"The return of conservastism corresponds to a deep aspiration of the French"

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François-René, viscount of Chateaubriand. - Photo credits: © RMN-Grand Palais photo - G. Blot

FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - On the occasion of the publication of the Dictionary of Conservatism, which gathers more than one hundred specialists of the question, ..

FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - On the occasion of the publication of Dictionary of conservatism, which brings together over a hundred specialists in the field, Frédéric Rouvillois and Christophe Boutin have given us a long interview. They explore the rebirth of a political and cultural current often too little known and caricatured in France.



The dictionary of conservatism, under the direction of Frédéric Rouvillois, Olivier Dard and Christophe Boutin, published by the Editions du Cerf.





FIGAROVOX. - "Conservatism is in fashion," write in your introduction. How to explain the renewal of conservative ideas, and the success of bookstore trials?

CHRISTOPHE BOUTIN / FREDERIC ROUVILLOIS. - We are actually seeing the proliferation, in the last two years, books dealing with conservatism, or highlighting conservative themes. But the term "fashion" is perhaps ambiguous, in that it evokes something manipulated, secondary and passenger. Our hypothesis is that this return of conservatism, whose vigor we see, corresponds to a deep demand from the populations concerned, is about the values ​​and essential elements of their societies, and that it is certainly destined to become anchored in the duration. Behind the diversity that the term "conservatism" can encompass, a diversity that our Dictionary intends to translate, we see the emergence of lines of force that are as many responses to concerns very deeply and widely felt. As long as the latter persist, that is to say, until the problem of cultural and identity insecurity is resolved, there will be a demand for reaffirmation of a conservative base.

Emmanuel Macron installed during the presidential election the idea of ​​a new dividing line between conservatives and progressives. Does this cleavage seem to you more relevant than the left / right cleavage?

Recall the context: Emmanuel Macron makes this distinction in order to create a vast centrist party that would evacuate on its extreme right and left parties or groups stigmatized by the so-called "withdrawal", withdrawal into a fantasized identity on the right, withdrawal on privileges overwhelmed on the left, all incapable of detecting in the forward march of the world the only serious future of humanity. But this politic maneuver, which no one denies the spectacular efficiency, has little reality in terms of the history of ideas. The extreme left has indeed always communicated in the cult of Progress, and it is not its tension on some exorbitant privileges granted to its ultimate electoral potential, officials and assimilated, which miraculously metamorphoses into a conservative force.

The left / right divide continues behind the conservative / progressive distinction. The left finds a part of itself, which had gone astray on the right, into a liberal and libertarian center.

In this sense, the left / right divide lasts well behind the conservative / progressive distinction, with just a left that finds a part of itself that had strayed to the right, that is to say a liberal center and libertarian. The latter, which had been shifted to the right by the appearance of collectivist movements on the left, had imposed itself in an unnatural alliance with the conservative right in "rallies" supposed to allow a bipolarization, but which in fact led to a terrible ideological impoverishment. He is now going back to his real family. Hence the urgency, in turn, of a redefinition of conservatism.

Is there a unity of conservative doctrine? Or is conservatism a temperament rather than a doctrine?

To speak of doctrine is always delicate: one expects an intangible corpus banishing any dissenting voice. Now, the diversity of our Dictionary shows it, in its collaborators as in its entries, one can be a conservative more or less traditionalist or more or less liberal. However, this diversity is not an explosion, because in many respects all are spontaneously. Which refers to the second part of your question: what would be a doctrine without a temperament? Do political choices come from pure reason, or would there not always be an instinctive and existential part? Our hypothesis is that conservatism is above all a doctrine of political realism, taking into account the world and man as they are, with their qualities and their weaknesses, a doctrine that excludes any reconstruction of a world and of a man ideal on the basis of theories supposing to make beforehand a clean slate of this reality. It is this unity, as much of temperament as of doctrine, which provides the curators with the coherence of their reflexes and their answers.

You devote an article to "leftist conservatism". Has it always existed or is it a reaction to technical modernity?

Left thinking, willingly demiurgic, has always wanted not to change but to transform man or society, so that they finally look like perfect ideals. This means that conservatism on the left - apart from the already misunderstood Macronian meaning - seems to be absent from the history of ideas. On the other hand, we can actually see that around current questions about growth, yesterday's machinism, transhumanism tomorrow, and, at all times, the excesses of capitalism, in short, around certain concerns about Progress, some Left intellectuals are asking the same questions as those of the conservative right.

Around certain concerns about Progress, some left-wing intellectuals are asking the same questions as those of the conservative right.

This does not mean that they reach the same conclusions, but this debate can only be fruitful. The issue of ecology and the environment is a significant example here. But we will notice that it is more a rallying of some left-wing intellectuals with conservative realism than the opposite. Indeed, only a liberal / libertarian right, at odds with conservative values, intends to allow men to enjoy unhindered. The conservative right has always pleaded for the existence of limits.

