Every year, France’s Ministry of Culture publishes an official volume to commemorate major anniversaries in French history, covering past events as well as the lives of prominent personalities. Assembled by a team of historians and approved by the Ministry, the list mixes victories and failures, the honored and the notorious—judging events and personalities strictly on the basis of their historical significance. In 2018, the judges placed Charles Maurras on the list, noting the 150th anniversary of his birth. Protests ensued. The judges insisted that commemoration is not the same as celebration, to no avail. Bowing to pressure, the Minister of Culture recalled and reedited the volume. Maurras’s name was effaced from the official history.
The same year saw the release of a new anthology of Maurras, the first edition of his works to be arranged and published since 2002. It, too, caused a scandal. Reviewers deplored “the return of a fascist icon.”
Publishing an anthology of Maurras is an offense against the postwar consensus and the “official history” of the twentieth century. Yet the case for studying Maurras is hard to deny. He was historically significant. As a political journalist, essayist, and poet, writing for more than six decades, he reached a wide audience and maintained enormous influence. Charles Péguy, Marcel Proust, and André Malraux all praised his talent. Those who acknowledged their intellectual debt to Maurras include philosophers Louis Althusser, Pierre Boutang, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Maritain, and Gustave Thibon, and novelists Georges Bernanos, Michel Déon, Jacques Laurent, and Roger Nimier. French president Georges Pompidou, the pragmatic conservative of the 1970s, praised Maurras as a prophet of the modern world. T. S. Eliot, who read Maurras for years, said that Maurras had helped him toward Christianity. Maurras was, for Eliot, “a sort of Virgil who led us to the gates of the temple.”