The politics of counter-memory on the French extreme right.
Keywords: extreme right, France, historical revisionism
This article concerns the communication of cultural memory within a particular social group in France. At national level the transmission of cumulative, collective understandings of the past supports the construction or maintenance of society as an imagined community in which members have a sense of common identity and belonging (Anderson, 1991; Smith, 1991). However, although national identity can be considered as a single attribute shared in varying degrees by most members of a nation, it is clear that this identity is, in fact, differentiated among the various groups which form any national society, since modern societies are segmented on regional, socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, political and other lines.
Different segments of national societies have differing cultural memories, with varying interpretations of the meaning of the past. The political dimension of cultural memory varies in function of the ideological environments constituted by different subcultures, which can be roughly categorized in terms of the left-right spectrum. Within each political subculture, the transmission of collective memory structures the identity of the group by reiterating shared interpretations of the group's own past in relation to that of the nation as a whole. Certain members of the group, notably politicians, intellectuals and other activists, disseminate these interpretations to sympathizers and the wider public. The past is taken to shed light on the present, which in turn enables predictions to be made about the future (Flood, 2002). The process of memory-building is dynamic. As time passes, new events are assimilated in the light of earlier understandings of previous events, to which they are considered to be linked by direct or indirect causation, or at least by typological analogy. They may even modify those understandings and produce changes at an ideological level, although long-established patterns of interpretation that support a system of collective values are not easily abandoned.
In France the extreme right constitutes one such subculture--or, rather, one set of overlapping subcultures. Its members share cultural traits which are commonplace in French society as a whole, including a particular respect for intellectualism and a fascination with history, but the meanings they assign to past, present or predicted national events are very often different from, and opposed to, the dominant interpretations transmitted by what present-day extreme right-wingers disparagingly call the Establishment. This article deals with aspects of that version of collective memory and its transmission as counter-memory. The aim is to demonstrate the centrality of historical revisionism as a component of extreme right-wing culture and identity in France today.
Channels of production and dissemination
The French extreme right has had a chequered history (for standard works, see Remond, 1982; Sirinelli, 1992; Winock, 1995). Its inception during the Revolution features royalist counter-revolutionaries arguing, plotting or even waging war for a return to the old order. Notwithstanding rather brief periods in power during the Restoration and to some extent the early Third Republic, the counter-revolutionaries' legitimist ideological descendants were absorbed by the end of the nineteenth century into the larger movement of authoritarian nationalism behind figures such as Barres and Maurras, where they cohabited somewhat uneasily with the inheritors of other ideological lineages, Orleanist, Bonapartist or Boulangist. In the first half of the twentieth century, authoritarian nationalists, having been joined in the inter-war period by fascists of various colours, remained outside, and hostile to, the political mainstream, denouncing the parliamentary Republic, until the 'divine surprise' (Maurras's term) of 1940 offered reactionaries a brief triumph behind Petain, while many fascists enjoyed their own short-lived apotheosis in active collaboration with Germany. Disgraced and banished to the margins of national politics after the post-war purges, they briefly appeared threatening at the end of the 1950s because of their links with dissident elements in the military as the Algerian crisis reached its climax. But, after being crushed again by de Gaulle, they remained a fragmented, violent and politically ineffectual fringe until the Front National's breakthrough in the mid-1980s. From that time until the party split in 1998/9, the FN was able to build its national electorate to around 15 per cent--much higher than that in some localities--and to play an increasing part in municipal and regional government (Declair, 1999; Mayer, 2002). Despite reduced performances in the 1999 European, 2002 parliamentary, and 2004 European elections, Le Pen's score of 17 per cent in the 2002 presidential contest and the FN's 14.7 per cent in the 2004 regional election gave the party hope of revival.
Most commentators view the extreme right's history as an account of well-deserved failure, and see present-day signs of revival as causes for concern. Naturally, adherents of the extreme right do not share that perception. They see it as hostile political mythology: a set of interlocking stories that claim to be valid interpretations of past events but which are, in fact, distorted for ideological reasons. The extreme right perceive this as particularly oppressive because it is the dominant interpretation inculcated into French society through the education system, the media, mainstream politicians, anti-racist/antifascist pressure groups and other channels of orthodox public discourse. They also consider it tragic because they believe the French nation is being indoctrinated to accept ideas and perceptions which have been devastating to the governance, cohesion and general well-being of French society.
