MoOC - Sharing Europe through European Heritage

3/ What is "European civilization"? The response of the historian Lucien Febvre

"Europeans are said to be those who have the possibility of becoming free men", Goethe

What is Europe? Can we talk about a European "civilisation"? Which shared heritage do European people claim as their own?

The first historian who ever dared to examine these fundamental questions was Lucien Febvre, teacher at the Collège de France and founder, along with Marc Bloch, of the Annales School. It was in 1943, in the midst of war. France was occupied by the Nazis. Lucien Febvre proposed to his colleagues of the Collège de France to create a chair of "history of European humanism". I have found his essay of presentation in the archives of the Collège de France (Paris). Having never previously seen the light of day, this essay deserves to be analysed and made known. It presents a genuine provocation at a time when European humanist values were being denied by a triumphant Hitlerism. The chair would not be authorised, which is easily understandable. But Lucien Febvre would not lose sight of his idea. In 1944 and 1945, he decides to devote his "lessons" at the Collège de France to the European idea, which he presents through a sweeping historical epic.

I propose re-reading his lessons and attempting to show to what extent the vision of the greatest French historian constitutes a fundamental contribution to the clarification of the controversial notions of European "culture", "identity" and "heritage".


Robert Belot
Robert BELOT is full Professor in Contemporary History at Jean Monnet University (Saint-Etienne, France) where he leads the Cultural Heritage Department. He is the director of a national Master in History, Civilization and Heritage and the coordinator of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree DYCLAM+. He holds the European Jean Monnet Chair 'EUPOPA' and he is the designer of the Propeace Project; he is member of the Research Center UMR CNRS n°5060 in Lyon (Environnement-Ville-Société).


In Strasbourg, the street that leads to the European parliament is called "Rue Lucien Febvre". The plaque tells us no more. The street was surely named after the historian of that name, as he had published an outstanding book on the Rhine and that river had always presented a major geopolitical and historiographical challenge*Peter Schottler, "Le Rhin comme enjeu historiographique dans l'entre-deux-guerres. Vers une histoire des mentalite?s frontalie?res", in Gene?ses, "France-Allemagne. Transferts, voyages, transactions", n°14, 1994, p. 63-82. . However, there may have been another reason: his teachings at the Collège de France on the history of the European idea. Although largely unknown, the figurehead of the Annales School was one of the first historians to pose the question of France's relationship with Europe and European identity.

When one tries to define Europe, one hesitates between several approaches: geographical, cultural, philosophical, or political. One is tempted to avoid this by claiming that Europe is a product of history. But what history? Take a look at the historians. What do we find? We find that European historians have studied the history of Europe very little, by which we mean a European history of Europe, not a history per country or through the traditional and very factual bias of the "European Construct". Europe arrived late in the historian's territory. If one were to draw up a brief historiographical balance sheet, one would see that it was the two world wars that shattered and debased Europe that brought about a reflection on the history of Europe and its future.

When Paul Valéry uttered his famous cry in the aftermath of the First World War ("We civilizations, now know ourselves to be mortal"), he was speaking about "the lost dream of a European culture". That sense of loss dominated the Europe of 1945, to which must be added the conscious and unconscious rejection of the idea of Europe that had been massively corrupted and misappropriated by Nazi propaganda over four years.

What is Europe? Can one talk of a European "civilization"? What shared legacy can Europeans claim? What do European people have in common and what distinguishes them from others? The first historian who dared to pose these fundamental questions was Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), professor at the Collège de France and co-founder, with Marc Bloch, of the Annales School.

It is 1943 and the war is in full swing. France is occupied by the Nazis. Lucien Febvre proposes creating a chair of "History of European Humanism" to his colleagues at the Collège de France. We have discovered his presentation report in the Collège de France archives in Paris. Having never seen the light of day, this report deserves to be analysed and made public. It constitutes a real provocation at a moment when Hitlerism appeared to have triumphed as the inopportune symbol of the denial of all European humanist values. The chair would not be authorized, which is quite understandable, but Lucien Febvre did not give up on his idea. In 1944 and 1945, he decided to dedicate his "lectures" at the Collège de France to the European idea and provided a masterly contribution to clarifying such controversial notions as "culture", "values", "identity", and "heritage". What's more, he launched his vision of history with the central idea that the historian is the best antidote against the myths of origin and purity which always end up in exclusion and war.


Why propose a chair of "European humanism" to the Collège de France in 1943?

1/ Reacting to the misappropriation of the "European civilization" idea

Why propose a chair of "European Humanism" to the Collège de France in March 1943? That question deserves to be posed, as the proposal may seem strange. To answer it, it would be useful first of all to understand the information that Lucien Febvre may have had access to.

1943 was a turning point in the war. The Nazi Reich was no longer sure of its victory. On 2nd February, the Soviet Union declared victory in Stalingrad and the Von Paulus' German 6th Army capitulated; on 4th February, the British army entered Tunisia; on 7th February Brazil joined the Atlantic Charter; on 8th February the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal; on 16th February Vichy set up the Compulsory Work Service affecting all French youth; on 28th February, near Ryukan, in Norway, the hydroelectric station that produced heavy water was attacked by Norwegian soldiers parachuted in by the English. The beginning of the end is tangible. Perhaps Febvre was encouraged by these new developments in the war.

The present had caught up with this specialist in contemporary history. For three years he had seen how war had led to the division of Europe and its submission (political, economic and moral) to the demands of the 3rd Reich. Racism and Imperialism were rife. The Nazi empire could expand outside the nation-state framework as its justification for hegemony was not territorial, but racial. France, following its stinging defeat, was humiliated by a German occupation that exploited its resources, deported its populations and repressed it. France, through the Vichy government, assumed a policy of collaboration and pseudo "National Revolution" that led it to disown its republican culture.

The official and intellectual France of Vichy, the seat of Marshal Pétain's government, developed a discourse where Europe seldom appears. It compensated for its ontological weakness and its subjugated political status by exalting the "eternal" France, a vernacular, rural, immobile, and reassuring France. One of the inspirers of the new regime, Charles Maurras, published a book in 1941 whose title clearly expresses that tendency towards national withdrawal: La seule France* Charles Maurras, La seule France, Lyon, Lardanchet, 1941.. From September 1940 his newspaper, L'Action française, warned about a Europe "under German hegemony"* Maurice Pujo, "Le briandisme des vaincus", L'Action française, 5 September 1941. . The primordial and structural anti-Germanism of the French far right, its hatred of Aristide Briand's pre-war philosophy of Franco-German reconciliation, rendered it insensitive, even hostile to the victor's Europeanist rhetoric of circumstance. State collaboration is regarded by Vichy "as an (illusory) instrument for reconquering sovereignty* Bernard Bruneteau, "L'Europe nouvelle"de Hitler. Une illusion des intellectuels de la France de Vichy, Monaco, 2003, p. 172. . That limited any ravings about nostalgic utopias of a "French and Christian Europe", of an imaginary Celtic Gaul that supposedly shaped "the ancestral soul of Europe* Louis Lallement, "La Mission de la France", Uriage, École nationale des cadres d'Uriage, 1942, cited in Bernard Bruneteau, op.cit., p. 187. ". A young follower of Maurras, Thierry Maulnier, recognised that the composition of France is made up of "a very great number of heterogeneous elements": she cannot be ill in "a form of monistic civilisation"; the "modern myths" (understood as Nazism) did not suit her because "the French people are the product not of blood, but of history"* Thierry Maulnier, La France, la Guerre, la Paix, Lyon, H. Lardanchet, 1941, p. 154, p. 157. His conclusion: "France should not, properly speaking, be counted among nations who claim to be racist, nor among those who oppose it". Maulnier also appeals to the need to preserve a "French humanism". (p. 185). . The dedicated supporters of collaboration fought against Maurras' position in the name of overcoming nationalism: "That national pride now seems to us an unbearable meanness of spirit and, let's be frank, criminal* Lucien Combelle, "Confession d'un jeune nationaliste français", Deutschland-Frankreich, n°2, 1942. ." The pro-Europeans condemned Vichy for not having understood that Hitler was a "benevolent enemy* Alfred Fabre-Luce, Journal de la France, t.2, p. 2. ".

There was a Vichy France, in the South (as France had been divided in two by the German occupation) and the Collaborationist France with its seat in Paris. It can clearly be seen there that the Nazi discourse on the future of "the Europe of a thousand years" had corrupted their minds. The sycophants of anti-democratic Europe had the upper hand. Whether they were writers, journalists, commentators, radio presenters, the zealots had a monopoly on editorial space and could spread the new collaborationist catechism to the confused and traumatized public. Even intellectuals were not slow in becoming apostles of what was then called "the new Europe" and which was really another word for betrayal, renunciation and abasement. We only have to think of Robert Brasillach, Drieu la Rochelle, Lucien Rebatet, and even Céline vaunting the merits of the European Nazi order. The weekly Je suis partout, which these intellectuals collaborated on, was very clear on its European stance. It was violently opposed to Vichy, stigmatizing it as "the immense farce of the national Revolution" and its "national mystifications"* "Assez de mystifications nationales", Je suis partout, 10 January 1942 (éditorial collectif).. Vichy intellectuals decried the "anti-national passion" of the Paris weekly* Henri Massis, Maurras et notre temps, Paris-Genève, La Palatine, 1951, p. 168. . Dissidents of Action Française regrouped in Paris and broke loose from their former master: "Maurras, the maniac of anti-Germanism to the point of puerility seeks refuge in the extravagant logomachy of France alone* Lucien Rebatet, "Maurras sans phrase", Notre Combat, n°38, 27 March 1943, p. 4.". Some believed that "the victor will create a fair Europe* Jean Gattino, Essai sur la Révolution nationale, Paris, Grasset, 1941, p. 111. ". The collaborationists considered that the German victory was irreversible and that Nazi ideology was the only one that could unite the European continent around a rejection of Anglo-American capitalism and provide protection against soviet communism. Hence, the phenomenon of the "denationalization" of minds in favour of the "universal scope of the National-Socialist revolution" which alone could ensure "European regeneration"* Pierre-Marie Dioudonnat, Je suis partout. 1930-1944. Les maurrassiens devant la tentation fasciste, Paris, La Table Ronde, 1973, p. 357. . According to Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Germany was the only power that could "pull Europe out of its petit-bourgeois and nationalist archaism"* Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, "Notes sur l'Allemagne", in "Drieu la Rochelle, Témoignages et documents", Défense de l'Occident, n°50-51, February-March 1958, p. 141. .

