|Died||30 July 1998(aged 90)|
|Neo-fascist metapolitics, "revisionist school"|
Maurice Bardèche (1 October 1907 – 30 July 1998) was a French art critic and journalist, and one of the leading exponents of neo-fascism in post–World War II Europe. Bardèche was also the brother-in-law of the collaborationist novelist, poet and journalist Robert Brasillach, executed after the liberation of France in 1945.
His main work include History of the Film (1935), an art critic of cinema co-written with Brasillach, literary studies on French writer Honoré de Balzac; and various political works advocating fascism and "revisionism", in the footsteps of his brother-in-law's "poetic fascism", and inspired by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Antonio Primo de Rivera. Viewed as "the father-figure of Holocaust denial", Bardèche introduced in his works many aspects of neo-fascist and negationist propaganda techniques and ideological structures, and his work is deemed influential in regenerating post-war European far-right ideas at a time of identity crisis in the 1950–1960s. He was however more of a political writer than a doctrinarian, "dreaming of fascism" and its aesthetics rather than trying to establish a global political theory.
Born on 1 October 1907 in Dun-sur-Auron, near Bourges, in a modest family, Maurice Bardèche attended the lycée of Bourges, before leaving his home region for the lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he met Thierry Maulnier and Robert Brasillach in 1926. The latter introduced him to Maurassian nationalist circles. If those groups were mostly anti-Jewish, Bardèche's own antisemitism was at that time more of a conventional manner than a deep conviction. In 1928, he was admitted to the École Normale Supérieure, and received his agrégation degree in 1932. He wrote at that time for the royalist newspaper L'Étudiant français, parented by Action Française.
In 1933, Bardèche and Brasillach moved to Vaugirard, a working-class suburb of Paris, where they stayed for three years while Bardèche taught at the Collège Sainte-Geneviève of Versailles. He married Suzanne in 1934, Brasillach’s sister. With the latter, he compiled the History of the Film in 1935, the first encyclopaedia of cinema ever published. Writing for the Revue française, Bardèche also became a film critic for the art magazines 1933 and L’Assaut. A supporter of Francisco Franco and the nationalist cause, he edited another book with his brother-in-law titled Histoire de la guerre d’Espagne in 1939. Bardèche published a fiercely antisemitic contribution in Je suis partout on 15 April 1938, on the occasion of an issue dedicated to the Jewish question.
Bardèche presented his thesis on the work of novelist René Balzac in May 1940, then graduated with a doctorate in literature, and was consequently granted a temporary professorship at the Sorbonne. He eventually became a professor of french literature at the University of Lille between 1942 and 1944, holding three Chairs at the same time. While he endorsed the deeds and actions of the French collaboration with the Nazis, Bardèche did not invest himself "physically" or ideologically during the war. He instead focused on his career as a literary critic, and only wrote three articles on arts (Stendhal, Balzac and films) for the antisemitic and collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout, in which Brasillach was the editor-in-chief until 1943.
On 1 September 1944, Bardèche was detained for the articles he had written in Je suis partout. Brasillach surrendered to the authorities in order to allow for the release of Bardèche's wife and children, and was eventually transferred to the Fresnes prison. Bardèche joined him on December 30, and one month later Brasillach was convicted to capital punishment for sharing intelligence with the enemy during the war. Bardèche also sentenced to death, he was eventually pardoned and spent one year in prison.
Bardèche wrote in April 1959 in the nationalist magazine Jeune Nation: "I loved Brasillach very much, I admired him very much; and, I do not hide it from you, it is the death of Brasillach and the épuration that has turned me into a political animal. Politics did not interest me at all until that date; from then on, I went straight into politics." While in prison in 1945, Bardèche began to develop his own definition of fascism, by cutting away police repression, antisemitism and expansionist imperialism; in an attempt to present the ideology as "a youthful celebration and rejoicing, a new anti-bourgeois life-style, and the existence of feverish activism", in the words of scholar Ian R. Barnes. Brasillach turned into a fascist martyr in the French far-right, his cult and ideas transmitted by Bardèche and fellow travelers through the post-war era.
