Astolphe de Custine’s collection of letters La Russie en 1839, first published in France in 1843, was rediscovered by Henri Massis in 1946. Massis re-introduced Custine’s by then long forgotten letters on Russia to the French public. Once American Cold Warriors such as George Kennan and General Walter Bedell-Smith discovered the book, they promptly promoted it to the status of the most prophetic book on the “Russian soul.” Denounced as “fictional,” by many nineteenth-century writers and by a host of twentieth-century scholars, Custine’s book was accepted as canonical by a large reading public and, more importantly, by successive generations of us policy makers. This article contributes to the historiography of Cold War propaganda by looking first at the context in which the book was initially resurrected by Massis, and then by analyzing the ways in which Cold War propaganda constructed its “relevance,” “actuality” and “prophetic” character. The article begins by taking a look at the way in which Massis, the first popularizer of the book, fitted it into his own ideological pattern. In a second movement, the article analyzes the ways in which the book functioned in the post-wwii ideological context, seeking to discover if the alleged relevance of the book had anything to do with the survival into the postwar world of the European Right’s interwar tangle of received ideas and patterns of prejudice.
Historians and literary scholars still working in a Cold War paradigm cast Romanian Fascism as a form of reactionary resistance to liberal modernity, and not as a competing modernizing discourse and drive. Nevertheless, in a 1933 programmatic article, the Legionnaire leader, ideologue, and ‘martyr’ Vasile Marin wrote that political concepts such as ‘the Right,’ ‘the Left,’ and ‘extremism’ lost their relevance in Romania, as well as in Europe. They had been replaced by a ‘totalitarian view of the national life,’ which was common to Fascism, National-Socialism, and the Legion. This new ‘concept’ would allow Romania to ‘overcome, by absorbing them, the democratic and socialist experiences and would create the modern state,’ – a ‘totalitarian’ state. The present article aims to consolidate the conceptual gains of ‘new consensus’ historiography, which views the Iron Guard as part of a global revolutionary movement that was spurred by the practice of a political religion promising a ‘national rebirth’ or a ‘complete cultural’ and anthropological ‘renewal.’ Far from militating for national autarchy and populist-agrarian conservatism, the two Legionnaire leaders discussed in my article sought to align Romania with the modernizing, industrializing drive of Western European Fascism.