Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Alice Kaplan's The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach is rich with themes both political and ethical. Robert Brasillach rose to fame during the Nazi occupation of France, during which time Brasillach's high-profile career as a journalist gave the world insight into his extreme fascist beliefs.
Kaplan's book focuses on the political radicalization of an individual and all the factors that manifest in a certain unbridled mindset. She dives not only into the mind of Brasillach but also into the external factors he faced that explain his political evolution. By going as far back as his time in secondary school and moving all the way up to the time of his execution, Kaplan aims to suggest that this development was by no means logical or predictable:
Someone who started out on the nationalist, royalist right, so suspicious of all foreign influence, was not destined to become an apologist for the Nazis.
His rapid ascent through the ranks of a popular daily newspaper with a clear anti-Semitic message led to Brasillach's departure from his university. By 1935, Brasillach joined Je Suis Partout (I Am Everywhere), a fascist weekly paper that his name would forever be associated with.
Kaplan brings to light a defining event in the history of French political activism. On February 6, 1934, a rough assemblage of right-wingers decided to stage a protest. They targeted the Chamber of Deputies in Paris, but things turned violent when republican guards fought back. After the dust settled, fifteen rioters were dead and fifteen hundred wounded. The long-standing effects of the skirmish, according to Kaplan, caused a polarization of political activism in France that would change the course of history. This polarization would lead not only to radical change in Brasillach himself but also to a widening separation of the fascists and antifascists of France.
Brasillach's ethical spiral and subsequent conviction for treason against the French nation led to his execution—an execution that Kaplan sees as the unnecessary creation of a martyr, which in turn created a rallying point for the fascists in the years following the war. Anti-Semitic themes in his writings for Je Suis Partout included published addresses of Jewish people so as to assist in their deportation. After his trial, Brasillach wrote a letter in which he indicated full knowledge of what happened to those deported from France for the crime of being Jewish.
Kaplan's focus is to delve into this singular case and use Brasillach's story as a way of understanding the prevalence of fascist rhetoric in France since World War I.