Bardèche explained that he felt like a "foreigner" in a France he perceived as a "foreign country", or worse an "occupied country". In 1947, he wrote a letter to François Mauriac (Lettre à François Mauriac), who had unsuccessfully tried to convince Charles de Gaulle to grant Brasillach amnesty in 1945. Bardèche dismissed the Resistance and the épuration, declaring the Vichy regime legitimate, as was in his eyes the Collaboration. One year later, he established the "revisionist school", and railed against what he called the "falsifications" and "manipulations" of history committed by the Allies.
In 1948, Bardèche exposed his "revisionist" thesis in the book Nuremberg ou la Terre promise, a sequel to Lettre à François Mauriac. In the words of historian Valérie Igounet: "if, as Maurice Bardèche shows us, the history written on Occupation is false, then why the history of the Second World War could not be so too?" Bardèche wrote that the Nazi death camps were "inventions" of Allies set up to whitewash their own crimes. Jews are presented as ultimately responsible for the war, and likewise accused of falsifying history. Dismissed as the inventors of the Holocaust, they had alledgelly designed a secret plan to "get revenge from Germany" and obtain international support for their nation state. Bardèche did not however refute the fact that Jews had suffered or had been persecuted during the war, but he indeed denied the reality of their extermination. It was the first time since the end of the war that someone openly writes that he doubts the existence of the Holocaust. The book, which sold 25,000 copies, was considered an "apology of the crime of murder" by the justice, and Bardèche convicted to one year in jail and fined 50,000 Fr in the spring of 1952. It was consequently banned from the market, but kept on circulating covertly. Granted amnesty by president René Coty, Bardèche only spent a few days in jail in July 1954. As he realized the difficulty of diffusing his ideas in the post-fascist world, Bardèche decided to establish his own publishing house Les Sept Couleurs, a name inspired by the title of one of Brasillach's novels.
In 1950, Bardèche released the last volume of his revisionist theory, Nuremberg II, ou les Faux-Monnayeurs, reiterating what he had written two years earlier. The novelty of this volume was the narrative construction Bardèche had designed around the tale of Paul Rassinier, a former deportee turned into a Holocaust denier. Bardèche concluded on his side that kapos were in reality worse than SS, and expressed his "doubts" about the existence of gas chambers. After the release of his revisionist trilogy, Bardèche gained a new status in the international far-right movement. As neo-fascist activist François Duprat later wrote, Bardèche "showed that the 'fascist' far-right had found his intellectual leader". He was in parallel recognized among academics as a lead expert of novelists Honoré de Balzac and Stendhal, and benefited in the public from being the brother-in-law and spiritual inheritor of an "assassinated poet".
To promote his neo-fascist ideas, Bardèche soon entered politics. In December 1950, he went to Germany to give speeches, setting up an "apology of collaboration" and denouncing the "fraud of the French Resistance" before a public essentially composed of former Nazis. Bardèche was also linked to the Ligue des Intellectuels Independents, and was a patron of Réalisme, the journalist of the Union Réaliste. He co-founded the Comité National Français, an umbrella organization for various extremist groups to operate, but stepped away when the movement embarked on a violently antisemitic course under the leadership of René Binet. Bardèche founded instead the more tactical and moderate Comité de Coordination des Forces Nationales Françaises.
At the end of 1950, Bardèche initiated in Rome the European National Movements, in order to co-ordinate various neo-fascist groups across the continent. At the congress was decided that another meeting would be held in Sweden the following year. Bardèche therefore attended in May 1951 the founding meeting of the European Social Movement in Malmö, which drew 100 delegates from Europe including Oswald Mosley. Bardèche represented France under the Comité National Français. On 6 February 1954, he participated in a commemoration of Robert Brasillach held by the neo-fascist group Jeune Nation, along with Pierre Sidos and Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour. With the latter, he co-established in the same year the Rassemblement National Français. In 1952, the two of them commenced the journal Défense de l'Occident, designed as an arena for young fascists to air their views, and according to Barnes a "reborn and renamed Je suis partout". During the Algerian War, Bardèche wrote numerous articles defending French Algeria, third-world colonialism, and a concept of segregation based on ethnic difference.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Bardèche made no secret of his fascist stance, and famously wrote as the first sentence of his work Qu'est-ce que le fascisme? (1961): "I am a fascist writer. Translated in Italian, it became a cult book for local fascists.
