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

FIGAROVOX/INTERVIEW – On the occasion of the publication of the Dictionary of conservatism, which brings together more than a hundred specialists in the question,..

FIGAROVOX/INTERVIEW – On the occasion of the publication of Dictionary of Conservatism, which brings together more than a hundred specialists in the field, Frédéric Rouvillois and Christophe Boutin gave us a long interview. They explore the rebirth of a political and cultural current that is often too misunderstood and caricatured in France.



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



FIGAROVOX. – “Conservatism is fashionable,” you write in your introduction. How to explain the revival of conservative ideas, and the success of essays in bookshops?

CHRISTOPHE BOUTIN / FREDERIC ROUVILLOIS. – We do indeed note the multiplication, in the last two years, of works dealing with conservatism, or emphasizing conservative themes. But the term "fashion" is perhaps ambiguous, in that it evokes something manipulated, secondary and transient. However, our hypothesis is that this return to conservatism, whose vigor we observe, corresponds to a profound demand from the populations concerned, relates to values ​​and essential elements of their societies, and that it is therefore certainly intended to be anchored in the duration. Behind the diversity that can be covered by the term conservatism, a diversity that our Dictionary also intends to translate, we can indeed see lines of force emerging which are as many responses to concerns that are very deeply and widely felt. As long as the latter persist, that is to say, as long as the problem of cultural and identity insecurity is not resolved, there will be a demand for the reaffirmation of a conservative base.

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

Let us recall the context: Emmanuel Macron makes this distinction with the aim of creating a vast centrist party which 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or groups stigmatized by the so-called "withdrawal", withdrawal into a fantasized identity on the right, withdrawal on outdated privileges on the left, all unable to detect in the globalist march forward the only serious future of humanity. But this political manoeuvre, whose spectacular effectiveness no one will deny, has little reality with regard to the history of ideas. The far left has indeed always shared in the cult of Progress, and it is not its tension over a few exorbitant privileges granted to its ultimate electoral potential, civil servants and the like, which miraculously metamorphoses it into a conservative force.

The left/right divide persists behind the conservative/progressive distinction. The left finds a part of itself, which was lost on the right, in a liberal and libertarian center.

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

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

Talking about doctrine is always delicate: we expect an intangible corpus banishing any dissenting voice. However, 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 on many points all find themselves spontaneously. Which brings us back to the second part of your question: what would a doctrine be 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 which rules out any reconstruction of a world and a man of ideals on the basis of theories supposing to first make a clean sweep 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 responses.

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

Left-wing thought, willingly demiurgic, has always wished not to evolve but to transform man or society, so that they finally resemble perfect ideals. This means that left-wing conservatism – apart from the pejorative Macronian sense already mentioned – seems absent from the history of ideas. On the other hand, we can effectively observe that around current questions about growth, about machinery yesterday, about transhumanism tomorrow, and, from time immemorial, about the overflows of capitalism, in short, around certain concerns about Progress, some left-wing intellectuals ask themselves the same questions as those on the conservative right.

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

This does not mean that they come to the same conclusions, but this debate can only be fruitful. The issue of ecology and the environment is a significant example here. But it will be noted that this is more of a rallying of certain left-wing intellectuals to conservative realism than the reverse. Only indeed a liberal/libertarian right, at the antipodes of conservative values, intends to allow men to enjoy without hindrance. 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, its indirect role seems immense. On a direct level, the Reformation, which itself moreover aims to be a return to origins, does not arouse any specific conservatism, either in society, we are in the midst of the Renaissance, or in the Church, which, far from to tense on acquired positions, will launch the Counter-Reformation, a movement almost as innovative as that to which it responds. On the other hand, on an indirect level, the consequences of the Reformation on the emergence of a conservative feeling prove to be considerable. Especially insofar as this rupture demonstrates that the things apparently best acquired are in reality fragile and threatened, and that it is therefore important to think about and provide for their conservation. In this regard, the way in which Bossuet, at the end of the XNUMXth century, tried to put the pieces back together, by discussing with the Protestants and then with Leibnitz, seems marked by this properly conservative concern. Conversely, at the beginning of the French Revolution, certain leading actors, such as Brissot, affirmed that there was a necessary link with the Reformation, and that those who made the "religious revolution" could not be hostile to the “political revolution”. A theme that the great French conservative thinkers of the XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries would take up in the opposite direction, 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 out a thought that until then had remained embryonic.

As far as conservatism is concerned, the French tradition seems complex, precisely because of the weight of the Revolution. If there are many "proto conservatisms" before this one, it is incontestably the radical rupture which it represents, which will involve the emergence of a conservative current. As we have already noted, it is when we realize that certain things, certain values, certain habits, certain essential customs are threatened, that we become aware of their fragility, and therefore of the need to protect. The "clean slate" that the Revolution intends to achieve, especially from the advent of the Republic, and the extreme violence with which it proceeds, will bring out a backlash to a thought that until then had remained embryonic. And which is based, from 1790, on the brilliant essay by the Englishman Edmund Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution – which remains one of the catechisms of conservatism to this day. In this sense, just as it founded modern France, the Revolution in turn founded conservative thought.

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

It is precisely because of its birth, which contrary to what is happening in England, the United States or Germany, will take place in reaction to the founding event that is the French Revolution. Which, as we will eventually realize at the end of the XNUMXth century, places conservatism at odds with the main orientations resulting from this major crisis, whether on an institutional, political, cultural or religious level. .

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

In fact, under the Second Republic and then at the beginning of the Third, some Republicans dared to declare themselves conservatives; but this is no longer the case from the 1890s, in the context of a radicalization, a "leftization" of the republic and an explosion of anticlericalism: from then on, any conservative is deemed enemy of the Revolution, therefore anti-republican, anti-democratic, reactionary, in short, untouchable and infrequent. In the House, the deputies elected under the Conservative label go so far as to change their name, to call themselves “progressives”! Finally, in the XNUMXth 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, because apart from Chateaubriand there are basically quite a few major thinkers who, in France, have expressly claimed conservatism. Those who fall under it in one way or another, either wrote before the invention of the term (Montaigne, Montesquieu, perhaps Voltaire), or have not heard of it (Balzac, Taine or Flaubert) , or even went so far as to challenge him, like Charles Maurras, Thierry Maulnier… or General De Gaulle.

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

Behind the question lies another: what liberalism? The question of liberalism revolves in fact – and an author like Benjamin Constant has clearly shown this – around the place accorded to the individual. There is a liberalism which demands that the individual be able to become what he is, and, for that, that he not be tied down by a frozen world of castes and codes from which he cannot free himself. Who would go against this freedom? However, a society needs structures, family, municipality, region or nation to ensure its survival, structures which the individual who wants to be totally emancipated from them must never lose sight of the fact that, without them, he would not have no chance of surviving. A balanced liberalism, respecting both the legitimate aspirations of people and the necessary defense of social structures, can perfectly well be conservative. On the other hand, a liberalism which imposes the desires of a man on an entire society, which, in order to satisfy the very poor desires of a few, shatters the perennial frameworks which protected the others, this liberalism of narcissistic jouissance where everything is reduced to few years of a human life, is radically incompatible with any conservatism.



Source: ©"The return of conservatism corresponds to a deep aspiration of the French"

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