The antisemite admired by Steve Bannon

April 01, 2017 12:59

When the French court sentenced him to life imprisonment for “complicity with the enemy” in January 1945, Charles Maurras pointed a finger of blame in an entirely predictable direction. “This the revenge of Dreyfus,” cried the writer and philosopher, reflecting his decades-long virulent antisemitism.

That Maurras — the leading French philosopher of fascism who, in the words of the novelist Carmen Callil, “shaped the minds of the generation who collaborated with Nazism” — appears to be held in some regard in the Trump White House is both shocking but altogether unsurprising.

As Politico magazine reported earlier this month, the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has expressed admiration for the French nationalist, citing approvingly his distinction between the “pays réel” and “pays legal”. The latter represented the country’s politicians and democracy, the former its subjugated “real people”. This, suggests the US political magazine, is the lens through which Mr Bannon views the populist revolt that swept Donald Trump to power and, he hopes, will carry fellow travellers such as Marine Le Pen and to further victories this year.

Jews, of course, were never a part of Maurras’ “real people”. The first meeting of Action Francaise, the reactionary right-wing movement he founded, took place in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair. Maurras detested the liberal intellectuals who rightly insisted on the innocence of the Jewish army captain infamously accused of treason. Together with Protestants, freemasons and foreigners, Jews were “alien poisoners of the motherland”, he believed: only their exclusion from public life could safeguard the patrie.

The movement’s daily newspaper, L’Action Francaise, was the primary outlet for Maurras’ attacks on Jews and the Third Republic, which he labelled “the Jew State, the Masonic State, the immigrant state”. When Léon Blum became prime minister after the election of the Popular Front in 1936, Maurras’ headlined his editorial “France under the Jew”. “We now have a Jewish government,” he thundered. In the run-up to war, he echoed the line of the Nazi press: France was being led into a conflict by Britain and the Jews. After the fall of France and the occupation, Maurras declared that it was “the Jews who launched us into catastrophe”. He welcomed Marshal Petain’s “national revolution”, railed against those who resisted and enthusiastically supported Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws. Indeed, Action Francaise supporters, such as Raphael Alibert and Xavier Vallat, played leading roles in drafting and implementing them, while Joseph Darnard, head of the notorious collaborationist militia, the Milice, was another former Maurras follower.

Few would claim that Mr Bannon’s apparent regard for Maurras reflects a sympathy for his hatred of Jews. Indeed, Jewish employees of the Breitbart website have unequivocally defended their former boss against charges of antisemitism. But Mr Bannon appears willing to overlook this central aspect of Maurras’ worldview, just as his description of Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right” showed a seeming lack of concern for the fact that the white nationalist movement is riddled with racism and antisemitism.

It is, though, not hard to discern the sources of Mr Bannon’s admiration for Maurras. His philosophy of “integral nationalism” — the notion of a national community based upon “blood and soil” — reflects Mr Bannon’s long-held concern that international institutions and immigration are diluting national identity. In the eyes of the president’s chief strategist, that threat is encouraged and heightened by those who proclaim their attachment to liberal, cosmopolitan values; a modern day iteration of Maurras’ contempt for the French Revolution. Its promulgation of universal ideals such as liberté, égalité and fraternité was, he believed, utterly alien to France. Maurras’ belief that “a true nationalist places his country above everything” led him to advocate a policy of “France First”. Such similarities will not have escaped the chief architect of Mr Trump’s “America First” governing philosophy.

Beneath the veneer of Maurras’ intellectualism, however, lay more base instincts. L’Action Francaise, recalled the legendary American war reporter William Shirer, was “scurrilous, venomous and vituperous”. With Maurras at the helm, it stirred hatred and incited violence; violence which frequently spilled onto the streets of Paris during the 1930s. In the end, Maurras overstepped the mark. Having escaped prison once for calling for the murder of a left-wing cabinet minister in 1925, his call for Mr Blum to be “shot – but in the back” put him behind bars in 1936.

Proximity to the alt-right may have inured Mr Bannon to Maurras’ antisemitism. Presiding over a campaign which echoed to chants of “lock her up” and whose candidate called for protesters to be “roughed up” while lamenting the fact that “nobody wants to hurt each other anymore” may have desensitised him to his brutality.


April 01, 2017 12:59

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