Bardèche produced works of valuable literary scholarship on French novelists Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Léon Bloy, that are cited in bibliographies. In parallel, he continued to publish neo-fascist and negationist pamphlets, such as Robert Faurisson's The Problem of the "gas chambers" in 1978.
Maurice Bardèche died on 30 July 1998. Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, described him as "a prophet of a European renaissance for which he had long hoped". His wife Suzanne, sister of Robert Brasillach, died in 2005.
After the war, Bardèche's world view seemed entirely designed through the filters of Brasillach’s death, the épuration, and a hatred of Marxism. He led for 30 years a "personal crusade to purify fascism" and present it as a respectable ideology.
In 1961, Maurice Bardèche redefined the nature of fascism in a book deemed influential in the European far-right at large, Qu'est-ce que le fascisme ? ("What is fascism?"). Bardèche argued that previous fascists had essentially made two mistakes: they focused their efforts on the methods rather than the original "idea", and they wrongly believed that fascist society could be achieved via the nation-state as opposed to the construction of Europe. According to him, fascism could survive the 20th century in a new metapolitical guise, only if its theorists succeed in building inventive methods, adapted to the changes of their times, in order to promote the core politico-cultural fascist project, rather than trying to revive doomed regimes:
The single party, the secret police, the public displays of Caesarism, even the presence of a Führer are not necessarily attributes of fascism. […] The famous fascist methods are constantly revised and will continue to be revised. More important than the mechanism is the idea which fascism has created for itself of man and freedom. […] With another name, another face, and with nothing which betrays the projection from the past, with the form of a child we do not recognize and the head of a young Medusa, the Order of Sparta will be reborn: and paradoxically it will, without doubt, be the last bastion of Freedom and the sweetness of living.— Maurice Bardèche, Qu’est-ce que le fascisme? (Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1961), pp. 175–176.
Bardèche then started to develop his own interpretation of fascism, defined as a youth and heroic rebellion against the established intellectual structures, and a defense of Europe against the influence of both the capitalist American power, and the communist Soviet Union. Instead of building a doctrine by adding its constitutive elements one after the other, he removed those generally attributed to the pre-war fascist experiences, dismissing them as "attempts" at achieving the original fascist idea, rather than models to follow for the future. Bardèche recognized José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, as his main influence.
Unlike most of his far-right contemporaries though, Bardèche did not conceive the Falange as a perfect example to imitate in the late 20th century. If he drew inspiration from the dirigist socialism of the Spanish fascists, Bardèche essentially tried to develop his own theory of fascism, adapted to the post-war environment, and built on its original socialist, national and hierarchical idea. The fascist society lies on the idea that only a minority, "the physically saner, the morally purer, the most conscious of national interest", Bardèche says, can represent best the community—adding to dissipate critics that this theoretical elite should be at the full service of the less gifted, in what he called a "feudal contract". Apart from this classical definitions of fascism, the particularity of Bardèche was his euro-nationalist stance, as he believed the time of the nation state had passed. He developed instead the idea of a "military and politically strong European bloc", as a third way between capitalist America and communist Russia. This united Europe would initially take the form of a confederation of nation-states, before turning into a fascist federal state. His second innovation was the rejection of the constricted single party state, the absoluteness of the Fürherprinzip, and the myth of the "providential leader". On the question of minority, Bardèche stated that "there will always be a small minority of opponents in a Fascist regime", but they should be "left alone" as long as they do not hinder the global project. In Qu'est-ce que le fascisme?, he consequently dismissed the systematic persecutions of Jews by the Nazis on no other ground that their race. Bardèche's mode of fascist governance appears as plebiscitary, allowing discussions and debates as long as they do not deviate from the global fascist principles.
According to political scientist Ghislaine Desbuissions, he was however more interested in restoring a metaphysical viewpoint on the nature of man, than in designing a real doctrine or even a form of state. To Bardèche, fascism was indeed an "idea", an aesthetics and a "way of living", before a political project. Its prominent values were to be those of the "soldier"—braveness, loyalty, discipline and fidelity,—and those of the "citizen", in fact the soldier's values applied to civil life. Furthermore, Bardèche viewed the egalitarian concept of humankind as eroding distinct racial identities and vital differences, as well as a mean, as Barnes writes, to "reduce humans in society to the status of ants". The Europe of politicians, Barnes follows, was deemed in the view of Bardèche "incapable of defending itself against infiltration and subversion, and powerless against a foreign invasion because it had made a dogma of anti-racism. The growth of anti-fascism had reduced Europe to the condition of eighteenth-century Poland, where elites constantly indulged their own self-interests at the expense of the state, and exposed Europe to similar dangers, that is, attacks from both East and West."
