The an­ti­semite ad­mired by Steve Ban­non

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ROBERT PHILPOT

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, Maur- ras’ 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

(left) 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 plac- es 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 left­wing 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.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Far-right: Mau­r­ras and Ban­non

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