Having come across several references this spring to a French literary critic, Jean Sévillia, who is criticizing leftist historical reconstructions, I read his two most recent books, Le Terrorisme Intellectuel (2000) and Historiquement correct: Pour en finir avec le passé unique (2003). An associate editor of Le Figaro magazine, Sévillia makes clear that he is sick of “anti-fascist” polemics and has set out to demonstrate their dishonesty. What make Sévillia’s investigations especially useful are his caustic refutations of leftist orthodoxies.
He is merciless in going after the now widespread and deeply embedded lies that the communists in France were always the backbone of the anti-Nazi resistance, while Catholics and monarchists happily collaborated with the German invaders. Particularly since the 70’s, with the appearance of Marcel Ophuls’ interminable pseudodocumentary on Clermont-Ferrand during the occupation (Le Chagrin et la Pitié) and with the publication of the book The Jews in Vichy France (1973), by Michael Marrus, the view has come to prevail that wartime France swarmed with pro-Nazi collaborators, typically identified with the Church and the nationalist right. The older historical account, typified by de Gaulle’s memoirs and Robert Aron’s Histoire de Vichy, which emphasized the difficult situation caused by the French military debacle in June 1940 and the harsh peace subsequently imposed by Hitler, has gone out of fashion. Although well documented, the heroic view of resistance has come to represent, for the French left and for the holocaust lobby, proof positive of the unwillingness of the French to “confront” their fascist-stained past. The antisemitic legislation enacted by the Vichy government in 1940 and 1941 and the deportation of foreign Jews from the Vélodrome d’hiver in Paris on July 16-17, 1942, became the ultimate expressions of what Bernard-Henri Lévy has called the “unpurged French national past.” Such grim accusations have also surfaced among neoconservatives, at least since France refused to join our crusade for democracy in Iraq. As Richard Brookhiser observes in American Heritage (Fall 2003), France has yet to deal with its “ultra-royalist past,” which has produced antisemitism and the “rabble-rouser Jean Le Pen.” Putting aside the question of whether Le Pen is an “ultra-royalist”— something that would undoubtedly be a revelation to him—one has still to explain how the revised p.c. version of what went on in France during the occupation is more accurate than what noncommunist résistants had said before.
Sévillia insists with justification that it is not. Moreover, the attempts to impose this version, he says, fit the communist agenda of distorting the past for ideological purposes while decrying those who do not go along as “Holocaust neglectors,” an accusation that has been visited on those proud few who dare to notice Stalin’s atrocities or the ramifications of communist-Nazi collaboration in 1940. Sévillia rakes over the coals those mendacious French soldiers of conscience, perpetually forming “committees of vigilance” to denounce Solzhenitsyn, Alain de Benoist, Hector Berlioz, or anyone else alleged to have contributed to “European fascism.” What these partisans studiously avoid noticing is who really dragged down France in 1940—the Communist Party, which actively discouraged resistance to the German invasion and whose head, Maurice Thorez, ran to offer his cooperation to the occupying Germans on June 26, 1940. What the French left and, unfortunately, some Jewish organizations in France have done is to exaggerate the
influence and wickedness of a certain preferred enemy.
Most of the French nationalist right, including the members of the largest conservative nationalist league, Croix de Feu, fought and died in the struggle against Nazi Germany; Croix de Feu director François de La Rocque was a republican, not a monarchist, and was killed by the Nazis as a résistant. There is simply no evidence that French Catholic prelates sympathized with Nazi ideology; in fact, the archbishops of Toulouse, Marseilles, and Lyons all denounced fiercely the humiliation of French and foreign Jews. In June 1944, the bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, the city featured in Ophuls’ supposed exposé, was arrested and deported to Dachau for having protected Jews in his diocese. Most foreign Jews in France were never collected and sent to the Vél because French Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, and even the Vichy police shielded them.
Sévillia has no trouble proving the gross exaggeration of the association of the French right and the royalist right with Nazi ideas and policies. De Gaulle came from a Catholic monarchist family; Philippe Pétain benefited in his initial rise in the French military from his family’s anticlerical, Radical Republican connections. The nationalist monarchist newspaper Action Francaise had called for an immediate invasion of Germany when Hitler occupied the Rhineland in 1936. Vichy cabinets were full of former leftists and even those who came from families that had been Dréyfusards 40 years earlier. Pierre Laval and Jacques Doriot were hardly the exceptions in this regard. Although the French “national revolution” did appeal to nationalist and religious symbols, it also invoked French pacifism, long represented by archcollaborator Marcel Déat. The antisemitism that the Vichy regime whipped up was by no means a rightist monopoly. It was strongly present on the French socialist left since the early 20th century.
France and Italy did “come to terms” with their collaborationist pasts, when, in 1944 and 1945, communist partisans shot tens of thousands of their countrymen and incited postwar governments to try hundreds of thousands more for being exactly what the communists had been—Nazi collaborators. While the French left continues to propagate self-serving historical lies in multiple publications and documentaries, Sévillia is there to shine the light of truth. Unhappily “anti-fascist” laws springing up all over Europe may soon turn such work into a crime.