Avant-Garde Fascism

The Mobilization of Myth, Art, and Culture in France, 1909–1939

Avant-Garde Fascism

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 67 b&w illustrations Published: September 2007

Author: Mark Antliff

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, European Studies > History of Europe

Investigating the central role that theories of the visual arts and creativity played in the development of fascism in France, Mark Antliff examines the aesthetic dimension of fascist myth-making within the history of the avant-garde. Between 1909 and 1939, a surprising array of modernists were implicated in this project, including such well-known figures as the symbolist painter Maurice Denis, the architects Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret, the sculptors Charles Despiau and Aristide Maillol, the “New Vision” photographer Germaine Krull, and the fauve Maurice Vlaminck.

Antliff considers three French fascists: Georges Valois, Philippe Lamour, and Thierry Maulnier, demonstrating how they appropriated the avant-garde aesthetics of cubism, futurism, surrealism, and the so-called Retour à l’Ordre (“Return to Order”), and, in one instance, even defined the “dynamism” of fascist ideology in terms of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage. For these fascists, modern art was the mythic harbinger of a regenerative revolution that would overthrow existing governmental institutions, inaugurate an anticapitalist new order, and awaken the creative and artistic potential of the fascist “new man.”

In formulating the nexus of fascist ideology, aesthetics, and violence, Valois, Lamour, and Maulnier drew primarily on the writings of the French political theorist Georges Sorel, whose concept of revolutionary myth proved central to fascist theories of cultural and national regeneration in France. Antliff analyzes the impact of Sorel’s theory of myth on Valois, Lamour, and Maulnier. Valois created the first fascist movement in France; Lamour, a follower of Valois, established the short-lived Parti Fasciste Révolutionnaire in 1928 before founding two fascist-oriented journals; Maulnier forged a theory of fascism under the auspices of the journals Combat and Insurgé.


Avant-Garde Fascism puts a spotlight on theories of aesthetics and revolution that some anticapitalist, anti-democratic intellectuals propounded in France from 1909 to 1939. . . . [Antliff] has meticulously reconstructed Sorelian currents of thought through the interwar years. His stated reason is to show that fascism in France was not just opportunist praxis, but also serious theorizing, particularly about art and culture. Along the way Avant-Garde Fascism points out related artistic works and their parallels in Fascist Italy and Germany, but above all it tells of French ideas, unfolding point-counterpoint, in the decades before France’s anti-democratic nationalists found themselves in a Nazi-dominated Europe.” — Charles Rearick H-France, H-Net Reviews

“A richly documented work of intellectual historiography, Avant-Garde Fascism is essential reading for scholars and students of twentieth-century France, and of modernist art and literature more broadly.” — Jonathan P. Eburne, Canadian Journal of History

“Antliff clearly demonstrates that he is sensitive to the subtle complexities of the readings and misreadings of literature and art by the writers he studies. . . . It is precisely this subtlety of concrete, historical analysis, alongside the admirably detailed and finely textured account of the use of aesthetic ideas in French fascist thought, that makes this book such an important study. . . .” — Anthony White, Nineteeth-Century Art Worldwide

“If one wants to learn a great deal about how numerous art and cultural critics during the interwar period, especially in France, exploited modernist aesthetics on behalf of fascism, Antliff’s book is the place to go.” — Robert Soucy, American Historical Review

“The book is superb on cultural politics and the various fascist discourses on art and culture in the interwar period. . . . Avant-Garde Fascism is an important and accomplished work, and it is definitely required reading for anyone interested in either fascism or modern art.” — Ihor Junyk, Journal of Modern History

“If there is an avant-garde within the historiography of modern European culture, then Mark Antliff is one of its luminaries. This remarkable book contributes in a scholarly and exciting way to the history of ideas, art, visual culture, and politics, while enriching comparative studies in both modernism and generic fascism. The complex and ideologically sophisticated fascist milieu of inter-war France has finally been released from the prison of intellectual history: French fascism’s distinctive personality is revealed as a nexus of visionary artistic, social, and cultural schemes to regenerate the nation’s productive dynamism in a way that would heal the degeneracy of the age and place the nation at the cutting edge of modernity.” — Roger Griffin, author of Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler

“This outstanding study adds an important dimension to our understanding of French fascism. Mark Antliff deftly identifies a variety of ways in which fascists in France and elsewhere activated myths of the past to propel challenging yet seductive visions of achievable futures. This approach is not only crucial to a better grasp of the real causes of fascism’s success in the early twentieth century; it also implies a similar alertness to the threats—and the appeal—posed by the fundamentalisms that seek power in apparently democratic societies today.” — Terry Smith, editor of In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark Antliff is Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Inventing Bergson: Cultural Politics and the Parisian Avant-Garde; a coauthor of Cubism and Culture; and a coeditor of A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906–1914 and Fascist Visions: Art and Ideology in France and Italy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Chapter 1. Fascism, Modernism, and Modernity 17

Chapter 2. The Jew as Anti-Artist: Georges Sorel and the Aesthetics of the Anti-Enlightenment 63

Chapter 3. La Cite Francaise: Georges Valois, Le Corbusier, and Fascist Theories of Urbanism 111

Chapter 4. Machine Primitives: Philippe Lamour and the Fascist Cult of Youth 155

Chapter 5. Classical Violence: Thierry Maulnier and the Legacy of the Cercle Proudhon 203

Conclusion 247

Notes 255

Bibliography 323

Index 345
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4034-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4015-7
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