, this authoritarianism translates the will to destroy infra-national solidarity in the same way that it destroys the supranational solidarity of the res publica christiana.”

The strengthening of the new State apparatus required the complete submission to the new order of the old estates, as well as of the dissident Huguenot elite, in significant contrast to the tolerant pastoral care that Richelieu had sustained in his time as Bishop of Luçon. But now the cardinal did not act as a man of the Church, but as the inflexible executor of the policy that would ensure the new greatness of the French monarchy. The success of the minister of Louis XIII is inseparable from the new European order that will follow his death and which can hardly be separated from his work. The Ius Publicum Europaeum enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia was, at heart, a Ius Publicum Richelaeum.

We noted earlier that the logic of the minister-cardinal’s work was defined by his novel hierarchy of principles in directing the affairs of the kingdom, both internally and externally. Whether against the Huguenots, against the nobility, against the devout party or against the Empire, the line of action of the former bishop was based on the spirit of the primacy of politics, and more specifically, in that maxim of consistent political intelligence, according to Raymond Aron, in turning yesterday’s enemy into today’s ally. The Catholic monarchy of Louis XIII did not hesitate to make a pact with foreign Protestant forces while fighting the Huguenot cancer of La Rochelle. All this in the name of the new reason of State. The Cardinal, according to the portrait drawn by his enemies, carried the breviary in one hand and Machiavelli in the other.

It is worthwhile analyzing the result of this new logic of political purity in international and domestic relations. The new scenario was translated intellectually into an intensification of the secularization of political thought and power. For the political legitimation of a Catholic power as emblematic as the French monarchy, Richelieu’s endeavor required, especially in the context of the wars of religion, an argument from authority that went beyond the strictly theological dimension with which they used to hide many of the conflicts that were presented on the geopolitical arena.

In this sense, Armand du Plessis’s gamble contributed to the purification of a political thought hitherto accustomed to disguising itself in the name of moral and religious causes, counteracting with all the theoretical energy (and with essentially theological ammunition) the growing impact that Machiavelli’s unmasked proposition was beginning to have. At the level of the concert of nations, the politics of France began to find its own moral argument; but it was an argument of political morality that attended to the danger represented by a unipolar Empire which threatened the geopolitical balance of Christendom. Thus, in a line very similar to that which the theorist of Action française, Charles Maurras, later defend in his work, Kiel et Tanger (and which General De Gaulle came to apply strictly in the Fifth Republic), France was rising for the first time as a defender of multipolarity in the international arena. Its place and its mission consisted in being the arbiter or mediator of Christianity to preserve its constitutive balance.

Faced with Spanish ambition, the most powerful state in the West now had the duty to free Christianity from the threats that weighed against it. Furthermore, the expression of the will of French power did not exclude the desire to restore an international order. Thus, by affirming itself, the national State recognizes other States. For this reason, in the numerous writings that specify or exalt the role of France in Europe, an idea stubbornly persists: That of European balance which will ensure the freedom of the different States.

“However, in the second quarter of the seventeenth-century, a European balance no longer existed. It had been broken by the inordinate ambition of Spain, and it was up to France to assume the mission of putting things back in their state. Statist writers currently claim for the French the glorious titles of “liberators” and “arbiters of Christianity.” This way of speaking was one of the most official. Richelieu himself defined the objectives of French policy in these terms: “…To help restore freedom to its former allies, reestablish peace in Germany and put things back in a just balance because, in the present state, the House of Austria, in no more than six years, when it has nothing more to conquer in Germany, will try to occupy France at our expense.

“In the name of the cause of European emancipation, Richelieu justified his intervention in the affairs of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. In every military or diplomatic action, it was about liberating a people or a prince from the “oppression of the Spanish,” from the “tyranny of the House of Austria,” from the terror caused by the “insatiable greed” of this House, enemy of the rest of Christianity, and to stop its “usurpations,” to save Italy from its “unjust oppression,” to seek its salvation.”

Although it is paradoxical, this provocative propaganda against the House of Austria did not sublimate the awareness of careful observation of France’s main political enemy, an observation that reached the rank of self-taught education by the method of strategic rivalry. Luis Díez del Corral recalled that “Richelieu admired the organization of the Spanish Monarchy;” although such admiration did not become the pure and simple emulation of its political-administrative structures: “The image of Spain is present in every act, on every page of the Cardinal. Many were the teachings that he received, but not so much to imitate as to replicate, becoming the configurator of a new type of political organization that contrasts with the Austrian Monarchy, and serves to illuminate its historical nature and destiny. The Spanish theme appears especially in the Cardinal’s Political Testament, a work that Carl J. Burkhardt considers Richelieu’s chef d’oeuvre, ‘a compendium of political art, a profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model.’”

Indeed, this meticulous observation of the movements of the imperial enemy did not translate into a “mimetic replica” of the structural configuration of the Spanish imperial model, but rather into a replica of an antagonistic State model. This “profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model” was, in effect, the result of the war led with an iron hand by Richelieu, who must be considered the founder, not only of Modern Europe (as Belloc pointed out), but also of the state-centered political organization that accompanies it to this day.

As Dalmacio Negro pointed out: “The war was a struggle between the Spanish people and the most perfected State of the time, which has always been the paradigm or prototype of statehood since Richelieu. The Revolution and Napoleon made it the formidable Nation-State to which it owed its superiority.”

The awareness of the superiority of the French model for the war that was being fought also reached those who stood as opposition to it; but the survival of the imperial forma mentis prevented a mimicry in the opposite direction towards the centralization and concentration of power that it implemented. The French crown was marching at a forced pace. The bringing of the Bourbon dynasty into Spain was necessary to initiate, and not without resistance, the slow implementation of the neighboring state- model.

It is well known that Philip IV rejected the suggestion in this sense of the Count-Duke Olivares, having realized that what Richelieu was doing in France – making it the first great state power, with full awareness of what modern sovereignty means in order to centralize political power. According to Jouvenel, Olivares thought like the Cardinal that the good of the nation and of the State justifies violating any law and privilege, that is, crossing the limits that distinguish the power of the potestas.”

The notion of the French theorist, Bertrand de Jouvenel, on the law of political competition in the narration of “natural history” and of the “growth of power,” offers a very adapted historical-theoretical mold to understand the direct relationship between a war fought by the two Catholic monarchies and the formation, at Richelieu’s initiative, of the new French model of a centralized State.

These natural jealousies between the powers engendered, on the one hand, a well-known principle, the momentary forgetting of which demands a heavy payment from States – that any territorial increase by one of them, by expanding the base from which it draws its resources, forces the others to seek an analogous increase to restore balance. But there is another way for the State to reinforce itself, which is more fearful for the neighbors than territorial acquisition – the progress of power to exploit the resources that its own territory offers it.”

Jouvenel himself points out Burke’s cutting observation in understanding this same phenomenon as an experience to remember after the French Revolution when, in 1795, he wrote: “The State [in France] is supreme. Everything is subordinate to the production of force. The State is military in its principles, in its maxims, in its spirit, in all its movements … If France had more than half of its current forces, it would still be too strong for most of the States of Europe, as they are constituted today and proceeding as they do.”

Jouvenel draws a general lesson from this dialectic between war and the growth of power: “Any progress of power with respect to society, whether obtained in view of war or for any other purpose, gives it an advantage in war.” Such an equation can alter the order of the factors involved, without diminishing its degree of historical validity; and it is in this second sense that the tendency towards the concentration of power, which this mimetic bid between antagonistic powers has pushed, must be understood.

Thus, if, on the one hand, every advance of power serves war, then war, on the other hand, serves the advance of power. This dynamic acts as a sheepdog that urges reticent powers to reach the most advancement in this totalitarian process. This intimate link between war and power appears throughout the history of Europe. Every State that has successively exercised political hegemony has sought the means to do so through a more intense pressure on the people than that exerted by the other powers on their respective peoples. And to confront these precursors it grew necessary that the powers of the continent be placed on the same level.”

The author of On Power understood that this process is closely linked to the French resistance to the Spanish Empire, as happened in England: “The development of absolute monarchy, both in England and in France, is linked to the efforts of both dynasties to resist the Spanish threat. James I will owe his great powers to the army. If Richelieu and Mazarin were able to elevate the rights of the State so much, it was because they could continually invoke external danger.”

The testimony of Fontenay-Mareuil (1594-1665), who was a diplomat and military man in Richelieu’s time, is especially relevant, in Jouvenel’s opinion, to give us “an idea of how military urgency contributed to liquidating the old forms of government and cleared the way to absolute monarchy.” In the words of the French ambassador: “It was really necessary to save the kingdom…that the king had sufficiently absolute authority to do everything that pleased him, since he had to deal with the king of Spain, who has so many countries to obtain everything he needs. It is clear that if he had had to gather the Estates General, as is done in other places, or depend on the good will of parliament to obtain everything that he needed, he would never have been able to do anything.”

The increase in number of the French military under Richelieu’s command is quite a telling indicator of the transformation carried out in France as a result of the political and armed confrontation with the Habsburg Empire: Richelieu, who found that all the forces in France had been reduced by Marie de Medici to 10,000 men, raised them to 60,000. Then, after having fought the war in Germany for a long time, and ‘reaching for the purse rather than the sword,’ he raised an army of 135,000 infantry and 25,000 cavalry – forces that France had not seen in eight centuries.”

There is nothing better than the testimony of Richelieu himself to understand this exorbitant growth of the resources made available to the new State machinery. The cardinal justified it all by the “incessant purpose of stopping the advance of Spain.” The war, midwife to absolute monarchy, not only buried the old aristocracies in this way (confirming Vilfredo Pareto’s assertion about the circulation of the elites) but also prepared for the funeral of the Spanish imperial form, without whose threat there would be no emergence of the gigantic apparatus that, brought about by force of circumstances for the defense of the French nation, was already creating the path to that autonomous body eager to exploit it, as suggested by the scholio of Gómez Dávila.

III. Machiavelli, The Afrancesado

In France, the success of this new national model in competition with the Empire could not fail to be understood outside of the historical demands of an adaptation of the discourse to the particular relationships that, within the framework of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, were imposed between the religion and politics. In this doctrinal and theoretical corset, political knowledge struggled to reach the full margin of autonomy possible, in order to meet the demands of a confrontation between opposing Catholic powers.

In this cultural context, it was evident that France had everything to lose against an imperial power as universalist in its aspirations as the Church itself, and for the same reason, more theoretically legitimized to impose its rights to political hegemony before the doctrinal court which protected the ideas and mentalities of a time in need of theological justification. In this sense, Richelieu’s commitment to the propaganda of the ideas of the so-called “State Catholics” should also be considered as one of the successes of his work of directing the political affairs of the French crown.

An intellectual battle was raging, paralleling the political and military battle; and the critical reception in the Catholic world of Machiavelli’s work was central to the controversy. In France, given the nation’s needs for its defensive geopolitical position in the face of the supremacy of the imperial order, there was an urgent need for a split between Christian ethics and morals and the demands derived from the exercise of political power that had now begun to be assumed.

Meanwhile in Spain, there was no room for assimilating a Machiavellian discourse which was directly opposed to the national legitimizing talismans since the Reconquista (however, Tacitism has been judged as a form of “crypto-Machiavellianism,” very widespread in Catholic countries): “The work of Machiavelli, with its political and historical critique of Christian morality and the papacy, could not compete in a Spain in which the State made Catholicism more and more its basilar foundation and which placed the mythical principle in the refuge of Covadonga of its state-construction and imperial expansion.”

Undoubtedly, this frustrated assimilation by the Spanish elites of the new political discourse of propaganda deserves attention which, at the service of the French monarchy, increasingly vindicated the legitimate autonomy of the reason of State within the framework of Catholic thought, all the while denouncing as spurious the theological arguments with which the Spaniards tried to disguise, according to this interpretation, a political and military hegemony that exclusively served their own interests.