Revisionist interpretation of French history has been one of the principal fields of cultural struggle by the extreme right since the Revolution. In fact, the extreme right's ideological birth was underpinned by contestatory historical reflection in Joseph de Maistre's Considerations sur la France and the works of other reactionary writers such as Louis de Bonald or Augustin Barruel, who attempted to explain the Revolution as an aberration from France's true historical path. This, too, was the message of the royalist historians under the Restoration--Pierre Chaillot or Charles de Lacretelle, among others--and their successors down to writers such as Jacques Bainville, Louis Bertrand, Pierre Gaxotte and Louis Madelin in the ideological orbit of Action Francaise in the first half of the twentieth century (Dumoulin, 1992). Although support for monarchism faded over time, extreme right-wing writers and publicists have continued to draw heavily on the alleged lessons of history to support their political arguments--including the general claim that national history is a better teacher about the appropriate forms of government for each particular nation than the rationalistic, post-Enlightenment assumption that social harmony and political order can be designed into existence on the basis of universalistic blueprints. Many have used arguments about the pernicious intellectual and political legacy of the Revolution to explain the long periods in which France has abandoned good government. These alleged errors can then be used by the extreme right to explain its own long periods of exile from mainstream politics, its failure to establish a durable political regime, and the fact that its own actions are so widely regarded as causes of national disgrace.
The production of historical writing by authors connected with the extreme right is quite prolific, though the extent to which the discourse is ideologically marked varies widely. Academic historians holding extreme right-wing views have not necessarily allowed those views to intrude overtly into their professional publications, even though they may write in a more committed way in other types of publication for extreme right-wing readerships. Raoul Girardet is a case in point, as were Philippe Aries and Pierre Chaunu during their lifetimes. Equally, outside the academic institutions there are popular historians, such as Dominique Venner, Jean Mabire or Alain Sanders, whose historical writing shades in varying degrees between the production of history for the sake of historical interest and history as ideological demonstration. On the other hand, it is very common for extreme right-wing politicians, activists and committed intellectuals writing for the cause in books, magazines, newspapers or other publications to engage in partisan historical explanation or at least to use historical claims to legitimize their arguments about present-day situations. The same is true of spoken forms (lectures, colloquia, speeches), or of songs (marching songs, folksongs, rock identitaire), and iconic forms (cartoon strips, illustrations, photographs, posters, badges, insignia). In this sense, the transmission of cultural memory is coextensive with any form of extreme right-wing discourse, although the present analysis focuses only on books and articles.
Because the extreme right-wing subculture is quite small at elite level, many of its members know each other within networks of contributors to the same book series, edited collections, magazines or newspapers, as well as through membership of associations or political parties which form and re-form within the microcosm. Occasionally a group coalesces within an academic institution, although becoming publicly identifiable carries serious risks of inviting protests from political enemies, and perhaps investigation by higher authorities. The most notorious case has been at the University of Lyon III, which has at various times over the last twenty years provided a professional home for Bruno Gollnisch, Pierre Vial, Jean Haudry, Jean-Paul Allard, Bernard Notin, Jean Plantin, Bernard Lugan, Goulven Pennaod and other known extreme right-wingers. At Nantes, Pierre Zind, Jean-Claude Riviere and Thierry Buron emerged into the limelight in 1985 as members of the jury, chaired by Allard and attended by Robert Faurisson, which passed a favourable verdict on a Holocaust denialist thesis by Henri Roques (on this and Lyon III, see Cercle Marc Bloch et al., 1999; on Nantes only, Cointet, 1987). Regardless of the academic disciplines in which they were or are officially classified, these people have all been involved in the publication of work contributing to collective memory within their ideological milieu.
