The Action Française (, French Action), founded in 1898, is a French Monarchist (Orléanist) counter-revolutionary movement and periodical founded by Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois and whose principal ideologist was Charles Maurras. Although it supported the Orleanist branch, according to historian René Rémond's categorization of French right-wing families, it would be closer to the legitimist branch, characterized by rejection of the 1789 French Revolution's ideals (while the Orleanist branch is, according to Rémond, a movement which supports economic liberalism).
It was founded during the Dreyfus affair, partly in reaction to the left-wing revitalization that materialized in defense of the army captain, famously launched by Emile Zola's J'accuse. Originally a nationalist organization that attracted figures such as Maurice Barrès, it became monarchist under the influence of Charles Maurras, who followed the counter-revolutionary theorist, Joseph de Maistre. Until its dissolution at the end of the Second World War, the Action Française was a prominent proponent of far-right integral nationalism, which regarded the nation as an organic entity, a wedding of blood and soil.
The ideology of the Action Française was dominated by the thought of Charles Maurras, following his adherence and his conversion of the movement's founders to monarchism. The Action Française supported a restoration of the monarchy and, after the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, the restoration of Roman Catholicism as the state religion, even though Maurras was an agnostic himself. It should not be considered that the movement intended to restore real power to the king, merely to set him up as a rallying point in distinction to the Third Republic of France which was considered corrupt and unworkable by many of its opponents, whom they hoped to come to their banner.
The movement advocated decentralization (a "federal monarchy"), with the restoration of pre-Revolutionary "liberties" to the ancient provinces of France (replaced during the Revolution by the departmental system). It aimed to achieve a restoration by means of a coup d'état, probably involving a transitional authoritarian government.
The Action Française was not focused on denouncing one social or political group as the conspiratorial source of ills befalling France. Different groups of the French far right had especial animus against either the Jews, Huguenots (French Protestants), or Freemasons. To these Maurras added unspecific foreigners residing in France, who had been outside of French law under the ancien regime, and to whom he invented a slur name derived from ancient Greek history: métèques. These four groups of "internal foreigners" Maurras called les quatre états confédérés and were all considered to be part of "Anti-France". Of course he was also opposed to socialism, and, after the 1917 October Revolution, to communists, but antagonism against them did not have to be constructed or marshalled (although the Protestants and the Freemasons were traditional supporters of the Republic, pejoratively called la gueuse (the slut) by the AF, and were thus in general left-wing).
The AF 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 (first edition on 21 March 1908). It gained a large number of readers outside the movement, with a circulation of 30 000 copies, and made Maurras a significant figure in French politics, his influence extending far beyond the extreme right. The daily 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 fascist Faisceau.
The Camelots du Roy were recruited in 1908 to sell the paper, but they also served as the movement's youth paramilitary wing, regularly engaging in street violence with political opponents. In this period, the Action Française became a significant actor in French politics, in particular among the students' of the Latin Quarter. However, its rise caused some concern among the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
In spite of the Action Françaises 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.
Much of this was due to the influence of Maurras, an 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. This rather utilitarian view of religion disturbed people who were often in agreement with many of Maurras's ideas. Its influence on young Catholics was also considered problematic. Thus, on 29 December 1926, Pope Pius XI condemned the Action Française.
Several of Maurras's writings, including the newspaper were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum at the same time, on January 9, 1927, with Action Française being the first newspaper ever placed on the Roman Catholic Church's list of banned books  This was a devastating blow to the movement. On 8 March 1927 the AF members were prohibited from receiving the sacraments. Many of its members left (two Catholics who were forced to look for a different path in politics and life were writers François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos); and it entered a period of decline.
In 1939, following the Spanish Civil War and a revival of anti-communism in the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII decided to end the condemnation. Thereafter, the Action Française claimed that the condemnation was decided for political purposes.
Despite the 1926 Papal condemnation, the Action Française remained popular during the interwar period, being one of the most important far right leagues, along with the Croix-de-Feu and others. As increasing numbers of people in France (as in Europe as a whole) turned to authoritarian political movements, many turned to the Action Française. It thus continued to recruit members from the new generations, such as Robert Brasillach (who would become an infamous collaborationist), Thierry Maulnier, Lucien Rebatet, etc. It was marginally represented for a time in the Chamber of Deputies, notably by Léon Daudet, elected in the right-wing Chambre bleue horizon (1919–1924).
However, with the rise of fascism and the creation of seemingly fascist leagues, added to the 1926 Papal condemnation, the royalist movement was also struck by various dissidence: Georges Valois would create the fascist Faisceau, Louis Dimier would split apart, while other members (Eugène Deloncle, Gabriel Jeantet, etc.) created the terrorist La Cagoule group.
