Charles de Gaulle, Mythologized, Yet Betrayed, Part III

The President Of The Fifth Republic – Gaullian Thought

With his followers, de Gaulle created, in 1947, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF), a movement which initially had a good number of members elected to the Assembly, but which then declined until its dissolution in 1953. During these years, the General was wary, in particular, of the influence of the PCF, the Communists and their leaders, of whom he regularly said that they were in the service of the USSR, that they had a project of domination of Europe, and that their aim, unspoken and underhanded, was to submit the country to foreign domination.

In 1951, de Gaulle rejected the supranational character of the European Coal and Steel Community (CECA) and opposed in the name of national sovereignty, a project of the European Defense Community (EDC). On the other hand, he rallied to the idea of European integration and approved the entry of France into the European Economic Community (EEC), following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Being a man of letters since his youth, he took advantage of the political lull that followed to write the three volumes of his Memoirs which he published in 1954, 1956 and 1959.

De Gaulle, An Exceptional President Of The Republic

At the beginning of 1958, events in Algeria began to escalate. Fear and anger gripped the French in Algeria, as well as chiefs of staff of the army, as rumors circulated about negotiations between the government and the FLN separatists. On May 13, a big demonstration was planned in Algiers. To calm the crowd, General Massu, a lifelong Gaullist, chaired a committee of public safety and demanded that in France a government of public safety be formed, chaired by General de Gaulle.

On the 15th, General Salan harangued the crowd and exclaimed, “Vive de Gaulle!” On May 16, in Paris, at the Palais Bourbon, the socialist leader, Guy Mollet, rallied to de Gaulle’s solution. After being received on May 29 by the President of the Republic, René Coty, who entrusted him with the task of constituting the government, de Gaulle appeared before the National Assembly on June 1st to receive the investiture of President of the Council, along with extended powers, with a view to preparing new institutions (329 votes for, and 224 votes against).

In June 1958, de Gaulle made a trip to Algeria, where he uttered those unhappy words: “I understand you” (speech from Algiers, June 4, 1958) and “Vive l’Algérie française” (speech from Mostaganem, June 6, 1958). He falsely gave the impression of committing to French Algeria and assimilation. The French of Algeria, and many senior officers, never forgave him for fostering the misunderstanding in this way. In fact, de Gaulle understood that France no longer had the energy necessary for an imperial destiny. He anticipated the danger of an invasion of the metropolis by large African populations, with a conquering Islamic religion. He also knew that the world had changed and that France and Europe would have to establish new relationships with the peoples of the former colonies, based on interdependence and respect for differences.

From August 24, 1958, de Gaulle began, in Brazzaville, the process of the decolonization of black Africa, by suggesting that a community of autonomous Franco-African States would succeed the colonial empire. This “French Union” would be the crucible for the independence of the states of French-speaking black Africa two years later. Fourteen French-speaking African states thus achieved independence. September 16, 1959 was a turning point in Algerian politics. In a speech de Gaulle proposed “the right of Algerians to self-determination.”

On January 8, 1961, the French approved, by referendum, the principle of self-determination, and thus the independence of Algeria. In response, the French in Algeria revolted; in Algiers it became known as “barricade week” (January 24 – February 2). But on April 8, 1962, 90% of the French approved, by referendum, the Evian agreements, providing for the independence of Algeria.

On April 22, 1961, an attempted military coup broke out in Algiers; it failed after four days, because the army mostly remained loyal to de Gaulle. Many Gaullists, resistance fighters from the start, such as the ethnologist, ex-minister, Jacques Soustelle, or the sociologist, Jules Monnerot, author of Sociologie du communisme (a classic of 20th-century thought, published in 1949 and expanded in 1963) were now moving away from de Gaulle. Others, such as the minister and future prime minister Michel Debré, who had initially been a supporter of French Algeria, or the political scientist, Julien Freund, author of the most important French political work of the twentieth-century, L’essence du politique, remained inextricably linked to Gaullism.

