Apres Moi-Charles de Gaulle
WHEN GENERAL DE GAULLE left power, the world did not end: but something more than a lamp-rather, a great, illuminating searchlight-was suddenly dimmed. His enemies and critics-with as much generosity as condescension and vice versa at that moment heaped praise on his head: he was, they said, a great man and so unique. The earlier attacks-that he had been a bloody-minded anachronism, forcing his will on a would-be enlightened world-were softened and muted. The world (or at least the world of commentators) looked forward to a sixth Republic, gradually freeing itself from the incubus of the fifth, looked forward to an era in which, at last, the dreams of the liberal and socialist internationalists would come true, because a granite barrier had been removed from their path.
That last phrase, I think, contains the essence of the feeling that accompanied the General's passing: a barrier
had been removed. What the cognoscenti had known all along-that the General was not a positive, but a negative force-seemed to be confirmed. Dr. Parr once said when, in his company, a youngster criticised the dead Johnson, HAy, now the lion is dead, every ass may kick at him." We live in a softer age, and ritual tributes had to be paid to the passing of a statesman: but that was the real heart of the matter, the asses kicked, even if . their hooves were covered with honey. There were exceptions and, honourable as they are, they deserve mention. Foremost among them were the reporters (and I like to make the distinction between reporters, who say what they see, and journalists, who describe what they see in terms of what they think), and foremost among the reporters was Sam White of the London Evening Standard.White, who would be honoured to hear himself described as an old sweat of the
newspaper world, is the Standard's man in Paris and, ever since the old man disappeared, he has been writing an elegy for him in his weekly piece fr.om Paris. The elegy consists of the story of how a great man's preoccupations affected the daily life of a more ordinary individual and White's prose has risen above itself in the continually expressed claim that the quality of his life has been enhanced over the years by de Gaulle's residence in the Elysee.
Of course, reporters love a story, and that is why they love great men. A story still savoured by people like Sam White, concerns the arrival in London of de Gaulle, after the fall of France when, a junior minister at the Ministry of Defence, he decided to. arrogate to himself the identity of France. A French Resistance committee had already been set up in London, determined to refuse to acknowledge the defeat of the Allied cause in the war against Hitler. They welcomed the General. But they were anxious lest his known prickliness of temperament undid the careful plotting of good relations with Britain which they had already undertaken. To serve their ends, they had employed an English lady of good birth and renowned connections, at considerable cost, to develop their relations with what they prettily imagined was the English political elite. De Gaul1e had already cemented relations with Churchill, whom he took to represent the essential life spirit of the British people in the hour of crisis. Also, he resents spending on inessentials. So, at an elaborate tea party planned to introduce him to the lady, he rose from his chair, smiled charmingly and said, " Madam, you're fired."
This is a wel1-known story, however, and it proves little. Great men can be charming and their eccentricities are the stuff of anecdotes. But a sense of humour and a position of power arc not sufficient combination to warrant substantial and close an3)ysis. There must, in addition, be a significant depth of personality and a remarkable contribution to the course of history.
It is in the latter sense that de Gaul1e is most often attacked. He set his face so consistently against the tide of the times and the facts of life. When he vetoed the British application to join the Common Market in 1963, John Kennedy said of him, in the course of a petulant outburst against the destruction the veto entailed for his dream of a Grand Al1iance encompassing Europe and the United States, "All de Gaulle will be remembered for is getting in the way."
That is a stOry to be set against the occasions on which Kennedy lavished flattery on the General: it is, in my submission, a story revealing the response of an indifferent-albeit elegant-mind and personality to a great one.
The General's depth of personality is not in doubt. The Edge of the Sword, an early work on the psychology of leadership is sufficient testimony. There is also the fact that, unlike any other conventional1y great man whom we know, de Gaul1e incorporated a personal diary in his narrative of great public events. In his Jflar Memoirs he frequently refers to himself in the third person. There is also a passage in which he speaks of the almost intolerable burden on his personality which he accepted when he fled to Britain to fly the standard of France in the war against Hitler. And, if you go through the three volumes of the War Memoirs, you will find that he occasional1y refers to "I" and occasional1y to " de Gaul1e," but that when he is "I ", he is a private and often vulnerable man; when he is "de Gaul1e," he is speaking for what seems to him to be the eternal interests of France. He is quite scrupulous in handling these references; the test that remains is to assess whether he correctly understood the interests of France and-a greater questionwhether the interests of France are something of moment, whether, in pursuing them, de Gaul1e was able to mould history to his purpose.
That question can be put more simply. Is de Gaul1e's heritage of any value? What did he do that could not be done other than by his mediation? What did he prevent being done that his prevention did not merely postpone, that will bc accomplished, even now that he is politically dead? Thc most adjacent evidence lies, of course, in the record of the Republic of Pompidou and it is not, at first sight at least, heartening as a testimony to the General.
France, if not in chaos, is very near disorder: the franc is now a weak currency and strikes that will disrupt the international trading position of the nation are daily regarded as imminent. President Pompidou has decided not to proceed with the most advanced stage of French nuclear technology and will rely on purchases from abroad, rather than on French invention to supply the needs of his country in the nuclear field in the years to come. The French government are now embarrassed by de Gaulle's policy of a Free Quebec and the visit of one of their Foreign Office ministers to Quebec recently, when he did not visit Ottawa, was glossed over by them as something that will not happen again. On the great question of British membership of the E.E.C., it need only be said that de Gaulle's most faithful Foreign Minister, Couve de Murville, is out of power and out of Parliament, that his most loyal political ally, Michael Debre, is immured in the Ministry of Defence, and that the man in charge of France's foreign policy, Robert Schumann, has always been both a Gaullist and an ardent proponent of an enlarged Common Market.