That line took its inspiration mainly from the former socialist Marcel Déat, who had become leader of the collaborationist movement, the inappropriately named Rassemblement National Populaire, or National Popular Rally. He was convinced that Germany's ideology and victories would allow it to take on "a new European role" and would lead it "to play the part more of a coalition leader than a victor"; thus "the notion of Europe" would leave propaganda behind and assume a "character of urgency and practical reality"* Marcel Déat, Mémoires politiques, Paris, Denoël, 1989, p. 613. .

Pro-Nazi Europeanism aroused renewed interest after the breaking of the German-Soviet pact (22nd June 1941). Indeed, it could then be based upon the very federal theme of anti-communism and was deployed by appropriating the very wide concept of "the West", of "civilization", sometimes even "Christianity". For example, the fascist writer, Lucien Rebatet, immediately published Le Bolchevisme contre la civilisation to assert Hitler's role as the saviour of Europe: "Only the seizure of power by Hitler and National Socialism will be able to ward off the appalling danger that threatens the heart of Europe* Lucien Rebatet, Le Bolchevisme contre la civilisation, Paris, Nouvelles Études françaises, October 1941, p. 32. Collaborators claim to guarantee "civilization". But what civilization? When he returned to Vienna for a festival in honour of Mozart in 1941 (presented, strangely enough, as a figure of "the new Europe" by Germany), Rebatet wrote: "two great peoples whose civilizations meet at the crossroads are not made for eternal hostility" L. Rebatet, "Huit jours à Vienne avec Mozart", Je suis partout, 13 December 1941, cited by Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis and Cécile Quesney, Mozart 1941. La semaine Mozart du Reich allemand et ses invités français, Rennes, PUR, 2019, p. 193.." In tolerating "this cancer on the flank of Europe" for close on a quarter of a century "the democracies have betrayed the cause of civilization" * Ibid., p. 46. . Anti-semitism and anti-communism are reconciled in this new "European crusade "and the polygraphs could now reconnect with the thesis of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, announced in 1938, according to which "it is the Germans who have saved Europe from the grand Judeo-Bolshevik Pox* Louis-Ferdinand Céline, L'École des cadavres, Paris, Denoël, 1938, p. 216. ."

That Europeanism is shared by a number of intellectuals who believed that in the philosophical revolution that Nazism could bring about in Europe, by cutting it off from its Judeo-Christian roots. It is true that Nazism is an ideology fundamentally anti-Christian. In his Anthologie de la nouvelle Europe (1942), the French writer Alfred Fabre-Luce wrote: "An important element of the spiritual formation of the new Europe is the decline of Christianity and putting the religious energies, thus liberated, at the service of the nation." The thesis of Lucien Rebatet's novel Les Deux Etendards, published just after the war, rests on the Nietzschean idea that Christian values have been the seedbed of democratic ideas in Europe and that is precisely why, according to the author, Christianity must be banned from the European scene* Robert Belot, "De la parole pamphlétaire à l'écriture littéraire: la tentative de conversion ontologique de Lucien Rebatet par Les Deux Étendards", Roman 20/50. Revue d'étude du roman des XXe et XXIe siècles, Septentrion Presses Universitaires, 2017, p. 127-140. On the racist concept of Europe, see: Robert Belot, Lucien Rebatet. Le fascisme comme contre-culture, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2015.. Numerous studies were appearing that sought to demonstrate the pagan foundations of Europe, such as that of "Celtic roots* Pascal Ory, Les Collaborateurs, 1940-1945, Paris, Seuil, 1976, p. 180-181. ", or the common ethnic roots of the "Aryan genius* Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Le Français d'Europe, Paris, éditions Balzac, 1944, p. 404. Referring to Georges Dumézil, Drieu wrote: "On such historical bases can be founded a solid and inspiring concept of the Europe of tomorrow. When we have ensured that perfect continuity of the Aryan genius through European prehistory, protohistory and ancient times, we can consider with a fresh eye the mixture of Celts and Germans in these three great countries and see there a certainty of homogeneity and promise of agreement, where, in the past, this was only superficially seen as a pretext for dissention." ", or Indo-Europeanism* Carlo Ginzburg, "Mythologie germanique et nazisme. Sur un ancien livre de Georges Dumézil", Annales E.S.C., t. 40, 1985, p. 699 et seq. See also: Didier Eribon, Faut-il brûler Dumézil?, Paris, Flammarion, 1992 ; Jean-Paul Demoule, Mais où sont passés les Indo-Européens ? Le mythe d'origine de l'Occident, Paris, Seuil, 2014.. The democratic system had to be replaced by the myth of the "new man, or superman* A. Fabre-Luce, op.cit., preface. ": "And it is clear", said Déat, "that national socialism engendered the theme of the superman and partially, that of the death of God* M. Déat, op.cit., p. 789. ."

The Reich would then be the protector of "civilization", characterized as European or Western, whilst presenting itself as the very negation of the European humanism concept that Lucien Febvre wanted to make history. In an article in Je suis partout, entitled "Fidélité", on 28th July 1944, Rebatet defined it as follows: "Hitler does not believe in equality, fraternity or the myth of liberty…" Such is the "just and necessary revolution" that Nazism embodies, "the only one that can save Europe and restore its balance"* L. Rebatet, "L'Académie de la dissidence ou la trahison prosaïque", Je suis partout, 10 March 1944. .

Nazism misled both culture and the European idea by developing propaganda that was only European in name. It was a way of concealing a colonization exercise and exploiting other European countries. Collaborationists in all the European countries subjected to the Reich propagated the European myth, conscious (or not, in certain cases) that, by doing so, they were serving the ultimate designs of Nazism. Those designs, according to the philosopher Marcel Gauchet, were not only on "living space": they were on "the creation, by conquest, of one dominating community gathered together under the guidance of a prophetic leader* Marcel Gauchet, L'avènement de la démocratie. III. À l'épreuve des totalitarismes, 1914-1974, Paris, Gallimard, 2010, p. 511.".

That propaganda could appeal to minds that, without being contaminated by Nazi ideology, may think that France no longer had the means to exist by itself, following its terrible defeat. It could equally appeal to pre-war federalists who saw in the war a chance to carry out their ambition. So much has rarely been published on Europe as at that time: L'art d'être Européen (André Rousseaux); Sur la nature de l'Europe (Bertrand de Jouvenel); La révolution européenne (Francis Delaisi); La France paysanne et l'Europe (Marcel Braibant); Le Français d'Europe (Drieu la Rochelle); Notre rôle européen (Jacques de Lesdain); L'Europe de demain (Jean de Beaulieu); L'Europe silencieuse (Joseph Avenol); La vocation européenne de la France (Albert Calandreau); La France ouvrière devant l'Europe (Georges Dumoulin). Not all the authors were extremists, far from it. For example, the Presses Universitaires de France published a book, Petite histoire de l'Europe, in 1941 that is presented as "the first history of Europe". Its author Jacques Madaule was a former member of Emmanuel Mounier's Esprit movement. One can sense the influence of L'École nationale des cadres d'Uriage. This "think tank", in 1942, attracted people who, wished to seriously think about the shape that a "European community" would take in a future world. Professor of International Law, Paul Reuter, developed very original theories on the need for a European federalism that would have to turn away from any form of hegemony and commitment to Germany. He was among those who inspired the Schuman Plan* Antonin Cohen, De Vichy à la Communauté européenne, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2012. See also: B. Bruneteau, op.cit., p. 198-203. .

A wave of biased and flawed re-readings of history aimed at legitimizing Hitler's European project around the idea of the existence of a common cultural heritage appeared. The war, according to the propaganda magazine Signal, was the only way of preventing the quarrels of the past and allowing "European peoples" to "find something capable of uniting them: their common culture and their past history"* Signal, 1942, cited by Gérard Loiseaux, La littérature de la défaite et de la collaboration, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1984, p. 398. .

The man responsible for Nazi propaganda in France, Doctor Friedrich, a journalist at Radio Paris, did not hesitate to call on "the great spiritual and cultural creations of Europe" and the agreed values on the make up of the European being: "optimism", "faith in progress", "victory of good over bad"* Dr Friedrich, L'Allemagne et la France devant l'Europe, éd. Le Port, 1941. Cited by Gérard Loiseaux, op.cit., p. 430. . Anti-communism and anti-semitism were often the link that allowed the idea of a common "state of mind" and common interest to be built up, but, on the condition that France renounced "its claim to the universalism of its civilization* Karl Epting, Les contradictions de la France, p. 158. Cited by Gérard Loiseaux, op.cit., p. 467. ", warned the German propagandists. Can one imagine Europe without that universal dimension? Without going into it too deeply, by blending Nordic, Aryan, Celtic and Greek mythology into a false Nietzscheism, they appealed to the advent of an "elite of masters" and to a morality of "constructive cruelty" * Charles Le Verrier, "Prophéties de Nietzsche sur l'Europe future", Demain, 26 June 1942. Cited by B. Bruneteau, op.cit., p. 138. Le Verrier was a member of the journal Deutschland-Frankreich. . By calling on "scientists" such as Georges Dumézil, George Montandon, Georges Poisson or Antoine Meillet, the anthropological origins of a Europe, "at the same time both beyond and underlying nations", were sought, so as to show "similarities between the great families of Europe"* Armand Petitjean, "France-Europe", Idées, n°16, February1943. . One dreams of a "an expanded cultural space* Jean-Édouard Splenlé, Nietzsche et le problème européen, Paris, Armand Colin, 1943, p. 235. " in order to "select a strong race for the Europe of tomorrow"* Ibid., p. 241. . The distinguished Germanist Jean-Édouard Splenlé who said that in 1943 seems to have forgotten what he wrote in 1935. He then presented Hitler's Germany as "a challenge to our most basic notions and most firmly established rights of liberty, respect for life and human personality, ideas that constitute the common heritage of all civilized Europe* Jean-Édouard Splenlé, "Les assises morales de l'Allemagne hitlérienne", Mercure de France, n°879, 1 February 1935, p. 449. .