Already in 1623, la France mourante showed what danger the policy of the King of Spain posed for France: ‘…If we allow his conquests to be strengthened, it is very certain that he will become master of all Italy, and dominator of the Germanies, and by this means he will encircle this crown everywhere by powers so great that it will be impossible for to resist it…’ The Discours sur plusieurs points importants (1626) denounces ‘…those who have always aspired to the Empire of the Universe.’ La Lettre déchiffrée (1627) attacks Spanish politics that wants to ‘…raise the affairs of heaven to the level of those of Madrid,’ and for whom ‘everything that is done by the Vatican is criminal if it is not ratified in the Escorial.’ In 1626, the preface of Pierre de touche politique specifies the inspiration for the book: ‘…it uncovers the purpose that the Spanish have to oppress all their neighbors under the pretext of Religion and Charity, and to establish by that means their Universal Monarchy, and shows that this nation has always had the interest of God and the Church on its lips, and it has never had it in its heart.’ After the accusation of imperialism, the reproach most frequently leveled at the Spanish is that of using the spiritual for temporal purposes.”

This new anti-imperialist argumentative arsenal was not manufactured in a completely spontaneous way. It was driven by the theoretical ammunition of Cardinal Richelieu himself, who did not hesitate to point out the political servitudes of the “Spanish theology” of the time.

“Richelieu, in his Memoirs, denounces the Spanish pretexts. Foreign policy pamphlets did not stop attacking the ‘new theology’ manufactured by Spain to cover its ambitions… It is therefore well established in the political creed of the ‘good French:’ When the Spanish defend Christianity, we can be sure that it is Christianity that defends the Spanish.”

In the combat between the Empire and the new state-form of the French model, a struggle was also taking place in the field of political thought. In particular, this theoretical controversy took place within the religious framework of Catholic legitimacy, in which France seemed to count, by her birthright as eldest daughter of the Church, with credentials that could compete with those of the Holy Empire.

Despite the undoubted superiority of the state-form to respond to the demands and challenges of the confrontation that was drawn on the geopolitical board, Spain could not assume those new usages that clashed, head-on, both with its own legal and political traditions and with its political history of national reconstruction (the Reconquista), and so attached to a legitimizing religious discourse that there was no room in it for the slightest split for the reason of State independent of the guardianship of the faith.

On the other hand, this national character and this historical-political-religious personality seemed to fit much better with the imperial narrative, especially at a time marked by a Protestant Reformation that reinforced the rights of justification of religious orthodoxy to impose the universal order of the sword of Rome. These roots explain, to a large extent, the costly assimilation of the state-model in Hispanic lands.

As for Spanish political thought, it was forced, in Abellán’s words, to have to live ‘in fact’ under a political form, ‘the State,’ in which, however, ‘it did not theoretically believe.’ And perhaps it is true that the Spanish authors did not believe much in the ‘modern State;’ not so much because religion prevented it, but rather because they believed in something that was not exactly the modern State: A Catholic Empire.”

Unlike Spain, France had all the reasons in the world to believe in the political form of the State; and if reasons were lacking, there was no hesitation in inventing them as much as necessary. The autonomy of the demands of politics from the imperatives of religion was undoubtedly the central philosophy of the new propaganda of the French monarchy and the core from which all these reasons emerged. And it was Richelieu himself who fully advanced it, by asserting, in a famous phrase and with all the religious authority of which a prince of the Church was capable, that the interests of the State are different from the interests of the salvation of the souls.

“Placed between its Protestant allies and Catholic Spain, Richelieu’s France faced a difficult choice. State or religion. Such was the dilemma that arose in the conscience of many French people and the writings of the time attest to their discomfort… In another respect, Richelieu did not say otherwise and, in the instructions to Schomberg often cited, we read: ‘”Different are the interests of the State, which bind the princes, and different the interests of the salvation of our souls”.’”

The link between this new secularization of political thought and the state- political form is of interest in this regard. In addition to the interest that this commitment to a political realism freed from religious ties supposed for theoretical propaganda in the service of the Cardinal, there is an undoubted favorable propensity of the state-scheme towards the intellectual figures of the most secular political thought. These figures found it difficult to break through the legitimacy structure of the imperial form, too impregnated by the weight of the sacred (the “Holy” Empire) and by the will to impose a cosmocracy of universalist ambitions that, in the manner of Campanella, it necessarily contaminated or dissolved the political dualities of the conflict in its purest sense (friend-foe).

IV. Political Creation Outside The Polis

Sheldon Wolin has analyzed the creative facet inherent in political thought and its recurrent disruptive contribution, between the lines of continuity of the inherited Western tradition, as well as the relationship of these creative leaps with the historical transformations of political forms. For Wolin, originally, political thought was related to the characteristic problems of the polis, that is, to its size, problems and intensity, features that offered a general framework marked by a very defining effervescence of a way of living and living together in public space.

This simple intuition immediately translated into another question. If political thought is a thought related to the problems of the polis, can that same model of thought survive in the contexts related to other political forms? In other words, how does an alien spatial configuration affect the spatial limits, concerns, and conflict intensity of the polis in political thought?

The contrast between the “nervous intensity” of Greek political thought, attached to the dimensions and effervescence of the polis, and other human sensibilities, characteristic of a different spatial conception, was raised for the first time in relation to the “the mood of later Stoicism which leisurely, and without the sense of compelling urgency, contemplated political life as it was acted out amidst a setting as spacious as the universe itself.” This first contrast already heralded the decisive influence that this new universalist spatial sensibility, defining the imperial form, was to imprint on the configuration of political thought, impoverishing and blurring its essential categories.

“…Yet the central fact from the death of Alexander (323) to the final absorption of the Mediterranean world into the Roman Empire was that political conditions no longer corresponded to the traditional categories of political thought. The Greek vocabulary might subsume the tiny polis and the sprawling leagues of cities under the single word koinon, yet there could be no blinking the fact that the city denoted an intensely political association while the leagues, monarchies, and empires that followed upon the decline of the polis were essentially apolitical organizations. Hence if the historical task of Greek political theory had been to discover and to define the nature of political life, it devolved upon Hellenistic and later Roman thought to rediscover what meaning the political dimension of existence might have in an age of empire.”

The way to overcome the difficulties associated with the new social representation of space (the enormous distances that were now imposed in the face of the customary relationship of citizen proximity that defined the Greek political atmosphere) consisted in a recovery of the sacred symbolism, which was then thereafter to merge with the discourse of legitimacy of the imperial forms.

Where loyalty had earlier come from a sense of common involvement, it was now to be centered in a common reverence for power personified. The person of the ruler served as the terminus of loyalties, the common center linking the scattered parts of the empire. This was accomplished by transforming monarchy into a cult and surrounding it with an elaborate system of signs, symbols, and worship. These developments suggest an existing need to bring authority and subject closer by suffusing the relationship with a religious warmth. In this connection, the use of symbolism was particularly important, because it showed how valuable symbols can be in bridging vast distances. They serve to evoke the presence of authority despite the physical reality being far removed.”

The impact of this new configuration of the dimensions of the relationship of the men subjected to the new imperial power not only ruined the classical categories of citizenship of Greek thought but also altered the moral and concrete structure (that so characteristic symbiosis of ethics and practical sense) of a perception of the political, marked by a closeness to the real problems of public space and a direct experience of its associated conflicts.

Faced with this hyperesthesia of Greek political realism, an increasingly abstract conception of political life was now rising, which required, to the same extent, the help of a theoretical and symbolic apparatus, twinned with the morphology of a community, without defined contours, and that overflowed the limits and borders of vivid representations, in order to enter the infinite space opened by universal concepts and categories.

With the development of imperial organization, the locus of power and decision had grown far removed from the lives of the vast majority. There seemed to be little connection between the milieu surrounding political decisions and the tiny circle of the individual’s experience. Politics, in other words, was being conducted in a way incomprehensible to the categories of ordinary thought and experience. The ‘visual politics’ of an earlier age, when men could see and feel the forms of public action and make meaningful comparisons with their own experience, was giving way to “abstract politics,” politics from a distance, where men were informed about public actions which bore little or no resemblance to the economy of the household or the affairs of the market-place. In these circumstances, political symbols were essential reminders of the existence of authority.”

The new cosmic sensitivity, initiated by Stoic cosmopolitanism and which adapted so well to the ethos of imperial power (personifying itself even in egregious figures such as Marcus Aurelius), was called to be united, if not to merge, with soteriological ambitions of a religious nature, especially when, in time, the Empire form was to proclaim Christianity as the official religion: Another and far stronger impulse, but one that was equally apolitical, was to suffuse power with religious symbols and imagery…This was a certain sign that men had come to look towards the political regime for something over and above their material and intellectual needs, something akin to salvation.”

From then on, and despite the theological reservations of a Saint Augustine in relation to Varro’s political theology, the historical-political moment was in the best position to correlate religious and political categories to the point of fostering a politics legitimized by theology and a theology endorsed by existing political forms: “This belief in a political savior, as well as the persistent attempts to assimilate the ruler to a deity and to describe the government of human society as analogous to God’s rule over the cosmos, were themes reflective of the degree to which political and religious elements had become deeply intermixed in men’s minds. In a variety of ways, in the conception of the ruler, subject, and society, the “political” quality was becoming indiscernible. At the same time, from the fourth century B.C. until well into the Christian era, men repeatedly thought of the Deity in largely political terms. Thus the paradoxical situation developed wherein the nature of God’s rule was interpreted through political categories and the human ruler through religious ones; monarchy became a justification for monotheism and monotheism for monarchy.”

It is not necessary to appeal excessively to the imagination to understand that this new mentality contributed unexpectedly but decisively to progressively blur the purity of political concepts that had grown in the heat of the conflictive intensity of Greek city life. The political categories that had populated the minds of the leading Greek philosophers were not born out of abstract speculation but out of civic life that, significantly, many of them had experienced in their own lives.

In this way, the advent of the imperial era washed away, if not the ruin of the political categories inherited from Greek philosophy, then at least the experience inherent in the Greek logos mode of political thought, thus generating a collective temperament far removed from it and increasingly apolitical ways of thinking: “In looking back on the kinds of political speculation that had followed the death of Aristotle, it is evident that the apolitical character of life had been faithfully portrayed, but no truly political philosophy had appeared. What had passed for political thought had often been radically apolitical; the meaning of political existence had been sought out only in order that men might more easily escape from it.”

Inevitably, from that very moment, through the infection of sacred symbolism in imperial forms, a path was already opening for the penetration of moral Manichaeisms that were to progressively overlap with the defining dualities of the essence of what political, as studied, for example, by Julien Freund, especially the friend-foe duality for foreign relations and the command-obedience duality for internal ones.

The political world, for this new moralism, was from now on divided into “good” and “bad” (that is, faithful and unfaithful, orthodox and heretics), thus breaking the spatial and theoretical delimitation between the political and the ethical, built by the realism of authors like Thucydides.

From now on, there was no longer a “political” morality (that is, a morality adapted to the demands of political reality), but rather the political (everything political, with its theoretical and practical arsenal) was subjected to “the” moral, a unique and universalist morality called to be colonized, over time, by a faith (the Christian one) that, unlike the other two monotheisms (the Jewish that preceded it, and the Muslim that succeeded it), paradoxically, never harbored any political ambition: “Instead of redefining the new societies in political terms, political philosophy turned into a species of moral philosophy, addressing itself not to this or that city, but to all mankind… Seneca’s suicide was the dramatic symbol of the bankruptcy of a tradition of political philosophy that had exchanged its political element for a vapid moralism.”