Yet, most of de Gaulle's admirers would regard his achievements in European policy as part of his most enduring legacy. In a recent interview Walter Lippmann pointed out how the General brought the European countries to their (so far not very coherent) had forced the Issue to a pOint were It
to be fought out by fanatics on both sides. This possibility de Gaulle killed by his stand on further measures for European union in July 1965 and the current defiance of the E.E.C. Commission by Germany and Italy are a testimony to the liberating effect he has had on the conduct of national governments.
Andre Malraux, one of de Gaulle's closest and most loyal collaboratOrs, once described him as "the man of the day before yesterday and of the day after tomorrow". The first half of this judgement echoes Isaiah Berlin's famous remark that great statesmen always see their activities in terms of a pattern of historical development, they always try to impose on their time a political framework which seems to many to be outdated. On the other hand, General de Gaulle always thought in terms of the most impenetrably distant future as well. The anachronistic senses by insisting that European unity appearance which giants like Churchill must be conceived for our time essenti- and de Gaulle so often have, stems ally in terms of a framework of relations directly from their very evident awarebetween nation states. Pointing up the ness of all that has gone before in false analogy drawn by M. Jeanhistory. The anachronistic character
Monnet's Committee for a United istics often tempt us to dismiss them States of Europe between Western too easily, without attending to their Europe now and the young United other characteristic-that all they do States in the eighteenth century, Lipp- they are doing for the future, not the mann stressed that the United States, past. Likewise, the ruthless tactical under Britain, had always been a unit: flexibility that great men display-like their formal foundation was in order to de GauRe's treatment of the Algerian create "a more perfect union". Europe, settlers or Churchill's frequent abandon the other hand, Lippmann pointed onment of loyal and conscientious but out, has no precedent in history for insufficiently visionary advisers-finds such a union, yet its pursuit by ardent, its proper place in a consideration of idealistic and self-willed men might their intimate relationship with the have closed eyes to the possibilities of distant past and the dim future: the pragmatic political co-operation and preoccupations of today are seen for Winston Churchill and General De Gaulle at the tomb of the unknown soldier on 11th November, 1944
Plan for France
In March 1944 the General said that his aim for France was that she should take part in "a western grouping, extending itself to Africa in close relations with the Arab states of the Near East and of which ,the Channel, the Rhine, the Mediterranean would be the arteries, seems to constitute a capital centre in a world organisation of production, exchanges and security".
The General's heirs have shown no desire to depart from that formula. The support which he initiated for the Arab states continues; so does aid for Biafra which, as the enemy of former British Nigeria is working to prevent Lagos becoming the dominating centre of attraction in Western Africa for that cluster of smaller states, former French territories, now looking to Paris for economic and political guidance. As to the Rhine, nothing that has happened in the squabbles of the E.E.C. has endangered the General's most generally praised achievement, the ending of the enmity of the centuries between Germany and France.
All these are, however, local achievements. They do not relate to the central question about General de Gaulle, the question of whether the tenacity with which he pursued the conviction that the nation state remained the only important moral and political identity in international relations, was justified. Here, of course, we come across a contradiction in the thinking of his critics, particularly his left wing critics. There is a conviction abroad that nationalism -the independence of nation statesis to be encouraged for the underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia and discouraged for the old nations of Europe. The precise reasoning behind this way of thinking I have never been able to discover. There is no doubt, General De Gaulle leading the triumphal march down the Champs Elysees during the liberation of Paris on August 27th, 1944 however, that, like all political internationalism,itwasmuddled.De
Gaulle's conviction was that, in the end, not always or consistently, but in the end, all homogeneous nations would act according to their national interests, not according to some general moral ideal or supposed collective interest. There is no significant series of events since 1945 that I know of that offers serious contragiction to that thesis.
The nations of Europe have seemed exhausted by two world wars. The younger generations of the last two decades have drawn the conclusion that the framework of political philosophy within which those wars were fought had been superseded. They believed that the framework needed replacing. De Gaulle believed that the framework needed adjustment, that different poli-' tical forms had to be found, within a traditional order, for the expression of an age-old national drive. He believed also that the wars with which nationalism has been blamed, though they might often be caused by nationalistic impulses, owed their horrors in the main not to the nationalistic impulse but to advancing technology. The internationalists, in a word, sought to end the horrors of war by attacking, not the cause of the horror, but the cause of the war.
After all, if the world goes to war again the 'ultimate devastation will be caused, not by nationalism, but by the atomic bomb. The bomb is not the product of nationalism but the product of that most internationalist of vocations, science. The most gruesome of post1945 wars, that in Vietnam, was caused, not by the attachment of the United States to her national interest, but by her devotion to an internationalist dogma-anti-Communism-set to oppose another internationalist dogma, Communism. In international affairs the heritage of de Gaulle was precisely this: that he successfully in several fields of policy called the world back to sanity, to sober measures and right calculations based, not on dreams, but on real experience, at a time when the world seemed ready to indulge in any number of ludicrous ventures based on a denial of the historical experience that has most animated the history of politics, the experience of nations.
De Gaulle: more right more often
In the interview from which I have already quoted Walter Lippmann said of de Gaulle that he was more right more often than any other great statesman he had ever met.It was not possible for him, given the rigid honour with which he governed his life, to take and hold power for long enough to ensure that all his projects-in domestic as well as international affairs-were carried through to fruition. Twice, in 1946 and 1969, he threw away power in what his enemies called a fit of pique and in what his friends recognised as a context of the highest honour. But it seems clear to me that in his last ten years of power he came closer than ever before to helping his country re-assume a role of greatness and encouraging the development of world politics along lines historically established as sane and more conducive to that small measure of perfection we can expect to obtain in political affairs than the disastrous alternatives of international idealism