- The Communitarian Third Way: Alexandre Marc’s Ordre Nouveau, 1930–2000
The decade of the 1930's produced massive turbulence in almost every aspect of French life. Economic crisis, social unrest, and political paralysis battered the Third Republic in advance of its collapse in 1940. It was in this context that a new group of young intellectuals, the non-conformists, emerged. [End Page 570]
John Hellman, who has previously published critically acclaimed works relating to this period, notably his biography of Emmanuel Mounier and his monograph on the Knight-Monks of Vichy, has now produced a highly original study of the non-conformists in general and Alexandre Marc in particular. His central thesis in this work is that "Marc was the pioneer, the exemplar, the generational spokesman for the non-conformists of 1930" (p. 28).
Hellman does not aim to present a detailed biographical portrait of Marc, who was born into a prosperous Russian Jewish family in 1905 and emigrated with his parents to Paris in 1919. His intellectual inspiration derived principally from Berdyaev, Heidegger, and Scheler. From these seminal thinkers and from his experience of the German youth revolution of the period, Marc formulated his own non-conformist world view, which animated the Ordre Nouveau movement, founded in 1931, and the journal of the same name, launched in 1933. The movement's distinguishing motto was "the spiritual first, then economics, politics at their service" (p. 31).
The author diligently reconstructs the shared sense of spiritual yearning that characterized many of Marc's idealistic contemporaries not only in France, but also in Germany and Belgium. Marc is presented as a dynamic, steadfast advocate of a new type of man, who will bring about a "new France" in a "new Europe." His conversion to Catholicism in 1933 widened the range of both his contacts and his influence. Marc's relationships with persons as varied as the Strasser brothers in Germany and the Dominicans in France are indicative of his vast network of close associates, including Mounier, Marcel, Aron, and Daniel-Rops. However, Marc's failure to dissociate himself completely from German Nazism haunted his later life.
In the turbulence of the 1930's, Marc and his movement were overwhelmed by the titanic forces that eventually erupted into World War II. However, as Hellman indicates, but does not examine exhaustively, the profound impact of Marc's non-conformist, communitarian philosophy can be found in both progressive French Catholicism and the New European Right.
Specialists in intellectual history, as well as students of French Catholicism, will especially appreciate the meticulous scholarship and the extensive personal interviews on which this study is based. Although the book has no formal bibliography, its footnotes cover seventy pages and its index is thorough. Hellman has produced a work that significantly enriches our understanding of French intellectual vitality in the 1930's, while shedding new light on the Vichy period and the postwar years.