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Action Française

Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World

Oscar L. Cole-Arnal

Action Française. 

The Action Française was an influential proto-fascist monarchist movement organized in France in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair (1899). In spite of its modest size, Action Française proved remarkably successful for roughly thirty years, based largely on the intellectual sophistication of its resident philosopher, Charles Maurras; its daily newspaper L'Action Française, led by its scandal-mongering editor Léon Daudet; its street-smart vendors and thugs, the Camelots du Roi; and the mass Catholic base that bought the newspaper. Dreaming of a past utopia that blended classicism and medievalism (the “true France”), the Action Française attacked the Third Republic (“legal France”) with passionate venom as a haven of all it hated—Republicans, the French Revolution, Protestants, Freemasons, Jews, and foreigners. Basking in its support from important church leaders, including Pope Pius X (r. 1903–1914), it led attacks on the vulnerable progressive wing of the Catholic Church. In this respect its most notable achievement was its successful campaign against the Sillon movement of Marc Sangnier. After World War I, the new pope, Pius XI (r. 1922–1939), pursued a detente policy with the French Republic, while the Action Française continued its anti-Republican strategy with increased vitriol, buoyed by its prominence among French Catholics. However, its very success proved its undoing. Troubled by this connection between the royalists and Catholics over against his own more diplomatic strategy, Pius XI published a formal condemnation. Although his successor, Pius XII, lifted the ban in 1939, the Action Française was already an aging and spent force superseded by more vigorous fascist groups.


Arnal, Oscar. Ambivalent Alliance: The Catholic Church and the Action Française, (1899–1939). Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985. A thorough examination of the Catholic-Action Française connection against the backdrop of church-state and interchurch struggles in France.Find this resource:

    Weber, Eugen. Action Française: Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth-Century France. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1962. Remains the basic study in English on the Action Française.Find this resource:

      Oscar L. Cole-Arnal