Bibliographie générale des droites françaises
edited by Alan de Benoist.
Dualpha (France), Four volume set, 736 pp. cloth, 2005.

Alain de Benoist, the main exponent of the French New Right,
published this major work in 2004 and 2005, during a crucial
moment of what in America has been known as the “culture
wars.” Since September 11, more than a few in France
sense that we are close to a crisis unprecedented in scale,
and that the very existence of the Western civilization is
in great danger. This has lead in some French circles the
beginning of a reconsideration of the French intellectual
past; in particular, the nature of the present situation
has been widely accepted within conservatives circles. Benoist’s Bibliography may
well play a key rolein helping to reappropriate the French
Conservative Heritage.

A bibliography is often considered as a minor genre, if
considered a genre at all, despite the rigor and effort required
from the author. They are not read for pleasure, generally,
and are (incorrectly) thought of as simply an assemblage
of unconnected entries. Perhaps to really understand what
a bibliography is, one needs to love dictionaries, encyclopedias,
references books, endnotes, and pursue this labyrinthine
borgesian dream of “a book which contains all books,” as
Alain de Benoist describes it. It is certainly an act of
humility and persistence that few will ever notice: one has
to be careful “to the point of being perfectionist” to
write a bibliography.

What makes this bibliography invaluable for French, as well
as American, readers, is its impressive scale and content:
it is the bibliography of thirty-five French authors, from
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These authors, some
immensely influential in their day, such as Ernst Renan (more
than 1,000 entries for this author alone), Barrès
or Gustave le Bon, have been generally classified as Right
Wing authors. That they are monarchists, republicans, nationalists,
europeans, or even Christians or anti-Christians, as Benoist
reminds us in the preface, demonstrates that the concept
of the “Right” is at best extremely varied. Most
of them would be considered conservative in the broad sense
of the word, and therefore the entries provide a deep resource
for exploring the range of conservative thought.

However, it was never Alain de Benoist’s intention
to put together a typology of Right wing movements in France.
Rather, this immense bibliography is a celebration of conservative
politics, which, although usually forgotten, had a huge following
in the adoptive land of Rousseau. Their exponents took to
heart the keeping of France on the right/Right political,
cultural, and religious track in times of civil unrest, until
World War II. (What happened after the war is a different
story altogether.)

The Nazi occupation of France injured not only the endless
number of its victims of war, but France’s (sometimes
sensitive) national pride. Further, its cultural foundations
which were badly shaken, even severed, as a result of this
experience. Indeed, the Nazi rule of most of Europe was beyond
what France and the West in general had ever witnessed before,
and a number of French policy makers made terrible decisions,
hoping to accommodate a foreign regime, essentially criminal,
which by definition could not be accommodated. Most men in
charge of the reins of the State, during the occupation,
were conservatives, as the people of France remember it,
rightly or wrongly. At the top, was Marshall Pétain,
not only the Hero of Verdun but also the embodiment of all
the virtues of Conservative politics before the War. After
the war, however, at the age of 89, he was to become the
despised symbol of collaboration with Nazi Germany.

After the liberation of France, the Communist Party, soon
to be the most important political party in the country,
played a decisive role in French culture, to fill the vacuum
left by the conservatives. Consequently, the French conservative
Heritage was to be pilloried: anyone with connections to
it was going to be “ostracized,” as Benoist reminds
us, and considered “guilty by association.” Conservatism’s
reputation in France still has not recovered; in fact if
anything it is worse today, as this bibliography shows beyond
any doubt. “Mainstream publishers show no interest
in taking on the Conservative classics,” Benoist notes
in his preface.

The semi-official denial of France’s conservative
heritage is perhaps why France isn’t generally remembered
as being one of the most vigorous Conservative countries
up until the 1940s. Indeed, it is a fact that only a minority
acted at key moments in French history in order to change
the course and the natural inclination of a nation, notoriously
deeply conservative.

Thus, after 1945, Catholic France became inexorably the
main secular state in Europe. One could say this had already
been set in motion with two particular events: First, the
repudiation of its glorious past with a blood bath at the
time of the French Revolution, something Joseph de Maistre
regarded as an absolute horror since he held the view that
hereditary monarchy was divinely sanctioned. Second, on becoming
a Republic officially secular in 1905, which excluded the
Catholic Church from any form of influence in the public
sphere under the instigation of Anti-Catholic Politicians
such as the Socialist Aristide Briand. The French establishment
even began to systematically oppose Conservative politics,
at home and abroad, advocating a “French social model” perceived
to be vastly superior to the “ultra-liberal Anglo-American” one.
Vocal left-wing writers became well known throughout the
West for their violent anti-conservative, anti-religious
and relativist outlook. Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir,
Michel Foucault and the like became major exponents of what
one could rightly call a counter-culture: an anti-western
philosophy, suspicious of everything which had anything to
do with national traditions and customs, established authority
and so on.

Among the authors de Benoist has included we will focus
on the main ones belonging to the French equivalent of the
Burkean tradition. The reader will find the main exponents
of a Burkean tradition in France in separate volumes: Charles
Maurras, born in 1868, in the second, Louis de Bonald, born
in 1774 in volume 3, and Joseph de Maistre, born in 1753,
in the last one.

Maistre and Bonald both advocated the return to a monarchy
regime, and shared other views. Maistre is perhaps best remembered
for holding the firm belief that the Pope has supreme authority
on both spiritual and political matters; Bonald for adhering
to a Declaration of Duties in preference to the Declaration
of Human Rights inherited from the French Revolution. They
both stressed that only tradition and authority could be
the supports for any viable form of good governance.

More importantly perhaps, the reader will meet Charles Maurras,
arguably the most important conservative, and controversial,
thinker in France. Like Maistre and Bonald he was a monarchist
and like them he considered the family to be the basis of
a healthy society, the monarch to be its head. What distinguishes
Maurras, however, are the scientific principles that are
the foundation of his theory. The Catholics poet Charles
Péguy (born in 1873) and novelist Georges Bernanos
(born in 1888), the latter of whom broke with Maurras, deserve
our particular attention, in part because they became strong
influences on British and American Catholic conservative
thinkers. Finally, it is also worth mentioning Henri Massis
who wrote in 1927 a somewhat visionary essay “Defense
of the West.” One might say this book anticipated the
literature which was going to be published after World War
II in the States warning us of the dangers our civilization
was facing if we were to reject our spiritual heritage.

Many American conservatives would disagree with Benoist
on a few issues, such as religion. Nevertheless, he remains
likely the best theoretician and historian of the Right in
France today. And thanks to the Bibliographie générale conservatives
everywhere will be made aware of a number of major writers
and thinkers who might have continued to be scandalously
neglected otherwise. It is an imposing landmark and, like
any landmark it serves one main purpose: to help us find
our way in these times of “Great Disruption,” as
Francis Fukuyama put it. For Burkean readers this is good

Thierry Giaccardi is
a French researcher and writer living in Northern Ireland.