Books have remained important channels of dissemination. Extreme right-wing political parties have rarely done their own book publishing, given the financial pressures involved. However, the FN has been an exception. In 1990 Bruno Megret was responsible for launching Editions Nationales, which became a major source of partisan works. The devastating financial effects of the party's split during 1998/9 probably explain the disappearance of that imprint, but it was succeeded more recently by Editions Objectif France. The FN's imprints have been part of a much larger industry of extreme rightwing publishing and distribution. Some mainstream publishers, such as Plon and Perrin, have offered an outlet without becoming exclusively identified with that sector of the ideological/political market. On the other hand, there are publishers who specialize in producing or reprinting works by extreme right-wingers and whose range of titles closely reflect the topics to which extreme right-wing authors are most commonly drawn, usually because the proprietors are personally linked to the extreme right. Thus, for example, Editions de l'AEncre, Dualpha, Chire, Fideliter or Godefroy de Bouillon carry heavy cargos of extreme right-wing material including large lists of historical works. So too do some extreme right-wing booksellers. For example, Gilles Soulas, combining business with indefatigable political activism, not only owns Editions de l'AEncre and Memorial Records (which sells books and magazines as well as rock identitaire), but also the Librairie Nationale, which provides a mail-order service for partisan historical and political books (librairienationale.com): among its historical lists, the one for the contemporary period is the largest, with over 200 works, but many books included in the politics lists also have a strong historical dimension. Finally, aside from these specialist purveyors, most of the organized extreme right-wing groups market books, which they advertise through their own periodicals and websites.
Alongside books, magazines have been important. For instance, the theoretical magazine, Identite, published by the FN from 1989 to 1996, though by no means exclusively historical in content, produced a dossier of articles in each issue on a major political topic, such as immigration, education, neo-colonialism or globalization, and these normally started with one or two articles giving the history of the question, on the assumption that the present situation and likely future developments could best be understood in the light of the past (see Flood, 1997 on the ideological content). The magazine also offered other, free-standing pieces from time to time, as well as a series on the identity of the French regions, which dwelt heavily on their historical heritage. Identite was itself influenced by the formula used in the magazines Elements and Nouvelle Ecole, published by the New Right think tank, GRECE, with which several of the FN's activist-intellectuals had previously been connected. These people--among them, Pierre Vial, Jean-Claude Bardet, Jean Haudry, Jean Varenne, Jean-Jacques Mourreau, Pierre de Meuse, Jean-Yves Le Gallou, Yvan Blot and Bruno Megret--had brought with them from the New Right a belief that the quest for political power needed to be underpinned by metapolitical struggle to achieve ideological dominance in the cultural sphere, including the reconquest of historical interpretations (on the New Right, see Taguieff, 1984; 1994).
Some magazines catering to specific currents within the extreme right have also made history a central component. A number of the magazines of the ethno-cultural or ethno-regionalist extreme right, notably Terre et Peuple, Utlagi, Montsegur and Reflechir et Agir, carry articles celebrating aspects of national or local memory. The Terre et Peuple group which gives its name to the first of those magazines has as its motto a quotation from Nietzsche prophesying that 'the man of the future will be he who has the longest memory'. The group was established in 1994 as a cultural association with close ties to the FN. It was initiated by Pierre Vial, who holds a post in medieval history at Lyon III, but was also one of the founders of GRECE in 1968. Before the FN split he was prominent in the party, an occasional contributor to Identite and author of a regular column in the FN's newspaper, National Hebdo, under the title of 'Notre Memoire', the declared purpose of which was to reclaim the historical record from the falsifiers. Terre et Peuple survived the split in the FN, the failure of its schismatic offshoot, the MNR, and continues today. In the early years it produced a newsletter, La Lettre de Terre et Peuple, which included contributions from other historians who were veterans of the New Right, notably Dominique Venner, Jean Mabire, Jean Haudry and Philippe Conrad. The magazine, which succeeded the newsletter in the autumn of 1999, continued on similar lines. Terre et Peuple defines itself as a communitarian association promoting cultural rootedness. Reference to enracinement in antithesis to deracinement--deterministic concepts popularized by Maurice Barres a century earlier, and widely used more recently by former members of the New Right--evokes cultural transmission, the formative legacy of the past, bonds with places of origin and ties to biological or cultural forebears, and hence to one's native community. These notions permeate Terre et Peuple's self-assigned mission, which represents France as the battleground of remorseless struggle between defenders of its authentic identity and forces seeking to destroy it (Flood, 2000a).
