Jean de Viguerie, a Counter-Revolutionary Historian in Post-1968 France

The historian Jean de Viguerie was one of the most influential academics within the counter-revolutionary movement.
Jean de Viguerie, Jean de Viguerie, counter-revolutionary, counter-revolution, French revolution, French historian, French radical right, French new right, France news, Jean-Yves Camus

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The luminaries of contemporary counter-revolutionary thinking are not well-known and their publications are seldom reported, much less reviewed. France is one of few countries where counter-revolutionary groups are still active, mostly within the Catholic fundamentalist (“intégriste”) movement, embodied in the Fraternité Saint-Pie X (Society of Saint Pius X or SSPX), which was founded in 1970 by the late French Bishop Marcel Lefebvre.

What is specific to France is that the counter-revolutionary school of thought still has a foot in academia. Professors of law, history, philosophy or French literature who are close to SSPX teach in state-run universities and/or at the Institut universitaire Saint-Pie X, whose degrees are recognized by the state.

One Thinker

The historian Jean de Viguerie, one of the most influential academics within the counter-revolutionary movement, passed away in December 2019, and his life and works are known to those interested in Catholic traditionalism. Born in 1935 in Rome, de Viguerie was the son of a civil servant attached to an international organization that later became the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

His family belongs to the nobility and was close to Charles Maurras’ Action française, a monarchist movement, but was first and foremost Catholic, in the sense of anti-modernism and anti-liberalism. In his memoirs, de Viguerie recalls his family’s admiration for the anti-modernist Pope Pie XI and his parents’ rejection of Hitlerian pan-Germanism and paganism. In fact, when Adolf Hitler visited Rome in 1938, de Viguerie’s family moved temporarily to Florence in order to avoid watching the pro-Nazi crowds.

In academia, de Viguerie obtained the highest degree in history in 1959. A disciple of another monarchist colleague, Roland Mousnier, and of the Thomist philosopher Louis Jugnet, de Viguerie quickly became a renowned historian of education, with a focus on Catholic educational congregations in the 17th century.

He also published a biography of King Louis XVI and one of his sister, Madame Elisabeth, which were scholarly works of the highest level, without the author hiding his monarchist leanings. Most of his early works were groundbreaking on the topic of the Catholic Church’s decisive role in educating the French youth under the Ancien régime, and thus disseminating the values of the faith and obedience to the “natural order.” Despite being openly opposed to the left and the liberal post-1968 establishment in academia, he achieved the position of dean of the Arts Department at the University of Angers. He then became a full professor of history at Lille University and, in 1982, became chairman of the Société française d’histoire des idées et d’histoire religieuse (French Society of the History of Ideas and the History of Religion).

In the field of political philosophy, de Viguerie leaves a very important contribution to the French radical right in the book, “Les Deux Patries (The Two Homelands). The author argues that true traditionalists cannot support the kind of patriotism that emerged with the French Revolution. Instead, he argues, being French must retain its original meaning in the Middle-Ages — that is belonging to the country of our forefathers where Catholic principles are the rule of law. This change in meaning, de Viguerie argues, has a political consequence: the true traditionalist cannot be misled into joining the so-called “patriotic right” which, in fact, espouses revolution-inspired patriotism, the goal of which, according to him, is globalism and the atheistic, positivist “religion of human rights.”

Needless to say, his criticism of the Union sacrée (sacred union) — that is the support the anti-republican right gave to the war effort in 1914-18 — raised many eyebrows, for it was an implicit rebuttal of such figures of the right as Maurice Barrès and Charles Maurras’ Action française. It was nevertheless consistent with de Viguerie’s beliefs, which were close to the legitimist school of thought. Proof of that is his association with the Spanish Carlist movement, as he was a member of the Council of Hispanic Studies of Felipe II and a regular contributor to the Catholic periodical, Verbo

In the field of religion, de Viguerie was the main author of the “Declaration of Thirty Catholic Academics of December 1, 1976, following the Lille Mass of August 29 and the “hot summer” in which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre announced that he would pursue his work on grounds that the Roman sanctions against him were invalid. The declaration reached a wide audience, having been published by the center-left daily newspaper Le Monde, the conservative daily L’Aurore and, later, by the conservative daily Le Figaro. Among the signatories were the philosopher Marcel de Corte, the historian Roland Mousnier, the philosopher Claude Rousseau and the literature professor Jacques Vier, all of whom held positions at the Sorbonne University in Paris. de Viguerie remained faithful to the traditional mass until his death.

In Recent Years

He also gave his support to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National, becoming a member of the scientific council of the party in 1990, at the time when Catholic traditionalists and even monarchists had their say in the party’s policymaking. This short stint in party politics, as well as him contributing to the daily pro-FN newspaper Présent, probably cost him his appointment as a full professor at Sorbonne.

In September 2004, de Viguerie gave a lengthy interview to the Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire, which was close to the French New Right. He gave a definition of a historian that surely does not totally fit into the commonly accepted one in academia. “Not all historians can understand the past,” he said. “If you want to become a genuine historian, you need to believe in the past, you need to be attracted to it.”

Jean de Viguerie died in southwest France, where his family originated from, and he was eulogized both by SSPX and the more mainstream traditionalist newspapers that are faithful to the Vatican, such as L’Homme nouveau and Famille Chrétienne and the influential website Le Salon Beige.

*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]

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