From this new scenario, which ultimately prevailed, we can gather striking precedents that, as symbolic advancements, were presented in the unprecedented Alexandrian imperial experiment. Eratosthenes incarnates, avant la lettre, before history the figure of an anti-Schmittian advisor, who conquers for morality the territory hitherto untouched by politics: “When Eratosthenes advised Alexander to ignore Aristotle’s distinction between Greeks and barbarians and to govern instead by dividing men into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ this marked not only a step towards a conception of racial equality, but a stage in the decline of political philosophy… Eratosthenes’ advice indicated that political thought, like the polis itself, had been superseded by something broader, vaguer, and less political. The ‘moral’ had overridden the ‘political,’ because the moral and the “good” had come to be defined in relation to what transcended a determinate society existing in time and space.”

In conclusion, the historical decline of the polis, understood as a spatial relationship adapted from the human to the political, dragged political thought, originated by the polis, towards an intellectual, religious and moral habitat less adapted for its intellectual survival.

In this environment, which was that of Empire first and feudalism later, political philosophy languished. Although it preserved its theoretical validity in a mausoleum, in which the echo of a vocabulary born from a claustrophobic microcosm of internal rivalries was frozen over the centuries, it awaited its resurrection, by awaiting an ideal environment for palingenesis:The decline of the polis as the nuclear center of human existence had apparently deprived political thought of its basic unit of analysis, one that it was unable to replace. Without the polis, political philosophy had been reduced to the status of a subject-matter in search of a relevant context.”

The relevant context for the regeneration of political thought appeared in a universe that was partly reminiscent of that of the ancient Greek polis. The turbulent air that was breathed into the Italian republics of the Renaissance oxygenated minds capable of restoring a fuller understanding of new (and old) political realities, presenting themselves again under a new day. Machiavelli was the theoretical epitome of the modern political firmament, but the atmosphere explains the phenomenon. “Almost a century before The Prince was written, a viable tradition of “realism” had developed in Italian political thought,” states Wolin.

However, this new sensitivity to political issues would take time to break through and achieve definitive recognition, for the inertia of the old world continued to weigh on it with the tradition of political-religious symbiosis. It is not surprising that the political butterfly did not finally emerge from the chrysalis until these new categories were assumed precisely in the religious habitat that conditioned it.

The nascent national monarchies offered an incomparable setting for the testing of this new offer of understanding of the political fact. In monarchies headed by statesmen who were at the same time princes of the Church, as in Richelieu’s France, the obstacle of theological legitimation could be overcome with greater ease. In the geopolitical context of religious wars, whose moral demands could hardly be reconciled with the incipient reason of State, the fusion of the political with the religious, far from being an obstacle to the autonomy of the former, was presented as its only (and best) platform for its launching.

The following reflection by Wolin, much broader in scope and intent, nevertheless, allows an interpretation in a French way that offers a powerful framework of analysis to understand the progressive secularization of political thought in France ruled with an iron fist by the “man in red.”

“The growing merger of political and religious categories of thought was an intellectual footnote to the spread of political control over national churches. When these tendencies were joined to the growing strength of the national monarchies and to an emerging national consciousness, the combined effect was to pose a possibility which had not been seriously entertained in the West for almost a thousand years: an autonomous political order which acknowledged no superior and, while accepting the universal validity of Christian norms, was adamant in insisting that their interpretation was a national matter. But while Reformation Europe could accept the practice of an autonomous political order and disagree primarily over who should control it, there was greater reluctance to explore the notion of an autonomous political theory. As long as political theory contained a stubbornly moral element and as long as men identified the ultimate categorical imperatives with the Christian teaching, political thought would resist being divested of religious imagery and religious values.”

There is no doubt that the new political and religious scene had little to do with that of the Greek polis in which men such as Plato, Aristotle or Thucydides had been born and lived. Almost two millennia had passed and the men of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries lived immersed in the dogmas of a faith unknown to the ancient Greeks.

However, far from what might seem at first glance to be the spirit of secularism that genuinely characterized the letter (and spirit) of the believers in Jesus Christ, there yet awaited a favorable context for the definitive conquest of a political autonomy that did not contradict, said its postulates, as seriously as in the case of those who followed the law of Moses or Muhammad.

Furthermore, as Jerónimo Molina notes, the anthropological pessimism of the political conception of a Machiavelli was an unwitting debtor of Christian theology; and, although the echoes of the creator of The Prince seem to resonate in the history of the Peloponnesian war, the profundity of the intellectual equipment on the condition of man, which distinguished the Florentine, as a result of more than 1500 years of Christian tradition, was not within the reach of a military man like Thucydides.

This pessimistic strain, which grew out of the realization that the new knowledge must be conversant with evil and that its major concern was to avoid hell, confirms that it was a post-Christian science rather than one inspired directly by classical models. The assertion that ‘all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers’ was one which Greek political science never entertained and Christian doctrine never doubted.”

V. Laicization And The “Catholic” Reason Of State

In this context of French opposition to an imperial power that based its political legitimacy on an authority that appealed to arguments of a religious nature, the autonomy of the political did not appear as the result of an independent intellectual construction, but rather from the demands of a propaganda at the service of military and political action determined by an atmosphere of religious hegemony in the field of argumentation about temporary realities.

Discovered or rediscovered by the statists of Richelieu’s time, the idea of the autonomy of politics does not come from pure speculation, but from a whole series of concrete conflicts: The dispute over Gallicanism, the problem of relations with the Protestants, and above all the Franco-Spanish conflict. The principle of the independence of politics was the anti-Spanish weapon par excellence.”

All of this explains why the course of the debate led to probably unforeseen conclusions. This is proved by the fact that the cardinalist propaganda accepted the challenge of the religious foundation of the theoretical reasons to present in the face of Spanish demands. Spain had chosen a bad enemy to uphold the sacred superiority of her cause. The first-born daughter of the Church would not hesitate to connect with the foundations of a divine mission so frequently highlighted by the Petrine See: The religion of the monarchy could not but confirm the French in the idea that their country had a mission and that it continued the tradition of the Gesta Dei per Francos so well expressed by the words of Joan of Arc: ‘Those who make war on the Holy Kingdom of France, wage war on King Jesus.’”

Nevertheless, the religious dialectic used in the conflict did not cease to be, for the political interests of the French monarchy, a defensive weapon designed specifically to counter the offensive of the Habsburgs, no matter how few actually used it with full conviction. Little by little, strictly political arguments came to the fore, while religious rhetoric was progressively located in the space of stage decoration. After all, the confrontation of the two greatest Catholic powers of the time was not the most appropriate terrain for a resolution of the conflict on a religious basis. As it is a markedly political struggle, it was inevitable that the political arguments would gradually come to occupy the space with the greatest protagonism.

The Catholic State was not just a name of one of those government pamphlets serving Richelieu’s policy. The name chosen for that publication indicates the general inspiration for its content. Undoubtedly, this periodical, which appeared at the beginning of Richelieu’s ministry in 1624, was distinguished by its doctrinal vigor, in its defense of the cardinal’s new policy. The exact title was Le Catholique d’État ou discours politique des alliances du roi très chrétien contre les calomnies de son État. As the scholars of the press of the time pointed out, this pamphlet constituted the hardcore of propaganda in the service of the minister of Louis XIII.

The cardinalist pamphleteer revolted against the intellectual and moral contempt that at the time was directed at the association of the figure of the “Catholic” and the idea of “State policy.” In this way, it placed with pride in its very title the spirit of this association, elevating it to the rank of national and religious communion and apologizing to those who, like the sovereigns of France, knew how to combine the interests of the State and the Catholic Church. However, in the end (and beyond the immediate intentions of its promoters), the thrust of its doctrinal argumentation contributed to progressively dissociate the foundation of the political order from any religious horizon, reworking the foundations of a matched political realism to the interested analysis of the French position in the conflict against the Spanish Empire.

The paradox of the Catholique d’État resides in the fact that after having founded absolutism on an authoritarian conception of religion, it came to separate politics from religion. It does not approximate the power of God except to better ensure its independence… Rejecting the religious arguments of Spanish propaganda and underlining the separation of politics and morals, the Catholique d’État placed the conflict between France and Spain in its true light – that of the confrontation of two national interests.”

As a consequence of this growing translation – from the space of religious definition to the field of political definition – the terminology of the cardinalist writing progressively colors the friend-foe duality of the political opposition with national and non-religious characters, thus affirming a delimitation of intellectual conflict in terms ever closer to the real meaning of political confrontation: While foreign pamphlets separated men into Christian and ungodly, the Catholique d’État took a different view… Thus, in the cardinalist writing, the friend-foe distinction, capital in political thought, was based from now, not on religion, but on nationality and patriotism.”

Thus, from the study of propaganda publications, such as, the Catholique d’État, it is possible to analyze the general meaning of a process of gradual doctrinal decantation. Although the opposition against the Catholic Empire forced a response in the theological field (or more exactly, in the theological-political field), the prolongation of the conflict imposed, in addition to the refutation of the foe’s religious “pretexts” with the same Catholic ammunition that it used, a necessary transfer of the epicenter of the intellectual confrontation towards a political territory, not sown by the theological-moral seed. Without this historical circumstance (fundamentally political and military, as well as religious) that surrounded the cardinalist publication, the “para-doxa” of the Catholique d’État cannot be understood.

Not without its literary qualities, the Catholique d’État contains, in abbreviated form, the theory of the authoritarian State of the reign of Louis XIII, and defines the ideal of a ‘political Catholic,’ of the ‘good patriot.’ Its paradox consists of starting from a religious conception of power in order to separate politics from religion; or, more exactly, from a religion understood in the Spanish way… By developing a new conception of politics, there is a sense of that laicization of power that became the dominant feature of Richelieu’s time.”

The new climate brought about by the Franco-imperial conflict was to propitiate a state of mind tending to consider with suspicion the religious pretexts adduced by a Spanish-Austrian foe maliciously inclined, in the eyes of cardinalist propaganda, to locate the theoretical epicenter of the confrontation in the doctrinal space most adapted to its own benefit. This suspicion unconsciously contributed to disavowing the religious legitimation of political causes, presenting it as a veil, self-interestedly used by a hand determined to hide the true face of its owner.

The similar arrangement of the pieces on the board between the two contenders (Catholic powers competing in moral authority in an atmosphere of religious hyper-legitimacy) originated the unexpected transformation of the rules of the game, until then in force, and with it the consequent secularization of the political thought. It can be said that the Spanish imperial hegemony gave rise to a reason (Catholic and French) of State.

The consequence of this process to Spain and its supporters was, without a doubt, to make religious justifications in politics suspect. Here is a curious detail of the history of political thought in the seventeenth-century: The idea that religion is a deception of the rulers and a secret of domination has been spread by publicists of the very Christian king writing against the pamphleteers of the very Catholic king. The conception that makes religion an imposture of the powerful has been, if not produced, at least reinforced by the confrontation of great nation states. Thus making religion suspect, what could remain as the law of international relations but the interest of each State and natural law? And indeed, if one looks for the basis that the statist writers give to Richelieu’s policy, it is found that they increasingly invoke the national interest and the reason of State. They certainly do not make the kingdom of France a secular state, but they are led to separate more clearly than their predecessors and their opponents the interests of the State from those of religion. The fact that Spain and its supporters insisted on the union of faith and politics undoubtedly contributed much to this secularization… If they still mixed religious arguments and rational arguments, the predominance of the latter is noticeable.”

Thus,” Etienne Thuau writes, “reason of State prepared to become the main argument of Richelieu’s policy.” This “politics of sleeplessness,” a peculiar form of French-style Machiavellianism in a national-Catholic guise, must be understood as the necessary reaction to a given context. The uncomfortable truth of a political realism, purged of moral mystifications and theological disguises, could not break through without attending to that context.