What role did the Reformation play in the birth of conservative movements?

As much as the direct role of the Reformation in this matter seems to have been almost nil, so much does its indirect role seem immense. On a direct level, the Reformation, which itself is also a return to the origins, does not cause any specific conservatism, nor in society, we are in full Renaissance, nor in the Church, which, far from to cringe on acquired positions, will launch the Counter-Reformation, a movement almost as innovative as the one to which it responds. On the other hand, indirectly, the consequences of the Reformation on the emergence of a conservative feeling are considerable. In particular, to the extent that this break shows that the apparently best-acquired things are in fact fragile and endangered, and that it is therefore important to reflect and provide for their preservation. In this regard, the manner in which Bossuet, at the end of the seventeenth century, will try to pick up the pieces, in discussion with the Protestants and then with Leibnitz, seems marked by this properly conservative concern. Conversely, at the beginning of the French Revolution, some prominent actors, such as Brissot, assert that there is a necessary connection with the Reformation, and that those who made the "religious revolution" can not be hostile to the "Political revolution". A theme that the great French conservative thinkers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will take up in reverse, believing that the very principles of Protestantism and Calvinism, if they coincide in many respects with those of liberal capitalism, are at the antipodes conservative values.

Does France have a strong conservative tradition? What role did the French Revolution play in the emergence of conservative thought ?

The "clean slate" that the Revolution intends to achieve, especially from the advent of the Republic, will bring to light a thought that until then had remained embryonic.

With regard to conservatism, the French tradition seems complex, precisely because of the weight of the Revolution. If there are indeed "proto conservatisms" before this one, it is undeniably the radical rupture that it represents, which will lead to the emergence of a conservative current. It has already been noted, it is when one realizes that certain things, certain values, habits, certain essential customs are threatened, that one becomes aware of their fragility, and therefore of the necessity of them. protect. The "clean slate" that the Revolution intends to achieve, particularly from the advent of the Republic, and the extreme violence with which it proceeds, will bring to the fore a thought that had hitherto remained embryonic. And based, as early as 1790, on the brilliant essay by Englishman Edmund Burke, the Reflections on the French Revolution - which remains today one of the catechisms of conservatism. In this sense, just as it founded modern France, so the Revolution founded Conservative thought.

Conservatism is a value assumed in the Anglo-Saxon world, why is it so demonized in France?

It is precisely because of its birth, which contrary to what happens in England, the United States or Germany, will be made in reaction to the founding event that is the French Revolution. Which, as we will end up noticing at the end of the nineteenth century, places conservatism at odds with the main orientations resulting from this major crisis, be it on an institutional, political, cultural or religious level .

From the 1890s, any conservative is deemed to be an enemy of the Revolution, so anti-republican, anti-democratic, reactionary, in short, untouchable and unchallengeable.

In fact, under the Second Republic then at the beginning of the Third, some Republicans dare to declare themselves conservative; but this is no longer the case from the 1890s, as part of a radicalization, a "left" of the republic and an explosion of anti-clericalism: from there, any conservative is famous enemy of the Revolution, therefore anti-republican, undemocratic, reactionary, in short, untouchable and unrequitable. In the House, members elected under the Conservative label go so far as to change their name, to call themselves "progressive"! Finally, in the twentieth century, the word conservative, excluded from the political game, is often associated with a moral flaw, synonymous with immobility, inaction, withdrawal, etc.

Who are the great thinkers of French conservatism?

A formidable question, for apart from Chateaubriand, there are basically few major thinkers who, in France, have expressly claimed conservatism. Those who in one way or another, either wrote before the invention of the term (Montaigne, Montesquieu, perhaps Voltaire), or did not intend to use it (Balzac, Taine or Flaubert) or even went so far as to reject it, like Charles Maurras, Thierry Maulnier ... or General De Gaulle.

François Fillon was defined as being liberal-conservative during the presidential campaign, these two doctrines are complementary? Or can we think, like Jean-Claude Michéa, that conservatism and liberalism are incompatible?

Behind the question is another: what liberalism? The question of liberalism actually turns - and an author like Benjamin Constant has shown - around the place accorded to the individual. There is a liberalism which demands that the individual can become what he is, and for that reason he is not bound by a fixed world of castes and codes from which he can not free himself. Who would go against this freedom? For all that, a society needs structures, family, commune, region or nation to ensure its survival, structures of which the individual who wishes to be completely emancipated must never lose sight of the fact that, without them, he would not have no chance to survive. A balanced liberalism, respecting both the legitimate aspirations of the people and the necessary defense of social structures, can be perfectly conservative. On the other hand, a liberalism which imposes the desires of a man on an entire society, which breaks out, in order to satisfy the poor desires of a few, the perennial frameworks that protected others, this liberalism of narcissistic enjoyment in which everything is reduced to a few years of a human life, is radically incompatible with any conservatism.



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