It was that "common heritage" that Lucien Febvre wished to re-examine within the framework of his lectures at the Collège de France. This deviation from the idea of "European civilization* An "Institut de Civilisation Européenne" was imagined for example. See: René Chateau, À la recherche du temps futur, Paris, Denoël, 1944, p. 206. Member of Marcel Déat's RNP until 1943, Château was the director of La France socialiste, Marcel Déat's newspaper. " in favour of the Hitlerian cause could only offend the historian that he was, scientifically as well as morally. And it was urgent because it was necessary to rebuild, both materially and morally, that Europe broken by Hitlerism, which had tragically rejected "that common heritage". The task was not easy as, even after Liberation, many free and unindoctrinated minds, as well as numerous resistance intellectuals, had difficulties in calling themselves pro-Europeans, precisely because of the Europeanist rhetoric of collaboration supporters* A. Bachoud, J. Cuesta, M. Trebitsch (dir.), Les intellectuels et l'Europe, de 1945 à nos jours, Paris, Publications universitaires Denis Diderot, 2000.. Febvre had to react and explain, as a historian, that Europe is characterised first and foremost by its humanist values. It had become a necessary keynote lecture at the Collège de France.

At the same time, the French Resistance was becoming increasingly European. Certain movements sought to counter the pro-Nazi Europeanist discourse. They called for the refounding of Europe on humanist bases, as one of the country's goals following the end of the war* See: Robert Belot, Henri Frenay, de la Résistance à l'Europe, Paris, éd. du Seuil, 2003. . In the clandestine journal Les Petites Ailes de la France et de l'Empire (25 July 1941) is a very important article entitled: "European France". It says:

"that new Europe would be, crudely speaking, a collection of slaves at the command of the Prussian ferule. In that Europe, German domination would lead to the destruction of everything indispensible to us, because we are civilized from the three-fold point of view, spiritually, intellectually and physically. Our civilization, Christian in origin and spirit, provided us with the precise concept of a human ideal based on the certainty of an essential equality among men, on the notion of the great duty of solidarity and fraternity; in short and without doubt the most important point, on respect for the dignity of human beings1."

The Combat movement had been at the forefront of the European and federalist struggle. Witness, among other examples, the article "Our Europe", published by the clandestine journal Combat, in December 1943:

"Resistance Europe. That is the place of France. That is the mission. Not in the theoretical Europe that the diplomats of great powers carve out, but in this Europe of pain that rises at dawn in anguish, in that underground Europe of the maquis and forged papers, trading blow for blow. That is our fraternity. That is our future".

2/ A reminder of the value of "European humanism" just at the moment when Hitler's Germany triumphs

A controversy developed over the Annales School journal's move to Paris, following France's defeat in 1940. As a Jew, Marc Bloch, its cofounder with Lucien Febvre, could not go to Paris and his name had to be deleted from the journal. Following an intense debate between the two men, it was decided to keep the journal alive and, at least, to maintain a presence. Febvre was then accused of "attentisme* André Burguière, L'École des Annales. Un histoire intellectuelle, Paris O. Jacob, 2006, p. 328, note 26. ", or "accommodating" himself with the occupying regime, and even of being an anti-semite* Philippe Burrin, La France à l'heure allemande, 1940-1944, Paris, Seuil, 1995, p. 322-328. He was unhappy that this excellent historian had not provided any contextual elements and a biography that would allow readers to know who Lucien Febvre was. . That hollow controversy was able to develop because it was based on an ignorance of the courses that Febvre had given at the Collège de France, and also on a limited idea of what resistance engagement was all about. Lucien Febvre was known for "his anti-Nazi policy opinions" and he was on the "black list" of the occupier* Peter Schöttler, "La continuation des Annales sous l'Occupation: une ‘solution élégante'", in Albrecht Betz, Stefan Martens, Les Intellectuels et l'Occupation, 1940-1944, Paris, éd. Autrement, 2004, p. 248. . He had been tempted to leave France, as the presence of the enemy on French territory appalled him. However, resisting could not just be limited to violent acts. While Marc Bloch joined the active Resistance in the south of France (he would be killed on 16th June 1944), Febvre used his courses to pass on his messages. That was not without risk. It was also a way of being "in the public place" to use Marc Bloch's* "We haven't dared to be in the public place, the voice that cries out, firstly from the desert (...) We have preferred to confine ourselves to our fearful workplaces. May the young forgive us for the blood on our hands." Marc Bloch, L'E?trange de?faite, Paris, Gallimard-Folio, 1990, p. 204. famous quote. And that demand for creating a chair on the idea of humanism was part of those actions that can be categorized as "civil resistance", an often undervalued category* Jacques Semelin, Sans armes face à Hitler. La résistance civile en Europe, 1939-1943, Payot & Rivages, 1989..

The resistance "of the pen" or "of the word" has always existed. Evidence of that is provided by Febvre himself in a text he published in the Presses Universitaires de France in 1943. It was about a symposium and had a title that seems far removed from the context of that time: La sensibilité dans l'homme et dans la nature. The professor at the Collège de France made a speech entitled "Sensitivity in history: the collective currents of thought and action". When he, in order to shock, referred to the "resuscitated primary sentiments", "the exaltation of primary sentiments" or "the exaltation of cruelty as opposed to love, of bestiality as opposed to culture"* Cited by Peter Schöttler, "Marc Bloch et Lucien Febvre face à l'Allemagne nazie", Genèses. Sciences sociales et histoire, Year 1995, p. 84. , it is not difficult to understand that he is referring to the new mass rituals of Nazi Germany. From 1936, he warned against those who dedicated themselves to the "bloody idol of race" * Lucien Febvre, "Avant-propos", Encyclopédie française, t.7, 1936, cited by Peter Schöttler, "Marc Bloch et Lucien Febvre face à l'Allemagne nazie", art.cit., p. 85. .

The Collège de France, one of the most prestigious university institutions, did not exactly shine during the war for its "spirit of resistance". A "logic of institutional defence* Ph. Burrin, op.cit., p. 314. " appeared to reign. A scientist, like Frédéric Joliot-Curie, the inventor of nuclear fission did not resign from being a professor at the Collège de France and director of his laboratory under German tutelage. He regularly attended meetings and endorsed the policy of his administrator. That, however, did not prevent him, on Liberation, from being a communist and the most popular of scientists.

Lucien Febvre was elected there as a modernist. He was known for his remarkable thesis that he defended in 1911 on Philippe II et la Franche-Comté and as author of numerous books, including Martin Luther. Un destin (1928). On 28th February 1943, three years after his proposal to create a chair of History of Oriental Muslim Arts (which was not acted upon), Lucien Febvre wrote to the Administrator of the Collège de France to tell him that he wanted to propose the creation of a chair of European Humanism. He asked for that proposal to be included in the order of the day for the next professors' Assembly: "I have the honour to inform you that at our meeting of 14th March, I intend to propose the allocation of one of the four credits available to the Collège for the creation of a chair of History of European Humanism". Febvre was not the only one to propose a chair: Maurice de Broglie proposed a chair of Cosmic Physics; Paul Pelliot and André Piganiol proposed a chair of History of Latin Language; Etienne Gilson a chair of History of Moral Sciences in the modern era; Henri Piéron a chair of Collective Psychology, following the retirement of Marcel Mauss. Piéron had the courageous idea of suggesting that that chair should be occupied by Maurice Halbwachs, a disciple of Bergson and Émile Durkheim, and a close colleague of Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch* Maurice Halbwachs was married to the daughter of Victor Basch, president of the League of Human Rights, who was assassinated by by the French Militia. Halbwachs was elected to the chair on 10 May 1944, but detained by the occupiers in July 1944. He was deported to Buchenwald, where he died from dysentery. See: Annette Becker, Maurice Halbwachs. Un intellectuel en guerres mondiales, 1914-1945, Paris, Agnès Viénot Éd., 2003..

The meeting was set to take place on Sunday 14th March 1943. Lucien Febvre was going to read his report* Assembly of 14 March 1943. Report of M. Lucien Febvre. Archives of the Collège de France. G-IV-l 11 V. . He claimed that "it is one of the most gripping subjects that requires the activity of modern historians". He could have said: the most "pressing". This text, therefore, is important for two reasons: for what it says and for the moment it was said.

It was a brave and unusual proposal at a time when Europe was bloodied and in flames, totally dominated by Nazism, with the exception of Great Britain. To evoke humanism, at a time when a gigantic crime against humanity was being committed almost constitutes a provocation, an act of intellectual and moral resistance. He had already expressed this concern a year before. In 1942, the historian had written an essay on Rabelais (Le problème de l'incroyance au XVIe siècle. La religion de Rabelais) that was not unrelated to that theme of humanism. His thesis revolved around the idea that Rabelais, like "Erasmian modernism", is a manifestation of early humanism, that "light that dispels the darkness* Lucien Febvre, Le problème de l'incroyance au XVIe siècle. La religion de Rabelais, Paris, Albin Michel, 1942, p. 321.", the source of the opposition between the "rationalism" of Erasmus and the "irrationalism" of a Luther.

It is clear that Febvre is eager to deconstruct the Europeanist discourse of the French partisan collaborators with Nazi Germany. One can feel a sense of urgency in him to recall the existence of values that are the very negation of what Nazism represents and what the deceptive discourses of Nazi flag-waving Europeanist promote. He wanted to reclaim humanism as the European heritage.

What did he understand by "European Humanism"?

Lucien Febvre began with this fundamental formula: "What is the history of European humanism? Two things: the history of a moral conquest and the history of an intellectual construct* Dossier G-IV-l 11 J. Archives of the Collège de France. The following citations are taken from that dossier. ." It is clear that this is not just an academic exercise. The challenge is "moral". A "conquest" is a strong act that evokes combat. But a combat for what? For Febvre, "the moral conquest" was first and foremost a "slow progress" that took place in the West and whose active ingredient had been a "Christianity-generated humanism". It had evolved and taken different forms, but basically he sees an "ideal of culture", an "ideal of morality" in it. The word "construct" "describes a voluntary and evolutionary process, which is never fixed once and for all. This idea was implicitly opposed to the ideology that dominated at that time, which was based on biological and racial determinism.

