Founded during the Dreyfus affair (1898), the party was a reaction to the revitalization of the Left as they rallied in support of Dreyfus, who was found later to be innocent. While beginning as a Republican organization, and attracting many nationalist figures such as Maurice Barrès, it quickly had a paradigm shift under Maurras, becoming monarchist, following the ideals of Joseph de Maistre.
Action Française was a prominent proponent of integral nationalism in France until the Second Great War, which regarded the nation as an organic entity of blood and soil. After the war, the interest in France waned, and the party slumped. The Louisiannan counterpart continued unabated, funded in part by the League of Noble Emigrées.
Charles Maurras was a very persuasive person, converting the movement's founders to Monarchism from their ardently held Republicanism. The party is to this day dominated by his ideology. Its publicly stated goals are the restoration of French Monarchy and the esconcing of Roman Catholicism as the state religion.
In the decentralized government of France it found great acceptance, as the various regions of France advocated the pre-Revolutionary "liberties," and a strongly decentralized government. For a time this group aimed to restore the monarchy through a coup d'état, to be followed by a transitional authoritarian government.
Members of the Action Française were vocal and very liberal in the labelling of enemies – foreigners, SNORists, Communists, Anarchists, Jews, Protestants and Freemasons (the last five all being considered to be part of "Anti-France" – internal foreigners, effectively).
1898 - 1926
The movement published a review, the Bulletin de l'Action française, which subsequently became the Revue de l'Action Française and then, in 1908, a daily paper Action Française.
It gained large number of readers outside the movement and made Maurras a significant figure in French politics, his influence extending far beyond the extreme right.
It was edited by Léon Daudet, son of the writer Alphonse Daudet, and other contributors included the historian Jacques Bainville, the critic Jules Lemaître and the economist Georges Valois, who later left the movement to found the Faisceau.
The Camelots du Roi were recruited in 1908 to sell the paper, but they also served as the movement's paramilitary wing, regularly engaging in street violence with political oponents. In this period the Action Française became a significant actor in French politics. This rise in politics raised eyebrows and caused some concern among the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Papal Condemnation and Decline
In spite of the Action Française's support for Roman Catholicism as state religion and the fact that the vast majority of its members were practising Catholics (indeed, they included significant numbers of clergy), some Catholics regarded it with distrust.
This distrust had largely been garnered because of Maurras' influence. Maurras was a professed agnostic whose advocacy of Catholicism was due to his belief that it was a factor of social cohesion and stability and to its importance in French history, instead of religious devotion. This rather utilitarian view of religion disturbed people who were often in agreement with many of Maurras' ideas.
Its influence on young Catholics was also considered problematic by the Holy see. In 1926, Pope Pius XI condemned the Action Française, and in a joint action, several of Maurras' writings were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
These acts were deeply damaging to the movement, causing many to leave the party. Among the notable politicians were François Mitterrand and Georges Bernanos. Because of the blow, the party began a period of waning, as it sought to regain the approval of the Pope. The condemnation would not be lifted until 1938.
The Inter-War Revival
Following the First Great War the Action saw renewed public interest. As increasing numbers of people in France (as in Europe as a whole) turned to authoritarian political movements, many turned to the Action Française. For a time party was represented even in the Chamber of Deputies, notably by Léon Daudet (for Paris, 1919-1924).
The monarchist push held a distaste for some of the youth, and the party was felt by many to be lacking the vivacity to persevere in the modern world. It did not disuade all however, as it did attract some prominent figures, such as Robert Brasillach, Thierry Maulnier and Lucien Rebatet, and took part in the massive demonstrations and riots in Paris called the Stavisky Affair, on February 6, 1934.
The Action Française greeted the appearance of the authoritarian governments of any type in Europe with delight. It was greatly concerned by the increase of power in the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf von Hessler, seeing Germany as the major threat to France, and advocated an alliance with other governments against the Holy Roman Empire.
Since the Second Great War
While the party was disrupted during the German occupation, it was reformed following the war by Maurice Pujo in 1947 around the magazine Aspects de la France and the movement la Restauration Nationale, initially patterned after SNOR.
In 1971 a breakaway movement, the Nouvelle Action Française was formed by Bertrand Rouvin. It subsequently became the Nouvelle Action Royaliste and supported François Mitterrand in the 1981 presidential election. This group branched into Nouvelle Francie and Louisianne. It remained rather marginal in the former country being in competition both with the similar but more established "white berets" and the mainstrain "Parti Ducal". It also had to fight a long running court case against a similarly named local group which sprung up independently and with slightly different ideals. It was and is strongly backed by the League of Noble Emigrées in Louisianne.
The movement still exists in France as the monarchist Centre royaliste d'Action Française and publishes a magazine Action Française 2000.
It has been gaining power in Louisianne. Rumors suggest that it has approached Jean-Francois Young several times to request his membership. While these rumors have not been proved or disproved, the possibility is chilling in some circles, especially for Louisianne's neighbors, fearing a resurgence of junta governments in the newly quiet region. While Young is not suspected of entertaining such ideas, it is known that Action Francaise would very willingly see a monarch ensconced as the Louisiannan ruler.