It seems that in Richelieu’s time pro-Spanish publicists and French pamphleteers opted for a veiled politics to that of wakefulness… Thus, in the eyes of many seventeenth-century Frenchmen, Gallic ‘naivety’ was opposed to Spanish hypocrisy. This naivety consisted, at the outset, in revealing to a limited public the levers of power and in taking the layman behind the scenes of government. More profoundly, it tended to desecrate power and detach it from the moral and religious justifications with which it was often illegitimately cloaked. It is not always pleasant to speak the truth, and it is to his lucidity that Richelieu owes, as with Machiavelli, his bad reputation.”

The reference to Machiavelli is not without meaning and perhaps helps to place the doctrinal debate, limited by the circumstances of Richelieu’s time, in a broader context. The “French” reason of State does not arise from the intellectual import of the “letter” of the Florentine’s thought, but rather from the adaptation of its “spirit” to the concrete historical plane of a conflict marked by very precise connotations. And, fundamentally, because of the remarkable personality and ambition of a figure of the stature of Richelieu.

The enigmatic Richelieu in fact embodied for his contemporaries the type of politician marked by Machiavellianism… Faithful, if not to the letter, at least to the spirit of Machiavelli’s doctrine, they made political thought progress since, thanks to them, under the Richelieu regime, the Machiavellian current came to merge with that of the Reason of State.”

The peculiar religious circumstances of the conflict between the French monarchy and the Habsburg Empire help to understand the emergence of this “Catholic” Machiavellianism in Gallic lands and the scope of the contradictions that it carried within it. Another factor that should not be forgotten, when interpreting the period and the historical precipitate (essentially involuntary) that happened to it, is the existential personification of these contradictions. By this we mean that the undoubted political motivations of its main architects were not combined with their religious responsibilities at the cost of a tribute to cynicism or hypocrisy, as a certain distorted and caricatured exhibition tried to underline later, especially in field of literature (The main responsibility, in this regard, is that of Alexander Dumas and his three musketeers).

The genuine religious spirit of men like Richelieu and Father José, the most intimate collaborator of the cardinal’s politics, but also a Capuchin steeped in a fervent missionary ideal, should not be underestimated with chronocentric criteria, if one does not want to blur the real significance of the events of the time (The most representative work on the historical significance of the figure of Father José and his contribution to Richelieu’s political career remains that of Aldous Huxley, Gray Eminence). The sincerity with which these ministers and religious lived their own internal conflicts genuinely fed the sense of politics and the thinking of the main protagonists of the moment, leaving a legacy that would decisively influence the future of a new Europe.

Richelieu may not have had his breviary and Machiavelli at his table, but his Machiavellianism was as indisputable as his faith. Father José dreamt of the Crusade at the same time that he worked for the ruin of the very Catholic Monarchy… The thought of the statists, like that of the men of the seventeenth-century, united the contradictions. They glorified the prince, vice-king of God, responsible before his Creator and, at the same time, invoked the irresponsibility of the reason of State… In good logic, the opposing ways of thinking in life are summoned and completed. Inconsistencies also have their logic… What seems to us incoherence is, to a certain extent, the very mark of life. Those seemingly incompatible principles that coexist are actually the past and the present facing each other.”

Although the sense of criticism of figures like Richelieu usually insists on the amoral character of their political endeavors and on the religious instrumentalization of their power interests, the truth is that many of the men who collaborated with those endeavors were also moved by a sincere desire for religious purification. The delimitation of the respective fields of politics and religion should not only serve to liberate politics from religious servitude but also, and for the same reason, to emancipate religion from bastard political ties.

Closer to reality, the statism of Richelieu’s time, assuming violence to overcome it, tried to agree on force and reason. Attempting to reconcile violence and reason, flirting with Machiavellianism to overcome it, statism propagated a new conception of the relationship of men with each other and of man with God. By secularizing political thought, Richelieu developed natural law and a new theology. Statists reject in the first place any religion that mixes God too much with human affairs and that is preached by people ‘more political and carnal than spiritual.’ as Theveneau put it. They judge very suspiciously political-religious endeavors in the Spanish fashion, such as the League, the Evangelization of the Indies, the holy war against the heretics or the infidel. They aspire to a purer, more interior religion, oblivious of material interests and the narrowness of dogma.”

The characteristic realism of this “Catholic Machiavellianism” could thus enlist the support of sincerely religious men, without whom the contemporaneity of its emergence could hardly be assimilated with the appearance of eminently spiritual figures such as Pascal (1623-1662), and his decisive and parallel contribution to both scientific and religious thought.

“Reason, for the seventeenth-century, is therefore, to a certain extent, daughter of the State of Richelieu,” as Etienne Thuau pointed out, and continued: “The brutality of the time of Louis XIII made political apriorisms impossible… But this oppressive thought is also an instrument of liberation. In its positive aspect, the statist works of our period contribute to secularize the State and the League of Nations, and the most remarkable fact of this influence is that the progress of rationalism is parallel to that of the State.” The environmental secularization of the spirit of the time undoubtedly purified the political analysis but also engendered a new moral and religious sensibility, announcing, on the other hand, the new ideological and cultural winds of the great revolutionary rupture of the late eighteenth-century.

This Christian statism placed ample confidence in the human will to build civil society. It is based on ancient and modern rationalisms and gave great autonomy to the State… It is the same with the political polemics of Spain, as with Pascal’s polemics with the Jesuits: They did a lot to secularize thought and expand the morals and politics of honest men. Equally distant from Spanishized theology and from Machiavelli’s atheism, the politics of honest men – or, more precisely, that of the bourgeoisie, men of law and civil servants – tends to be based on natural law, a Christian rationalism and, very often, deism.”

To relate the links of this great (and indeed foundational) “French Machiavellian moment” with the revolutionary hecatomb, which will take place a century and a half after the death of Richelieu, constitutes the task of a work that goes beyond the limits of this one. Instead, we will content ourselves with pointing out, by way of a conclusive synthesis, that the Catholic reason of State that stands as the main novelty of French political thought at the time of Louis XIII, which in his reign allowed the great Cardinal to fulfill his incomparable foundational and restorative dictatorship,” is a paradigmatic example of that creative factor that accompanies the history of Western thought – in that permanent tension between continuity and innovation, analyzed by Sheldon Wolin, as we have highlighted throughout this brief study as hermeneutical support of our interpretation. This creative factor is undoubtedly linked to that imaginative dimension inherent in political thought, as highlighted by the American author, but also to the socio-historical circumstances that incardinate the imaginative leaps of the philosopher.

The varied conceptions of space indicate that each theorist has viewed the problem from a different perspective, a particular angle of vision. This suggests that political philosophy constitutes a form of ‘seeing’ political phenomena and that the way in which the phenomena will be visualized depends in large measure on where the viewer ‘stands.’”

In other words:

The concepts and categories of a political philosophy may be likened to a net that is cast out to capture political phenomena, which are then drawn in and sorted in a way that seems meaningful and relevant to the particular thinker. But in the whole procedure, he has selected a particular net and he has cast it in a chosen place.”

Although Richelieu’s time did not have the support of a political philosophy similar to that of an observer of the English Civil War such as Thomas Hobbes, it nevertheless developed an analogous propaganda apparatus for self-defense, mutatis mutandis, which we have met in the twentieth-century. The interests of the cardinalist press constituted that socio-historical context to which Wolin refers, and which no longer represented so much the perspective adopted by the “observer” (who is associated with an impartial and almost scientific agent), but the approach taken by whoever he observed and at the same time influenced events, in a position similar to that which defined the trajectory of the diplomatic Machiavelli. “The political philosophy of the Richelieu regime is therefore less the fruit of disinterested reflection than of the mask of the will of the State and an instrument of domination. The impression of incompleteness that his works offer comes from his practical aspirations,” Thuau also pointed out.

It is no coincidence that this scholar of reason of State during Richelieu’s time emphasized that “thanks to creative distortions and respectful falsifications, jurists, theologians and men of letters worked for ‘statist crystallization.’” The reference to the creative factor and the fundamentally proactive position of its new interpreters (observers and actors at the same time) clearly delimits the peculiar socio-historical dimension of the imaginative character that we can attribute to the political thought that germinated to the beat of the cardinal’s work. The fusion of the jurist, theologian and man of letters came to be represented, with a similar political role, by the twentieth-century intellectual.

The echoes of this desacralization sponsored by the propaganda demands of the French throne defended by Richelieu were felt, over time, beyond the space-time coordinates of the Spanish-French conflict that saw it born, attacking the descendants of Louis XIII with arguments similar to those used by cardinalist advertising. Only two centuries later, the argument for the desacralization of politics that favored the geopolitical interests of the kingdom of France ended up ruining its own internal foundations.

However, the antecedents that culminated in the French Revolution had, in the meantime, become contaminated with the infection of a new secular matrix moralism, an enlightened humanitarianism that undoubtedly inherited the transcendent desacralization of power that was initiated involuntarily at the initiative of the propagandized, in the service of the Cardinal, but which reoriented the religious potential of the French tradition towards intramundane purposes. Hence, we must ask ourselves about the weak intellectual offspring of the crude political realism that emerged as a result of the claims of affirmation of the French monarchy of Louis XIII.

One feature of the cardinalist propaganda deserves to be noted: Its tendency to offer a brutal vision of reality… The cardinalist press therefore tended to present political life as a confrontation of forces, a harsh view that seemed to “free spirits” a sign of truth. This feature of Richelieu’s time is striking when his accomplishments are compared with those of a later time.”

Perhaps the French theory of reason of State that emerged in Richelieu’s time died as a consequence of its success. French absolutism was to dominate European geopolitics from the treaty of Westphalia. The requirements of his policy, from then on, were to be different from those under the command of the man in red. If Richeulian Machiavellianism is to be fairly considered as one of the golden ages of political realism, its profound nature is better understood if it is seen, in the pre-Westphalian European context, as a brief parenthesis between theological moralism that it preceded and the immanentist secular moralism that buried it.

We can indeed wonder if the time of Richelieu, who made Machiavellianism flourish, was not the moment of truth of the century. Indeed, the seventeenth-century, a century of violence, seems to have been a “Belle époque” for political realism… The Middle Ages lived in a world that was made bearable by the presence of God. The Age of Enlightenment, without ignoring the miseries of the human condition, nurtured a humanitarian ideal. Our gloomy period only looks at the gross facts without any ray of light coming to illuminate them.”

This is the paradox that perhaps summarizes the history of the vision of the political, which is also the history of its visionaries: That all light outside their domain is not a light that illuminates but a light that blinds.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows a portrait of Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, painted ca. 1633-1640.e, painted in 1648.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

Charles de Gaulle, Mythologized, Yet Betrayed, Part III

The President Of The Fifth Republic – Gaullian Thought

With his followers, de Gaulle created, in 1947, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF), a movement which initially had a good number of members elected to the Assembly, but which then declined until its dissolution in 1953. During these years, the General was wary, in particular, of the influence of the PCF, the Communists and their leaders, of whom he regularly said that they were in the service of the USSR, that they had a project of domination of Europe, and that their aim, unspoken and underhanded, was to submit the country to foreign domination.

In 1951, de Gaulle rejected the supranational character of the European Coal and Steel Community (CECA) and opposed in the name of national sovereignty, a project of the European Defense Community (EDC). On the other hand, he rallied to the idea of European integration and approved the entry of France into the European Economic Community (EEC), following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Being a man of letters since his youth, he took advantage of the political lull that followed to write the three volumes of his Memoirs which he published in 1954, 1956 and 1959.

