Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) at the Extremes of the French Third Republic
Chapter 19 De-population and De-Christianization
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Although Hervé’s transformation is often considered to have been rather striking, it was, in fact, far more gradual than is generally assumed. In 1936, he admitted that his shifts on the issues of population and religion were far from sudden. After losing his faith at age ten, he became a self-confessed atheist (or free-thinker) for the next thirty years. Throughout most of the era before World War I, he accepted the Republic, the mystique of socialism, and its anticlericalism, yet he later claimed that he continued to admire Christ, the apostles, and various saints. That situation lasted until January 1914 when a magistrate among his friends gave him several books on French depopulation which tied demographic decline to poor social legislation. Such an explanation seemed fairly weak to Hervé: there had to be more to it than that. From May 1914 he began a series of articles in La Guerre Sociale on the topic, reserving his pro-Christian views until the end for fear of offending his socialist readers. The war intervened to delay his conclusion which would have stressed religious and anticlerical factors involved in depopulation.1 It was surely the war that provided the greatest impetus for Hervé’s growing stress on religion which played an increasingly instrumental role for the former Sans Patrie as a support for the Union Sacrée, a consolation for those facing death, and eventually a link to his own roots. Hervé’s failure to unite the Left against war, his...
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