In assessing the range of extreme right-wing historical production particular mention should be made of Dominique Venner, godfather of the New Right. A veteran of the OAS, he had founded the magazine Europe-Action in the early 1960s on the premise that ideological renewal was a precondition of effective political action (Algazy, 1984; Frey, 1996). Alongside Jean Mabire and others roughly of Venner's own generation, or older fascists, such as Henry Coston, Jacques Ploncard d'Assac or Pierre Bousquet, the group around Europe-Action had included many of the young intellectuals who would later found GRECE, such as Alain de Benoist, Gilles Fournier, Jean-Claude Riviere and Pierre Vial. In turn, Venner and Mabire also supported GRECE. Throughout the 1990s Venner, besides writing works of popular history (and books on hunting or the history of weaponry), produced a glossy magazine, Enquete sur l'histoire, which has been succeeded more recently by his Nouvelle Revue d'histoire.
Unlike exclusively partisan magazines with restricted circulation, such as Vial's Terre et Peuple, Venner's history periodical is aimed at a wide public: hence its high production values. The magazines are sold in mainstream bookshops and kiosks. The covers and the interiors are now fully coloured, with sophisticated graphics, photography and reproductions of paintings or other iconography of the historical periods under discussion. Besides the substantive articles, the contents include letters from readers, book notes and reviews, biographical portraits of eminent historians, interviews, calendars of forthcoming events and other items of interest. They contain contributions by historians from outside the extreme right and even those by extreme right-wing contributors are by no means all revisionist or of strong ideological colouring. The interpretative pointers are often discrete. Nevertheless, the overall flavour has been persistently, if subtly, revisionist. That is in keeping with Venner's project for the magazine. As he implied in his first editorial (1991-2: 4-5) and on many subsequent occasions, he believes that a nation (in this case, France) which has lost the sense of its real identity and direction under the influence of distorted historical orthodoxies can rediscover itself by being aided to recover its 'true' collective memory through exposure to valid historical understandings.
Contemporary ideologues and publicists of the extreme right view themselves as bearers of a strong intellectual heritage. There is some justification for this. Under successive regimes, in good times or bad, extreme right-wing intellectuals played an important part in sustaining the political subculture by defending its ideological beliefs and values, absorbing new components and adding variants as historical circumstances changed. Celebration of that intellectual tradition, and location of current work within it, remains important today. For example, within the FN, the magazine Identite regularly carried articles concerning writers such as Rivarol, Taine, Maurras, Barres, La Varende, Bonnard, Montherlant, Celine or Junger. Works by Maurras or the historians Bainville and Fustel de Coulanges, among others, were reprinted in cheap paperback format. A series of seventeen evening lectures in 1989-90 run by the FN's Institut de Formation Nationale was entitled 'La Pensee nationale'. It covered theorists representing all of the main strands of extreme right-wing thought since the time of the French Revolution with the exception of neo-Nazism. The FN defined itself as part of that broad lineage by launching the series with a talk by Le Pen entitled 'La Pensee nationale et le combat politique', and ending the series with Bruno Megret on 'Le Renouveau de la pensee nationale dans les annees quatre-vingt' (notice in Identite 4, 1989). Outside the immediate confines of the FN, the extent to which the extreme right memorializes its intellectual ancestors is likewise illustrated by the many biographies, intellectual histories and re-edited works of the thinkers themselves, marketed via the websites of political groups or distributors. The focus is mainly on French thinkers, but not exclusively so: Junger, Evola, Nietzsche and Carl Schmitt, for example, are figures of interest.
