Within the obscure life and death of Abel Bonnard, French novelist and politician, lie the ideas of a man tied one way or another to his affinity for Islam, says BHERIA

It is an unquestionable reality that authors of the “right-wing” family endure a mysterious bane, deliberately entrusted to oblivion so that curious readers may be shielded from their infecting concepts and contaminating principles, considered far too subversive by the prevailing left-liberal establishment. While a providential few manage to elude such a destiny, such as Ernst Jünger, the majority are condemned to languish in obscure books’ footnotes, like Wyndham Lewis, despite being the intellectual force behind England’s sole modernist art movement, Vorticism, alongside Ezra Pound, himself a collaborator of no small worth.

Among these overlooked figures, we also meet Abel Bonnard, born in the year 1883 amidst the historical city of Poitiers, only to meet his demise, while in exile, within the borders of Spain, in the year 1968, in May as well, considering that May 68, with its youth-powered civil unrest, for many French intellectuals, is when France definitely moved into cultural liberalism.

Indeed, Bonnard’s enigmatic persona invites symbolic exegesis, particularly when viewed through an Islamic lens (we anticipate that most of our readers would fall within such categorization). Poitiers, his birthplace, evokes the defining 732 battle that pitted Frankish forces against the Umayyads, an event touted as halting “the Islamization of Europe”, which might be a sort of hyperbole. Anyway, it would that most of our readers would fall within such categorization). Poitiers, his birthplace, evokes the defining 732 battle that pitted Frankish forces against the Umayyads, an event touted as halting “the Islamization of Europe”, which might be a sort of hyperbole. Anyway, it would also mean that a form of poetic justice emerges as Bonnard’s life culminates in Madrid, where he would meet his demise, the city’s foundations of course being rooted in Al-Andalus.

Bonnard’s life and death thus seem to be connected to Islam.

Delving further, Olivier Mathieu’s book, “Abel Bonnard, une aventure inachevée” (1988), one of the too few books about Bonnard, unveils a glimpse into Bonnard’s possessions at the time of his passing : some work by Schopenhauer and, more essentially perhaps, the Quran laying upon his desk, illuminating Bonnard’s admiration for Islam as a “great, simple religion, a manly religion, a military religion” (p. 220).

This affinity for virility may be biographical indicator, as some speculate Giuseppe Primoli, an Italian noble, art collector and early pioneer of photography, with family ties to Napoleon Bonaparte, to be his biological father (even though both Olivier Mathieu and Benjamin Azoulay refute such a connection.)

This fascination with a vitalist and virilist worldview, once linked to his homosexuality (but now debunked), likely propelled him towards Fascism in the 1930s. His involvement peaked when he assumed the role of Minister of National Education under the collaborationist Vichy regime from 1942 to 1944. But was Bonnard solely a fascist, as history remembers him?

Julius Evola, too, faced accusations of fascism, yet from his Traditionalist perspective, fascism remained excessively “modernist.” Bonnard’s radical critique of modernity paralleled René Guénon, another Traditionalist thinker. Even his earlier literary works foreshadowed his political path.

Bonnard embarked on the twentieth century as a poet, notably exploring animal themes, carving his own niche in the poetic realm. In 1906, at a tender age of 22, he secured the prestigious poetry prize from the French Academy with his debut collection. Transitioning to novels and short stories in the 1910s, his works exuded a “Proustian” essence preceding Marcel Proust himself (also an admirer of Bonnard), delving into nostalgia and personal psychological experiences.

However, it was in the 1920s that for Bonnard the countermobilization of modernity truly emerged. His travelogues, such as “En Chine” (1924), written after his 1920-1921 journey to China, revealed his civilizational perspectivism and what we’d today call ethno-differentialism. Rejecting the cultural imperatives of liberal-modernity and materialism, Bonnard refused to judge Chinese civilization through a Western lens. Other travelogues explored Morocco as well Brazil (the latter essay has been re-edited recently; it contains Bonnard’s views on race in particular.)

Leo P. L. Woo, in a 1927 book review of “En Chine” penned for The Catholic Historical Review, wrestled with Bonnard’s “relativism,” disagreeing with his recommendation that only elite representatives of civilizations should communicate, fearing an inferiority complex in the more naïve students. Nevertheless, even Woo was compelled to acknowledge the literary splendor – as he deems it – of Bonnard’s prose.

It’s quite simply because Bonnard has the sharpest writing style among the French writers of the last century, despite the decent competition (I’m thinking of Paul Morand in particular), and you have to travel back in time to the eighteenth century to find comparable writers, the French moralists such as La Rochefoucauld that Nietzsche revered so much (Bonnard himself esteemed the German philosopher.)

