The Non-Conformists of the 1930s refers to a nebula of groups and individuals during the inter-war period in France which was looking for new solutions to face the political, economical and social crisis. The name was coined in 1969 by the historian Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle to describe a movement which revolved around Emmanuel Mounier‘s personalism. Locating themselves rather on the right-wing of the political spectrum, they attempted to find a “Third Way” between socialism and capitalism, and opposed liberalism, parliamentarism, democracy and fascism.
Three main currents of non-conformists may be distinguished:
- The review Esprit, founded in 1931 by Emmanuel Mounier and which was the main mouthpiece of personalism.
- The Ordre nouveau (New Order) group, created by Alexandre Marc and influenced by Robert Aron and Arnaud Dandieu‘s works. Charles de Gaulle would have some contacts with them between the end of 1934 and the beginning of 1935. Jean Coutrot, who became during the Popular Front vice-president of the Committee of Scientific Organisation of Labour of the Minister Charles Spinasse, participated to the technical reunions of Ordre nouveau .
- The Jeune Droite (Young Right — a term coined by Mounier) which gathered young intellectuals who had more or less broke with the monarchist Action française, including Jean de Fabrègues, Jean-Pierre Maxence, Thierry Maulnier, Maurice Blanchot, as well as the journals Les Cahiers, Réaction pour l’ordre, La Revue française or La Revue du Siècle.
These young intellectuals (most were about 25 years old) all considered that France was confronted by a “civilisation crisis” and opposed, despite their differences, what Mounier called the “established disorder” (le désordre établi). The latter was represented by capitalism, individualism, economic liberalism and materialism. Opposed both to Fascism and to Communism (qualified for the first as a “false Fascist-spiritualism ” and for the latter as plain materialism), they aimed at creating the conditions of a “spiritual revolution” which would simultaneously transform Man and things. They called for a “New Order,” beyond individualism and collectivism, oriented towards a “federalist,” “communautary and personalist” organisation of social relations.
The Non-Conformists were influenced both by French Socialism, in particular by Proudhonism (an important influence of Ordre nouveau) and by Social Catholicism, which permeated Esprit and the Jeune Droite. They inherited from both currents a form of scepticism towards politics, which explains some anti-statism stances, and renewed interest in social and economical transformations . Foreign influences were more restricted, and were limited to the discovery of the “precursors of existentialism” (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Max Scheler) and contacts between Ordre nouveau and several members of the German Conservative Revolution movement . They were in favor of decentralization, underscored the importance of intermediary bodies, and opposed finance capitalism.
The movement was close to liberalism in the attention given to civil society and in its distrust of the state; but it also criticized liberal individualism and its negligence of “intermediate bodies” (family, village, etc. — the reactionary writer Maurice Barrès also insisted on the latter). They were characterized by the will to find a “Third Way” between Socialism and Capitalism, individualism and collectivism, idealism and materialism and the left-right distinction in politics .