De Gaulle, An Exceptional President Of The Republic

At the beginning of 1958, events in Algeria began to escalate. Fear and anger gripped the French in Algeria, as well as chiefs of staff of the army, as rumors circulated about negotiations between the government and the FLN separatists. On May 13, a big demonstration was planned in Algiers. To calm the crowd, General Massu, a lifelong Gaullist, chaired a committee of public safety and demanded that in France a government of public safety be formed, chaired by General de Gaulle.

On the 15th, General Salan harangued the crowd and exclaimed, “Vive de Gaulle!” On May 16, in Paris, at the Palais Bourbon, the socialist leader, Guy Mollet, rallied to de Gaulle’s solution. After being received on May 29 by the President of the Republic, René Coty, who entrusted him with the task of constituting the government, de Gaulle appeared before the National Assembly on June 1st to receive the investiture of President of the Council, along with extended powers, with a view to preparing new institutions (329 votes for, and 224 votes against).

In June 1958, de Gaulle made a trip to Algeria, where he uttered those unhappy words: “I understand you” (speech from Algiers, June 4, 1958) and “Vive l’Algérie française” (speech from Mostaganem, June 6, 1958). He falsely gave the impression of committing to French Algeria and assimilation. The French of Algeria, and many senior officers, never forgave him for fostering the misunderstanding in this way. In fact, de Gaulle understood that France no longer had the energy necessary for an imperial destiny. He anticipated the danger of an invasion of the metropolis by large African populations, with a conquering Islamic religion. He also knew that the world had changed and that France and Europe would have to establish new relationships with the peoples of the former colonies, based on interdependence and respect for differences.

From August 24, 1958, de Gaulle began, in Brazzaville, the process of the decolonization of black Africa, by suggesting that a community of autonomous Franco-African States would succeed the colonial empire. This “French Union” would be the crucible for the independence of the states of French-speaking black Africa two years later. Fourteen French-speaking African states thus achieved independence. September 16, 1959 was a turning point in Algerian politics. In a speech de Gaulle proposed “the right of Algerians to self-determination.”

On January 8, 1961, the French approved, by referendum, the principle of self-determination, and thus the independence of Algeria. In response, the French in Algeria revolted; in Algiers it became known as “barricade week” (January 24 – February 2). But on April 8, 1962, 90% of the French approved, by referendum, the Evian agreements, providing for the independence of Algeria.

On April 22, 1961, an attempted military coup broke out in Algiers; it failed after four days, because the army mostly remained loyal to de Gaulle. Many Gaullists, resistance fighters from the start, such as the ethnologist, ex-minister, Jacques Soustelle, or the sociologist, Jules Monnerot, author of Sociologie du communisme (a classic of 20th-century thought, published in 1949 and expanded in 1963) were now moving away from de Gaulle. Others, such as the minister and future prime minister Michel Debré, who had initially been a supporter of French Algeria, or the political scientist, Julien Freund, author of the most important French political work of the twentieth-century, L’essence du politique, remained inextricably linked to Gaullism.

It appeared that de Gaulle’s position was dictated by the need to protect France from being conquered by Islam, as Malraux had described to him. In March 1959, two months after his installation at the Élysée Palace, de Gaulle gave his intimate thoughts to Alain Peyrefitte, concerning the reasons which led him to offer independence to Algeria: “It’s very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and that it has a universal calling. But only on the condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise France will no longer be France. We are nevertheless above all a European people of the white race, of Greek and Latin culture, and of the Christian religion… Let’s not tell each other stories! Muslims, have you seen them, with their turbans and djellabas? You can see that they are not French! Those who advocate integration have the brains of hummingbirds (he then thinks of his ex-friend, Soustelle), even if they are very learned… Integration is a trick to allow Muslims, who are in the majority in Algeria ten to one, to find themselves in the minority in the French Republic one to five. It’s a childish sleight of hand! We imagine that we can handle the Algerians with such jackass tomfoolery. Can’t you see that the Arabs will multiply by five and then by ten, while the French population will remain almost stationary? Then will there be two hundred, then four hundred Arab deputies in Paris? Do you see an Arab president at the Élysée?… We will perhaps realize that the greatest of all the services that I have been able to render to the country was to detach Algeria from France; and that, of all, it was this very service which hurt me the most. With hindsight, we will understand that this cancer was going to do away with us. We will recognize that the ‘integration,’ the faculty given to ten million Arabs, who would become 20, then forty [they are now more than 42 million, NDLA], to settle in France as at home – it will be the end of France.”

In May 1963, in the Council of Ministers, he insisted again: “I draw your attention to a problem which could become serious. There were 40,000 immigrants from Algeria in April. This is almost equal to the number of babies born in France during the same month. I would like more babies to be born in France and less immigrants to come. Let’s not overdo this! It is urgent to put it in order!” No politician today would dare to open such a debate with the arguments used previously by de Gaulle, without risking a humiliating defeat at the hands of censors and inquisitors, modern guardians of mono-thought – worse, without immediately suffering the wrath of the law.

Be that it may, the French were indebted to the General for the end of the Algerian war. He alone had managed to resolve the terrible conflict that had torn France apart for years. But the conditions under which he did so and the methods he employed remain debatable and debated. De Gaulle would say at the end of his life about Franco, “All things considered, the results of his action are positive for his country. But, God, he had a heavy hand.” It is probably no exaggeration to repeat his harsh words here when we consider the tragedy experienced by the Harki and the French in Algeria.

On October 28, 1962, after a political crisis of exceptional violence, which brought together supporters of a referendum and opposition parliamentarians demanding the revision of the Constitution via the majority of Congress, the National Assembly was dissolved. De Gaulle finally won and a popular referendum was organized on the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. The project was approved by the people with 62.25% of the votes in favor. De Gaulle always wanted to exclude the middlemen of the political caste, who were too indifferent to the concerns of the people. It is therefore not surprising that he saw “all the cripples of contemporary history” rise up against him – a vast and heterogeneous coalition of professional politicians, ranging from radical and traditional right-wingers, to Liberals and Christian Democrats. Socialists and Communists.

Nevertheless, Gaullism did have the advantage of bringing together politicians whose origins and convictions were numerous: Jacobins, Conservative administrators, reformist Liberals, radicals, social democrats, left-wing republicans, even far-left, independent intellectuals, technocrats, Maurrassians and nationalist disciples of Péguy or Barres. Sociological Gaullism went far beyond the moderate Right electorate (liberal-conservative and Christian-democratic) and the radical Right. It rallied a large fraction of the Left electorate, seduced by the charisma of the General and by his desire to reconcile order and progress.

At that time, pamphlets, published by prestigious publishing houses, were successfully circulated against de Gaulle. At the end of the Second World War, in 1945, Henri de Kérillis, a Giraudist residing in the United States, published, in Montreal, De Gaulle, dictateur (De Gaulle, Dictator).

In 1964, it was the right-wing anarchist, Jacques Laurent, who published, Mauriac sous de Gaulle (Mauriac under de Gaulle), a libelous work in which he blamed “the Chief who exercises absolute power,” and even claimed that France “lives under a form of tyranny.” The partisans of French Algeria did not forgive him for having had Colonel Bastien Thierry, leader of the conspirators, shot after the attempted assassination at Petit-Clamart, on March 11, 1963. Parliamentarians and former ministers, like the now old Paul Reynaud (right-wing Centrist), Gaston Monnerville (Democratic Left), or François Mitterrand (UDSR – Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance) were not the least virulent.

Paul Reynaud declared that President de Gaulle had violated the Constitution and insulted Parliament. In 1964, Mitterrand published his pamphlet, Le coup d’État permanent (The Permanent Coup d’etat), in which he denounced the practice of “personal power” and the weakness of the marginalized parliament. He called for voting “No” in the referendum on the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (1958) and “No” in the referendum on election by universal suffrage (1962).

François Mitterrand was then known for the attack at the Observatory, a false attack carried out against himself in 1959 [the “Observatory Affair”]. Being then a minister of the Fourth Republic, which was then in decline, Mitterrand had ordered this attack as an attempt to regain some public confidence. De Gaulle, who sometimes was ferocious, gave him various unflattering nicknames, such as, “Rastignac de la Nièvre,” (a social-climber of Nièvre ), “the Arsouille” (thug), or “the Prince of political dogs.” Indicted for “contempt of court,” Mitterrand took advantage of an amnesty law passed by the Pompidou government (the 1962 law; brought into force in 1966), which stopped the legal proceedings against him in 1966.

The reference to the coup d’État to censor the arrival and exercise of power by de Gaulle was a leitmotif of his opponents. We know that European Liberal and Socialist traditions have been marked by numerous recourses to putsches, coups d’état and other pronunciamientos (the first in the 19th-century, and the second at the turn of the 20th-century).

But the fact remains – after the Second World War, in the name of representative democracy, the representatives of these two tendencies sought to sanctify the democratic legitimacy of power (at the expense of the legitimacy of its exercise). De Gaulle, who did not allow himself to be fooled by their legal quibbles, said in this regard: “A good number of political professionals… refuse to see the people exercising sovereignty over the role of these professionals as intermediaries.” But paradoxically, history has shown that de Gaulle was much more democratic than his successors. It was with dignity, and without making the slightest comment, that he left office in 1969, after a referendum on Senate reform and regionalization was rejected by 52.41% of the vote.

Conversely, in 1986, when the legislative elections brought to power a right-wing majority, the socialist François Mitterrand, however critical of the institutions of the Fifth Republic, remained in his post and brought in Jacques Chirac as prime minister, which made for both unnatural and sterile marriage. In 1997, in the wake of the unfortunate dissolution of the Assembly, Chirac also remained at the Élysée, bringing in the Socialist Lionel Jospin as prime minister. In 2005, again, after losing the referendum on the draft European constitution, Chirac was careful not to head to the exit door.

Finally, in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy had the National Assembly ratify the Treaty of Lisbon on the new European Constitution, with the help of the Centrists and the Socialists, while it was rejected by the people in the referendum of May 29, 2005. No referendum has ever been held since. The concept of democracy held by the heads of state who succeeded de Gaulle is, to say the least, of a variable geometry.

In addition to the institutions of the Fifth Republic, a heritage on which the French still live, one must add to de Gaulle’s successes national independence (with the nuclear deterrent force, the withdrawal from NATO’s integrated command, and the return to major economic and financial balances), Franco-German reconciliation (Franco-German friendship treaty of January 22, 1963), and the ordinances on employee profit-sharing and ownership (January 7, 1959 and August 17, 1967). These reforms allowed “collective participation in the running of the company or establishment… participation in the capital or in self-financing operations… [and] participation in the increase of productivity.”

In de Gaulle’s eyes, participation was to crown his social work. But it would come up against the joint hostility of the employers, who feared the arrival of Soviets in the company, and of the unions, who saw all co-management as a phenomenon of class collaboration.

Finally, it should be noted that after the direct intervention of his wife, Yvonne, de Gaulle, agreed to support Deputy Lucien Neuwirth’s law authorizing the use of the contraceptive pill. At the Council of Ministers of June 7, 1967, de Gaulle, hesitant and even reluctant, still said, according to Alain Peyrefitte, “Morals are changing, we can do next to nothing.” But “we must not make social security pay for the pills. These are not remedies! The French want greater freedom of morals. We’re not going to reimburse them for this trifle!” The law authorizing the sale of the contraceptive pill would finally be adopted in December 1967. And it was in 1974, under the presidency of the liberal-conservative, Giscard d’Estaing, that the Minister of Health, Simone Veil, allowed social security to reimburse the pill.

On December 19, 1965, de Gaulle was re-elected President of the Republic, defeating François Mitterrand by 54.5% of the vote. This second term would be marked by three virulent controversies, which have remained famous, and which go far beyond France itself. After the end of the Algerian war, de Gaulle could fully denounce any form of colonization, and he did not hold back in this denunciation by supporting policies of independence, balance, peace and non-alignment, while defending the principle of territorial integrity.

