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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Orest Ranum and Patrick Hutton exchange thoughts and recollections about Philippe Ariès

Baltimore, Maryland 2l2l8
Oct. 20, l998

Professor Patrick Hutton
University of Vermont

Dear Pat:

I've read your very interesting article on Ariès in the recent F.H.S. What follows is a running comment on what you say. I may not get the tone of this letter right. I apologize in advance for this. I guess I'll say right away that I do not think you got the tone quite right in your article.

I do not see what advantage there is to privilege the La Chapelle experience over the BN reading experience, in the long range development of P.A. We just do not know. Why not see these experiences as complementary? He is really pretty clear about the intellectual engagements that were in his mind at the time — he uses the word découvertes in a way that suggests quite a deep engagement in his reading.

There must always be a careful, deeply historical, non-apologetic search for understanding just what beliefs on the Far-Right that P.A. shared with those of his time. I have no question about this at all. I, for one, have no idea how someone could live through the years in the milieux that was his without being an anti-Semite. He once said about the French in l900: "Tout le monde etait anti-sémite." Apart from the fact that this was not true, what about his circle of friends in the l930's? Have you found anti-Semite writings chez Boutang, Leger, Girardet? I just don't know the answer to this question. You have read a lot more of his P.A.'s writings from an earlier period than I have. It would be interesting to elucidate just where he and his close friends were on the Jewish question.

Given the xenophobic, and often (paradoxically) Germanophilic attitudes of quite a few French elite people in the l930's (my late friend Colonel Fonquernie comes to mind), I query the somewhat inquisitorial tone that appears here and there in your article. Isn't this tone anachronistic, or is it that I am too sensitive to these things because P.A. was a friend of mine. P.A. and I were friends, close friends, but in that friendship there were intense disagreements (notably about the nostalgia for communities, but more on this anon), but I just don't think your tone captures the young male culture of which P.A. was so much a part in the late l930's. For someone my age, calling P.A. a fellow traveler brings the thought of J. McCarthy (not my former state senator, Gene) to mind — the binary world of the cold war does not seem like the confused, atomized, drôle de monde of the late l930's. I do not dispute your facts, nor your analysis, but I think the tone is anachronistic. Americans continue to diabolize ideas and individuals, parties, currents of thought, largely as a result of our drawing analogies between doctrinal theological beliefs, and ideological beliefs. A pluralistic, confusing, and confused world of the late 30's seems to me to become binary only when we know of the horrors of the repression of Jews, and the terrible toll of Stalingrad. But enough on your tone. The Right-Wing explosive ideas and actions of the 1930's contained notions — almost mentalites (nostalgia for community being a prime example) that would facilitate moves from Right to Left — Aries had many interesting (almost) followers from all parties(particularly the Greens and young people raised in CP families who could no longer believe the langue de bois) in the 60's when he spoke about the relations between family and community. His right wing and new left wing friends were never attracted to radical individualism. Have you looked at Paul Cohen's new book on the Rousseauist tradition which he sees running down through Michelet, Stendahl, Peguy ,Sartre and Foucault — a radical individualist institution criticizing tradition — anti-statist, yet supported by the state? It is quite interesting. Aries called himself a right-wing anarchist, yet his Catholic socialist friends saw in him an authenticity, a fighter for the person and humanity. Not illogically so, by the way.

Finally, there are several places where you might have mentioned what P.A. actually says (notably on the bottom of p. 484, where you mention what P.A. taught at La Chapelle. He says that by right he could have taught in Rennes, but he says he wanted to be closer to his mother, and to continue his reading, reflections, and discoveries. Then he adds: comme il fallait que je fasse quelque chose et gagne quelque argent, he accepted an offer to each at La Chapelle, a job he had learned about from some amis de rencontre (p.79). I know several young liberals and atheists teaching in fundamentalist right-wing colleges and Catholic schools, because they need quelque argent. My analogy is overdrawn, to be sure, for certainly there was an intellectual and cultural affinity between P.A. and the La Chapelle project of national revival, but I do think you mlight have mentioned the financial reason that he gives for teaching there. Your article leaves the impression that it was only the ideological-intellectual currents, and that is not what A. says.

