Colonel Villebois-Mareuil’s Corps (1898-1900): Political Violence, Paramilitarism and Case-thinking between the State’s Local and Global Levels
Abstract: In 1899, a few weeks after the Fashoda incident between the British and French Empires (1898, Sudan), during the second Boer War (South Africa) the Comte Georges de Villebois Mareuil (1847-1900), colonel in the French Army, took command of an armed corps against the British side. He was even appointed general by the Boer authorities, before dying in April 1900 under the bullets of the British colonial army at the battle of Boshof. In 1896, and now within the French metropole, Villebois-Mareuil created the Union des Sociétés Régimentaires d’Anciens Militaires (particularly frequented by the veterans having repressed the Commune de Paris, 1871). In 1898, he has been close to the foundation of the far right, nationalist and monarchist Action Française movement. Agglomerated around the eponym newspaper and increasingly influential within the Third Republic, ten years later the Action Française’s hierarchs created, in Paris, the armed group of the Camelots du roi (1908). Consequently, at both a local and at a global level, within an imperial world deeply reinforced at the end of the “long nineteenth century”, political violence and armed groups involving ambiguous relations with the state’s legitimate authority through paramilitarism were at the core of Villebois-Mareuil aristocratic, officer-class ideology and practice. Few works have been written on Villebois-Mareuil, none paying a systematic attention to his commitment to political violence and paramilitarism, not only within but also beyond the national and/or regime’s borders (French Third Republic, South African Republic, Orange Free State, United Kingdom, etc.). Considered in close relation with the armed groups that he promoted and/or participated in, colonel Villebois Mareuil’s case allows us to better understand the interactions between political violence and the European imperial and colonial states during the so-called belle époque. This case-study-based analysis will mobilize a large array of different sources (official reports, personal testimonies, newspapers, etc). This contribution is an effort to enlarge what has been recently and interdisciplinarily defined by historians and sociologists as “case-thinking” and “game of scales” (Jacques Revel, Jean-Claude Passeron, Penser par cas. Raisonner à partir de singularités, Paris, EHESS, 2005). Furthermore, by using Pierre Bourdieu’s state definition (Sur l’État, Paris, Seuil, 2012) to analyse paramilitarism between local and global scales, it helps creating a concrete, pioneering dialogue between the so-called sociology of social movements and the so-called sociology of reproduction.