Sunday, July 18, 2010


Rexisme was an old political movement with a sordid past in Belgium. I regret not having more information on it, just for my own interest if no one else, but it was not very consistent, always controversial and something the older people I know do not want to talk about. It sounds like Rexisme started out as a very good idea to me but overtime it became very detached from its origins as the leadership became more and more intoxicated by the success (if you can call it that) of the NSDAP in Germany. Rexisme was a movement started by the nationalist leader, a very young man, Leon Degrelle, today one of the most infamous Nazi collaborators of Belgian history. Of course he was not in those days and had extensively traveled the world where he was particularly impressed by the failed Catholic revolution in Mexico.

The war cry of these Mexicans was VIVA CRISTO REY! That was what inspired the name for the movement Degrelle began. Rexisme advocated a very nationalist, authoritarian and very Catholic Belgium. It called for a moral rejuvenation of the country (good idea I think), rejected capitalism and democracy because of the corruption of the wealthy elite and the politicians and instead called for a corporatist government such as the Catholic Church had been supportive of. I do not know that corporatism has ever been fully tried in the modern world but it sounds like a good idea to me. Also important for is that the Rexists were supportive of the monarchy, that being one of the few things about the country’s government that they did not want to get rid of and totally change. The parliament would remain as well but in a very limited form since the corporate system would represent all interests.

Rexisme stressed that the corrupt rich people and the purchased governments were only in it for themselves and purposely created divisions between the people to distract from what they were doing and remain in power. Once again, this sounds very true to me and still probably the case today even. Originally, in the continent of Europe, the man most Rexists looked to was Benito Mussolini of Italy who was being very successful and, remember, was having kind words said about him by leaders like President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi in India. In Italy the Fascist party also advocated a muddled, limited kind of corporatism (I think Mussolini tended to just use the term because he did not know what his core ideology could be called) and it had a monarchy to maintain Italian traditions and made peace with the Catholic Church by signing the Lateran Pact.

Up till this point I have to say that Rexisme would have sounded pretty good to me. However, the young Degrelle was great at being a populist leader, giving inspirational speeches, but was also easily influenced himself and it seems his big trouble started when, in European politics, the success of Mussolini was eclipsed by Adolph Hitler. After this time Rexisme began to show signs of more and more imitating the NSDAP in Germany with thug leader style and growing racism and anti-Semitism which originally had no part in the Rexist platform. Degrelle had been doing very good politically, at one point even earning more votes that any other Belgian politician ever had but the Nazi attraction would be poisonous.
The Catholic Church leadership in Belgium turned against Rexisme as being too extremist. This was a bad blow since the Rexist magazine had become the most popular Catholic periodical in Europe. The growing racism and anti-Semitism, following the German example, really put the Church off, also because of the way Catholics and Christianity in general was being treated in Germany where most Catholics voted for their own parties against the NSDAP. But, by then the leadership of the Rexist movement was largely convinced that Hitler was the man of the future and they rushed ahead regardless of the Church and by then most of the people turning against them. Despite the admiration though, Degrelle did not want Belgium made a battlefield again and support the policy of King Leopold III to try to keep the kingdom neutral in the building Second World War.

This is significant because some people since have said that King Leopold III and the Rexisme shared a common agenda. This would probably have been big news to the King who I cannot see having anything to do with them, especially after they became more radical. He probably agreed with some of their early ideas, that were good ones, like many people did, but this sounds to me like just a way of attacking the legacy of the King because of the low reputation of Rexisme after the war. I have never seen any evidence that the King sympathized with them nor have I seen really any signs that they craved his approval. I cannot imagine the King doing that, taking a side, for any political party or movement whatever.

World War II was really the end of Rexisme. The Germans occupied the country and some followed the example of Leon Degrelle who joined the German war effort to fight the hated communists on the Eastern European front. Others were horrified by the cruelty of the Germans and the pagan style and anti-Catholic attitudes of the Nazi Party officials they saw. This caused some Rexists to join the underground resistance against the Germans. Degrelle, however, fought for Hitler and proved to be a very heroic and talented soldier. He earned a heap of medals and decorations and Hitler even said to Degrelle that if he had a son he would want him to be like Degrelle, mostly I assume because he was such a great warrior. As for Degrelle, he became a hopeless Hitler sycophant for the rest of his life. All of this made Rexisme ‘guilty by association’ and killed the movement. After the war his family was persecuted and Degrelle escaped to Spain under threat of execution where he lived the rest of his life unrepentant and totally convinced that Hitler was right and everyone else was wrong. Even he seems to have abandoned the movement he started by the end of his life.


  1. I remember reading somewhere a comment Leopold III made on the Rexists during the 30's, he said something like: "Nothing good can be expected of the movement, in itself." It doesn't sound like he supported it, although, as you say, there may have been some ideas they had that he thought were valuable.

  2. I've been interested in this effort as well, mostly because of the roots of it, I've never seen anything myself about their position on the monarchy one way or the other. I've skimmed through some of Degrelle's writings but found very little of interest. From what I could tell he didn't say two words about his own movement but rather just went on and on about Hitler -obviously someone furiously trying to justify his own ruinous actions.

  3. When he says "the movement, in itself" it sounds like he maybe agreed with some things or new some members were good people but the organization was a bad thing. Obviously the political side went bad but even the moral side he maybe recognized as dangerous. Trying to regulate morality would make most people very nervous!