It appeared that de Gaulle’s position was dictated by the need to protect France from being conquered by Islam, as Malraux had described to him. In March 1959, two months after his installation at the Élysée Palace, de Gaulle gave his intimate thoughts to Alain Peyrefitte, concerning the reasons which led him to offer independence to Algeria: “It’s very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and that it has a universal calling. But only on the condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise France will no longer be France. We are nevertheless above all a European people of the white race, of Greek and Latin culture, and of the Christian religion… Let’s not tell each other stories! Muslims, have you seen them, with their turbans and djellabas? You can see that they are not French! Those who advocate integration have the brains of hummingbirds (he then thinks of his ex-friend, Soustelle), even if they are very learned… Integration is a trick to allow Muslims, who are in the majority in Algeria ten to one, to find themselves in the minority in the French Republic one to five. It’s a childish sleight of hand! We imagine that we can handle the Algerians with such jackass tomfoolery. Can’t you see that the Arabs will multiply by five and then by ten, while the French population will remain almost stationary? Then will there be two hundred, then four hundred Arab deputies in Paris? Do you see an Arab president at the Élysée?… We will perhaps realize that the greatest of all the services that I have been able to render to the country was to detach Algeria from France; and that, of all, it was this very service which hurt me the most. With hindsight, we will understand that this cancer was going to do away with us. We will recognize that the ‘integration,’ the faculty given to ten million Arabs, who would become 20, then forty [they are now more than 42 million, NDLA], to settle in France as at home – it will be the end of France.”

In May 1963, in the Council of Ministers, he insisted again: “I draw your attention to a problem which could become serious. There were 40,000 immigrants from Algeria in April. This is almost equal to the number of babies born in France during the same month. I would like more babies to be born in France and less immigrants to come. Let’s not overdo this! It is urgent to put it in order!” No politician today would dare to open such a debate with the arguments used previously by de Gaulle, without risking a humiliating defeat at the hands of censors and inquisitors, modern guardians of mono-thought – worse, without immediately suffering the wrath of the law.

Be that it may, the French were indebted to the General for the end of the Algerian war. He alone had managed to resolve the terrible conflict that had torn France apart for years. But the conditions under which he did so and the methods he employed remain debatable and debated. De Gaulle would say at the end of his life about Franco, “All things considered, the results of his action are positive for his country. But, God, he had a heavy hand.” It is probably no exaggeration to repeat his harsh words here when we consider the tragedy experienced by the Harki and the French in Algeria.

On October 28, 1962, after a political crisis of exceptional violence, which brought together supporters of a referendum and opposition parliamentarians demanding the revision of the Constitution via the majority of Congress, the National Assembly was dissolved. De Gaulle finally won and a popular referendum was organized on the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. The project was approved by the people with 62.25% of the votes in favor. De Gaulle always wanted to exclude the middlemen of the political caste, who were too indifferent to the concerns of the people. It is therefore not surprising that he saw “all the cripples of contemporary history” rise up against him – a vast and heterogeneous coalition of professional politicians, ranging from radical and traditional right-wingers, to Liberals and Christian Democrats. Socialists and Communists.

Nevertheless, Gaullism did have the advantage of bringing together politicians whose origins and convictions were numerous: Jacobins, Conservative administrators, reformist Liberals, radicals, social democrats, left-wing republicans, even far-left, independent intellectuals, technocrats, Maurrassians and nationalist disciples of Péguy or Barres. Sociological Gaullism went far beyond the moderate Right electorate (liberal-conservative and Christian-democratic) and the radical Right. It rallied a large fraction of the Left electorate, seduced by the charisma of the General and by his desire to reconcile order and progress.

At that time, pamphlets, published by prestigious publishing houses, were successfully circulated against de Gaulle. At the end of the Second World War, in 1945, Henri de Kérillis, a Giraudist residing in the United States, published, in Montreal, De Gaulle, dictateur (De Gaulle, Dictator).

In 1964, it was the right-wing anarchist, Jacques Laurent, who published, Mauriac sous de Gaulle (Mauriac under de Gaulle), a libelous work in which he blamed “the Chief who exercises absolute power,” and even claimed that France “lives under a form of tyranny.” The partisans of French Algeria did not forgive him for having had Colonel Bastien Thierry, leader of the conspirators, shot after the attempted assassination at Petit-Clamart, on March 11, 1963. Parliamentarians and former ministers, like the now old Paul Reynaud (right-wing Centrist), Gaston Monnerville (Democratic Left), or François Mitterrand (UDSR – Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance) were not the least virulent.

Paul Reynaud declared that President de Gaulle had violated the Constitution and insulted Parliament. In 1964, Mitterrand published his pamphlet, Le coup d’État permanent (The Permanent Coup d’etat), in which he denounced the practice of “personal power” and the weakness of the marginalized parliament. He called for voting “No” in the referendum on the Constitution of the Fifth Republic (1958) and “No” in the referendum on election by universal suffrage (1962).