I suspect that he would have found Habwachs more interesting on collective memory than on social structure.

It would be useful to go over the issues relating to Bousquet's ideas about population, and then A.'s writing of the Histoire des Populations francaises (short and long versions) because it is possible that A. was actually working his way out toward a refutation of Bousquet's ideas. His rejection of the natural scientific and the pseudo scientific was always very strong — leading him always to pursue historical continuities. l9th-century ideas just did not stick well on him (any more than they did on Huizinga, for that matter, though Freud's presence is more obvious in the latter, as a back drop, than in A. Later A. would be positively anti-Freudian.

Corporatism was a fashion among royalist historians in the l930's. One thinks of Olivier-Martin's big book on the subject, and E. Lousse's work as well. Ralph Giesey has implied that Olivier-Martin's corporatism puts him close to Fascism. One could wonder whether Hintze belongs in here too. I confess to have been attracted to interpetations of the Ancien Regime as a series of quite self-contained corps. My point here is that corporatism, including P.A.'s work on the Chatelet chaps and their families over the generations, has primordial historiographical foundations — ones that can be used to build historiographies that are fascist in that it is anti-individualist, and broadly liberal. Certainly corporatism does not celebrate Individuals or Individualism, but for 1930's type royalists it was the anti-statism in the Montesquieu type corps intermediaires that attracted Olivier-Martin, and his pupil, Roland Mousnier. Perhaps P.A. as well, I just do not know. Where you go off the track, however, is your linking of this corporatism with A's practice of friendship. For corporatists — one has to be born in one, and have its world view — like the officers in the Chatelet, or the members of the Communist Party whose parents raised them from birth in the party. A.'s loyalty to friends was remarkable — you could have genuine and deep disagreements for life with him.. Boutang's taste for abstraction was a trial, and a source of brilliance. The French have much greater tolerance for authors whose thought is very very abstract, obscure, even unintelligible, that the British and Americans. Boutang's book on Perrault is very very very difficult. Leger and Girardet are not like this. There were moments of paranoia, but that didn't change anything. And A. was proud of being able to make new friends wherever he went in the world(especially in his work as agronomer bibliographer). His ability to suspend judgment; and to be disinterested in friendship is something that has nothing to do with the squabbling solidarities of a corps.

Nostalgia for corporations, tight-knit families, and close friends always led him to minimize the squabbling and backbiting inherent in all three. He was somebody who suffered a kind of loneliness from being raised in a bourgeois world — believing that others had some sort of higher intimacy and love for each other. Here was romanticism and right-wing thought. By the way, I do not think he had any more than a normal inclination of respect for great, charistmatic intellectual or political leaders. He went to visit the spiritual founder of Action francaise after the latter had become so old and deaf that they had to exchange notes so the Maurras could know what A. was asking him. I do not sense that he had a cult worship for anyone — certainly not Maurras, nor Petain, nor still less de Gaulle. There was a kind of suspension of thought around the latter between us, because he knew that I respected the general a lot, from the days of the Algerian war. I would add that strong attachment to friends, strong willed friends such as Girardet and Boutang, doesn't go with a psychological identification with leaders, or charismatic pedagogues.

But this letter is becoming far too long. I hope you find the time to reply, and offer a critique of what I've written. Maybe we should put this and your reply on to my web-site. Why not? I may also send my letter to Michel Winnock, who has had a long-time interest in all this.

Best Wishes,            



ps. Primerose was a nick-name. Her name was Marie Rose, just like Philippe's sister. 


The University of Vermont

BURLINGTON, VT 05405-0164
(802) 656-3180
FAX (802) 656-8794


14 November 1998

Professor Orest Ranum
Department of History
3400 N. Charles St.
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore Maryland 21218-2685

Dear Orest,

I appreciated your thoughtful critique of my article on the young Philippe Ariès. You offer some gems of personal and professional insight into Ariès's character, for which I thank you. But I can see that in an elusive way my article bothered you — more issues of perspective than substance. I would say straightway that this article focuses on what was probably the most difficult episode of Ariès's life. He himself wrote about his experiences at La Chapelle in veiled terms. He never actually states the name of the school, nor those of its directors. Nor does anyone else. I dug them our of the archives. So there is a sensitive issue here, and my discussion of it cannot encompass my assessment of the whole story of his life and work. I think you know of my admiration for him.