Next, he identified a phenomenon of successive "resumptions" of Hellenic culture, a Hellenism "at times latinised, at times orientalised", but which carries an "ethic". That is to say, a way of "conceiving life and organizing it for ideal purposes".

"In short, the history of humanism is first and foremost the story of the slow progress of these notions about the autonomy and freedom of the individual, about dignity and respect for the individual, that does not only constitute one of the fundamental articles (even though it is often questioned* It is I who stress this. ) of the collective faith of our societies, but one of the most perplexing, and therefore captivating, fields of study in history."

Those listening could not have had any doubt that it was a question of evoking a system of values which was diametrically opposed to the ideology dominating Europe in that year, 1943, a totalitarian ideology which severely limited the private sphere and which did not allow freedom of expression or offer protection to the freedom of the individual. The philosopher Marcel Gauchet says much the same thing in his book: L'avènement de la démocratie. Le nouveau monde. Modernity for him is the emancipation of societies from a "heteronomic order", i.e. an order where man builds his destiny around an external entity (such as religion, autocracy, statocracy…) and aims, from that "ideocracy* Marcel Gauchet, L'avènement de la démocratie. III. À l'épreuve des totalitarismes, 1914-1974, Paris, Gallimard, 2010, p. 542-543. ", at a total domination of human activity by public power that knows no limits. Gauchet's thesis is similar to that of Febvre on Christian monotheism, which would be "religion from leaving religion behind", i.e. the "leaving behind a world where religion structures and orders the political shape of societies and defines the economy of the social bonds"* Marcel Gauchet, La Religion dans la Démocratie. Parcours de la laïcité, Paris, Gallimard, 1998. See: Céline Couchouron-Gurung, "Marcel Gauchet, Un monde désenchanté?", Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 136 | 2006, 115-283..

European humanism, for Febvre, was an "intellectual construct". He even spoke of "intellectual conscience", as if he wanted to radically distinguish this from the regressive and instinctive system of Nazism. And it is here where what he calls "the European spirit" or the "western mind" comes in. There are three cornerstones to this construct: Greece, Rome and "the Orient", to which he later adds Christianity: forgiveness, compassion, mercy, equality between men. He refuses to date the roots of Europe back to Christianity and here is the first definition of humanism, presented in a negative way: "For humanism is neither pagan nor Christian. It is, and can be what everyone wants it to be".

To undertake the history of that humanism ("that magnificent history of European Humanism") and "to embrace it as a whole" was a complicated matter. Febvre was aware of the immensity of the task of understanding the Alexandria of the Alexandrians, the Paris of Abelard, Petrarch's Italy and "the Europe of Erasmus": Erasmus who wished to be a "citizen of the world", an expression that would develop in the 18th century: Ego civis mundi esse cupio* "I would like to be a citizen of the world". . But, in his time, the world was Europe. It was, therefore, of the Renaissance. Febvre mentioned the course that Jules Michelet gave in 1840 and to his inventing of the notion of the Renaissance* Jules Michelet, Histoire de France au Seizième siècle. La Renaissance, Paris, Chamerot libraire-éditeur, 1855. . In his course on Europe in 1944, he spoke of pride: "Pride, said I, of participating in the civilization of the Renaissance and which, itself, is called European civilization* Lucien Febvre, L'Europe. Genèse d'une civilisation, Paris, Perrin, 1999, p. 212. . In 1943, enlightened men dreamt of a rebirth of Europe, i.e. of the end of Nazism and a return to a system of values that had made a former Europe shine.

What then was the Renaissance? "The Renaissance of many things", as Febvre said. But first and foremost it is the rebirth of "an ancient unlearned culture" as Febvre put it. The Middle Ages man did not extol ancient works, unlike "the man of the Renaissance". To this man, we could never speak of the "nothingness of man", which he would find sacrilegious. It would not be advisable either to talk to him "of the quite happiness of savouring a beautiful verse of Virgil". Virgil, Homer, or Plato "is the pride that he drinks from, not beauty" What beauty is this? It is not the cult of beauty that the Renaissance man celebrates, but "the cult of Man glorified by Beauty". Beauty, but also Knowledge and Philosophy for the benefit of the "triumph of Man".

Contrary to what one may think, says Lucien Febvre, that story is unknown. It was necessary to go back to 1916 and the doctoral thesis of a certain Auguste Renaudet* Bataillon Marcel, "Augustin Renaudet (1880-1958)", in Annales. Economies, sociétés, civilisations. 14th year, No. 3, 1959, p. 618-622. (1880-1958). Its title: Préréforme et humanisme à Paris pendant la première guerre d'Italie. "Rarely, in the field of religious and intellectual history, has such a revealing book appeared". Who was this Renaudet ?

This historian lived in Florence, working as a teacher at the French Institute from 1910 to 1914. Mobilized during the Great War, he joined the Italian Office of the French intelligence service. At a time when the world was discovering mass murder, Renaudet dreamt of the Italy of the Renaissance. He showed that the Protestant Reformation was not born "by spontaneous generation", on a "ground that was rigorously sterilized", rid of "any properly religious microbe". On the contrary, he found in Europe at that time elite men "ardent missionaries", anxious to rediscover the meaning of their "ideal" and to "reform" religion, and more exactly an " orthodox reformation of the Church by the Church".

There was no "break" between the "Middle Ages" and the "Renaissance" (convenient labels that Febvre hated…) because before Protestant humanism, there was a reforming humanism, in the same way as Pierre Duhem had denounced the idea of a split in the field of physics faced with metaphysics. The link between the two eras was the printing press, which first served medieval philosophy before spreading the "modern mind". Renaudet, said Febvre, was too modest in comparing its contribution to the understanding of the European Renaissance. In 1943, Febvre announced, Renaudet was preparing Dante humaniste. France must at last grant this "master", the position of the "first French Erasmian", a position he fully deserved.

In what way are the theories of this historian new? Primarily, it is his discovery of the "pre-reform" in the 16th century and the link between the pre-reform and the Counter-reformation up to the 17th century.

Erasmus was the philosopher who best embodies the effervescence of renewal. "He was killed off a bit too fast when he is made to disappear in the mists of the Rhine, crushed at once by the fiery Luther"* Lucien Febvre, Un destin. Martin Luther, Paris, Rieder, 1928. . Erasmus was "one of the great doctors from Beyond the Grave of the Council of Trent". Renaudet had studied Erasmus and had translated him. His work is still authoritative. "He definitively appended him to the intellectual history of France from 1500 to 1517". Febvre had taken stock of his work, especially in his book published in 1939: Études érasmiennes and had commented on it with admiration in his journal. He wrote "this is a book on Erasmus that he gives us. It is the very voice of Erasmus that he makes us hear* Lucien Febvre, "Augustin Renaudet et ses études érasmiennes", Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, 1st year, n°4, 1939, p. 407-410. . He liked above all what Renaudet had said about the "modernism" of the European writer and of his enterprise of spiritual reformation. Febvre had always liked Erasmus throwing the dogma of redemption and resurrection, and that of "original sin" "overboard, even though respectfully. For Renaudet, "Erasmus strives to combine, in an ancient and Christian harmony, both the wisdom of the pagan philosophers and the humble simplicity of believing souls"* Augustin Renaudet, Études érasmiennes, 1521-1529, Paris, Librairie Droz, 1939, p.134. .

Lucien Febvre's admiration for his colleague is only matched by the empathy he feels for "our Erasmus".

Erasmus fought fanaticism and dogmatism, in the name of freedom of conscience; "What use would it be to man", he said, "if God used him like a potter with clay?" Man's freedom is the basis of his responsibility, hence the link he established between "free will" and tolerance. Erasmus wanted to show that the leaders of his time (including religious ones) were not being faithful to the religion they claimed to serve: they used it for purposes of power, conquest, war. Renaudet showed an Erasmus that rejects violence, "Turkish barbarism", tyrannical government and denounces injustices. It is understandable that the author of L'Éloge de la folie would have no place in the Pantheon of the new culture in occupied France. Stefan Zweig's biography of Erasmus was included in the "Otto list" of books banned in France. Yet, it was intolerable that he who Zweig presented as being "of all Western writers and authors, the first conscious European, the first "pacifist fighter", the one who had known how to marry rationalism and cosmopolitanism had not been appreciated before.

Renaudet lived in Italy and was perfectly familiar with Italian language and culture. He worked on Dante and Machiavelli. He was in the best position to determine what "European culture" owed to "Italian humanism", to Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.

This declaration of faith in European humanism, Lucien Febvre declared publicly in his review that replaced the Annales in that same year 1943. He did so, on the occasion of Renaudet's book Machiavelli* Augustin Renaudet, Machiavel, Paris, Gallimard, 1943. See also: Lucien Febvre, "Le Machiavel d'Augustin Renaudet", Mélanges d'histoire sociale IV, 1943, p. 21-28. It should be noted that this article is in part based on the report presented to the teachers' Assembly. being published. This was an indispensable book, wrote Febvre, for understanding "the evolution of European culture" and, in contrast, the contribution of the Italian Renaissance. Machiavelli, "the anti-mystic", "passionate lover of energy", advocates an art of governing marked by harshness and strength, devoid of any moral consideration, using religion as a reinforcement of power "to best, for her, bow the subjects under the yoke". In contrast, Erasmus seeks "good governance" through a "Christian ethic". The humanist revolution would be to think beyond "first of all governing" and take into account what the author of the Prince wants to ignore: "the needs of men", "the interest of men", in short, the people. It is clear what this remark meant at a time when France was governed by the Vichy government, and Europe under Hitler's boot. For Febvre, Erasmus represents a successor of the "Italian heritage" and the founder of European humanism. Returning him to the spotlight during the Occupation was an act of commitment. Let us now move on a few years. In 1955, a manuscript written by the great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga in 1924 was published. Huizinga was killed in the Nazi camps for acts of Resistance. Lucien Febvre was commissioned to write the preface. He wrote:

« Ô vous qui fabriquez des morts,

Vous ne serez pas les plus forts…

Pour fabriquer des vivants, un Erasme n'a pas grand pouvoir.