The Action Française spearheaded the 6 February 1934 crisis, which led to the fall of the second Cartel des gauches and to the replacement of Radical Édouard Daladier by conservative Gaston Doumergue. In foreign policy, Maurras and Bainville supported Pierre Laval's double alliance with Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy and with the United Kingdom in the Stresa Front (1935) on one side, and with the Soviet Union on the other side, against the common enemy Nazi Germany. The Action Française greeted Franco's appearance with delight, and supported the self-proclaimed Caudillo during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). But the extra-parliamentary agitation brought by the various far-right leagues, including the AF, led Pierre Laval's government to outlaw militias and paramilitary leagues, leading to the dissolution of the AF on 13 February 1936  — the others leagues were dissolved only in June 1936 by the Popular Front.
Marshal Philippe Pétain's proclamation of the Vichy regime and of the Révolution nationale after the failure of the Battle of France was acclaimed by Maurras as a "divine surprise", and he rallied the collaborationist regime. Royalist members hoped that Pétain would restore the monarchy, and the Action Françaises headquarters were moved from Paris to Vichy. However, the AF members were split between supporting the counter-revolutionary regime and their nationalism: after 1942, and in particular in 1943, some members, such as Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie, Pierre Guillain de Bénouville or Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves joined the Resistance or escaped to join the Free French Forces. Others actively collaborated, while Maurras supported the Vichy government, but theoretically opposed Pétain's collaboration with the Germans. After the Liberation, he was condemned to life imprisonment in 1944, though he was reprieved in 1952. The Action Française was dissolved in 1944.
The Action Française reformed itself in 1947, under the influence of Maurice Pujo who created the newspaper Aspects de la France (AF) and the counter-revolutionary movement, "la Restauration Nationale" ("National Restoration"). After Maurras's death in 1952, two rival newspapers, Aspects de la France and Pierre Boutang's La Nation Française revived the Maurassian legacy, until the demise of La Nation Française in 1967.
In 1971, a breakaway movement, the "Nouvelle Action Française" was formed by Bertrand Renouvin, Georges-Paul Wagner and others. It subsequently became the Nouvelle Action Royaliste (NAR), which supported the Orleanist heir (although in his 1968 reprinting of his study on the three French right-wing families, René Rémond still classified it in the legitimist movement because of its counter-revolutionary ideology). The movement called to support François Mitterrand in the 1981 presidential election, instead of supporting Jacques Chirac's "neo-Gaullism" movement (the Gaullists are classed by René Rémond as Bonapartists) or Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's "Orleanist" movement (because of his support of economic liberalism).
In the beginning of the 1980s, various AF figures, such as Georges-Paul Wagner or Philippe Colombani joined the ranks of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN). Until the 1999 breakaway of the National Republican Movement (MNR) led by Bruno Mégret, Jean-Marie Le Pen's success was partly explained by his unification of the various far right families (such as Traditionalist Catholics, royalists, neofascists, etc.) which share few ideals apart from a distrust of liberal democracy and a staunch anti-communism.
The AF movement still exists as the monarchist and anti-European Union "Centre royaliste d'Action Française" and publishes a magazine called Action Française 2000. Its leader was Pierre Pujo (Maurice Pujo's son), who died in Paris on 10 November 2007. The student movement, called Action Française Etudiante, has approximately 15 local delegations (in places such as Paris, Normandy, Rennes, Bordeaux, and Forez) and a newspaper, Insurrection. Its President is Oliver Perceval.
The AF movement is member of the International Monarchist Conference.
In the 1960s, political scientist Ernst Nolte considered the Action Française to be the first fascist party, and the most manipulative and duplicitous of fascist parties. But his view-point is generally considered extreme, and the movement is not considered as historically important as the fascist groups which gained power, while many others argue that AF was in fact a reactionary movement.
More recently, Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell has cited the group, along with its predecessor Boulangism and Georges Valois' syndicalist Cercle Proudhon, as a major, direct intellectual influence on fascism.
According to historian René Rémond's famous classification of French right-wing families, the Action Française belongs to the legitimist counterrevolutionary movement, which rejects all deformations in the French political regime since the French Revolution of 1789.
In Harry Turtledove's American Empire alternative history books, the Action Française becomes a popular movement in France following the nation's defeat in the Great War. By the early 1930s, it has placed France under the rule of King Charles XI, and spends the decade re-arming for a rematch with Germany. After Kaiser Wilhelm's death in 1941, Action Française declares war on Germany, but its offensive by early 1942 has stalled at the Rhine and outside Hamburg. In 1944 Paris is then destroyed by a German nuclear weapon. It's unclear what happened to the organisation after this.