François Mitterrand was then known for the attack at the Observatory, a false attack carried out against himself in 1959 [the “Observatory Affair”]. Being then a minister of the Fourth Republic, which was then in decline, Mitterrand had ordered this attack as an attempt to regain some public confidence. De Gaulle, who sometimes was ferocious, gave him various unflattering nicknames, such as, “Rastignac de la Nièvre,” (a social-climber of Nièvre ), “the Arsouille” (thug), or “the Prince of political dogs.” Indicted for “contempt of court,” Mitterrand took advantage of an amnesty law passed by the Pompidou government (the 1962 law; brought into force in 1966), which stopped the legal proceedings against him in 1966.

The reference to the coup d’État to censor the arrival and exercise of power by de Gaulle was a leitmotif of his opponents. We know that European Liberal and Socialist traditions have been marked by numerous recourses to putsches, coups d’état and other pronunciamientos (the first in the 19th-century, and the second at the turn of the 20th-century).

But the fact remains – after the Second World War, in the name of representative democracy, the representatives of these two tendencies sought to sanctify the democratic legitimacy of power (at the expense of the legitimacy of its exercise). De Gaulle, who did not allow himself to be fooled by their legal quibbles, said in this regard: “A good number of political professionals… refuse to see the people exercising sovereignty over the role of these professionals as intermediaries.” But paradoxically, history has shown that de Gaulle was much more democratic than his successors. It was with dignity, and without making the slightest comment, that he left office in 1969, after a referendum on Senate reform and regionalization was rejected by 52.41% of the vote.

Conversely, in 1986, when the legislative elections brought to power a right-wing majority, the socialist François Mitterrand, however critical of the institutions of the Fifth Republic, remained in his post and brought in Jacques Chirac as prime minister, which made for both unnatural and sterile marriage. In 1997, in the wake of the unfortunate dissolution of the Assembly, Chirac also remained at the Élysée, bringing in the Socialist Lionel Jospin as prime minister. In 2005, again, after losing the referendum on the draft European constitution, Chirac was careful not to head to the exit door.

Finally, in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy had the National Assembly ratify the Treaty of Lisbon on the new European Constitution, with the help of the Centrists and the Socialists, while it was rejected by the people in the referendum of May 29, 2005. No referendum has ever been held since. The concept of democracy held by the heads of state who succeeded de Gaulle is, to say the least, of a variable geometry.

In addition to the institutions of the Fifth Republic, a heritage on which the French still live, one must add to de Gaulle’s successes national independence (with the nuclear deterrent force, the withdrawal from NATO’s integrated command, and the return to major economic and financial balances), Franco-German reconciliation (Franco-German friendship treaty of January 22, 1963), and the ordinances on employee profit-sharing and ownership (January 7, 1959 and August 17, 1967). These reforms allowed “collective participation in the running of the company or establishment… participation in the capital or in self-financing operations… [and] participation in the increase of productivity.”

In de Gaulle’s eyes, participation was to crown his social work. But it would come up against the joint hostility of the employers, who feared the arrival of Soviets in the company, and of the unions, who saw all co-management as a phenomenon of class collaboration.

Finally, it should be noted that after the direct intervention of his wife, Yvonne, de Gaulle, agreed to support Deputy Lucien Neuwirth’s law authorizing the use of the contraceptive pill. At the Council of Ministers of June 7, 1967, de Gaulle, hesitant and even reluctant, still said, according to Alain Peyrefitte, “Morals are changing, we can do next to nothing.” But “we must not make social security pay for the pills. These are not remedies! The French want greater freedom of morals. We’re not going to reimburse them for this trifle!” The law authorizing the sale of the contraceptive pill would finally be adopted in December 1967. And it was in 1974, under the presidency of the liberal-conservative, Giscard d’Estaing, that the Minister of Health, Simone Veil, allowed social security to reimburse the pill.

On December 19, 1965, de Gaulle was re-elected President of the Republic, defeating François Mitterrand by 54.5% of the vote. This second term would be marked by three virulent controversies, which have remained famous, and which go far beyond France itself. After the end of the Algerian war, de Gaulle could fully denounce any form of colonization, and he did not hold back in this denunciation by supporting policies of independence, balance, peace and non-alignment, while defending the principle of territorial integrity.

While the United States was fighting in Viet Nam, in a speech in Phnom Penh on September 1, 1966, de Gaulle criticized American intervention and asserted the right of peoples to self-determination. On July 24, 1967, in a speech in Montreal, he supported the interests of the “French in Canada” and the sovereignty of Quebec (“Vive le Québec libre!”) – which did not fail to shock English-speaking Canadians (Time called him a “senile dictator”), but also a large part of the political and media establishment of France who showed their strong disapproval. (This was particularly the case with Le Monde, Le Figaro and anti-Gaullist politicians, such Pleven and Lecanuet, but also Gaullists, such as, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, who considered the remarks excessive).