Certes pas.

Mais pour dire NON à la fabrique des morts, reconnaissons qu'il n'a pas son pareil !* Johan Huizinga, Erasme, trad. V. Bruneel, Paris, Gallimard, 1955.»

"O you who make the dead,

You will not be the strongest ...

To make the living, an Erasmus has no great power.

Certainly not.

But by saying NO to the making of the dead, we recognize that he has no equal!"

Renaudet's last book published in his lifetime, in 1954, is dedicated to Lucien Febvre. It deals with the relationship between Erasmus and Italy. The author showed how the Erasmian movement, made up of "spirituality nourished by humanist intellectualism and biblical poetry", based on "the free spirit of the soul", was blocked by the authoritarianism of Charles V and the Inquisition. "Erasmian liberalism* Augustin Renaudet, Érasme et l'Italie, Genève, Droz, 1954, p. 8. ", as he calls it, would always be suppressed by repressive regimes.

To press his case, Febvre reminded his colleagues that the Collège de France was created to "serve humanism". The challenge of humanism was to reintegrate this milestone of universal thought. Indeed, a man like Erasmus himself was invited. This institution must welcome in its midst the great specialist of humanism. Was this proposal enthusiastically received? It would have been a strong political signal. Yet, it did not seem so. In the first round, out of 30 votes, only 6 were in favour of the chair of History of European Humanism, compared to 10 for the chair of History of Contemporary Moral Sciences, and 14 for that of Collective Psychology. None of the proposals received an absolute majority. A second ballot was required. It was Collective Psychology that obtained 17 votes, providing the absolute majority, against the History of Contemporary Moral Sciences (12 votes) and the Chair of History of European Humanism, only 1 vote. A total failure. It is difficult to draw a conclusion. Should we consider that the College of France dis not wish to stand out from the atmosphere that reigned in France at this troubled time? Did it lack courage? There is something to suggest that. During the meeting of March 14, 1943, the president, Edmond Faral, read out the "administrative correspondence". A "ministerial" letter draws our attention. Dated December 14, 1942, it makes it plain that "the rooms of the College de France are to be considered public places: access is prohibited to Jews." Not one of the members present seems to have reacted, neither Paul Hazard, nor Frédéric Joliot-Curie, nor André Siegfried, nor Paul Valéry, nor Lucien Febvre, nor any of the others.

Renaudet was to be elected, but after the war. On November 18, 1945, Lucien Febvre presented his candidate again. Renaudet had just published A General History of Europe from 1559 to 1661. But the name of the chair changed to History of Italian civilization. The word "humanism" had disappeared. Five years later, Augustin Renaudet retired.


In search of "European civilization"

1/ Giving a course on Michelet to examine the idea of nation

The philosophical premises behind the idea of creating of a chair of Europe were freely expressed in the course that Lucien Febvre imparted at the College of France, from 1st December 1943 to 17th March 1944.

The course was devoted to the great French historian, Jules Michelet (1798-1974), Febvre's illustrious predecessor at the College de France and author of a monumental Histoire de France in 18 volumes. Febvre intended to reveal the true scientific dimension of a historian who had been categorized as a romantic and an amateur of the picturesque before becoming "the hidden god* Pierre Nora, Présent, nation, mémoire, Paris, Gallimard, 2011, p. 184. " of the Annals School. Michelet, as Pierre Nora has shown, has been the subject of several re-readings to emerge today "as the ‘total' historian, or at least as the total figure of the historian"* Ibid., p. 185. . Lucien Febvre was at the origin of this movement. He wanted to show that Michelet was the first historian to be interested in sources, "documents", archives; the first to be interested in "the story of those who have no history"* Michelet, Course of 1841, last lecture. Cited by Haac Oscar A., "La Révolution comme Religion: Jules Michelet", Romantisme, 1985, n°50. Religions et religion. p. 76.; the first to dare to free himself from an "essentialist" tradition organized around an predestinary approach (through religion, nature, biology or power)* Even though L. Febvre did have difficulties justifying the myths of Gallic origins established by Michelet. . Celebrating Michelet in 1943, the great lyrical historian of the French Revolution, and therefore of democracy, human rights and "universal fraternity", conceals an easily-decipherable subliminal message. At a time when France was subjected to a regime that renounced the republican ideal and organized exclusion and discrimination by law, it was daring of Febvre to recall Michelet's message in Le Peuple (1846) that explained that France "is more than a nation: it is a living Brotherhood". For French Republicans, the Nation is not an end in itself: it is "a step on the path to human emancipation"* Jules Michelet, Le Peuple (1846), coted by Philippe Darriulat, Les Patriotes. La gauche républicaine et la nation, 1830-1870, p. 116. .

But that is not the heart of the matter. Febvre wanted to raise Michelet to the figure of a pioneer in the historical conception of France and, by extension, of Europe. The nation was a "living entity", both "geographically" and "historically"* Openning lecture, 1st December1943, p. 45. Citations from the lectures given at Collège de France are taken from: Lucien Febvre, Michelet créateur de l'histoire de France. Cours au Collège de France, 1943-1944, Paris, Librairie Vuibert, 2014 (edition established by Brigitte Mazon and Yann Potin). . The unity of the nation must be thought of as outside any intelligent design argument: "it is a construct and not a fact that pre-exists the action of man. It is the dark and distant fruit of chance, of circumstances, of encounters, of will and of this work of collective creation". This complex and fluctuating historical genetics, inevitably linked to the work of the historian, makes it impossible to go back to an absolute origin. His colleague Marc Bloch also mistrusted the word "origin", finding it "disturbing" and "mistaken". He spoke of "the fear of the origin", of the "embryogenic obsession"* Marc Bloch, Apologie pour l'histoire ou métier d'historien (written in 1942), re-ed.: L'Histoire, la Guerre, la Résistance, Paris, Quarto-Gallimard, 2006, p. 869. . Febvre seems to be echoing him when he says "When we write the history of France, when should it, where should it, as a result of what should it begin?* 18th lecture. "Le problème du commencement (I). Les Gaulois", 28 January 1944, cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 281. " This simple form of questioning was a way of provoking triumphalist totalitarian ideologies in 1943, characterized by the "myth of autochthony"* Johann Chapoulot, Le nazisme et l'Antiquité, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2012. Chris Manias, Race, Science, and the Nation: Reconstructing the Ancient Past in Britain, France and Germany, University of Manchester, United Kingdom, 2013. and reinvented identity for the purposes of exclusion. France does not have a date of birth and it is not the product of a preconceived transcendental idea. It is neither Vercingetorix, nor Clovis, nor Joan of Arc, nor kings. No, the nation, said Febvre, was a "prodigious succession of chance happenings and vicissitudes" that forbids one to think of France as a "necessary, predestined or preordained reality"* 25th lecture. "Tableau de la France (V). Philosophie de l'histoire ou géographie?" 1st March 1944. p. 347. . Without wishing to offend Cartesian thinking, which is afraid of "chaos", one had to admit that "reduction to unity" was impossible* 3rd lecture. "La Nation. Le concept, l'histoire du mot et de la notion", 8 December 1943, cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p.65. . Drawing on recent prehistorical findings, Lucien Febvre concluded before his dumbfounded audience on 8th December 1943 that "The history of France has no beginning. It resembles those rivers in my country that are constantly retreating their heads ..."* 3rd lecture. "La Nation. Le concept, l'histoire du mot et de la notion", 8 december 1943, cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p.65. Here is the French quote: "Elle ressemble à ces rivières de mon pays qui sans cesse reculent leur tête."

Its geographical position partly explains the heterogeneous and composite character of the French nation and what preceded it (because France has not always been a nation, insisted the historian and France has only existed since it was called France). Lucien Febvre presents France as an "end of a continent", an "isthmus between the ocean and the Mediterranean"* 25th lecture. "Tableau de la France (V). Philosophie de l'histoire ou géographie?" 1st March 1944. Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 353. . For that reason it is a "crossroads, a meeting place, an endpoint for all the great European routes", so making it "a kind of abbreviation for the physical European world"* Ibid., p. 346. .

This is why France has "suffered and benefited" from multiple migrations. "Suffered, because, in successive waves, everything that swept across Europe, everything that was uprooted, of its own free will, or which was uprooted by the pressure of others, has ended up there, at that endpoint France, to settle down". Likewise, France has benefited because "the less pure a country, from the racial point of view, the more mixed a country is with diverse and varied elements, the richer it is in human possibilities, the more it can do, the healthier and greater it is"* Ibid., p. 353. . Hence the characteristic of its population is essentially mixed, a blend. And Lucien Febvre quoting Michelet and his Introduction a l'histoire universelle continued, "France is not a race like Germany, it is a nation. Its origin is mixed, action is its life". He chose another even more categorical quote: France, "the most mixed of peoples"* Jules Michelet, Œuvres complètes, Paris, Flammarion (1893-1898), vol. XXXV (Précis d'histoire moderne. Introduction à l'histoire universelle, 1897), p. 461; p. 460. Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 353. .

