The articles Paul de Man wrote for Le Soir in 1941-42 fumish the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was at that time a fascist and an anti-Semite as well as an active collaborator with the Nazi occupation of Belgium.
A juridical stance and prosecutorial attitude respond to the circumstances of the controversy that has begun to unfold since these articles were discovered and made known. De Man eschewed any acknowledged reflection on his writing and activity during the war. He participated in fascism publicly, but did not abandon it publicly. Those of us concerned with his work and career—ourselves participants in an intellectual culture he helped shape—are obligated to investigate his involvement with fascism as thoroughly as possible! The prosecutorial stance establishes the aggressiveness required of such an inquiry. By the same token, I have demanded of myself the limiting standard of being convinced beyond a reasonable doubt before drawing conclusions as to de Man’s positions, beliefs, and actions.
Publicist and Propagandist
From December 1940 until November 1942 de Man wrote book reviews and cultural criticism for the Brussels daily Le Soir. The paper was published under the censorship of the German military authority which administered Belgium after the German invasion of May 1940. Its owners’ power was abrogated by the occupying power. The Germans made Raymond de Becker editor-in-chief. De Becker and many other members of the editorial staff belonged to the Rexist party, a fascist organization that originated in the 1930s from the ultra-right youth movements and split from the Catholic party in the 1930s. Le Soir had a circulation of 230,000, making it the largest publication in Belgium during the occupation.
De Man regularly performed the duties of publicist and propagandist. During the first several months of his tenure at Le Soir he frequently reported—always uncritically, often enthusiastically—cultural events designed to foster fascist ideology.
He praised lectures by a scholar named Luigi Pared on Italian history for “reveal[ing] fundamental aspects of the current revolution,” from “the suppression of the struggle among classes” to a colonial and racial policy which “sends colonists into conquered territories to organize the social life of the natives without any intermingling with them, assures the solidity of the empire and the maintaining of the race.” In Pareti’s second lecture he saw a “lesson. . .important for Belgians wanting to see their country reconstructed,” in particular, a greater reliance on their own native qualities” The lecture had been a refutation of the influence of the French Revolution on the Risorgimento. The real key to Italian unification had been “a philosophy of the meek. . . in which labor and earth were exalted and where the necessity of an amelioration of the relations between classes was noted” (3/17/41).
De Man reported the publication of four pamphlets in Flemish on the Third Reich. He found they provided “precious clarifications and important data” on Nazi policies and reforms. One pamphlet explained worker support for Hider. Another revealed “how the attitude of the German victors was more worthy, more just, and more humane than that of the French in 1918” (4/14/41).
De Man interviewed Abel Bonnard, Vichy Minister of Education and member of the governing committee of Groupe “Collaboration,” just before the latter’s lecture on “the constitution of an elite in the new Europe.” The idea that “the collapse of democracy is not alien to this reviving of the mind’ ” is among the views approvingly quoted by de Man as “some of the principles that must lead to this regrouping of forces which, in Belgium, as in France, is a necessary condition for the nation to be able to revive” (6/7—8/41).
He reported, with apparent approval, the words of the burgomaster-commissioner of Ghent. Hendrick Elias was an activist and theoretician of the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV), a fascist party within the Flemish nationalist movement; the Nazis had designated the VNV the one political organization permitted in Flanders (its counterpart in Wallony being the Rexist party) and installed Elias in-his governmental position. During a German-Flemish cultural event in Ghent, “M. Elias indicated how the current war had given birth to an immense hope for definitive emancipation, a hope which will be realized when this people [that is, Flemings], who live from Dunkerque all the way to Dollart, with its own spiritual unity, its language and its own culture, will have firmly established its collaboration with the German Reich” (8/16—17/41)….