The Appeal of Boulanger and Boulangism
To North Americans, 1881-1889
C. Stewart Doty
Historians have made much of a "North Atlantic Triangle"
of English-speaking Britain, Canada, and the United States,
but they have paid considerably less attention to the French
"North Atlantic Triangle" of France, QuÃ©bec, and FrancoAmerican New England. Of particular interest would be how
an event or development at one point of this French triangle
might affect events or developments at other points during
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One such development surely was the career of General
Georges Boulanger. Students of French history generally recogÂ
nize that he and his movement of the 1880s, Boulangism, posed
the biggest threat to the French parliamentary republic prior
to De Gaulle's, save for the special circumstances of the Vichy
regime. Moreover, Boulangism provided the seedbed for a new
kind of nationalism. In its ideas, tactics, organization, and poliÂ
tical sociology, this new nationalism was twentieth-century
mass movement nationalism in embryo, generally but not necesÂ
sarily rightist in politics. It proposed to restore national vigor
and strength through substituting a strong leader for weak
parliamentarianism, replacing capitalism's class struggle with
corporatism's class reconciliation, regaining the national spirit
through the blood and soil of one's ancestors, and so on. FreÂ
quently, it was anti-Semitic.
One of the untold aspects of Boulanger and Boulangism
is their association with North America, particularly their impact
on QuÃ©bec life and politics. Boulanger visited North America
in 1881 as one of 30 members of the French delegation to the
Battle of Yorktown centennial commemoration. His visit to
QuÃ©bec on that occasion was Isuch a spectacular success that
it caused QuÃ©bÃ©cois to pay attention to his political movement
when it emerged after 1887.