How can France return to take possession once more of its real being?
Translated by Alexander Jacob
The following text is taken from Chapter 1 of For a French Awakening by Charles Maurras, Arktos Media Ltd. 2016.
How will France awaken?
To what extent have we been right in accepting this ready-made expression and speaking of a ‘French awakening’?
It is certainly not a sleep that we are dealing with. Not even a chloroform sleep under the knife of the surgeon. After our heavy fall, the heaviest of our falls, we would be very miserable, more miserable than we are, if it had made us fall asleep.
But by ‘French awakening’ the modesty of the language means and understands the actions by which France, in the course of its trials, has made an end of its forgetfulness of itself and has regained possession of its real being, its true personality and physical and moral qualities, which are part of its destiny. Rightly do we speak of a revival of our fatherland. We ask: What do we do, what have we done, what are we used to doing and what will we do to emerge from this abyss of evils?
We shall attempt to detect this following the character and condition of our former revivals. It is a question of determining what future may be deduced from our past rebirths.
This question is sharp and poignant. It presupposes that other questions have been explained and resolved: What, then, is the type and the style of France’s falls? What are their customary and constant causes? And this in turn presupposes a clear idea of the collective being which has been allowed to fall and which is revived in this manner. Let us first take this clear notion of France. Then everything will be clear, simple and even easy after.
What, then, is France?
What does one do when one wishes to know what sort of person a man or woman is?
… One mentions their family: such and such,
… One names their father, their mother,
just as it was demanded in the famous examination of the archontes of Athens after the drawing of lots.1
Let us do the same for our nation. Into what family of nations should the French nation be classified? From what historical marriage did it emerge? To what time in history should we trace back its birth?
I shall teach you nothing new by saying that it is agreed that the race of the ancient inhabitants of Gaul, the race called Gallic, is recognized as our principal common ancestor. Their physical continuities are still quite apparent for us to recognize in it the provenance of our population base, in our most varied regions, in the centre as well in the west, and even in the south and in the east. ‘Yes, I feel I am a Gaul.’ said Mistral happily to Le Goffic.2
That does not preclude our investigating if there is a total identity between these primitive Gauls and the French of our long history.
The Gallic type is perfectly defined in the tribes that followed (or did not follow) Vercingétorix around 80 B.C.3 His type resembles ours very much but it differs from it in some deep traits.
But 500 years later, one finds oneself in the presence of a nation somewhat similar and somewhat different, provided with all the fundamental characteristics of a new nation. As Gabriel Hanotaux4 expressed it very well regarding the entry of the Frankish army into Gaul around 420, ‘France has been created, only its name is lacking.’
Apart from its name, France thus had at that time all it needed to have. It pre-existed before the arrival of the Franks; it did not pre-exist before the arrival of the Romans. It is thus wrong to represent us, as Johann Gottlieb Fichte5, the precursor of Germanism and Nazism, dared to do, as Germans who denied their natural idiom. It is equally false to consider us as pure Gauls who merely abjured the Celtic idioms. We are Gallo-Romans.
And, nevertheless, let us try to maintain a very clear and proud feeling about it. Before Caesar and his legions, what a beautiful and noble race already covered the French hexagon! …
And what a magnificent blood this Gallic race bequeathed to us!!
I do not need to recall the virtues and qualities of the classical Gaul:
his superhuman bravery, his taste in intellectual matters and in matters of eloquence: ‘Rem militarem et argute loqui.’
The art of fighting and that of speaking well,6 the generosity, the enthusiasm, the ardour, the readiness to take risks, the instinct to undertake enterprises and conquests, a mystical philosophy, but learnt from the highest speculations of the great sages of Egypt, Greece and Etruria, a religion full of poetry, a poetry full of dreams, fierce and graceful, or sublime, rituals which ranged from human sacrifice to the solemn picking of the sacred mistletoe by the priestess in a white robe armed with a golden sickle, and, in nature, a serious effort at clearing a vast extent of forests, an already scientific agriculture and nascent industries that were much advanced.
To sum up, the genius of the Celtic races, combining with the charms of a very rich imagination, attuned to marvels the incantatory powers of the heart, a heroic energy and a feeling for and knowledge of subordinate arts and trades.