This conception of a nation as a product of multiple age-old influences is the most dynamic and obvious negation of the racist or racializing theories in vogue in 1943. In front of his audience, Lucien Febvre dared to destroy the thesis of those who were trying to define France by "race" (the Celtic "race" in particular, a belief manipulated since the beginning of the 18th century* Jean-Louis Brunaux, Les Celtes, histoire d'un mythe, Paris, Belin, 2014. Febvre mocks "celtomania". ). "Race? But the progress made on prehistory* Albert et Jacquelin Ducros (dir.), L'Homme préhistorique. Images et imaginaire, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2000. has made that simple notion - apparently clear but actually hazy, obscure, inconsistent, in the precise sense of the word- impossible forever"* 3rd lecture. "La Nation. Le concept, l'histoire du mot et de la notion", 8 December 1943, cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 70. . The aim of Nazi ideology is quite clear when it condemns "unsustainable weakness" and the "danger" the theses of "racial fatalism" and "geographical fatalism" (that he links with "Geopolitics", a term largely invented by German theorists for "living space"* Notably Friedrich Ratzel or Karl Hanshofer.) represent* 2nd lecture. "Les éléments fondamentaux de toute histoire nationale", 3 December 1943, cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 55. . In several lectures, he insisted on the scientific non-validity of the concept of race. Thus, on 10th December 1943 he said, "Race, no. Groups of humans accustomed to living together ... "

From these premises, Lucien Febvre discretely drew a political lesson. He did this in his lecture devoted to the following theme: "Politics first? The chief's problem". This allusion to the famous formula of Charles Maurras, leader of the far right nationalists, supporter of Marshal Petain and great detractor of Michelet, was not made by chance. The nation was too complex a reality to be thought of as a piece of soft matter in the hands of rulers. Kings did not make France. We must not confuse the "will of the French" and "the will of the leaders of France"* 4th lecture. "Politique d'abord ? le problème du chef." 10 December 1943, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 93. . Hence his criticism of the state, "that machine, that abstraction, that inhumanity". The state "is not the nation". The nation is "a common will to live" which has "an ideal to achieve"* 30th lecture. "Conclusion. Notre père, Michelet", 17 March 1944, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 404-405. . It is first and foremost through its "social genius"* 25th lecture. "Tableau de la France (V). Philosophie de l'histoire ou géographie ?" 1st March 1944, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 334. Here one sees the prevalence of L. Febvre's socialist culture. See: Joseph Pinard, Lucien Febvre, militant socialiste, 1917-1912, Besançon, Cêtre, 2011. that France can best be characterized.

Contrary to the German idea, Febvre put forward a constructivist concept of the nation: the nation as "a result", as a crucible that "integrates the races". He has this definitive formula: "The nation, this synthesis"* 2nd lecture. "Les éléments fondamentaux de toute histoire nationale", 3 December 1943, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 61. .  And he specified that it was a "living synthesis". By this, he meant that people can take control of their destiny against enslavement policies. Faced with the toxic myth of "Franco-German collaboration", on 17th March 1944, in his conclusion, Lucien Febvre broke out of his scientific neutrality to evoke the faith that the people must have in "eternal France" during "the darkness that we face at present"* 30th lecture. "Conclusion. Notre père, Michelet", 17 March 1944, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 406. . But France is "the daughter of her freedom," as Michelet wrote: "In human progress, the essential part is the life-force, which is called man. And man is his own Prometheus"* 6th lecture. "Augustin Thierry", 17 December 1943, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 117.. For Lucien Febvre, from his innermost being, this freedom had to be reconquered.

He had warned in his opening lecture that it was impossible to accept "the sinking and disappearance" of France, "that bruising, wounding and cruel defeat…" * Opening lecture. "Michelet, créateur de l'histoire de France : l'historien crée son histoire", 1st December 1943, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 33. If the historian creates his history, that revolution that Michelet originated, the people have to create their destiny. The anti-Vichy and anti-Nazi resistance is the means for recovering humanism. One can not but think of the political context of this lecture at the College de France when Lucien Febvre explains that Michelet had shown that the history of France is not based on "a duel between so-called races, but a hard task of oneself on oneself", and that he therefore "banished" race as a paradigm of historical interpretation.

The message behind these lectures is that the complexity of the national phenomenon must be historicized in order to remove myth and the sacred. The second lesson is that the people, the nation and the state must not be confused. France is a creative process in perpetual evolution and not a predetermined absolute. More than any other country, the history of France is dependent on its environment and other cultures: "France, the country of diversity, the country that so many men have crossed, that so many men have coveted, that so many men have populated from all four corners of Europe; France, a single and multiple country, which should be admired both for its unity and its multiplicity; France, which, because of that very diversity, multiplicity and constant blending of elements, is never quite itself, but constantly renewing itself…"* 2nd lecture. "Les éléments fondamentaux de toute histoire nationale", 3 December 1943, Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 59. Therefore, to "explain France", it is necessary to take "close and distant relatives" into account. This is the ultimate message of Michelet, according to Febvre: "That is to say, and Michelet says so: nothing less than the whole of Europe"* 17th lecture. "L'Histoire romaine de 1831, préface de l'Histoire de France", Cited in L. Febvre, Michelet…, p. 268..  At the beginning of 1944, the historian, Febvre, already knows that he is going to shift his focal point from France to Europe.

2/ Making history from the birth of a European consciousness

On Liberation, Europe would rediscover its roots, its soul. The Nazi obscurantism that had plunged European societies into darkness would lead to a search for the light that had previously illuminated Europe. There was a desire for Europe, for a different Europe. In 1946, another professor at the College of France, Paul Hazard, the famous author of La crise de la conscience européenne published La pensée européenne* Paul Hazard, La pensée européenne au XVIIIe siècle (2 vols.), Paris, Éditions Contemporaines, Boivin et Cie, 1946. . For the scholar Lucien Febvre, it was about counterattacking the misconceptions that have circulated on the history of Europe. Europe is a difficult subject to understand, because it is not a political entity. Europe, he says is from the outset, "a civilization", implying that it is not "the" civilization. But the concept of civilization is "shifting", is unstable. This question is at the heart of the course he undertook from 1944 to 1945 at the Collège de France.

He first tries to tackle an immense difficulty: the definition of Europe. This is a negative definition at first, clearly reflecting the context of war: "I cannot call Europe an area of white humanity, because no anthropologist, no ethnologist, no "raciologue" has ever spoken of a European race, of replacing the most prodigious of ethnic diversities with an imaginary unity and racial purity, all by convention (or propaganda)". This was his way of instituting a paradigmatic break from Nazi contamination of the mind. Nor is Europe a "geographical division of the globe", let alone a "defined political formation." The geographical framework "shifts." The eastern boundary, usually considered to be the Ural mountains is a myth. Febvre insists, "Europe is not a geographical concept that is fixed"* Lecture IX, "Europe et Chrétienté", in Lucien Febvre, L'Europe. Genèse d'une civilisation, op.cit., p. 132.. It's an "ideal" for some, or "a cultural notion"* Ibid. p. 133. And alluding to today, Febvre states, "But speaking of culture today is almost like speaking of a dream". IHe also ironically evokes "that dream of why men are killed in their thousands". . Although Europe is not a "geographical formation", it is a historical formation, "that is to say, both politically and culturally"* Ibid. . And Febvre gives his definition: "I call Europe, simply, a historical unit, an unquestionable, an undeniable historical unit that was built on a fixed fact."

Here we see one of Febvre's epistemological creeds: constructivism. However, it is a surprise that he frees himself from another of his scientific premises: the absence of absolute origin. Nevertheless, this unity is endowed with an infinite and elusive diversity: "... a historical unity which, like all other historical units, is made up of diversity, pieces, debris torn from previous units, themselves made of pieces, debris, and previous previously fragmented units"* Lecture I, "Généralités. Parlons d'Europe d'abord, définissons l'Europe", in L. Febvre, L'Europe. Genèse d'une civilisation, op.cit., p. 37. . Febvre ridicules his "elders", the historians and their schools that "cultivated chance as the miraculous plant that explains everything", which elevated "the little fact to the height of a god, creator of all things"* Lecture VI, "L'Europe, l'Empire romain et la Méditerranée", p. 104. … The fact is that "Europe is not a simple thing": "Europe does not emerge all, homogeneous, from nothingness"; "She is not registered one day, ready made, on a clean slate…"* Ibid., p. 208. ; she is not the result of a "unique and instant divine Fiat"* Lecture XI, "Europe et reprise économique", p. 157. .

Europe is, therefore, a dialectical space, combining unity and diversity. A space or, rather, a flow, the fruit of the "fifteen centuries in the making". "The great currents that continue to cross, and have done so for a long time: political currents, economic currents, intellectual currents, scientific, artistic, spiritual and religious currents"* Lecture I, "Généralités. Parlons d'Europe d'abord, définissons l'Europe", p. 38. must be taken into account. This complex historical process makes it impossible to enclose Europe in a formula, a datum, a definition: "... the chapter on dissimilarities remains as important as that on similarities"* Ibid. , whether it be the medieval town, the agrarian system, the feudal estate. France, a country where the south, north, east and west meet, is the best observatory of this complex Europe: it has the status of intermediary, a "liaising agent", a meeting point.

The history that Febvre wants to tell is the story of the birth of a European conscience, the history of what Europe represents, and, in doing so, he does not hesitate to deconstruct some myths.

He begins with the name. Europe is an invention of Greek theoretic cosmographers who believed that the world was a disk surrounded by water. The notion that Europe was born of an "abstract reasoning" five centuries before Christ, it being understood that the "Greek world was not the European world"* Lecture III, "L'Europe, l'hellénisme et la Méditerranée", p. 62.. One had rather to look towards Alexandria, Pergamum or Antioch. Contrary to what was commonly accepted at his time, he claims that the Roman Empire was not a "European Empire" but a "circum-Mediterranean" Empire. It excluded what would become Russia, Hungary, Bohemia, Germany, "all that overflowed to the north and east of the Rhine border." This was a shocking formula, the author of which was the medievalist Marc Bloch, who sums up his thinking in this way, "Europe arose exactly when the Roman Empire collapsed"* Ibid., p. 73. Marc Bloch, "Problèmes d'Europe", Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, 1935, p. 471-479, taken up in Marc Bloch, L'Histoire, la Guerre, la Résistance, Quarto-Gallimard, 2006, p. 460. .  But "Romania", as he calls it, left a legacy, that of the "Greco-Latin civilization", an administration, a "material civilization", a common language, Latin, "of which most of the major European languages are descendants". He then stressed the very important impact that the advent of Islam and its hegemony had at the turn of the seventh century, "the defection of the Maghreb"* Lecture IV, "L'Europe, l'Empire romain et la Méditerranée", p. 83. , its "secession", even its "betrayal". The Mediterranean became a hostile sea, which impoverished trade, leaving the port of Marseille inert. The West gave up minting gold coins because of the drying up of maritime trade. The Maghreb broke away from Europe. It became a "border". Another "treason" occurred at the end of the fifth century: western Europe was invaded by German tribes, by new peoples (Franks, Alemanni, Burgundians, Visigoths, Ostrogoths) who became known as the Barbarians. As the great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne would say, "Charlemagne is unthinkable without Muhammad"* Henri Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne, Paris-Bruxelles, Alcan, Nouvelles société d'éditions, 1937. It was Pirenne who originally came up with this new interpretation of the West/East rupture.. A new geopolitical situation reshaped Europe, giving rise to the Carolingian Empire on the threshold of the ninth century. It was the "Nordic element" that integrated the West* Lecture V, "L'Europe surgit quand l'Empire s'écroule", p. 93. . This major contribution was the origin of a new "civilization" born of a "miscegenation" of a "mixture" of "races", religions, customs. And Febvre took this opportunity to pass on a message to the contemporary Europe of Hitler: "Once again, history confirms: it is not purity: it is racial impurity (if this word has a meaning) that bears fruit; it is not the separation of bloods, but the mixing of the bloods* Ibid., p 95. ." 