Thus, having briefly outlined his biography and writing style, let us savor select excerpts that encapsulate Bonnard’s core ideas:

On Race

“Every man of race, whether Turkish, Arab, Black, Chinese or Indian, has dignity. He knows how to live; he has his own way of life; he gives way to the hazards of life with tranquility, because he carries within him the means to respond to them. The raceless man, on the other hand, is restless: to do anything, he has to reason. In other words, to find his way he has to start by rambling, indulging in philosophies from anywhere, which should never command life. The man of race refers to his poets: these poets are the august pinnacle of his genius. France lacks poets from France; they are too separate from the national people when they are themselves – and too popular when they want to be of the people.

We will be accused of wanting to be tyrants and oppressors. Would that we could prove the contrary! But that’s not what we’re about. It’s simply a question of not being oppressed or destroyed.

We have to define race from another angle, from above. Race is defined by a coherent set of thoughts, feelings, traditions, intellectual, and moral dispositions that translate into recognizable physical and physiological characteristics: a lifestyle based on bodily dispositions. What counts is the man of the race, whether chief or soldier, lord or peasant, and we know this.” (“Écrits politiques”)

On Democratic Politics

“Modern man’s prison is politics; in other words, his servitude consists in the very thing we call his freedom. We tell him he’s free and, having said that, we force him to make his machine work. Is the squirrel any less captive than the bird because he makes his cage turn? […]

Democracy is the regime of authority turned inside out, of faceless authority, of shapeless authority. Instead of narrowing towards peaks where the man who exercises it, finding himself more and more isolated, feels more and more responsible, where he is also by his very elevation more and more exposed to sublime ideas, touched by the ray of the poets, placed in comparison with the great men who are the serene summits of history, it sinks on the contrary more and more into the impersonal, the irresponsible, the murky.” (“Ce monde et moi”)

On Liberal-Capitalism

“The unlimited extension of capitalism denounces a society that doesn’t exist to resist it. It’s not that it has neither spirit nor soul, but it has only a soul of survival and a spirit of hang-up. This is liberal society. Liberal society seems to allow man everything, but in fact ruins all the conditions under which he can be. It opens up immense prospects for an abstract man and cuts the roots of the real man. It does not live on its principles, but on the funds left to it by the previous society (religion, military and professional virtues, chivalry).

The internationalist is a consumed, leveled, dehumanized man. The very violence with which he illuminates himself cannot hide his insipidness. He professes to love all men only to dislike those around him. A man who professes to love only humanity is no longer a man. The desert is the home of the speck of dust.” (“Ce monde et moi”)

“Bourgeois society had no concern for man. It became cruel through insensitivity, inhuman through indifference; naturally, this indifference did not admit to itself.

Democratic eloquence was there to cover the obscenity of the reign of money. The fig leaf of capitalism was liberalism. But the wind that blows and tears off so many leaves is strong enough to blow this one away too. […]

In the dismembered society of capitalism and liberalism, we found two equally vicious extremes: either, under the tyranny of capitalism, man gave his labor and his contribution to the community without receiving a fair reward in return, or, on the contrary, under the decomposition of liberalism, the individual demanded everything from society without providing anything.

When right relations are established, everyone, in the material and moral order, will know each other by the incessant and regular exchange, both ordinary and magnificent, of everything he brings to national society and everything he receives from it.” (“Écrits politiques”)

On Traditional Wisdom Against Modern Knowledge

“The practice of a trade, the lessons of grandmothers, the secrets of the fireside, all contribute to making the ignorant a kind of obscure initiate. The ignorance of old women is so profound that it touches the secrets of life; that of shepherds is so lofty that it has its head in the stars. It’s remarkable that in a time when we talk about science from morning to night, we never talk about wisdom. Science and wisdom, however, were once like two sides of the same cloth. Our fathers thought so, and all Asia thought so, before we started spoiling it. Their curiosity is keen, though it expects more than it seeks. They gather the most disparate information, but Wisdom administers all these materials, and while she plays the role of architect, regulating the span of the vaults and allowing the spires to soar, Religion, Tradition, Experience, Fairyland and Science itself melt, build, fortify, adorn, illuminate, flower and perfume the holy cathedral of ignorance. Let us now approach the new man, the antagonist of this one, and see him up close. First of all, he no longer knows how to live. He’s the ignoramus with manners, mores and rituals. For him, incapable of regulating the slightest ceremony, of organizing any slightly noble meeting with his peers, he no longer even knows how to enter the celebrations of the Universe without making a stain. On May Sundays, when the urban hordes spill out into the countryside, it’s dreadful to see how they wreck the spring. The peasants, in their dialect, had a name for the smallest plant that distinguished it and thanked it for flowering differently from the others. Modern man sees all this only in broad strokes, from above and from afar, and the ineffable finery of the fields is nothing but weeds to him. He is ugly, in the sense that ugliness is a sign of exclusion. It was the ignoramus who was beautiful, with the grave and superb costumes which, at the same time as designating in him the son and heir of a race, associated him with the universal festival, the plumage of birds, the enchantment of meadows in bloom.” (“Éloge de l’ignorance”)

