Maurras had plenty of criticism for the Jews, no doubt about it, however, while this is sufficient for the mainstream to condemn him today, any thoughtful person can easily see that there is more to the story. He had just as much negative things to say about French Protestants, the Germans or Freemasons, yet no one seems to mind any of that so much. He also condemned the racist policies of Adolf Hitler which serves to illustrate where his opposition to the Jews came from. The goal of Maurras was a restored Catholic Kingdom of France, though he himself appreciated the Church more than he believed in it, and the Jews, like the Protestants or any non-French people, were not what he wanted for his Kingdom of France as they would always be a source of division and internal discord. In 1926 the Catholic Church condemned Action française and its periodical even gained the distinction of being the first newspaper placed on the Index of Forbidden Works. Later, Pope Pius XII lifted the condemnation but this did little good as it allowed the members to claim that the previous prohibition had been politically motivated, simply opposition to a nationalist movement, while also allowing critics of Pius XII another bit of propaganda to portray him as being soft on anti-Semites (the ridiculous “Hitler’s Pope” canard).
Some number of Jews had been present in France since the time of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire became Christian, Emperor Valentinian III put restrictions on them from holding any positions of influence but, it is often omitted, these restrictions applied to pagans as well. It was not a specifically anti-Jewish ordinance but rather part of a recognition that Rome was a Christian empire and non-Christians would not be allowed to rule over Christian people within it. This was the earliest example of the sort of problem that the Kingdom of France would have in dealing with the Jews. The barbarian tribes who conquered the Western Roman Empire took little notice of them but later they gained a sort of a special status under Charlemagne, elevated to the rank of emperor by the Pope in 800. They had some restrictions placed on them in so far as their interaction with Christians went, but Charlemagne protected them and they became quite prosperous as merchants and traders with the near east. Charlemagne, as well as his son Emperor Louis the Pious, believed that, in time, they would convert to Christianity though we know from the accounts of bishops at the time that there were concerns about their presence being at odds with the nature of a Catholic empire.
|The baptism of Clovis|
King Robert II of France tried to solve this problem by trying to basically intimidate the Jews into conversion. He was also just as hard on heretical Christians if it matters as his goal was to have his kingdom united in one faith. The situation became worse over a correspondence between the Jews in the west with the Jews in the east concerning an upcoming Islamic offensive which resulted in the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This produced such a backlash against the Jewish population that Pope Alexander II wrote to the local Church authorities condemning any acts of violence and any efforts to convert the Jews by force. These were, however, localized events and Jews in the unaffected parts of France continued to thrive and prosper. An upsurge did come about with the launching of the Crusades and it is not difficult to understand some of the reasons why. It made little sense to a considerable number of people to be fighting so hard against a religion that considered Christ a prophet while tolerating at home another religion which considered Christ a criminal. In 1182 King Philip Augustus of France ordered the expulsion of all Jews from royal lands, allowing a grace period for them to sell the goods they could not take with them and make arrangements to move, though this did not remove them from the whole of France, simply from lands belonging to the Crown. However, in 1198, the same king allowed them to return.
|King St Louis IX|
First of all, on the economic front, he tried to persuade the nobility of France to stop allowing Jews to loan money in their lands and he forbid the nobility and the Crown of France itself from borrowing money from Jews. Given the system of government that existed at the time, in which every lord was practically an autonomous ruler of his own lands, this was about all the king could do as, despite what many people think about the Middle Ages, the king could not tell a noble lord what he could or could not do on his own lands arbitrarily. He forgave the debts of about 1/3 of Christians who owed to Jews and decreed that no Christian could be imprisoned for failing to pay back a loan from a Jew. Finally, he ordered all Jews engaged in usury to be expelled from France though, it seems, this order was not entirely carried out, probably due, again, to the decentralized nature of countries at that time. Most controversially today, he also ordered the mass burning of all copies of the Talmud and Jewish holy books in Paris in 1243.
|Burning offensive books|
King St Louis IX was also a supporter of the efforts by the Church to maintain Catholic orthodoxy throughout Christendom. France was, in fact, to become “ground zero” for what would be formalized as the Holy Office of the Inquisition after the outbreak of the Albigensian heresy in the south of France and the formation of the Dominican Order to combat it. Jews were often brought before the French Inquisition though, as the Inquisition only had authority over Catholics, it was only in cases of Jews who had converted and were either insincere (false converts) or who apostatized and returned to Judaism. This comes to the nub of the issue which is one of identity. The Jews could have, at any time, converted to Catholicism and would have been treated the same as every other Catholic in France, however, if they refused to do so, choosing to remain separate, they had little room to complain about being treated differently. The problem that the Inquisition had to deal with (as it later would more famously in Spain) was that many Jews converted, not because they believed in the teachings of the Catholic Church, but in order to improve their standard of living. Today the Church might applaud them for that but, at the time, the faith was taken more seriously and basically lying about the most important question of all was seen as a heinous crime and so a false convert or someone who converted and relapsed into Judaism was treated no differently than any other heretic. If the case was proven, they would be given the chance to repent and be forgiven but, if they persisted, they would be turned over to the secular authorities for execution.
|King Philip the Fair|
In 1315 King Louis X allowed the Jews to return to France with certain restrictions in place. In their absence, there had been essentially no money lending at all and so the King finally decided to have them back again but with the restriction that the interest they charged could not be excessive, that they had to wear the identification badges, could not discuss religion with French people and so on. He also stated that they were under his special protection and could not be attacked or have their property taken from them. However, the restrictions put in place were fairly quickly flouted and all of the old problems soon resurfaced. There was the people being shackled in debt, bribery, influence peddling and the civil disturbances that erupted, inevitably, from having society divided in this way. Once again, it was determined that something had to be done and so King Charles VI (perhaps best known for coming to believe he was made of glass) investigated the situation and found the Jews to be guilty of numerous and widespread outrages against their Christian neighbors and so, in 1394, ordered them expelled from France. The Jews were removed from the country and all debts owed to them forgiven.
|King Louis XIV|
In 1789 the first call for Jewish emancipation came up, with the full-throated support of the arch-criminal Robespierre, but the issue was postponed. In 1790 some Jews were emancipated and in 1791, to great applause by the revolutionary assembly, Jews were granted full citizenship as with “Muslims and men of all sects”, setting the stage for the free for all France has become now. Many were persecuted during the Reign of Terror but such was the case with many others as the Revolution began to devour its own. On the whole, they remained staunchly supportive of the Revolution and the military efforts to spread the Revolution abroad, raising large sums of money to support the war effort. Later, under Napoleon, Judaism was given recognition by the state along with Catholics and Protestants, though their clerics did not receive government support. As had been the case in England, when King Louis XVIII was restored to the throne, things had come to such a point that these changes were not undone. It was a touchy subject given that, as the Jews had been so supportive of the Revolution, they had naturally attracted the ire of the royalist counter-revolutionaries.