In short, then, life dared boldly and industriously on all its paths, death confronted without trembling, expeditions, distant ventures of generous and violent men who were so brave that they claimed to fear only the falling of the heavens, against which they exhausted all their arrows of defiance.
How could we evoke such great memories without feeling that they resonate, speak and sing within the intimacy of our depths?
This Gallic ardour is already the French ardour. It is the French enthusiasm. It is the exhilaration of discoveries, conquests, colonisations, wonders: Africa, Asia, the Levant, Canada. Let us recognise all that that covers up of annoying weaknesses.
For we must mention also what the Romans called tumultus gallicus, the tumult, the effervescence of the Gallic peoples. Tumor multus, a tremendous simmering, something like a great irritability. Often this rises to a very high degree, then flattens out pathetically!
One hears in the section above the conqueror of Gaul. Julius Caesar shows himself impartial and disinterested when he confesses that his most powerful ally against the Gauls was, in Gaul itself, the discord of big children. He said that the outburst of contrary opinions had betrayed commands there and paralysed action.
Quot capita a tot sensus. As many heads, so many opinions.
From then on, how to discover or maintain a common direction?
An enemy well united always had an advantage over such friends or allies who were very often separated or changeable, normally not very sure, sometimes hating one another!
Who would be the leader first? An Éduen?7 An Arverne?8 Which Éduen? Which Arverne? Did the Éduens conduct negotiations with a foreign enemy? The Arvernes conspired against their general. But what did the other cities do, or to better translate civitates, the other states? States that were quite disunited; some very peaceful waited for the decline of their rivals or a pact with the foreigner, the others so busy tearing themselves apart could not even conceive a notion of the public welfare of their Gaul …
From thence this adage that must immerse us more completely into the depths of our reflexions on ourselves: Gallus Gallo lupus. The Gaul is like a wolf to a Gaul, which has been too often translated as: The Frenchman is like a wolf to a Frenchman.
So, between the Frenchman and the Gaul, what a double series of resemblances … In good and in bad, in beautiful things and in ugly. The first leading to all the peaks, the second tragic and shaking at all the abysses. In ugly things, this could be naked violence, disorderly vehemence, what another Roman calls vis consili expers, strength without reason. In beautiful things, this is Roland the gallant,9 the magnificent, this is young Gaston de Foix,10 this is the knight without fear and without reproach, our Bayard,11 this is, descending through the same noble history, our admirable Lamartine,12 taming the masses in the manner of a Gallic Hercules with the golden chains that emerged from his mouth, the harmony of his words, defeating revolution. There is nothing more Gallic or more French.
But alas! … How many historical miseries are to be ranged along with these glories! How many awful capitulations! … How many weaknesses that distorted our revolutions! Above all, how many misfortunes born of the mutual hatred of the citizens, Frenchmen against Frenchmen, truly wolves against wolves.
But there is something other than historical resemblances and dissimilarities to be highlighted here. There are new facial forms, kinds of intellect, expressions, airs that are neither Roman nor Gallic, they are only Gallo-Latin, they are French, a type of powerful man given to hard and strong thoughts, square heads like Colbert,13 or triangular ones like Richelieu,14 firm resolutions, deep calculations born of robust reasons which balance the violence of hearts by intensifying it.