While the United States was fighting in Viet Nam, in a speech in Phnom Penh on September 1, 1966, de Gaulle criticized American intervention and asserted the right of peoples to self-determination. On July 24, 1967, in a speech in Montreal, he supported the interests of the “French in Canada” and the sovereignty of Quebec (“Vive le Québec libre!”) – which did not fail to shock English-speaking Canadians (Time called him a “senile dictator”), but also a large part of the political and media establishment of France who showed their strong disapproval. (This was particularly the case with Le Monde, Le Figaro and anti-Gaullist politicians, such Pleven and Lecanuet, but also Gaullists, such as, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, who considered the remarks excessive).

However, it was undoubtedly the press conference of November 27, 1967, five months after the Six Day War (June 5 to 10, 1967), during which de Gaulle called the Jewish people “an elite people, self-assured and domineering,” and condemned Israel for attacking Arab countries, which aroused the most passions.

De Gaulle took a position against most political leaders and the mainstream media, which led to a deluge of venomous criticism. (Such as the directors of Le Monde [Hubert Beuve-Mery], of the Nouvel Observateur [Jean Daniel], and of l’Express [Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber], but also the editors of Populaire of the SFIO, of l’Aurore, and of Figaro). Raymond Aron even went so far as to criticize him for “rehabilitating anti-Semitism,” a hysterical accusation vigorously refuted by David Ben-Gurion.

In fact, de Gaulle regarded the creation of Israel as “a historical necessity,” and “a fait accompli.” He added, “We would not want Israel to be destroyed.” And later said, “France will help you tomorrow, as she helped you yesterday, to maintain you, no matter what. But it is unwilling to provide you with the means to conquer new territory. You have achieved a feat. Now don’t overdo it.” De Gaulle refused the conquest of territories by force and affirmed the need for dialogue with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the right to self-determination of the Palestinians.

But nothing suggested that less than six months later he would be facing riots, initiated by leftist, libertarian and Marxist students, and which would then be taken up by the entire left-wing opposition. This was the time when the philosopher, and Maoist sympathizer, Jean-Paul Sartre, complacently interviewed the libertarian (future liberal-libertarian) Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the columns of the Nouvel Observateur (May 20, 1968).

Sartre, defender of the dictatorships of the East, of the USSR or of Mao’s China and even a declared supporter of the Soviet concentration camps, wanted to be revolutionary. He was not an inspirer of the ’68 revolt, but it was echoed widely in the streets, on the stands and in the newspapers. Crowned with his past as a resistance fighter, an escapee from a Stalag and a defender of leftist causes, Sartre was the icon of the intelligentsia and much of the French university.

De Gaulle respected the “philosopher,” although the author of Les mains sales kept calling him a “fascist,” “pimp,” “piece of shit,” “moron,” “bastard” and “pig.” It would take almost thirty years for the veil to be finally lifted on Sartre’s baseness and villainy. We eventually learned that the legend of the model couple Sartre-Beauvoir did not correspond to reality.

Sartre had never been a resistance fighter; he had twice refused to attempt to escape Germany; he had most likely been released thanks to the intervention of collaborationist, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Sartre had signed the two Vichy forms by which he certified that he was neither a Jew nor a Freemason; he had been appointed to the Lycée Condorcet to the post once occupied by a Jewish teacher prohibited from teaching by Vichy laws. Finally, Sartre had written in the collaborationist review Comoedia and his play, Les Mouches (1943) – so-called resistance – had not given him any serious problem with German censorship.

As for his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, she had worked for Radio-Vichy and was not been expelled from the National Education Department by the Vichy government for an act of resistance, but following a complaint of corrupting a minor by Nathalie Sarraute’s mother (See the edifying account of their lives and their pitiful relationships given by Michel Onfray in Les consciousness réfractaires). All in all, they were a couple of mediocre, cowardly, opportunist, careerist, scheming and ambitious “bastards,” to use the pleasant term Sartre and Beauvoir used for their opponents.

“Reform yes, a shambles, no” de Gaulle would say in private, in 1968. In truth, he never forgave himself for letting these events take him by surprise. According to his son, Philippe, he confessed: “I failed. I failed because it is characteristic of someone who governs according to plan. And there, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t plan anything. Of course, I was not the only one in this case… But that’s no excuse.”

On May 27, 1968, a few hours after taking part in the meeting at the Charléty stadium (organized, among others, by the UNEF, the PSU and the CFDT), François Mitterrand proposed the formation of a “provisional management government” headed by Mendès France. But the old lion woke up and finally came to his senses.

De Gaulle, assured of the support of the armed forces of the Republic, after his impromptu visit to General Massu on May 29, 1968, returned to Paris and called for civic resistance. The next day, a gigantic demonstration of nearly a million people gathered on the Champs Élysée to defend the institutions. On June 30, parliamentary elections marked the opposition’s failure. The Gaullists and their allies then won the absolute majority of seats in the Assembly: 358 out of 485.

But this victory would be marred a year later by the success of “No” in the referendum on regionalization, immediately followed by the resignation of the first President of the Fifth Republic. From April to September 1970, de Gaulle published a collection of speeches and messages, followed by his Memoirs of Hope. He died at La Boisserie on November 9, 1970 at 7:30 p.m.

On September 10, 1966, aboard the cruiser, De Grasse, Charles de Gaulle had confided to his minister, future memorialist, Alain Peyrefitte, these few words, which define the essence of Gaullism: “We have tried to invent a new regime, a third way, between oligarchy and democrappy.”

Some Reflections On Gaullian Thought

At the center of Gaullian thought is the desire to reconcile idea of national identity with social justice. De Gaulle knew that one cannot ensure freedom, social justice and the public good without simultaneously defending national sovereignty and independence (political, economic and cultural).

The strength of Gaullism lies in its passion for the greatness of the nation; its aspiration for national unity; its praise of the heritage of Christian Europe; its demand for Europe, from Brest to Vladivostok; its resistance against any foreign domination (American or Soviet); its non-alignment on the international level; its direct democracy (universal suffrage and the popular referendum); its anti-parliamentarianism; its ideal of the third way, neither capitalist nor collectivist; its indicative planning, its “ordoliberalism;” its capital-labor association or participation; and its selective immigration and national preference.

The many links that de Gaulle forged during the 1930s, with various politico-intellectual circles, contributed to the formation of Gaullist Tercerism. From his family roots, de Gaulle very early on received the imprint of double social Catholicism (that of traditionalists, such as, Armand de Melun, Albert de Mun, René de la Tour du Pin, and that of liberals, such as, Ozanam and Lammenais). He also read Maurras in the 1910s, like many officers of his generation; his father was also a supporter of Action Française.

But while he recognized the primacy of foreign policy, and the traditional view of the struggle of states, with an indifference to ideologies that pass away while nations remain, along with anti-parliamentarianism, the strong state and the exaltation of national independence, proclaimed by the “master of Martigues,” de Gaulle also rejected full nationalism and, in particular, state anti-Semitism, preferring instead the philosophy of Bergson, the mystique of the republican idea of Péguy and the nationalism of Barrès ( the author of The Faith of France). Like Barrès, de Gaulle defended the idea of a unitary national history that included the Ancien Régime and the Revolution of 1789, and in which the Republic was a given. Being a subscriber to the Cahiers de la Quinzaine, before the First World War, de Gaulle expressly claimed Péguy as one of his masters. Let us also not forget one of his favorite authors, François-René de Chateaubriand, whom he read and reread his entire life.

In the 1930s, de Gaulle attended the literary salon of Daniel Halévy, historian and essayist, a great connoisseur of Proudhon (anarchist), Sorel (syndicalist-revolutionary) and Péguy (Catholic nationalist). He also participated in the meetings of the circle of an old retired soldier, a Dreyfusard and nonconformist, Colonel Émile Mayer. Close to the socialist left, Mayer made him meet, in addition to his future friend, the lawyer Jean Auburtin, several politicians, such as, Paul Reynaud, Joseph Paul-Boncour, Marcel Déat, Édouard Frédéric-Dupont, Camille Chautemps, Alexandre Millerand and Léon Blum. It was thanks to Colonel Mayer that he came into contact with Daniel-Rops (Henry Petiot). All this new knowledge allowed him to give more resonance to his military writings.

De Gaulle also took part in meetings and conferences of the Ligue de la Jeune République, an organization for political resurgence, after its condemnation by Pius IX, in favor of the Sillon, the progressive Catholic movement of Marc Sangnier. In 1933, de Gaulle contributed to the debates organized by L’Aube, a newspaper close to the CFTC (Christian Trade Unionism in France), which was later chaired by Georges Bidault.

In 1934, de Gaulle subscribed to the review Sept, created by the Dominicans; then, in 1937, to its successor, the weekly, Temps Présent, while he also belonged to the association, Amis de Temps Présent (Friends of Temps Présent). Openly Catholic, these two reviews and their circle, were politically in the center-left. Finally, and above all, a decisive factor in the formation of de Gaulle, undoubtedly much more important than his contacts with representatives of the Christian Democrats, Charles de Gaulle spent time with members of the Ordre Nouveau (O.N.). He regularly attended O.N. meetings, a personalist think tank which, along with the Jeune Droite, and Esprit magazine, was one of the three main streams of “non-conformists of the 1930s.”

Created by Alexandre Marc-Lipiansky, Arnaud Dandieu and Robert Aron, the Ordre Nouveau published, from May 1933 to September 1938, an eponymous review, which claimed to be a third social path, and which wanted to be anti-individualist and anti-collectivist, anti-capitalist and anti-communist, anti-parliamentary and anti-fascist, anti-warmonger and anti-pacifist, patriot but not nationalist, traditionalist but not conservative, realist but not opportunist, socialist but not materialist, personalist but not anarchist, and well, human but not humanitarian. In the area of economics, it was a question of subordinating production to consumption. The economy, as it was conceived by the editors of the journal Ordre Nouveau, must include both a free sector and a sector subject to planning. “Work is not an end in itself.” The “neither Right nor Left” approach of the journal and the group gave itself the objective of placing institutions at the service of the person, of subordinating to man a strong and limited state, modern and technical.

We find in this “non-conformism of the thirties,” as in Christian social thought, three fundamental themes that were dear to de Gaulle: the primacy of man, the refusal of standardization, and the concern for respect of the individuality within community; which implies, of course, an important place given to the principle of subsidiarity. In an interesting article in Figaro, “De Gaulle à la lumière de l’Histoire ,” [“De Gaulle in the light of History”], (September 4-5, 1982), the Gaullist and Protestant historian, Pierre Chaunu, drew my attention, for the first time, to the similarities and convergences which exist between the thought of General de Gaulle and those at the same time of the French non-conformist personalists, of the Spanish national-trade unionist, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and of various authors of the conservative German Revolution. This striking parallelism is also found in the case of the thought of Eamon de Valera, the founder of the Irish Democratic Republic, and leader of Fianna Fáil. But it still takes a minimum of openness to admit this, without sinking into caricature and propaganda.

In fact, these political aspirations, which have as a backdrop the themes of “civilization of the masses” and “technical society” (dealt with in particular by Ortega y Gasset) are found among a great many European intellectuals of the 1930s who are not reactionaries, but who seek a synthesis, a reconciliation in the form of dialectical transcendence: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be an imbecile; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia,” wrote José Ortega y Gasset in his Preface for French readers of La Révolte des masses (1937).

Like all these thinkers, de Gaulle was in no way a reactionary conservative. He admitted to the civilization of the masses and to technology; there was no pastoral nostalgia with him. Gaullism and the personalism of the nonconformists of the 1930s only really diverged in the conception of the nation: the Gaullian defense of the unity, independence and sovereignty of the nation is opposed to the European federalism of the personalists. The fact remained that de Gaulle would always seek to defend a political doctrine that went in the same direction as that of the personalists, marked by the desire to go beyond the Right and the Left.