Bardèche aimed at creating "two schools" of equivalence between fascists and the Resistance. These methods were later expanded and developed by Holocaust deniers Paul Rassinier and Robert Faurisson. According to Barnes, "they used textual notes and academic referencing, concentrated their denial effort on limited targets believing that to cause doubt over a minor historical point calls the larger picture into question. The two have additionally denounced orthodox historians and created a milieu of doubt."
We have been living for three years on a falsification of history. This falsification is clever: it leads to imaginations, then relies on the conspiracy of imaginations. [...] It had been a good fortune to discover in 1945 those concentration camps that no one had heard of until then, and which became precisely the proof we needed, the flagrante delicto in its purest form, the crime against humanity that justified everything. [...] The moral war was won. The German monstrosity was proved by these precious documents. [...] And the silence was such, the curtain was so skillfully, so abruptly revealed, that not a single voice dared to say that all this was too good to be perfectly true.— Maurice Bardèche. Nuremberg ou la Terre promise, Les Sept Couleurs, 1948, pp. 9-10, 23.
To prove Germany innocent, Bardèche excluded the specificity of the Hitlerian crime by drawing moral equivalence between the Soviet and the Nazi concentration systems. Forgetting the Nazi attempt at the systematic extermination of Jews and Roma, Bardèche believed Russians were just more skillful in propaganda and had succeeded in dissimulating their crime. Concentrations camps are likewise presented as a meticulous post-facto construction by Jewish "technicians", architects of the "invention of the Holocaust", designed to dominate the world via a global and secret plan of historical disguise. Bardèche qualified the Nazi policies on Jews as "moderate" and "reasonable", and believed the Holocaust was nothing more than a "grouping" of the Jewish people in a "reserve" through a population transfer to the East. His other arguments formed the basis of numerous works of Holocaust denial that followed: "testimonies are not reliable, essentially coming from the mouth of Jews and communists", "atrocities committed in camps were the fact of deportees [essentially the kapos]", "a disorganization appeared in camps following the first German defeats", "the high mortality is due to the 'weakening' of prisoners and epidemics", "only louses were gassed in Auschwitz".
In parallel with the questioning of Nazi crimes, Bardèche drew up a real indictment against the Allies and their war propaganda, hightlighting the Dresden bombings and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He claimed that democratic idealism had created a closed world similar to that achieved by Marxism, and that by proscribing the fascist consciousness, the Nuremberg trials had eroding individual's autonomy. According to Barnes, as the democratic world was in Bardèche's views "oppressive when it condemned fascist sensibilities through persecution", he eventually "laid down an ideological basis which was defensive in character: he visualized a struggle for survival in a new world as a process of ideological Darwinism".
In his 1951 book L'Œuf de Christophe Colomb, he explained that the USA had "killed the wrong" pig during WWII, and that anti-fascism only turned out to be an artifice of Bolshevik domination over Europe. As only nationalists had always fought communism, they were in his views the only ones in a position of building a true anti-communist Europe, naturally allied with the nationalist countries of the Arab world against America and Israel:
If some people think of establishing an antifascist and stateless Europe, which would be virtually remote-controlled from New York or Tel Aviv, this colonized Europe does not appeal to us at all, and we also believe that such a conception would only prepare the way for communist infiltration and war.— Maurice Bardèche, L'Œuf de Christophe Colomb, 1951.
According to literary scholar Ralph Schoolcraft, "it would be misleading to infer a divorce between Bardèche's right-wing propaganda and his literary criticism. [...] He favored a totalizing vision that organized the entirety of a writer's production into a sort of organic system working in the service of a specific overriding design. Critics have seen this aesthetic view of literary art as analogous to visions of a fascist utopia, with the author posited as an absolute authority arranging elements hierarchically and moving towards a complete unity at the expense of diversity and ambiguity."