The Action Française, M. Maurras and Mr. Ward
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[ 369 The Action Française, M. Maurras and Mr. Ward The Monthly Criterion, 7 (Mar 1928) 195-203 Mr.LeoWardhasjustbroughtoutasmallbookentitledTheCondemnation of the “Action Française.” Essays on this affair have recently appeared in several Britishperiodicals;booksonthesubject,fromonepointofvieworanother, appear in France almost at the rate of one a week; Mr. Ward’s pamphlet is the first book on the subject written by an Englishman, and is therefore of particular interest.1 * The history of the affair has been summed up in the various review articles mentioned. To study the affair in all of its aspects is an immense labour, and no complete account could be attempted in the space which I can here devote. The main aspects are three: the motives of the condemnation by the Vatican of an important intellectual movement, the consequences of this condemnation, and the question of its justification. With the motives I am not here concerned;2 * for my purpose it is quite unnecessary to assume that they were any but the purest and highest. And I shall not concern myself with the consequences, which would involve us in a battle in a fog. It seems more appropriate here, that I should merely touch upon the question of justification, especially in application to the morality and moral influence of a contributor to this number of The Criterion. Mr.Ward’sbookislargelyacompilation.ItcontainsanessaybyMr.Ward, which first appeared in The Month;3 a selection of passages from the works of M. Maurras and his colleagues; and a selection of statements by eminent personages in the Roman Church. Mr. Ward writes as a Roman Catholic for Roman Catholics. I find no fault with him on that account; only I must say that his task is very much simpler than mine would be, were I a Roman Catholic myself, and determined to accept the instructions of authority. For Mr. Ward does not appear to be interested either in the political aspect or in the literary aspect. There is no reason why he should be. Only, his task is thereby much simpler for him. On the other hand, Mr. Ward is not, I assume, in a position to consult all of M. Maurras’s works, as some of them areontheIndex.4 HereIcanperhapshelphim.AndalthoughIdisagreewith Mr. Ward, he will probably find me more sympathetic to his point of view than most of his critics in this country. 1928 370 ] Still, the work of M. Maurras is little known in England, so that these critics may not be numerous. The majority of those who are in a position to advertise contemporary French literature are Liberals, horrified by such a word as Reaction, and by no means friendly to Catholicism; or Conser­ vatives, indifferent to foreign thought and equally unfriendly to Catho­ licism; or Socialists, who can have no use for M. Maurras at all. The fact that he is also an important literary critic, and has written as fine prose as any French author living, makes no difference to his reputation. But if anything ,inanothergenerationorso,istopreserveusfromasentimentalAngloFascism , it will be some system of ideas which will have gained much from the study of Maurras. His influence in England has not yet begun. WhatisremarkableaboutthethoughtofM.Maurras,andwhatweshould not learn from perusing Mr. Ward’s book, is its gradual development from the humble and (I admit) grotesque origins of Positivism. Mr. Ward says, “finding that the Royalist tradition was strong only among the Catholics, M. Maurras ceased to develop his anti-Christian theories in public, though he did not withdraw them” [7]. In this sentence there are several misunderstandings . The strength of the Royalism of the Action Française does not depend primarily upon the traditional Royalists. It would be truer to say that a number of traditional Royalists have been drawn into a movement which was started without them, and which changed the whole complexion of Royalism. The strength of the movement depends upon its converts, who come more from the middle and lower middle classes. But what more affects my present topic is the suggestion, in Mr. Ward’s phrase, that Maurras altered his speech in order to catch more supporters. It is an imputation of unscrupulousness and even of dishonesty. Mgr. Guillibert, who had been Maurras’s tutor, and whom Mr. Ward quotes at length, affirms his belief in Maurras’s honesty.5 But it is quite evident to anyone who studies Maurras’s books that the development of his thought is perfectly consistent and inevitable. Maurras has not only ceased to “develop his anti-Christian...


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