Conservative Crossings

Bernard Faÿ and the Rise of American Studies in Third-Republic France

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: John L. Harvey
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Perhaps no other French historian led such a sordid academic career as that of Bernard Faÿ, who held the first European chair in American history at the Collège de France from 1932 to his removal in 1944. Celebrated as the leading interwar specialist on America, Faÿ was a steadfast ally of the Catholic political Right. His conservatism, however, never threatened his international stature or his domestic academic standing until 1940, after which he led the Vichy regime's assault on Freemasonry. He succeeded as a historian by employing research on the United States to reject traditions of popular sovereignty, while also embracing new methodological trends that critiqued scientific positivism, often as an attack on the intellectual foundation of the Third Republic. His legacy suggests how the conceptual legitimacy of secular, egalitarian society could be contested through the very ideas that "cosmopolitan modernity" had sought to support.

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