Throughout his life, de Gaulle sought to find a new system, a “third way” between capitalism and communism. In 1966, when he seemed interested in Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke’s ordo-liberalism, he wrote to Marcel Loichot: “Perhaps you know that for a long time I have been looking, or groping about, for practical way of determining change, not in the standard of living, but in the condition of the worker. In our industrial society, it must be the beginning of everything again, as access to property was in our old agricultural society.” All his life he always refused to position himself on the Right-Left axis. For him, the Right or the Left were only political references that were completely foreign to him. “To be a Gaullist,” he said in 1965, “is to be neither on the Left nor on the Right. It is to rise above. It is to be for France.” And, again, “France is all at the same time. It is all French people. France is not the Left! France is not the Right!… Now, as always, I am not on one side, I am not on the other, I am for France” (12/15/1965).

In the 1930s, de Gaulle did not consider the social question to be primordial. A senior officer needed to focus first and foremost on the implementation of the best means for the independence of the nation. In a letter of November 13, 1937 to his friend Jean Auburtin, he explained: “For me, I’m in tanks up to my neck.” In this immediate pre-war period, for him everything seemed to boil down to psychological phenomena of jealousy and envy on the one hand, and pride and selfishness on the other.

Before being a social thinker, General de Gaulle was always a philosopher of sovereignty, independence and freedom. But his social thought would emerge in London, during the war years, after the long silence of the twenties and thirties. His first speech, in which the social question appeared, was given in Albert Hall, on November 15, 1941, a month and a half after the Labor Code brought in by the Vichy regime on October 4, 1941. The speech at Oxford, on November 25, 1941, is also essential in understanding the thought of de Gaulle, because it evokes the role of the machine, the advent of the masses and the collective conformism which undermines individual freedoms. The economy is certainly important, but it is only a means to the service of higher ends. Therefore, any system where the economy is an end in itself, whether it be savage capitalism or totalitarian collectivism, is sidelined. Gaullism postulates the primacy of man over economics, technology and any doctrinaire system.

While he agreed to parties, unions and notables, and conceded to them the day-to-day management of politics, de Gaulle denied anyone the right to question the major options of his national and international policy. Contemptuous of “the chattering, maliciously gossiping, and babbling class,” severe critic of the inconsistency, ineffectiveness and carelessness of the Left, de Gaulle pitilessly denounced the stupidity and immobility of the Right.

But his most acerbic criticisms were addressed to the privileged classes, to the money and knowledge bourgeoisie, that were all too often considered jaded, unhealthy and gangrenous, and to its spokespersons from the journalistic fauna. “The people have healthy reflexes. The people feel or are have the interest of the country. They are not often wrong. In reality, there are two bourgeoisies. The money bourgeoisie, those who read Le Figaro, and the intellectual bourgeoisie, who read Le Monde. The two make quite the pair. They get along to share power. I don’t care that your journalists are against me. It would actually annoy me if they weren’t. I would be sorry. Do you hear me! The day when Le Figaro and L’Immonde [the foul – a play on the name of the French daily, Le Monde. Trans.] supported me, I would consider it a national disaster.”

Firmly attached to the Colbertist tradition, for him, nothing important could be done in France, if not by the state which must take the initiative. The state has the means, it must be used. “The aim is not to dry up the sources of foreign capital,” declared de Gaulle, “but to prevent French industry from falling into foreign hands. We must prevent foreign management from taking over our industries. We can’t rely on the selflessness or patriotism of the CEOs and their families, can we? It is too convenient for foreign capital to buy them, to pay sons and sons-in-law in good dollars… I don’t care about BP, Shell and the Anglo-Saxons and their multinationals!… This is just one of the many cases where the power of the so-called multinationals, which are in reality huge Anglo-Saxon machines, has crushed us, the French in particular, and the Europeans in general… If the state does not take matters into its own hands, we get screwed.”

In the twentieth-century, the state had the duty to stimulate a shared economy and to establish the participation of workers in the life of the company. To avoid the situation of permanent antagonism between bosses and workers, capital-labor association and participation (a theme particularly dear to de Gaulle) needed to be implemented at three levels. First and foremost, profit-sharing in the company. Second, participation in capital appreciation to make workers co-owners.

Finally, the associative management of companies by both executives and all staff. Wage earning, in other words, the employment of one man by another, “should not be the definitive basis of the French economy, or of French society,” said de Gaulle, “and for two reasons: first of all, human reasons, that is, reasons of social justice; then for economic reasons, since the system no longer makes it possible to give those who produce the passion and the will to produce and create.”

It is quite obvious that this type of relationship cannot fit into either liberalism or Marxism. Thus, it clearly appears that the Gaullian position, since it repudiates on the one hand, collectivist totalitarianism, and on the other hand, laissez-faire and the law of the jungle, can only be based on the principles of the shared economy.

De Gaulle was not anti-European, as his adversaries, who are subservient to the United States and NATO, say he was. He wanted Europe, but not just any Europe. He even had the deepest awareness of what it represents: the historical link between peoples, beyond their discords, their conflicts; the extraordinary contributions that each of them has made to the world heritage of thought, science and art. In his Memoirs, he does not hesitate to emphasize “the Christian origin” and the exceptional character of the heritage of Europeans.

His idea of Europe and nation-states was radically different from that of his social-democratic or Christian-democratic opponents, such as Alcide De Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak, Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. While they dreamt of a federation, he wished for a confederation. While their perspective was the absorption of Europe into a larger community, into the Atlantic community, de Gaulle wanted a continental, independent and sovereign whole: “Each people is different from the others, incomparable, unalterable,” he stated. “They must remain themselves, as their history and their culture have made them, with their memories, their beliefs, their legends, their faith, their will to build their future. If you want nations to unite, don’t try to integrate them like how you integrate chestnuts into chestnut puree. You have to respect personality. We have to bring them together, teach them to live together, bring their legitimate rulers together, and one day, to confederate, that is to say, to pool certain skills, while remaining independent for everything else. This is how we will make Europe. We will not do it otherwise.”

The idea of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals,” of a Europe liberated from the American-Soviet condominium, of a “new European order,” of real independence for all of Europe from the outside world, is fundamental in the Gaullian vision of the future multipolar world.

Without the obsession for emancipating Europe from its position as a satellite of the United States, one cannot understand de Gaulle’s foreign policy, nor his exit from the NATO system, (“a simple instrument of American command”), neither his hostility to the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar playing the role of international reserve, nor his repeated refusal to admit the candidature of Great Britain in the Common Market, nor his obstinate fight for the common external tariff and the preference community. “If Westerners of the Old World remain subordinate to the New,” said de Gaulle, “Europe will never be European and neither will it be able to bring together its two halves.”

“Our policy,” he confided to his minister and spokesperson, Alain Peyrefitte, “I ask you to make it clear: it is to achieve the union of Europe. If I wanted to reconcile France and Germany, it is for a very practical reason, it is because reconciliation is the foundation of all European policy. But which Europe? It must be truly European. If it is not the Europe of the peoples, if it is entrusted to a few more or less integrated technocratic organizations, it will be a story for professionals, limited and without a future. And it is the Americans who will take advantage of this to impose their hegemony. Europe must be independent.”

For de Gaulle, it was clear that Western Europe must have strong allies to face the dangers of communism. But in his eyes, there was also a second threat, just as formidable – American hegemonism.

The construction of Europe therefore needed to be done without breaking with the Americans, but independently of them. Further clarifying his thinking, de Gaulle added “You can only build Europe if there is a European ambition, if Europeans want to exist for themselves. Likewise, a nation, in order to exist as a nation, must first be aware of what differentiates it from others and must be able to assume its destiny. National feeling has always been affirmed in the face of other nations: a European national feeling can only be affirmed in the face of the Russians and the Americans.”

What he criticized the Anglo-Saxons for is wanting to build a Europe without borders, a Europe of multinationals, placed under the final tutelage of America, a Europe where each country loses its soul. Realistically, he continued: “America, like it or not, has today become a business of global hegemony… The expansion of the Americans since WWII has become irresistible. This is precisely why we must resist it.” And again: “The Europeans will not have regained their dignity as long as they continue to rush to Washington to take their orders. We can live like a satellite, like an instrument, like an extension of America. There is a school that dreams only of that. It would simplify things a lot. That would free from national responsibilities those who are not able to carry them… It’s a design. It’s not mine. It is not that of France… We need to pursue a policy which is that of France… Our duty is not to disappear. It has happened that we have been momentarily erased; we never resigned ourselves to it… The policies of the Soviet Union and that of the United States will both end in failure. The European world, mediocre though it has been, is not ready to accept Soviet occupation indefinitely on the one hand and American hegemony on the other. It can’t go on forever. The future is the reappearance of nations.”

Firmly attached to the French nation, whatever its components, de Gaulle would have been indignant against those who today do not give preference to the French. “It is in the preamble to the 1958 Constitution,” he recalled. “The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to human rights and the principle of national sovereignty… Article 1: equality before the law is guaranteed to all citizens. We don’t talk about others. So, there is primacy of the citizen whatever the source.” And again: “Was it not up to us, former colonists, who allowed the former colonized to give preference to the population, to demand today that preference be given to the French in their own country? Refusing causes racism.”

Love de Gaulle or hate him, but in terms of the General himself, we can only feel disgust and contempt for his successor-impostors who have mythologized him the better to betray him.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a mural of Charles de Gaulle before the Saint Mandé tow-hall, by Bernard Romain.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

A Conversation With Pierre Bergé

Pierre Bergé (PB) was born on November 14, 1930, and he passed away on September 8, 2017. He was a French award-winning industrialist and patron. He co-founded the fashion label Yves Saint Laurent, and was a longtime business partner of the designer.

A supporter and personal friend of François Mitterrand, Bergé was often described as a social liberal. Bergé participated in all the campaign rallies of François Mitterrand (except in 1981, when he did not vote for Mitterrand). Bergé later served as President of the Association of the Friends of the Institut François-Mitterrand.

A longtime fan and patron of opera, Mitterrand appointed Bergé president of Opéra Bastille on 31 August 1988. He retired from the post in 1994, becoming honorary president of the Paris National Opera. Bergé was also president of the Comité Jean Cocteau, and the exclusive owner of all the moral rights of all of Jean Cocteau’s works. In 2010, he bought a stake in Le Monde newspaper, along with investors Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel.

Bergé was also the author of several essays devoted to Yves Saint Laurent, as well as to freedom and republican values. He published a book in 2010, Lettres à Yves, which was translated into English as Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion, in 2014.

The following conversation with independent scholar Grégoire Canlorbe (GC) was conducted in January 2017, in Paris. It was initially published in French in the March 2017 issue of the French journal, Revue Arguments. The Postil is very pleased to release the first English version of this interview.

GC: “A woman,” writes Yukio Mishima in Forbidden Colors, “is never as exhilarated with happiness as when she discovers desire in the eyes of a man.” As a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul, do you hold this remark as insightful?

PB: This Mishima’s quotation echoes what Yves Saint Laurent said about the beauty of a woman in love. “The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves.” Do not think I am bringing everything back to Saint Laurent, I am not so candid! But you will agree that the resemblance of his intuition with that of Mishima is striking. What Saint Laurent had in mind, with this statement, is that a woman does not need clothes to be happy, because the essential lies elsewhere.

You describe me as a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul. This may be true, but I nonetheless think I am more aware of the male soul. As to whether I agree with Mishima, it seems to me that he is somewhat reductive in his statement. I believe that it is every human being who is never so happy as when he discovers sexual attraction or admiration in the eyes of another human being, whether the latter is a man or a woman.