From the Carolingian era, the professor draws a thesis which is till relevant today: "Europe is two things: an organization and a civilization"* Ibid., p. 96. .  It is also a space, centred on the Rhine and the Rhone. From the Carolingian Empire* The Carolingian (800-914), founded by Charlemagne, spread throughout western and central Europe. would emerge the "historical and humane Europe", "in the sense we understand it": it is "the yeast with which the European dough is fermented"* Lecture VII, p. 111. , it was "the first European formation recorded in history"* Lecture VIII, "L'Europe, son germe: l'Empire carolingien", p. 125. . Febvre admits that one can, therefore, speak of a "European civilization". It is this framework of civilization that designated the boundaries of Europe, noting also that these boundaries are not "fixed".

For Febvre, the two notions of Christendom and Europe "do not overlap" but they appeared in "solidarity with each other"* Lecture IX, "Europe et Chrétienté", p. 134. . Christianity had been a factor in unifying Europe and transcending borders. Cluny Abbey, located in Burgundy, France, was the "second capital of the Christian world" in the Middle Ages. But this "is not a Burgundian fact: it is a European fact* Ibid., p. 43. ." And it was a power, physical and spiritual that played with political power: "A Saint Bernard* Bernard de Fontaine (1090-1153) was abbot of the Clairvaux abbey, in Bourgogne. Founder of the Cistercian order and precursor of the "holy war" idea". stands out above the princes of his time as the arbiter"* Lecture IX, "Europe et Chrétienté", p. 136. . In the Middle Ages, the "powerful Christian organization", which Febvre likens to a "totalitarian fact", hindered the formation of "strong national homelands" and caused the emergence of a "common conscience". The crusades, launched at the dawn of the eleventh century to liberate the tomb of Christ, provided an occasion for a huge mixing of Europeans, an instrument for "European unification", spiritually, politically and commercially. Maritime traffic recovered in the Mediterranean. It caused the rise of "international capitalism"* Ibid., p. 137. , according to Febvre, and the "energy surge" of the year one thousand in Europe. This surge would explain the economic and demographic development that took place, with the emergence of the feudal system, but also the dynamics of the Reconquista in the eleventh century, with the recovery of Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica from the Muslims, a few years before the first crusade (1096). In the thirteenth century, the trade balance of the West was recovering, following the renewal of trade with the East. Trade promoted exchanges, meetings between societies and is the origin of the development of cities and the emergence of the "bourgeois" class of merchants, bankers, encouraged by the capitalist spirit and the spirit of tolerance. The city, therefore, was a European creation. It was a "communal revolution" and the result, a proto-democracy. At the heart of the cities arose the Gothic cathedrals, the fruit of the new urban economy that spread throughout Europe. Architecture and language (French was the number one written vernacular language) turned the Europe of the thirteenth century "into a French Europe". This, in short, says Febvre, was, "the beginning of a rapid European expansion"* Lecture XII, "L'Europe et la reprise économique", p. 174. .

But, asks Lucien Febvre, when did we start to talk of Europe? Answer: from the moment the West ceased to feel inferior to the East.

He noted this in the Memoirs of Philippe de Commynes (1447-1511), that the noble Flemish diplomat and advisor to the kings Louis IX, Charles VIII and Louis XII boasted of having "visited and seen and the best part of Europe". He is now sometimes called "the inventor of Europe"* Joël Blanchard, Commynes l'Européen. L'invention du politique, Geneva, Droz, 1996. . From his discussions with the English, the Italians, the Spaniards, the French, Europe appeared a "living reality" with a sort of "solidarity"* Lecture XIII, "Le texte de Commynes. L'Occident cesse de se sentir inférieur à l'Orient", p. 177. and the fuzzy awareness of a common identity. There is even a sense of "superiority" when he prides himself on not knowing Africa and Asia. This is a moment of change in self-esteem: the West raises its head against Byzantium, the Umayas of Syria, the Abbasids of Persia, the Fatimids of Egypt. It is in the 16th century, says Febvre, that the name of Europe begins to come into common use. He takes as evidence of this the poems of Du Bellay, Ronsard, Maurice Scève. Books appear that bear the name of Europe, even if it is in Latin. His beloved Erasmus, who travelled Europe and attracted large audiences, had a European conscience, i.e. a vision of issues that exceed national politics, even if the word "Europe" does not appear in his Éloge de la folie (1511).

This emergence of the European conscience had several origins, according to Febvre. The discovery of America, for example, forced Europeans to become aware of themselves and to distinguish their space from other spaces. The "new" continent (Mundus Novus) began to be compared with "the old continent". There is also the Reformation, which caused a radical split in the body of Christendom. This loss of unity required a new name to refer to the peoples of the West, "And the old word Europe, that pre-Christian word, that ancient word, that word of ancient geography, comes just at the right moment to group together so many countries, states, sovereigns… under the same name"* Lecture XVIII, "Le XVIe siècle et l'Europe", p. 198. . This phenomenon must be remembered when we ask ourselves, as is often the case, about the Christian origins of Europe. In fact, it was at the very moment when Christian Europe was torn apart that the word Europe begins to spread. It tends to laicize the reality that had underlain the concept of Christianity. The humanist Renaissance was part of this movement, since it harked back to Greco-Latin culture. The Birth of Venus (circa 1485) was the brilliant symbol of a cultural revolution in motion that seeks to look beyond Christian culture* Lucien Febvre did not take this account into consideration. He maintains a certain distance from painting and history of art culture. . This was the moment, says Lucien Febvre, when the literature of vulgar languages began: French and Italian in particular. A discrete but irreversible movement of secularisation seized Europe: "The whole history of European civilization since the fourteenth century is the story of a gradual conquest of civilization by the laity". I t is "the history of the methodical laicization of all culture by new forces"* Lecture XIX, "Les textes de Sully. La domination universelle", p. 205. .

The high point of this process, according to the historian, came about in the 18th century, with philosophers who concerned themselves with notions of universality, humanity and "public good". Lucien Febvre does not look towards the rationalist movement or the birth of Masonic culture: he chooses several philosophers, like Fénelon, who calls for a "universal republic"; like Montesquieu, who evokes "the freedom of Europe" and pronounces this sentence that Febvre considers sublime, "If I knew something useful to my country, but harmful to Europe, or useful to Europe but harmful to the human race, I would regard it as a crime"* Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Cahiers (1716-1755). Textes recueillis et présentés par Bernard Grasset, entièrement revus sur les manuscrits par A. Masson, Paris, éditions Bernard Grasset, 1941, p. 263. ; like Voltaire who, in his book Le Siècle de Louis XIV, considers that we find in "Christian Europe" the very principles of public law and politics unknown in other parts of the world* For example, the fact that prisoners could not be used as slaves. ", an identifiable lifestyle; like Rousseau, who in his Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne (1772) pronounced the word "European" for the first time: "There are no Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, or Englishmen even today, whatever one may say, there only remains Europeans." This was the moment to be proud of being a "citizen of the world". For the enlightened elite, humanity had replaced Christianity. But did that Europe attend to the people? Certainly not. It was "a Europe for intellectual people* Lecture XXII, p. 236. ". In 1718 the literary magazine L'Europe savante appeared in The Hague; in 1763 the Gazette littéraire d' Europe was created in Paris. It was Europe, it was French Europe* Rivarol, De l'universalité de la langue française ; discours qui a emporté le prix à l'Académie de Berlin, Berlin et Paris, 1784. .

But the French Revolution would reverse that movement. At Valmy, the cry was "Long live the Nation!" And citizenship, nationality and borders were invented. An under-siege mentality spread throughout France. Its new republican values led it to regard Europe as the Europe of kings, as a hostile Europe: "And suddenly, it was no longer a question of Europe as a country, as the country. It was only a question of a nation, the nation, and all that the national engendered"* Lecture XXIII, "La Révolution. Comment les illusions européennes sombrent sur la nation", p. 245. .  France then became a model, an example to follow. Lucien Febvre quotes Hegel (1770-1830) saying to Victor Cousin: "You are lucky, you French ... you have a nation". One began to think about the country, territory and border. A "national mysticism" became contagious.

That heralded in the era of nationalisms and wars. For Lucien Febvre, national demands "light fires in the four corners of Europe" … "To cook their little boiled egg", and they were now ready to "set the whole world ablaze"* Lecture XXVI, p. 283. . Faced with this wave that inundated Europe throughout the 19th century, idealists, like Victor Hugo who dreamt of a "United States of Europe" in 1849, were powerless. Franco-German antagonism originated there. What was the battle between Prussia and France in 1870 all about? The effect of Germany's desire to become a nation, to seal its unity? That would be proof that notions of nations or nationalities are "explosive products"* Lecture XXV, "L'autre écueil: la nationalité", p. 279. . Certainly when thinking of fascism and Nazism, Febvre considered nations to be "more formidable than kings"* Lecture XXVI, p. 283. . It is the end in Europe of "the true spirit of peace". Very pessimistically, Lucien Febvre believed that between 1920 and "today", Europe "proved to be a notion in crisis, a refuge, a last hope of salvation".