On Modern French Decadence

“The qualities that made France a great and charming nation are the antithesis of everything the French have become in recent times, as a result of this democracy which, under the cloak of lying rhetoric, has no other end than to push every man lower than he was. If we want to find, in the disaster that ends one era, the opportunity to begin another, if we want to be reborn today, we must first understand, once and for all and to the core, that in our general appearance, we were yesterday the opposite of ourselves.

A whole book could be written on this contrast. I’ll just give a few examples here. Look at him, this man whom bourgeois demagogy has, in recent years, multiplied among us in so many specimens, at once soft and boastful, slouching and pretentious, not content to slacken off in everything, but still putting a feather duster of fatuity to his negligence, coquettish without being clean, and of a coquetry so disparate moreover and so heterogeneous that the effect produced was ridiculous. Look at him, this poorly dressed octopus unwinding its tentacles in a troubled society, this man without correction or firmness, sometimes sweeper and sometimes minister, whom we met with boredom in the streets and saw, in official photographs, wearing, at the corner of a limp mouth, the vile cigarette that marks the refusal to behave properly. This man did not belong to one class more than another, his true character being precisely that of having disintegrated, of no longer holding to a tradition or mores, of being properly a man without class: it abounded in the political staff, and among the gropers who continued it and who were often well-dressed people, without ever being decent people; it abounded in all that part of the nation which took itself for the bourgeoisie because it had money, and if I suffered, for my part, to see it become so common also in the people, it is because the people are the reserve of the nation, and that one can fear that all is lost, when it is spoiled.” (“Écrits politiques”)

On Love

“To love a being is to forget the world in her, because she is a world.

To love: to concentrate on a single being the need we have for others; to ask him for as much happiness as we would like to give him; to have of him the need we would like him to have of us.

To love someone is to have found the human being who allows us to spend on him the qualities we would lose with others… to have found the being who, by his own scarcity, arouses our own.

To love someone sincerely is to show them our riches and our poverties. (“Ce monde et moi”)

On Women

“You have to be a fool to say anything but good things about women, but you have to be ungrateful to say anything but bad things about them. […]

Women are the signposts of their time. When all high things die, a certain type, a certain flower of woman disappears.

Love goes with the other arts. […]

The modern woman is no stronger than before.

Only she has painted her weakness into hardness. […]

Almost all women are dissimulated. Even those who are not hidden by a quality of their nature remain hidden by a disposition of their species, linked to the general necessities of women’s lives, and, even though their own lives are simple and frank, they carry this concealment with them like a useless weapon that may one day be needed.” (“Ce monde et moi”)

“This is particularly true of women, as it is of all human beings: we must know them for what they are, and speak to them according to what they believe themselves to be. We never act better on their true nature than when we reach it according to the false idea they have of it, instead of rejecting them from us, perhaps forever, by speaking to them directly according to what it is.

Above all, women want to be taken seriously. Those who swim in the flow of hours, as changeable as it is, want to give themselves the glory of answering for them in the most distant future. We must treat the great child as a great person; we must tell the sister of the clouds that she is the sister of statues; we must cover the very indulgence we show her with specious demands.

It’s also true that not all statues are alike. Above those whose attraction lies in their ability to blossom only in the present, and who can only give without promising, others feel the need to commit themselves and have the strength to do so: it is only unfortunate that this solidity is often found in them only at the expense of charm; while we admire the merit they have of not changing over the years, we would like them to have kept the prestige of changing according to the moment: the satisfaction we feel in not doubting a woman is noticeably dampened when we realize that her virtue results from the fact that she is less feminine than many of those she appears superior to, and there will always be men who prefer the worried possession of an opal to the confident possession of a pebble.” (“Savoir aimer”)

You can find more from Bheria on Twitter (@BheriaMS), as well as his regular writing for the blog MuslimSkeptic.