While many figures, such as Maurras and Barres, have become part of the common heritage of the extreme right as a whole, others have special status for particular groups because they correspond more directly to those groups' specific ideological orientation. Thus, for example, Saint-Loup (pseudonym of Marc Augier) is particularly revered within Terre et Peuple as a progenitor of the group's pagan Volkisch cult of nature fused with elitist, ethnicist (implicitly racial) social ideals (for a partisan biography, see Moreau, 2002). Augier was a former left-winger, mountain sports enthusiast and promoter of the youth hostelling movement, who had once worked for Leo Lagrange, Minister for Youth and Sports under the first Popular Front government. He had converted to Nazism at the end of the 1930s. During the Occupation he had helped launch the pro-German newspaper La Gerbe in 1941 and had been co-founder of the Collaboration group of artists and intellectuals. After serving in Vichy's Legion des Volontaires Francais, he had joined the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS and edited its newspaper Devenir. Having escaped the post-Liberation purges by fleeing abroad (his period of exile included five years as a military adviser in Peron's Argentina), he had returned to France under the amnesty in 1953, then worked as a writer, activist, contributor to Venner's Europe-Action and defender of the memory of the French SS. In 1991, after Augier's death, Vial, alongside Jean Mabire and Bernard Lugan, founded the Amis de Saint-Loup, an association to honour Augier's memory. Saint-Loup has remained the counterpart of a patron saint for Terre et Peuple.
Alongside intellectual history, the extreme right memorializes its own political, social or military history. The perspective may be long or short. First, there are general histories of the extreme right, some recent, some re-edited or still in circulation, covering different periods of time. Examples of this type are Jean-Francois Chiappe's and Eric Vatre's Histoire des droites francaises (2001, 2003) or Francois Duprat's Les Mouvements d'extreme droite en France depuis 1944 (1972). Second, there are histories of particular parties or groups, such as works on Action Francaise or the Faisceau. A notable case of very recent history was the FN's representation of its own past since the time of its founding in the early 1970s. Previously set out schematically in the training manual, Militer au Front (Institut de Formation Nationale, 1991), it was elaborated in a glossy, large-format full-colour book entitled 20 ans au Front. L'histoire vraie du Front National (Front National, 1993). The narrative was structured as a salvatory epic in three parts, 'Crossing the desert', 'The Le Pen effect' and 'The advance'. It depicted the party's early beginnings amid the decaying, immigrant-ridden ruins of French society under corrupt and incompetent government; it hailed the effort to unite the fragments of the nationalist right; the hard process of learning the habit of unity behind Le Pen; the long struggle to break into the national political arena; the first successes; the setbacks in the late 1980s; then the drive forward in face of political manoeuvres and dirty tricks by the parties of the Establishment abetted by their allies in the media, education and other national bodies. It concluded with the prospect of an inevitable triumph sooner rather than later.
Again, foreign counterparts are also covered. More or less sympathetic treatments of the Spanish Falangists, Italian Fascists and German Nazis are still commonplace. Moreover, with regard to France and other countries, there is a sub-genre of works dealing with military or paramilitary organizations which have strong associations with the extreme right, such as the Freikorps, the German elite regiments under Nazism, the Cagoule conspiracy, the LVF under Vichy or the OAS in Algeria and France. These works tend to highlight the values allegedly embodied by the organizations, with an emphasis on mutual dependence and comradeship, order, discipline and authority, heroism and sacrifice in service of a higher cause. Individual figures are singled out to epitomize these values, such as Marshal Lyautey for the colonial period or Colonel Jean Bastien-Thiry for the OAS (see Flood and Frey, 1998 and 2002 for analysis of extreme right-wing interpretations of decolonization and its consequences).