I take up nearly all of the themes you mention in some detail elsewhere, and for the most part argue along the lines you suggest:

1) on Jacques Bousquet. Ariès's line of inquiry into demography was a search for an alternative to the fatalistic, eugenics-oriented approach of Bousquet and for that matter most of Vichy's apologists. My point is that that inquiry is what led Ariès into mentalities as a better way to explain the decline of the French population in the modern era. The secret revolution in attitudes toward birth control on the part of middle-class couples from the 17th century marked the emergence of a modern mentality — people taking control of their own lives and their own destinies. I do make that point in this article (pp. 494-95), but develop it at greater length in another.

Ariès's key article on the filiation from demography to mentalities is the one that appeared in Hélène Bergues's, La Prévention des naissances dans la famille (1960). I believe it as later included it in English translation in an anthology to which you contributed as well. But La Chapelle is where this line of intellectual inquiry germinated, as Ariès's course syllabus while he was teaching there suggests. That is why I consider it more important that the Annales reading at the BN in his formation. Without the experience of teaching at that school where eugenics was such an important topic of discussion, he might never have found his way into mentalities, the mark of his originality as an historian. Had he simply been a devotee of the Annales founders, or even part of their entourage, it is in my judgment unlikely that he would have developed such an original and heuristic historiographical perspective.

One avenue of research I pursued at the suggestion of Pierre Nora concerned possible contacts between Ariès and Alexis Carrel, who stated the case for eugenics in his widely read L'Homme, cet inconnu (1935), and who founded the Fondation Carrel for population studies under Vichyssois auspices in 1941. I have not found any evidence of contact between them. My sense is that Ariès did not make contact with this organization until after Carrel's death in 1944 and its reorganization under the direction of Alfred Sauvy. In any event, Carrel is the most important exponent of the theory that Ariès opposed in his studies in demography.

2) on La Chapelle. The extensive data on this school at the A.N. was something of a find for me, and I went on about it, in part because it was previously undiscovered material, but also and more importantly because of the character of the school. La Chapelle was no imitation of Uriage. Bousquet and Lavastine were intellectually sympathetic to national socialism, and cashiered at least one instructor there for being insufficiently attuned to that way of thinking. I certainly never intended to identify Ariès with their attitudes; in fact, I specifically disassociate him from them (p.484). As you suggest and as I tried to lay out in my article, his motives for joining the faculty there must have been complex, and the deciding factors practical. Now that you raise the issue, I agree that "fellow-traveling" was not the right term to employ, given its particular connotations.

Ariès's decision to teach at La Chapelle may have been ingenuous. I suspect he was looking for a place like Uriage where the possibilities of a decentralized Vichyssois state, a loosely organized federation of regions, might have been taken seriously. That is my take on his book on regionalism, Les Traditions sociales dans les pays de France (1943), which he must have begun to write at La Chapelle and published shortly after leaving. It explores a conception of regionalism that Vichy under better conditions might have pursued and that he had hoped would be the basis for discussion at La Chapelle. Of course it was not, and Ariès had to come to terms with what was being discussed there — moral decadence and biological degeneration as the cause of French population decay and eugenics as an important component of its solution. Finding such arguments implausible, I argue, Ariès was inspired to search for an alternative explanation, which led him to mentalities via demography. That is why I call La Chapelle the place of his "fortunate fall."

One footnote to this: my hunch is that Ariès may have done some work in or taught in the chantiers de la jeunesse at their inception, before he went up to La Chapelle. So far I have only a few hints in his writings and other documents that I have found, but no supporting evidence.

