Foibles of a French legend

Lyautey and the French Conquest of Morocco
November 29, 1996

An extraordinary colonial proconsul, who established the French protectorate in Morocco, and promoted a policy of indirect rule a la francaise, Marshal Lyautey is one of the major figures of the French colonial golden legend and has been the object of an amazing number of studies. Nevertheless, it is only fairly recently that studies of Lyautey have shifted from the realms of hagiography to a more critical, scholarly approach.

William A. Hoisington, the leading American specialist on Moroccan history, has written a thorough reassessment of the methods of conquest and administration implemented by Lyautey, governor general of Morocco from 1912 to 1925, and has successfully challenged the legend of Lyautey l'Africain. The first chapters, based on printed sources and secondary literature, provide a good synthesis and background. After Lyautey's early colonial career in Indochina and Madagascar, comes an analysis of his action in the Algero-Moroccan borderland from 1903 to 1910, a period during which he was actively involved in the French imperialist process in Morocco. The development of the "Lyautey method" is then carefully scrutinised and Hoisington shows the various influences which shaped his colonial thoughts.

In the rest of the book the author shows the true measure of his talent and, relying on archival sources, develops an analysis which is, at the same time, rigorous, original and stimulating. The analysis of the process of conquest, through two carefully chosen and well-researched regional case-studies - that of the Middle Atlas and South Morocco, reveals the myths and realities of the so-called pacification which was in fact a savage war of conquest.

It is followed by a study of Lyautey's policy of indirect rule, based on the cases of the cities of Rabat and Casablanca, and the rural region of Settat, in the hinterland of Casablanca, which reveals the ambiguities of his policy and the limits of his success.

This major monograph which will no doubt leave a mark in the historiography of colonial Morocco, also, all too cruelly, highlights the inadequacies of existing biographies of Lyautey.

Pascal Venier is lecturer in French studies, Universityof Salford.

Lyautey and the French Conquest of Morocco

Author - William A. Hoisington
ISBN - 0 333 64615 0
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £28.00
Pages - 288

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