The third important type of work, overlapping with the others, involves histories of broader topics in which the role of the extreme right during the period in question, or else a set of historical events on which the extreme right have a specific perspective, is assessed in opposition to accounts by mainstream historians. Here, the writing may show strong ideological colouring, but it can equally be much more subtle, even though the intention is still revisionist. As regards defence of the extreme right's own part in national history, the period from the late 1980s offered a range of potent contexts arising from intense national debates about important episodes or themes in France's past. One of the spurs was the series of commemorations of the Revolution; another related to commemoration of aspects of the Second World War, overlapping with the trials of Paul Touvier in 1994 and Maurice Papon in 1997 on charges of crimes against humanity. In the climate of retrospection centring on these divisive issues, other equally problematic aspects of the past were revisited, ranging from the Algerian War, through May '68, to wider discussions of totalitarianism and genocide, fascism and communism. Intellectuals of the extreme right were largely excluded from debates in the mainstream media but this was not because they did not write on these subjects. On the contrary, they wrote on all of them. Indeed, the controversies related to aspects of history which haunted the subculture because they represented touchstone sets of events where the perceptions of the extreme right had long been radically at odds with those of mainstream commentators. Consequently, extreme right-wing intellectuals felt a powerful sense of injustice and a need for public rectification, despite the risk of attracting denunciations branding them once again as retrograde, extremist defenders of dictatorship, anti-semitism or imperialist violence, and reminding them of humiliating defeats.
The extreme right-wing subculture lends itself to conspiracy theories and to seeing connections among different sets of enemies, past and present. Its members saw the so-called devoir de memoire and the constant demands from left-wing groups for acknowledgement of France's past crimes as an attempt to brainwash the population into attitudes of political submissiveness coupled with hatred of the nationalist right. They responded by seeking to undermine the interpretations offered by their political enemies. For the most part they did not attempt straightforwardly to defend the virtues of the ancien regime against the Revolution, or to make an outright defence of Vichy, still less of collaborationism; nor did they claim that the overseas empire, including Algeria, had always been well governed. They certainly did not assert that Touvier and Papon were admirable men. Rather, their revisionism on all these issues was more supple and included concessions to prevailing orthodoxies. One frequent approach was to relativize past 'errors' committed by those with whom they sympathized. They attributed honourable motives where they admitted that actions had been misjudged. They pointed to specific policies or approaches which had achieved beneficial results, in their view, even where the overall outcome had been failure. They pleaded extenuating circumstances and intolerable pressures for acts of brutality. They attacked mainstream accounts of events by attempting to discredit the motives of their authors, pointing to factual inaccuracies and accusing the writers of drawing illegitimate, ideologically motivated inferences in order to dissimulate the failings of the regimes, parties or other interest groups with which they identified.
Thus, for example, Papon's guilt could be mitigated in a wide range of ways, most of which were familiar from earlier extreme right-wing arguments about the Occupation (for detailed analysis, see Flood, 2000b). It was claimed that he had merely been a reluctant signatory of orders for Jewish deportations, not a decision-maker; that he had reduced the numbers of arrests; that he had aided the Resistance; that, when serving Vichy, he was acting on behalf of Petain's legitimately constituted, widely supported government driven by the honourable motive of protecting France from the worst horrors of German occupation. Extreme right-wing commentators acknowledged that Vichyite treatment of Jews was harsh, but they contended that the regime had not knowingly contributed to the Holocaust. They asserted, inter alia, that the numbers of Jews deported from France to their deaths were relatively small and that Vichy had had good relations with the leaders of the Rabbinate, the central Consistory and other Jewish organizations, including the UGIE which had, among other things, helped to round up Jewish children and had recruited Jewish guards under Jewish commandants for the transit camp at Drancy, yet had been exonerated after the war.
Alternatively, detailed accounts (for example, in Valla, 2000; Venner, 1995) were produced to show that many of the earliest resisters in France, at a time when the Communists were still collaborating with the Germans, had been extreme right-wingers, and that Petainism had been compatible with patriotic struggle against the foreign enemy. Accounts of devious machinations within the Free French or the Resistance, or details of French civilian losses under Allied carpet bombing, or the excesses of the post-war purges could be adduced to suggest that the orthodox narratives placing virtue on one side and vice on the other were grossly distorted by deliberate errors of commission and omission.