GC: It is not uncommon, among conservative circles, to deplore what they perceive as a pronounced disdain for the military and religious functions – the warrior and the priest – in post-1789 society, while “merchants,” i.e., entrepreneurs and capitalists, are excessively valued in the nation. Would you say that the captains of industry are precisely the warriors of the capitalist era, the samurai of modern times, by virtue of their conquering character, their sense of abnegation, and their competitive spirit?

PB: Georges Clémenceau said, of the French Revolution, it is to take “en bloc.” In other words, if one adheres to the values of the Revolution, one must also accept the bloodbaths that accompanied the promotion of the ideals of 1789; and what the Revolution has brought to the world is too great and too decisive for us to be entitled to deny it in the name of the atrocities committed during the Terror. I regret it obviously, but the Revolution is to be taken in its entirety, with its good and its bad sides.

Your question is interesting. Unfortunately, your idealist portrait of businessmen is far from reality. I am often taken aback when I hear a politician, such as those who present themselves during this campaign period, claiming to be concerned exclusively with the fate of France. The truth is that a politician cares, in the first place, for his own interests – and only secondly for France. But those you call captains of industry, for their part, have no ounce of patriotic consideration. They care so little about the interests of France that they do not hesitate to relocate their production sites or to settle in tax havens.

I may surprise you, but I am not admiring the business company. I remember talking about it with President Mitterrand, who had somewhat let himself be distracted at the end of his first seven-year term. “You would make a mistake,” I told him in essence, “if you thought the company was there to create jobs.” He was visibly intrigued by my remark. “In reality,” I continued, “the company is there to create profits; and the day it can make a profit without creating a job, it does it.” This is all the more true at the moment. Like the assembly line a century ago, the robotization is about to allow the companies to do without a considerable part of manpower; and this is what the company is there for.

The company is there to produce, sell, negotiate, and optimize; and all the rest, I tell you straight away, is bullshit. If you ask big business leaders, you will certainly hear them claiming great principles, such as, the fight against unemployment, the economic influence of France, or its leadership in technological innovation. No doubt they will agree that they are the samurai of modern times. But let them perpetuate the custom of seppuku, if they really want to walk in the footsteps of the samurai of old! I fear very much that you will not find many who have the courage to give themselves a “beautiful death,” or even to renounce some juicy profit, to do honor to France.

GC: Feminist sociologists are generally inclined to denounce all kinds of voluntary female behavior, particularly with regard to sexual preferences or dress habits, on the grounds that these behaviors reflect “symbolic violence” from males. Yet the veil often escapes their warnings, and they even see in it a mark of feminine dignity and resistance to the diktats of male lust. How do you explain this apparent complacency on the part of feminists towards Islam?

PB: Your ascertainment surprises me. It seems to me that it is a minority of feminists, not the majority of them, who make this complacent speech vis-à-vis Islam. You do well, however, to draw attention to the possible straying of today’s feminism. Our society, imbued with gender theory, wants to make women and men equal. But equality is a dreadful word. Men and women are certainly equal before the law; they are not equal in anything else.

We evoked above the Revolution of 1789. As beautiful as the triptych on the pediment of the French Republic is, the choice of the term equality was a regrettable error. The word justice would have suited our motto “freedom, equality, fraternity” better. No human being, male or female, is equal to another, except that everyone has the right to freedom and to the pursuit of happiness. Men and women are certainly unequal; it does not follow that women are inferior to men in dignity and freedom; they are simply different.

My friend Louise de Vilmorin used to say, in essence, that if men and women were not there to perpetuate the human race, if they had no sexual attraction, a woman would walk next to a man like a rabbit next to a hat. Women and men belong to two different worlds. I have many female friends, whom I respect; and I spent my life defending women. But in wanting to make women absolutely equal to men, one ends up preaching total nonsense. The search for parity is one such nonsense. Hiring a woman on the pretext that she is a woman cancels the exercise of judgment on her objective skills, and prevents a sincere appreciation of her work and her talents.

That said, that women are rarely at the level of men in working life, and there are persistent inequalities in treatment. I will not dispute it. After centuries of female oppression by religion and the law, society is marked by old power struggles; and one cannot seriously expect the gap between men and women in business, and elsewhere, to be leveled overnight. There is no denying injustice. But denouncing this state of affairs is not an alibi to promote the egalitarian feminism on which I have just expressed myself.

As concerns, more particularly, the Islamic veil, there is undoubtedly an attempt to standardize the hijab, even the full veil, in our Western lands. I obviously denounce this trend, because I see the Islamic veil for what it is: a perfect instrument of legal and religious oppression, which is out of place in a lawful society. No coherent defender of the freedom and dignity of women can rejoice at the trivialization of this dress custom in public space and in homes.

The contemporary complacency with regard to the Islamic veil takes on a paradoxical allure, when we know to what extent the emancipatory ideals of feminism, indisputably incompatible with traditional Islam, have moreover conquered our era, not without some excesses which I have spoken of above. In your question, you do well to suggest this tension. But it is much less the feminist intellectuals and activists, rather the previously mentioned “merchants,” who advocate a spirit of misguided tolerance. I recently spoke in the media to denounce the “Islamic fashion” that several major clothing brands adopted.

When the sense of priorities is reversed to the point that the spirit of profit prevails over the values of the Republic, one can effectively claim that the City is corrupted by an excessive valuation of the market function. I told you that I do not admire, personally, the business company. I admire art and creation; that’s true. But I hate commerce and marketing. In addition, I have always felt that a fashion designer was there to embellish women, to encourage them on their path of freedom, and not to be the accomplice of misogynistic manners that are hostile to the liberal principles which are theoretically those of Westerners and, in particular, of the French since the Revolution.

GC: “A very common error… consists in believing,” Konrad Lorenz tell us in his 1972 essay, Behind the Mirror, “that feelings of love and respect cannot be associated together… I have the absolute certainty to have never loved and respected a friend more deeply than the undisputed leader of our group of children of Altenberg, four years my elder… Even those of my age whom I would classify… as inferior to me, always had some something in themselves that impressed me and in what I felt them to be superior to me… I don’t think that one can truly love someone whom one looks down on, from all point of view.” In regard to your own experience, do you subscribe to this analysis of love?

PB: All those I have loved in my life were also people I admired. I endorse Konrad Lorenz’s wording: I do not believe either that one can truly love someone that one looks down on, from all points of view. It is true that one can have a very strong sexual attraction towards someone whom one despises. One can even get on remarkably well with him in the bedroom. But if one does not admire him, one may well be subject to his animal charm, sensitive to his dangerous side, but it will not be love – even if this means deluding oneself about the tenor of feelings that one experiences towards him.

I would add that one can love and admire someone who is self-destructing before one’s eyes. It happened to me; and it was with a heavy heart that I had to bring myself to leave Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. Addiction is a disease just like cancer or depression. Would you stop admiring and cherishing someone because he has a tumor?

GC: It is not uncommon to hear that a “deregulated” market economy necessarily leads to growing income inequalities which state intervention is fortunately able to correct. Opposed to this first approach is notably that which estimates that, whatever the economic system considered, communism or capitalism, the market economy left to its own devices or accompanied by a redistributive system, the state of affairs is such that 20% of the population holds 80% of the national income. Which of these two opinions do you prefer?

PB: The second option that you evoke seems to me to present what has actually happened so far. All economic systems have experienced a highly unequal distribution of wealth. I do not know whether one should see in it the manifestation of an eternal law of human affairs, inscribed in the natural order of things. But as a man of the Left, I would prefer, of course, that it be possible to correct this tenacious tendency for the majority of national income to be concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population. That said, I am no longer fifteen; and I am no longer under the spell of communist or Proudhonian ideals. I will not tell you, like a François Hollande, that finance is my “enemy.” But I keep being shocked, in the age of globalization, by the indecent distribution of wealth and the dubious practices of certain companies.

GC: Which one, between Putin’s Russia, religiously Orthodox, and militant Islam, do you currently see as the greatest threat to the freedom of women and minorities?

PB: Both seem to me to be dangerous, beyond the shadow of a doubt; but the greatest danger assuredly comes from militant Islam. I am aware that the Orthodox Church is close to power and that the Patriarch of Moscow is making an authoritarian speech on social issues. Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR, the government expressly talks about fighting “homosexual propaganda,” in other words, the political and social demands by the LGBT community.

The fact remains that the terrorist acts which strike France and other countries in the world are concretely coming from the Muslim community. It is easy to notice that it is not the Orthodox who provoke a crash, besiege an embassy, assassinate journalists and caricaturists, take hostages in a supermarket, commit assaults in a performance hall, the street or a Christmas market, and enslave men and women.

GC: A fashionable assertion is that Western societies have secularized to the point of giving rise to a spiritual void unprecedented in human history. In the opinion of Vilfredo Pareto, in his 1917 treatise. The Mind and Society, the Christian religion has only given way to the democratic religion.

“The acts of worship of the Christian religion,” he writes, “have diminished among modern civilized peoples, but have been partially replaced by acts of the worship of socialist saints, humanitarian saints, and especially of the worship of the State and of the god, People… The Catholic processions have almost disappeared, but have been replaced by ‘processions’ and by political and social ‘demonstrations’… For many of those who deviate from the Christian religion, Christian enthusiasm has changed to ‘social,’ or ‘humanitarian,’ or ‘patriotic,’ or ‘nationalist’ enthusiasm; there is something for every taste.”

Do you subscribe to Vilfredo Pareto’s iconoclastic thesis, or to the common opinion that we have indeed come out of religion in the West?

PB: This analysis that you cite is perhaps iconoclastic, but it does not hold water. To begin with, it is wrong that the Christian religion is on the decline in the world. We mentioned earlier the Orthodoxy that is rising from the ashes. Furthermore, it is excessive to present democracy as a substitute for the Christian religion. In fact, democracy is simply not a religion. But it is quite true that the leftists regrettably tend to classify all Catholics as reactionary rightists.

I like to say that leftists, to whom the Republic very much owes its existence, have emptied the churches to fill the museums. I totally agree with it. But we certainly have not replaced Catholic worship with socialist worship. It is foolishness to pretend that we would worship a “State god” or a “People god.” The state does have a significant weight in society; and the ambient discourse is indeed articulated around the values of assistantship, secularism and the nation. But none of this has ever taken on nor could have ever taken on a religious character.

I fail to see how Christian practices and beliefs would have diminished on the grounds that democratic institutions were gaining ground. They have certainly decreased, at least in France, but if they have done so, it is certainly not in the context of a competition with the values and customs of the Republic. The reason for this relative decline of Christianity, more particularly Catholicism, is to be found in the obsolete side of its beliefs and practices. After having been in the spotlight for two thousand years, not without the support of force, to the extent that the Church burned heretics, they are simply going out of fashion.

In the end, what has changed with the secular Republic is not that a new official cult has tried to supplant Catholic worship, but that religious affairs have been relegated to the private sphere. This was not the case before. Let us not forget that the Catholic Church has persecuted the Protestant community from which I come. Even if religion now belongs to the intimate sphere, and no longer to the political sphere, the religious beliefs of Catholic citizens have of course an impact on their electoral preferences and on their positions about a given subject in society or a given draft law.

As evidenced by a recent survey, relayed last week by an article in Le Monde, it is however a biased perception that every Catholic is opposed to marriage for all or to surrogacy. In reality, there are multiple scenarios among Catholic voters. A number of them are politically right-wing, when it comes to the economy, and yet sensitive to left-wing concerns about so-called social issues. I think, therefore, that we have to take a step back from the overly obvious prejudices that we leftwing men commonly share about Catholics.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a few words?

PB: You did well to request this interview. Now I would like it if you tell me about yourself.