Vis consili expers mole ruit sua: vim temperatam di quoque provehunt in majus …15
The bishops of the Merovingian age already break out of the character of pure Gallic heroism and of ‘Rômê Amathés’16 or ignorant strength. These are also scholars and wise men. They feel but they think. They are devotees but they foresee. Enthusiastic, generous, enterprising, loving risk like born gamblers, they know how to deal to win by virtue of wisdom and enduring perseverance; these bright lights were lacking in primitive Gaul and history authorises us to say that this was naturally, and properly, the Roman contribution: order and reason. Another contribution of the same element: differently from the other great peoples of antiquity our Gauls were not literate, they were satisfied with speech and song. I do not speak of the Cisalpine Gauls, where Virgil and Livy shine at a very early period; but as for our Transalpine ancestors, hardly had Rome fallen upon them than they began to rival them in all the arts of written eloquence, rhetoric, jurisprudence, philosophy, poetry. And there, from the time of Gallus17 and Petronius18 to Ausonius19 and Favorinus,20 one may say that there is a perfect continuity between the Gallo-Romans and our Frenchmen lasting almost two millennia; they wrote as well as they spoke and that is not saying little! …
A new contribution of the Roman marriage: differently from the Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, our Gauls were generally satisfied with round huts made of wood, at the edges of their forests. They hardly made any constructions; our sickness of stone hardly arose among them. Hardly had they been formed than the Gallo-Romans became the French of today: architects and, like them, builders and masons within the soul: theatres, temples, arenas, churches, castles, town or country houses, palaces, bridges and ports, ramparts and convents, a bird’s eye view of our land attests to this congenital mania which we laugh at but which enchants us. The native landscape must have been very beautiful in its wild nakedness but its clothing in stone and bricks gave it its magnificent Roman ornamentation, our architecture. Right from the first contact of the Roman with the Gaul, the latter deployed his originality of vision and manufacture; our Provencals who have some experience of the Gallo-Roman product are able to present something other than a servile imitation that is more or less tolerable. Just look, from the elevation of the highway, at Saint-Chamas, our Flavian bridge on the Touloubre.21 The Romanised Gaul sometimes recalls Greece and even Attica but also himself, his taste and genius. Later, this is no longer argued, a total transformation of traditions that have been more or less learnt is conducted by the Frenchman; he has the good nature to call his inventions ‘romances’ or ‘gothic’, these autochthonous ideas go to the extreme point of what the human mind has conceived in terms of freedom and realised in terms of adventurousness.
The novelty is quite similar within the institutions. Gaul, in its pure state, offers us essentially only a mosaic of clans. That is all that it can oppose to the imperial statism of the centralising Caesars. Except that Roman Gaul develops at the same time some lineaments of a new aristocratic, hierarchical, monarchical status: the feudal order.
It is for this reason that the souls themselves were gradually transformed and there was developed in them a synthesis of emotion and intelligence, of illuminating consciousness and generous movement. It is not the Gaul, it is the Gallo-Roman, it is the Frenchman who is defined by the harmony of his two great dominant elements:
— the extreme vigour of a natural élan, this orderly, enlightened and reasonable élan;
— the forces of the heart magnified by the thought that directs them.
This definition allows us to identify our France with the eternal and universal culture that was foreseen by the ancient Hellene Anaxagoras as an expression of humanity: ‘At first all things were entangled and confused, Mind emerged to distribute them according to an order.’22 But these ‘things’, these ingredients of the Gallic chaos, constituted already a magnificent wealth and the work of the intelligence has not been to desiccate them, to stunt them; reason rendered them more useful and more fecund when it placed them in their proper place.
Gallic strength, Roman order, such is, in my opinion, the civil state of our fatherland. ‘Sian gau rouman et gentilhoume,’ said Mistral,23 ‘Gallo-Romans and gentlemen’ with something more: baptised Gallo-Romans.
1 [The archontes (plural of ‘archon’) were the magistrates of the earliest period of Greek antiquity. Though originally drawn from the wealthy citizens, the archons were, after 487 BC, chosen more democratically from the people at large by the drawing of lots.] [N.B. All notes in brackets are by the translator.]
2 Charles le Goffic (1863–1932), whose Breton regionalism brought close to the Action Française, with which he collaborated regularly. Elected to the Académie française in 1930 (Editor’s note).
3 [Vercingetorix was a Gallic chieftain who united the Gauls in a revolt against Caesar’s Roman forces in the first century BC.]
4 Historian, diplomat and politician (1853–1944), several-time Minister of Foreign Affairs. See the article ‘Deux témoins de la France’ (1902) (Editor’s note).
5 Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), German philosopher and eulogiser of the nation, the state and centralised economic regulation. It was necessary to wait for the seventies for the influence of Fichte on Communism to be recognised, which explains that Maurras associates him only with Nazism (Editor’s note).
6 Recent scholars read this sentence of Cato’s differently today but it has been read and translated in this way for 2,000 years. That is the sign that it did not lack in some truth. (The quotation from Cato the Elder, called the Censor – this is one of the famous fragments that have survived of his major work, Origines.) (Editor’s note).