3) on corporatism. I appreciate your insights here, and I have given the topic much thought. I have read his DES as well as his articles in La Nation française on possible contemporary applications of corporatist ideas. I would agree that these corporate organizations reflect the anti-statism of the Montesquieu-type of "intermediate bodies." But my sense is that he identified corporatism with the traits of friendship: the personalism, sociability, sense of civic responsibility, and loyalty that it fostered, i.e., a politics that was one institutional step beyond a circle of friends. Hence your observation that his notions of corporatism and friendship inhabit separate intellectual spheres is one I want to reflect on more. Your remark about Ariès's bourgeois background and his nostalgia for aristocratic sociability is an idea on which I had not meditated. Your comment about his loneliness is an important personal insight. Thanks also for the bibliographical references to Olivier-Martin's and Lousse's work.

4) on friendship in relationship to hero-worship. I agree with you completely that Ariès was never given to hero-worship. I guess the issue for me was how far he was willing to go to accommodate his friends. The key relationship here for me was that with Boutang. Ariès remained deeply involved in the last hurrah of royalist journalism for some twenty years after the war because of his loyalty to Boutang. The articles he wrote for La Nation française are wonderful as a kind of contemporary history, and display all of his independence of mind and originality. I am not arguing that he was led along in any way intellectually by Boutanq and his old friends. But he was reluctant to break with their public practice, in which he had been engaged since he was a student writing for 1'Etudiant français in the mid-1930s. His articles concerning the Algerian conflict reveal the painful tensions he felt about loyalty to his friends and his own conviction that Algérie française was a lost cause. That is what finally drove him from politics into his stance of "anarchist of the right." I have found here the connections with the left and the ecology movement that you mention.

5) on Maurras. As a student in the 1930s, Ariès, I think, tried to find in Maurras a leader to admire. He wrote some articles in 1'Etudiant français to that effect. But his own understanding of tradition and politics was so far removed from that of Maurras that his attachment to his ideas was very limited. Ariès had to strive to find common denominators, as he did in that essay on Maurras in the augmented French edition of the JHUP book on attitudes toward death.

6) on Halbwachs. The connection between Halbwachs and Ariès is one that has preoccupied me for some time. Ariès's references are to Halbwachs's book on social structure rather than memory. Despite Ariès's insights into the relationship between memory and history, they are never the exact focus of his historiographical inquiry. That was to be expected. He wrote on the distant side of the postmodern divide, and there is no telling exactly how he might have interpreted the topic once it had become the intense focus of historiographical attention after his death. Ariès's sensitivity to the power of received tradition, coupled with his early insight into the constructed nature of history, make him for me a more profound student of the history/memory conundrum than are those who have since addressed it from an exclusively postmodern perspective.

That is one reason I undertook this in-depth project on Ariès. I have spent a lot of time at colloquia here and in Europe over the past two years talking about memory and history in a way that showcases Ariès's insights.

7) on tone. I appreciate your observations on this, especially as I want to be sensitive to the way my study is read. Given my admiration for Ariès's accomplishment, I do not want to appear to be compromising him, and I shall give your comment some thought as I integrate this essay into the book on Ariès that I am preparing. If my tone strikes you as inquisitorial, it follows from evidence I uncovered that I needed to interrogate. For me it was an interesting twist of fortune for him: his unfortunate circumstances during the Vichy era enabled him to discover the historical perspective on mentalities that he would pursue for the rest of his life. In any event, my expectation is that this discussion will take on different connotations in the larger context of my interpretation of his accomplishment as an historian.

In this respect, would this not be an opportune time for a panel on Ariès for one of the professional meetings? possibly you, me, Chartier, Winock?

Certainly you have my permission to put this letter on the internet if you would like, and to send it to Michel Winock. I had no luck arranging an interview with him when I was in Paris during my Fulbright year. I would still love to make his acquaintance. Scholars and friends of Ariès were kind to me during my stay, and I liked several of them enormously. I got to know Marie-Rose quite well. She is a warm and generous person, and we established a good rapport. I think they, like you, were open with me because they felt I could do justice to his place in contemporary historiography. That is my ambition. I have been and remain grateful to you for the help you have given me on this project over the years.

With warm best wishes for your own work.


Patrick Hutton