The conclusion of this course at the Collège de France, which he called "Brûler l'étape" (The Burning Stage) is not very optimistic. It was 1945. Nazi Germany was crushed by US and Soviet forces. But Europe was in ruins. Lucien Febvre appears to mock the frenzied Europeanists who proclaim: "Let us create the European republic. Let us set up the European nation". He believed that it was necessary to build Europe and that the priority was the development of the economic and cultural dimension. But the Europe of 1945 was no longer that of Fenelon and Voltaire's era. The war, through its scale and its consequences, revealed the global nature of the challenge and the "increasing complexity of universal interests"* Lecture XXVIII, "Conclusion. Brûler l'étape?", p. 304. . He raised the question: "Can we conceive of the creation of a Europe superimposed on European nations that makes them the provinces of a vast unified state?* Ibid., p. 311." Europe was out-dated: "The problem of Europe is the problem of the world". Would Europe be anything but a "desperate remedy* Ibid, p. 307."? However, we must try the experiment of European peace, "a virile peace, a peace that fights, a peace that seeks, what? the salvation of humanity* Leçon XXVIII, "Conclusion. Brûler l'étape?", p. 317. ".

Lucien Febvre sees himself to be a victim of the misuse that "collaborators" of all kinds made of the European theme during the Occupation. "Neither despairing nor without hope", he said of himself. Was not talking about the world a way of not believing in a European palingenesis, a future for a European Europe, based on a "humanist civilization" of which he had said so much good? His old anarchist and Proudhonian background is reflected in this globalist flight. One might even think that he is close to federalist currents of thought. Between these two poles, the first of which predominates, there is a shifting mid-point at this time, where people like Henri Frenay believe that there is the possibility of a third way, between Gaullism and communism, and a future for a European Europe, and who think that "world unity" is the major challenge of the post-war period. Febvre leans rather towards the international socialists* Joseph Pinard, Lucien Febvre. Militant socialiste à Besançon, 1907-1912, Besançon, Cêtre, 2011. who want to avoid a confrontation between the two emerging blocs, like the socialist pacifist Marceau Pivert*, notice PIVERT Marceau, Souverain [new version] by Quentin Gasteuil, version put on line 28 October 2014, latest modification 15 July 2019.. However, this belief was a minority one and not very popular, either among the public or intellectuals. After 1950, as the historian Robert Frank writes, based on the experience of Edgar Morin, "Europe, in the eyes of many, embodies a narrow, particular cause, neither generous nor universalizable, that of the West against the East, that of the North against the South"* Robert Frank, "Raymond Aron, Edgar Morin et les autres : le combat intellectuel pour l'Europe est-il possible après 1950?", in A. Bachoud, J. Cuesta, M. Trebitsch (dir.), Les intellectuels et l'Europe, de 1945 à nos jours, Publications universitaires Denis Diderot, 2000, p.82..


This scepticism and that worldview would mark less his political vision than the legacy of his work as a historian. It was not by chance that Lucien Febvre was approached by the newly set up UNESCO. In the aftermath of the war, UNESCO asked the famous historian to write a book for teachers.

He wrote the manuscript but it was not published at that time. It was rediscovered recently and has finally been published! It's called: Nous sommes des sang-mêlés (we are of mixed blood). It deals with "eradicating from the teaching of history conscious, and especially unconscious, seedbeds of racism, nationalism, denial or the fear of otherness, of stupidity, and replacing it with the discourse of a pacifist hope that seeks to promote by theorizing the positive character of the mixed blood and the interdependence of men and cultures"* Denis et Élisabeth Crouzet, foreword of: Lucien Febvre, François Crouzet, Nous sommes tous des sang-mêlés. Manuel d'histoire de la civilisation française, Paris, Albin Michel, 2012, p.15.. It is by no means irrelevant to note that the man behind this project, the Canadian ethno-psychologist Otto Klineberg, was one of the first thinkers to denounce the warmongering nation-race link* Otto Klineberg, Race et psychologie. La question raciale devant la science moderne, Paris UNESCO, 1951. See: Chloé Maurel, "La question des races", Gradhiva, 5 | 2007, 114-131.. In simple language, Febvre denounces the toxicity of the "bloody idols" of nationalist and racist ideologies. How? By demonstrating the unscientific and toxic nature of the myth of absolute origin and "purity", a theme that reminds us of these courses at the Collège de France during the Occupation and which is at the heart of his concept of "European civilization". Once again, Febvre condemned racism as moral and scientific ineptitude. If there is no ultimate origin, it is because every civilization is an exchanger: it borrows as much as it lends. In the world, every society is both a debtor and a creditor. Trade flows have always been global and are good indicators of interdependence: food, languages, plants, clothing, tools, men, art, literature ... come from everywhere.

A strictly "national" history is, therefore, a self-centred point of view, which may work politically, but is not scientifically viable. History is a meeting, an exchange, a mixing of blood, a recycling, an assimilation. France, in its position of crossroads, is the perfect illustration of this axiom. At all stages of her history, she has shown "solidarity with outsiders". She has received much from the world and she has given much to the world: "To receive, to give, and to know oneself to be at once a debtor and creditor, is that to extinguish in oneself the creative pride which one feels as a citizen of an old nation laden with years and glory, or with a young nation eager to assert itself* Lucien Febvre, François Crouzet, Nous sommes tous des sang-mêlés, op.cit., p. 24.?" It follows that civilization "does not necessarily identify with the national spirit, far from it".

Finally, Lucien Febvre doubts that the idea of ??a "French civilization" is valid, because its being is deeply European. Yet it confirms the existence of a "European civilization", based on freedom of conscience, belief in the virtues of reason and the rule of law.

In this book, he asks in what way is Europe a "civilization" (a concept invented in 1766)? A civilization, he concludes, is not a fact that exists in itself. It's a construct. "Civilization is a human will", a thought, values, a culture, morals, a dream. Hence his definition of Europe: "Europe is two things: an organization and a civilization". His disciple, Fernand Braudel, would sum it up in a masterly formula: "Culture is the common language of Europe". For Lucien Febvre, Europe was, therefore, the product of will, politics and history.

His definition was echoed many years later, when the European Union attempted the difficult task of defining itself. This unique definition was stated at the European Council of Lisbon in 2007: "The term European is associated with geographical, historical, and cultural elements that all contribute to European identity. Such a sharing of ideas, values and historical links cannot be condensed into a definitive formula. On the contrary, it is redefined by each successive generation."

This definition must be assessed in the light of the last identity-based and ethnic cleansing horror that took place in the heart of Europe, in the former Yugoslavia, in the 1990s. The Serbs departed from "historical time" to plunge into the deadly myth of original purity and cultural homogeneity* Ivan ?olovi?, "Les mythes politiques du nationalisme ethnique", Transeuropéennes, 1994, p. 61-67, cited by Jacques Semelin, Purifier et détruire. Usages politiques des massacres et génocides, Paris, Seuil, 2005, p. 66. See also: Ivan ?olovi?, "Les prêtres de la langue. Poésie, nation et politique en Serbie", Terrain, 2003, n° 41, p. 35-46; Id., "L'espace spirituel et la communication interculturelle" in Gohard-Radenkovic (dir.), Intégration des minorités et nouveaux espaces interculturels, Berne, Peter Lang, p. 17-27.. Nazism, a "culturicidal" movement, was a suicidal and genocidal attempt to break away from Europe's common heritage and its history. The stark message could be summed up as follows: Europe has a genetics so complex that it is difficult to undertake a mobilizing narrative, like a "national novel", while the need for it was ever more pressing in 1945. There lay all the difficulty in making Europe understand and love itself. But that difficulty can be salutary.

There is now a cold wind blowing over Europe. The wind of national-populism is causing a wave of centrifugal forces. The long and laborious process of what has been called the "European construct" has come to a standstill. It is not only the concrete and tangible achievements of this "construct" that have come into question (the euro, for example), but also its history, the consensus on the values that have long underpinned the will to construct a Europe out of what the Council of Europe calls a "common heritage". We are witnessing the rise of an increasingly widespread movement that seeks to rewrite history in order to focus on the national idea again, which in the past was both liberating and a curse.

A rumour has spread and seized people's minds, and the political sphere has exploited it: Europe has never been European. Europe has never existed. Only national facts are valid for the history of peoples and their interests, as if the nation were not itself a construct, a myth or a "novel"! As if it were the only political and social reality that ever existed in history. The German populist party, AFD, wants to rehabilitate the Nazi concept of "Völkish". Hungary has rehabilitated Admiral Horty, who was the Hungarian Pétain. The Europhobic movement draws its inspiration from various sources drawn from a certain historiography and tries to justify its positions with false re-interpretations of history. Often, its only aim is to undermine the historical legitimacy of the European construct in order to destabilize public opinion. Hence, attempts are made to denounce the ideologically suspect character of the European project by evoking Nazi plans for setting up a "Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft". That is why, in the days leading up to the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union (23 June 2016), British social media (such as Independence Daily) suddenly brought an out-of-print book to public attention: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea written by John Laughland in 1997.

At a time when a nationalist counter-narrative is emerging in all parts of Europe, we should remember what Ernest Renan said in 1884, in his famous lecture What is the Nation?: "Nations are not something eternal. They began and they will end. The European confederation will probably replace them. But this is not the law of the century in which we live". I was thinking about this when I visited La Scala Museum in Milan on December 13, 2019. The first opera performed there was called Europa riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri. It was on August 3, 1778 at the La Scala opera house. It is the very idea of ??Europe that is at stake, and not just a few aspects of current politics. Hence the Europhobe's recourse to history and making use of memory to try to justify that Europe is not the ideal framework for political life.

We are witnessing a crisis of cultural consciousness, in the anthropological sense of representation and embodiment. Hence the attempts to rewrite the history of Europe and replace them with new national narratives that are at odds with what Europe has represented throughout history. This deficient embodiment of Europe is also a deficit in self-knowledge, of knowledge of one's own history. That difficulty of situating oneself within a long period time is most certainly the origin of this lack of the sense of collective identity. History is a common past that provides depth: jointly experienced trials, conflicts, reconciliations, and values. Reclaiming the historical dimension of Europe would enable us to counter the great reproach addressed to Europe: its "artificiality", its "abstract nature". Europe is sick but it can recover, if it follows words of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: "We do not recover because we remember, but we remember because we recover"./