As for the wider issue of French collusion in crimes against humanity, overt Holocaust denialists or ultra-revisionists such as Robert Faurisson, Henri Roques, Bernard Notin or Jean Plantin were a small minority but others on the far right could nevertheless relativize the phenomenon, and France's auxiliary role in it, by pointing out that it was neither the first nor the last instance of wholesale massacre for ideological reasons. As a prototype of ideo-logically driven, totalitarian extermination--a Franco-French genocide, as Reynald Secher (1986, 1991) described it--they could cite the systematic extermination of royalist insurrectionaries and of the ordinary population of the Vendee and other western areas in 1793-4 by Turreau's colonnes infernales within the wider context of the Terror. For the more recent period the colossal slaughter of innocents carried out by Communist regimes in the USSR and other countries in the twentieth century could be aggregated to show that they had been far greater than the crimes of the Nazis, and had been carried out with the passive acquiescence of the West, allegedly because its dominant ideology of political and economic liberalism shared common roots with socialism and communism in the rationalistic dream of progress fostered since the Enlightenment. All of this was wrapped in the charge that collective memory was being manipulated by the Communists and Jewish lobby groups for their own interests, backed by the rest of the political and media Establishment, which welcomed the diversion of attention from pressing issues such as political corruption, governmental incompetence, unemployment, mass immigration, and absorption of French sovereignty by the EU.
A final major type of historical topic needs to be mentioned. That is the long-term ethno-history (and pre-history) of France and Europe which, in the work of many writers, forms an implicit grand narrative informing their evaluations of particular historical episodes, groups or individuals. This is the specialism of descendants of the New Right. The starting-point, based on speculative extrapolation from the work of Emile Benveniste and some other historical linguists, combined with the historical anthropology of Georges Dumezil and his disciples, as well as various archaeological findings, is an assertion of the existence of a locally varied but fundamentally homogeneous Indo-European culture spreading westwards across Europe, reaching the area corresponding to modern France in the third millennium BC and reaching its zenith in the second millennium BC (Haudry, 1981; Venner, 2002: 50-70; and for the mythological legacy, Mabire, 2002).
The significance of this claim is that it posits a historically framed, if empirically tenuous, counterpart of Aryanism, stripped of overt racism and association with Nazism. As well as offering a hierarchical social model, Indo-Europeanism provides a basis for essentialist claims concerning French ethnic identity, represented as the product of a fertile meeting between the Celtic lineage of the Gauls, the Latin lineage of the Romans and the Germanic lineage of the Franks, all of them complementary because descended from the same original Indo-European stock, sharing traits of temperament and culture which are implicitly viewed as superior to those of other peoples (see, for example, Bardet, 1991). Thus, Indo-Europeanism underpins ethno-historical claims about national or regional identity by asserting that these pre-existed modern state forms. It legitimizes opposition to immigration and integration of non-Europeans on grounds of cultural (and, implicitly, biological) incompatibility, but it can also support a form of Euro-nationalism which is sometimes translated into a vague, utopian confederation or imperium of autonomous regions in opposition to the supranationalist straitjacket of the EU.
The extreme right is an unacknowledged, embarrassing case of French cultural exceptionalism. The strength and continuity of its intellectual tradition is perhaps its most distinctive feature. However misleading and disingenuous much of the work produced by that tradition may appear to non-adherents, including myself, it is important to acknowledge one's own preconceptions about the historical past and the political present. Cultural memory is selective and ideologically coloured. Representation of the past is an object of competition between different subcultures which naturally wish to shape it particularly to their own normative visions of what society is, how it came to be that way, and what it ought to become. There is no set of events which cannot be interpreted from multiple perspectives and no inference from the past to the present which cannot be contested. Whatever the prospects of the FN or other far-right groups in the future, there is no reason to doubt the continuation of the intellectual tradition or the transmission of collective memory in which history is taken to prove that the values of the extreme right were and will remain the correct ones. Ideally, extreme right-wingers would wish their own worldview to be universally accepted, but until that utopian time they can comfort themselves in the belief that they have a privileged understanding of the present in the light of the past. The sharing and communication of this belief are themselves vital to sustaining a sense of ideological community. The practice of counter-memory is thus essential to the maintenance of the subculture.
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University of Surrey
Christopher Flood is Professor of European Studies at the University of Surrey. Address: Department of Political, International and Policy Studies, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK [email: email@example.com]
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|Publication:||Journal of European Studies|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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