7 [Vindomaros the Éduen was one of the Gallic tribal leaders who revolted against Caesar. The Eduens were incorporated under Augustus into the territory called Gaule lyonnaise, which along with Gaule belgique and Gaule aquitaine formed the three Gauls.]
8 [The Arvernes were a Gallic tribe of south-central France and gave their name to the modern province of Auvergne.]
9 [Roland, a knight serving in the army of the Frankish king Charlemagne during the Crusades, is the subject of the eleventh century epic poem La Chanson de Roland. Roland died in the Battle of Roncevaux in AD778.]
10 [Gaston de Foix (1489–1512) was a young French military commander in the War of the League of Cambrai (1508–16) which involved the Papal States, the Venetian Republic and France. De Foix died fighting in the Battle of Ravenna of 1512.]
11 [Pierre Terrail, known as the Chevalier de Bayard (1473–1524), was a valiant knight who took part in several battles in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.]
12 [Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869) was instrumental in the formation of the Second Republic in 1848 during the revolution of that year which forced the abdication of Louis-Philippe. He was also one of the earliest of French Romantic poets.]
13 [Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683) was Minister of Finance under Louis XIV whose economic reforms had considerable beneficial effects on French manufacture and trade.]
14 [Cardinal de Richelieu (1585–1642) was Louis XIII’s chief minister and a vigorous patron of the arts who founded the Académie française in 1635.]
15 Horace, Carmina III, 4, 65–68:
Vis consili expers mole ruit sua,
vim temperatam di quoque provehunt
In majus; idem odere vives
Omne nejas animo moventis.
‘Force without intelligence crumbles through its own weight; well-regulated force is always advanced higher by the gods themselves; and they despise those whose strength meditates only forbidden actions.’
The ode is dedicated to Calliope and intended to demonstrate that strength is nothing if it is not guided by wisdom. The message is illustrated by the battle won by Jupiter against the rebellious Titans, this is an echo of the eighth of the Pythic odes of Pindar. — Editor’s note.
16 [‘Amathes’ is the Greek for ‘ignorant’].
17 Cyprianus Gallus, poet of the beginning of the fifth century, author of a translation of the Pentateuch in dactylic hexametres (Editor’s note).
18 There is a tradition which makes Petronius, the not well-known author of the Satyricon and victim of Nero, a Gaul: it is based on a text of Sidonius Apollinaris that is not sufficiently clear, which seems to make him be born or at least live in Marseilles, and on a conjecture of Bouche in his Chorographie et Histoire de la Provence (Aix, 1664) which makes the author of the Satyricon come from the village of Petruis, near Sisteron, because an inscription discovered in 1560 revealed that this locality bore in antiquity the name Vicus Petronii. It remains that no factor allows the connection of the Satyricon to the Gallo-Roman world of which it is a question here. It may also be a question, in the mind of Maurras, of Saint Petronius born in Avignon, bishop of Die, died 463 (Editor’s note).
19 High Roman dignitary of the fourth century, born and died in Bordeaux. Teacher of the future emperor Gratian and then his protegé, he occupied many positions in diverse provinces of the Empire. He notably composed many poems glorifying the wine of Bordeaux and one of the two prime vintages of Saint-Émilion bears his name today (Editor’s note).
20 Philosopher who was born and died in Arles, famous under the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian. His work itself is lost but we know of its existence through Aulus Gellius, who was his disciple and reproduces numerous extracts from it in his Noctes Atticae. After having professed at Athens and Rome, Favorinus was named pontiff of his town Arles by the Emperor Hadrian. He refused, which led to his disgrace (Editor’s note).
21 On the route from Marseille to Arles, north of the Étang de Berre. One of the two arches of this work of the first century was destroyed in 1944 by the American army and then reconstructed identically stone by stone. The manner in which the sentence is framed allows us to understand that it was composed in 1943 and not altered since then (Editor’s note).
22 [Anaxagoras (fifth century BC) was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher who considered Mind (νοΰς) as the principal ordering force of the universe.]
23 [Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914) was a poet who wrote in the Occitan language of southern France, which is closely related to Catalan. His most famous work is the long poem Mirèio (Mireille).]