Reading the counter-revolutionaries

The contemporary Right has not done much to rescue the great French counter-revolutionaries from obscurity.  In fact, they’re done more harm than good by promoting the impression that the French Right was just poorly recycled Burke.  The Anglo-American reactionary who suspects this is not true suffers a double handicap.  First, little of the works of continental reactionaries has been translated into English.  (Why bother?  We’re so convinced that Burke already said it all, said it first, and said it better.)  Second, there is no guide to this tradition to help the newcomer, in the way that The Conservative Mind helps one immerse oneself in the Burkean tradition.

A nice list of English translations of counter-revolutionary writings is given at Ius Honorarium (thanks to Stephen for pointing this out to me).  This is a good website, by the way, although the author is, unfortunately, rather hostile to me.  One can find one-page reviews of some of these books of many of these books at my “book reviews:  political theory” page.  Lots of information about the counter-revolutionaries and their beliefs can also be found at Reggie’s The Counter-Enlightenment.

There are two good anthologies of French counter-revolutionary thinking.  First, there’s The French Right from the Roots of the Right series.  I’m very grateful to Drieu for pointing me to this book, which I’ve just finished.  Although starting with de Maistre, it focuses on non-Catholic, positivist thinkers.  Best of all, it’s got a hundred pages of Maurras’ writings, and that’s something that’s hard to find in translation.  Second, there’s Critics of the Enlightenment, edited and translated by Christopher Olaf Blum.  This collection nicely complements the first by focusing on Catholic figures, from Chateaubriand to La Tour du Pin.  I first read this book a couple of years ago and I could have sworn that I wrote a review of it, but when Alcestiseshtemoa pointed me to it again a few weeks ago, I checked, and it looks like I must have imagined that review.  Sometime in the next week, I plan to put out a dual review of both books.  The pictures they paint of the counter-revolution differ in interesting ways.

12 Responses

  1. I too noticed the lack of translations of Maurras. I read French (I’ve translated a few brief exceprts of his writings on my Counter-Enlightenment site), but I’ve found that his prose style is rather difficult. Parmi vos lecteurs, pour ceux qui savent lire français, à l’écart de Maurras lui-même il y a le livre “Maurras” par Jean Madiran, qui n’est pas trop long. Je crois qu’il n’y a pas de traduction en anglais.

    Thanks for the plug, by the way. Some of my more recent stuff is focused more on fascism than the true counter-revolutionary tradition, but your readers will no doubt find something to interest them.

  2. This would be a good time for me to reiterate my earlier suggestion that you bind your left-sidebar essays into a publishable book.

  3. I wonder if anyone would publish it?

    Here’s another idea: a bunch of bloggers could go together on an anthology of contemporary far-Right thought. A half dozen of us submit 30 pages of our best work.

  4. I bet St. Augustine’s Press would go for it. Probably better to wait till you’re tenured, though. An anthology sounds like fun, too, although I have no idea who would publish such a thing or what the process would be like.

  5. I posted this link over on another thread, but it might’ve gotten lost in the schuffle:

    It’s a really good bibliography of French monarchist authors, both fiction and nonfiction.

    Another country with a strong (and overlooked) counter-revolutionary tradition is Spain. Juan Donoso Cortés has gotten some press, but there remain other names to be rediscovered such as Ramiro de Maeztu, Jaime Balmes, Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez, Eugeni d’Ors, José Antonio Maravall and Ramón de Campoamor. Also the Argentine Leonardo Castellani.

    The Phalange also produced some talented writers and thinkers: José Antonio Primo de Rivera, Ramiro Ledesma Ramos, Ernesto Giménez Caballero, Dionisio Ridruejo, Rafael Sánchez Mazas among others.

    Spanish writers of fiction with a strong conservative and/or spiritual bent include José María Gironella, Gerardo Diego, Leopoldo Panero, and Luis Felipe Vivanco.

  6. Maurras has a very literary style. He started out as a poet after all. It’s like a German novice attempting to read Nietzsche. Once you’ve read lots of French fiction, Maurras’s prose becomes more digestible.

  7. By the way, I found this amusing tidbit from an introduction to Hippolyte Taine’s Origines de la France contemporaine, part of which is included in the Roots of the Right book.

    “Why should we fetch Taine’s work up from its dusty box in the basement of the national library? First of all because his realistic views of our human nature, of our civilization and of socialism as well as his dark premonitions of the 20th century were proven correct. Secondly because we may today with more accuracy call his work:

    “The Origins of Popular Democracy and of Communism.”

    His lucid analysis of the current ideology remains as interesting
    or perhaps even more interesting than when it was written especially
    because we cannot accuse him of being part in our current political and ideological struggle.

    Even though I found him wise, even though he confirmed my own
    impressions from a rich and varied life, even though I considered that
    our children and the people at large should benefit from his insights
    into the innermost recesses of the political Man, I still felt it would
    be best to find out why his work had been put on the index by the
    French and largely forgotten by the Anglo-Saxon world. So I consulted
    a contemporary French authority, Jean-Francois Revel who mentions Taine works in his book, “La Connaissance Inutile.” (Paris 1988). Revel notes that a socialist historian, Alphonse Aulard methodically and dishonestly attacked “Les Origines..”, and that Aulard was specially recruited by the University of Sorbonne for this purpose. Aulard pretended that Taine was a poor historian by finding a number of errors in Taine’s work. This was done, says Revel, because the ‘Left’ came to see Taine’s work as “a vile counter-revolutionary weapon.” The French historian Augustin Cochin proved, however, that Aulard and not Taine had made the errors but by that time Taine had been defamed and his works removed from the shelves
    of the French universities.”

    You can find the whole intro here:

  8. I haven’t read any of the Spaniards, except for part of Maravall’s Estado moderno y mentalidad social and I found it quite illuminating. I would recommend it highly.

    I remember coming across an old review of one Maravall’s books from shortly after World War II, and all the reviewer did was call him a Falangist without actually discussing the book supposedly under review. Probably because of his early associations with the Falangists, his Spanish Wikipedia page makes sure to distance him from them.

    If you’re looking for some information about Castellani, and you read Spanish, I would recommend this blog.

  9. As long as we’re recommending non-English and non-French writers, such as the Spaniards Drieu lists, I’ll go ahead and recommend a German author: Justus Möser. Unfortunately, as far as I know, he has not been translated into English, and the only German version I can find is online here.

    He was probably more Burkean in his outlook (in favor of experience and opposed to abstract speculation), but, writing in the second half of the 18th century, he was particularly good at explaining the reasons behind certain medieval laws and customs and showing they were not irrational prejudices.

  10. That would explain it. I’ve very little acquaintance with French fiction (though I’m meaning to attack Beaudelaire at some point). I was tempted to try and read some Bonald in French too, since you can’t get him online in English, but I’ll have to see whether it’s too heavy going for me.

  11. By which I mean Baudelaire, évidemment…..

    Incidentally, the French counter-revolutionary writer with the most straightforward literary style seems to be Archbishop Lefebvre, who consciously wrote for an international audience and so avoided being too abstruse. However, most of Lefebvre’s stuff has been translated into English (and quite a lot of it is available online).

  12. PDF-scans of Möser’s works can be found at — also the works of Karl Ernst Jarcke, Karl Ludwig von Haller, and a host of others. Get ye thither!

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