Translated by Giuliano Adriano Malvicini
L’Action française 2000: You define yourself as a “meditative historian.” What precisely do you mean by this term?
Dominique Venner: To meditate is not to daydream, but to intensely fix one’s thoughts on a precise object. I have always been astonished by the fact that people are so little astonished. Above all when it comes to history. And yet, astonishment is the first condition of thought. In the conventional interpretation of History, one describes a succession of events as though they were necessary or self-evident. But that’s false.
Nothing is ever necessary or self-evident. Everything is always held in suspense by the unforeseeable. Neither Richelieu nor Mazarin, for example, neither Caesar nor Octavius, nor the Chinese emperor Shi Huangdi, the great founder, were necessary or pre-ordained by Providence. They could all have never existed or have died before completing their work. In the face of facts and unforeseeable historical events, I ask myself the questions that lazy history doesn’t ask, I meditate.
For example: Louis XIV was called le Roi Très Chrétien (“the Most Christian King”). Despite this, he had Versailles and his park built as a hymn to the divinities of ancient paganism. Surprising, isn’t it? And the source of new reflections on the representations of the king and the religion of his time, which has nothing to with the pious story invented in the nineteenth century.
Let’s dwell for a moment upon the Great King, who witnessed the English Revolution and the execution of Charles I, in January 1649. An astonishing revolution! In the following century, Edmund Burke could oppose the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the French Revolution of 1789. Why did a “conservative revolution” take place in England and a destructive revolution take place in France? That’s a good question, and there are a hundred answers. There’s something to meditate upon.
Moreover, since I was born in troubling times for a Frenchman and a European, a time that has seen the collapse of our old power and the destruction of certainties that were considered eternal, I meditate by studying History outside of all conventions. Following the example of Ulysses, I believe that thought is a prerequisite for action. I even believe that it is action.
AF: Europe today is “dormant,” as you nicely put it. Why is that?
DV: When I think of Europe, I’m not thinking about political or technocratic structures. I’m thinking of our multi-millenial civilization, our identity, a certain “European” way of thinking, of feeling and of living, across time. Yes, Europe is historically “dormant.” Since when? Since the second half of the twentieth century, after the catastrophe of the two wars that started in 1914 and ended in 1945. When the universal exhibition opened in Paris in 1900, Europe was the intellectual and spiritual center of the world. She dominated everything, almost everywhere. The United States was still only a marginal power. Fifty years later, everything was reversed! After Yalta, a Europe bled of its strength was divided up between the two new powers that had emerged in the Century of 1914: the United States and the USSR. Two messianic powers that wanted to impose on her their models: Americanism and communism. I might add that Europe has not only lost its power and its colonies, worse still, it has lost faith in itself, eroded by an unheard of moral crisis and manipulation by guilt. She is “dormant.”
AF: You are nevertheless optimistic with regard to her identitarian awakening. So what are, this time, the reasons for hope?
DV: Those reasons are above all connected with the “shock of History” that we are currently experiencing without knowing it. This “shock” heralds a new era. It began with the collapse of the USSR and of communism in 1989. At the same time, old powers and old civilisations, previously thought to be dead, went through a spectacular revival, China, India, Islam (despite its conflicts), South America, to speak only of large entities. The unipolar world that the power of the dollar wanted is being replaced by a multipolar world, and that will give Europe its chance. However, she is confronted with a huge and unprecedented historical danger, the mass immigration of populations that bring with them another civilization. Mass immigration is producing, on European soil, a shock of civilizations that could end up being deadly. But, in an astonishing historical surprise, it could also reveal itself to be our salvation. From the alterity represented by the immigrant populations, their customs, and their treatment of women, which deeply shocks us, we are seeing a new awareness being born among Europeans of their identity, an awareness that they rarely possessed in the past. Let me add that in spite of all these dangers, I also believe in the survival of the fundamental qualities of energy and innovation that are characteristic of Europeans. For the moment, they are not being exercised in the realm of politics, which is why we can’t see them.
AF: How may the lessons of the great masters of the dawn of European civilization, Hesiod and Homer, be salutary for us?
DV: Homer has bequeathed to us, in its pure state, the model of a specific mental morphology — our own — prior to the distortions of contrary influences. We need to impregnate ourselves with it if we are to be spiritually reborn, as a precondition to other forms of renaissance. The consequences of the Century of 1914 have cast the French and Europeans into an immense disorder. Nothing escapes it. This disorder affects both churches and laymen. So much so that we we are witnessing apparently bewildering attempts on the part of the upper hierarchies of the church to come together with the Islam of the immigrants. These attempts rightly shock many Catholics. They go beyond the “obligation of hospitality” invoked by the pastoralism of submission, and also have to do with a kind of solidarity between monotheistic “believers” in the face of the growing religious indifference of society. That is the explicit meaning of meetings like the one in Assisi. In short, when disorder has become general, you have to go back to what is completely pure, to the fundamental sources of our civilization, which go back much farther than Christianity, as Benedict XVI reminded us in his Regensburg speech. That is why we have to go back to Homer and the granite foundations of our founding poems, nature as a bedrock, excellence as a goal and beauty as the horizon. That’s a truth that Charles Maurras had seen clearly since his youth.
AF: You speak, not without admiration, of the “intractable character” of Maurras. Did he influence you intellectually?
DV: I have never concealed my admiration for Maurras’ bravery in the face of hardship. But I have also been a close reader of his early writings and an observer of his development. Just recently I read the correspondence between Charles Maurras and the Abbé Penon (1883-1928), published by Privat in 2008. It’s a primary source. As you know, Abbé Penon, who later became the bishop of Moulins, had been the private tutor and later the confessor of the young Maurras. He saw his task compromised by development of his pupil and the inflexible autonomy of his mind. The Abbé had introduced the boy to Greek and Roman literature, which little by little turned him away from Christianity. The young Maurras’ stay in Athens on the occasion of the first Olympic games in 1898, completed the transformation. It’s all summed up in a letter of June 28, 1896, which I can quote for you: “I return from Athens more remote, more hostile to Christianity than before. Believe me, it was there that the perfect men lived . . .” After having referred to Sophocles, Homer, and Plato, the young Maurras concludes: “I am returning from Athens as a pure polytheist. All that was still vague and confused in my thought has become sparklingly clear . . .” Right until his death in 1928, the Abbé Penon tried to make Maurras go back on this conversion. All he could get out of him were purely formal concessions, but also Maurras’ argument that in his eyes, the Catholic church had once corrected, through its principle of order, the pernicious nature of primitive Christianity.
AF: You are a Jüngerian practitioner of the “recourse to the forest.” Have you found peace there, or a way to prepare for the wars of the future?
DV: Before writing so many books, Ernst Jünger started out by living, in the trenches of WWI, certain ideas that he later articulated. Jünger was authenticated by his life. That made me take his writings seriously. I should also add that the image of the “recourse to the forest” resonates very strongly with me. I don’t see it as an incitement to go underground, but to discover the noble spirituality manifested in trees and nature, or as Bernard de Clairvaux said: “You will find more in forests than in books. The trees will teach you things that no master will speak to you of.” That’s proof that in him, the spirituality of his Frankish and Gallic ancestors was still alive. That is what I call tradition. It makes its way through us, unbeknownst to us.