L’Action Française . . . A Reply to Mr. Ward
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[ 421 L’Action Française . . . A Reply to Mr. Ward The Criterion: A Literary Review, 7 (June 1928), 372-76 Mr. Ward’s reply to my comments on his little book (The Condemnation of the Action Française) which I made in the March number of The Monthly Criterion has the merit of making the issue between us more precise – if also more hopeless. The matter of misquotation, or mistranslation, becomes quite secondary.1 The difficulty is chiefly that Mr. Ward and I have a different equipment of values, in criticizing the motives and the influence of Maurras. It seems to me grotesque to posit as M. Maurras’ view the affirmationthat “Francemustbede-Christianized.”NorisittruetosaythatMaurras considers the Roman Church to be “not necessarily Christian” [364]. He simply is concerned with the aspect of the Roman Church which is not necessarily Christian, because his point of view is that of an agnostic political philosopher. This point of view Mr. Ward is not prepared to recognize. He is quite entitled to repudiate it, but he is not entitled to misunderstand it. M.Maurraswouldnotdenythatincaseofdoubtordifficultyofconscience Christians should obey God and not man. This is in fact, as I understand it, the attitude of the Roman Catholic supporters of the Action Française who have been recalcitrant to the Papal decree, and to the decree of the Archbishop of Paris.2 I believe that they consider that they are obedient to God in their conscience in being disobedient to ecclesiastical authority. As an outsider, I am not entitled to approve or blame this attitude: I only point out that it is consonant with the principle approved by Mr. Ward. It is also to be supposed that Martin Luther, whether right or wrong, was acting in conformity with the same principle. As for Maurras’ remark that “un seul homme, le Pape, qui puisse se permettreaunomdeDieudes égarementsdepenséeetdeconduite”:3 isitdenied thatsomePopes(ifwegobackfarenough)havecommittederrorsofthought and of conduct? I do not suppose that there is always a conflict between the mystical experience of the Saints and the defined revelation of the Church. I would only say, as I believe M. Maurras would say, that the Church has with all right and reason been often sceptical about new mystics; I would approve the hesitation of the Church in accepting even St. Francis. It is not a question 1928 422 ] of conflict, but of cautious discrimination, the discrimination which has recognized Francis as a Saint and has ignored Eckhart.4 Such discrimination is our safeguard against Johanna Southcotts.5 Mr. Ward, although he envelops his phrase in more words, does not seemtoretractwhatIcallanaccusationofdishonestyagainstM.Maurras. He merely says: “whether to catch or to retain supporters there can be no doubtthatMaurrasalteredhisspeech”[367].WhatMr.Wardcalls“alteration of speech” is what I call “development of thought”: that is the difference. Mr.WarddoesnotseemwillingtoadmitthatMaurras’thoughthaschanged, or that Maurras has learned anything from maturity except a diabolical skill in cajoling and deluding Catholics. He sticks to his quotations from Maurras’ earlyandpre-politicalworks,andinwhatIseeabluntandunpolitic honesty, Mr. Ward sees only duplicity and cunning. I am also an admirer of Machia­ velli; Machiavelli also seems to me an honest thinker, and no politician ; and I should say on the basis of Machiavelli’s works alone, that a man who could write so honestly was a simple fellow with no skill in “practical politics” – a belief which is borne out by what we know of Machiavelli’s career.6 This is (without prejudice) one difference between Machiavelli and Maurras on the one hand and Mussolini on the other: the two former, who have not “succeeded,” are men of thought; the last, who has “succeeded,” is a man of action, a man of histrionic ability. Mr. Ward asserts again (1) that Maurras is a profoundly anti-Christian thinker. How can Maurras be anti-Christian, when he admits that Catholic Christianityisessentialtocivilization?Mr.Wardwould,onthesameassumptions , be obliged to affirm that Mr. Irving Babbitt is “profoundly antiChristian .” What Mr. Ward says of M. Maurras, he ought to say of several other people of importance: and amongst persons of no importance, he might say it of myself. Mr. Ward asserts (2) that the Action Française is a de-Christianizing movement. He asserts this because he has met with persons who were Catholics only because they believed that Catholicism was essential to civilization. As I said before, he still has to prove that such persons would have been, but for the influence of Maurras, complete Catholics and Christians. Awaiting such proof, I find it difficult to believe that the...