However, it was undoubtedly the press conference of November 27, 1967, five months after the Six Day War (June 5 to 10, 1967), during which de Gaulle called the Jewish people “an elite people, self-assured and domineering,” and condemned Israel for attacking Arab countries, which aroused the most passions.

De Gaulle took a position against most political leaders and the mainstream media, which led to a deluge of venomous criticism. (Such as the directors of Le Monde [Hubert Beuve-Mery], of the Nouvel Observateur [Jean Daniel], and of l’Express [Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber], but also the editors of Populaire of the SFIO, of l’Aurore, and of Figaro). Raymond Aron even went so far as to criticize him for “rehabilitating anti-Semitism,” a hysterical accusation vigorously refuted by David Ben-Gurion.

In fact, de Gaulle regarded the creation of Israel as “a historical necessity,” and “a fait accompli.” He added, “We would not want Israel to be destroyed.” And later said, “France will help you tomorrow, as she helped you yesterday, to maintain you, no matter what. But it is unwilling to provide you with the means to conquer new territory. You have achieved a feat. Now don’t overdo it.” De Gaulle refused the conquest of territories by force and affirmed the need for dialogue with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and the right to self-determination of the Palestinians.

But nothing suggested that less than six months later he would be facing riots, initiated by leftist, libertarian and Marxist students, and which would then be taken up by the entire left-wing opposition. This was the time when the philosopher, and Maoist sympathizer, Jean-Paul Sartre, complacently interviewed the libertarian (future liberal-libertarian) Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the columns of the Nouvel Observateur (May 20, 1968).

Sartre, defender of the dictatorships of the East, of the USSR or of Mao’s China and even a declared supporter of the Soviet concentration camps, wanted to be revolutionary. He was not an inspirer of the ’68 revolt, but it was echoed widely in the streets, on the stands and in the newspapers. Crowned with his past as a resistance fighter, an escapee from a Stalag and a defender of leftist causes, Sartre was the icon of the intelligentsia and much of the French university.

De Gaulle respected the “philosopher,” although the author of Les mains sales kept calling him a “fascist,” “pimp,” “piece of shit,” “moron,” “bastard” and “pig.” It would take almost thirty years for the veil to be finally lifted on Sartre’s baseness and villainy. We eventually learned that the legend of the model couple Sartre-Beauvoir did not correspond to reality.

Sartre had never been a resistance fighter; he had twice refused to attempt to escape Germany; he had most likely been released thanks to the intervention of collaborationist, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Sartre had signed the two Vichy forms by which he certified that he was neither a Jew nor a Freemason; he had been appointed to the Lycée Condorcet to the post once occupied by a Jewish teacher prohibited from teaching by Vichy laws. Finally, Sartre had written in the collaborationist review Comoedia and his play, Les Mouches (1943) – so-called resistance – had not given him any serious problem with German censorship.

As for his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, she had worked for Radio-Vichy and was not been expelled from the National Education Department by the Vichy government for an act of resistance, but following a complaint of corrupting a minor by Nathalie Sarraute’s mother (See the edifying account of their lives and their pitiful relationships given by Michel Onfray in Les consciousness réfractaires). All in all, they were a couple of mediocre, cowardly, opportunist, careerist, scheming and ambitious “bastards,” to use the pleasant term Sartre and Beauvoir used for their opponents.

“Reform yes, a shambles, no” de Gaulle would say in private, in 1968. In truth, he never forgave himself for letting these events take him by surprise. According to his son, Philippe, he confessed: “I failed. I failed because it is characteristic of someone who governs according to plan. And there, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t plan anything. Of course, I was not the only one in this case… But that’s no excuse.”

On May 27, 1968, a few hours after taking part in the meeting at the Charléty stadium (organized, among others, by the UNEF, the PSU and the CFDT), François Mitterrand proposed the formation of a “provisional management government” headed by Mendès France. But the old lion woke up and finally came to his senses.

De Gaulle, assured of the support of the armed forces of the Republic, after his impromptu visit to General Massu on May 29, 1968, returned to Paris and called for civic resistance. The next day, a gigantic demonstration of nearly a million people gathered on the Champs Élysée to defend the institutions. On June 30, parliamentary elections marked the opposition’s failure. The Gaullists and their allies then won the absolute majority of seats in the Assembly: 358 out of 485.

But this victory would be marred a year later by the success of “No” in the referendum on regionalization, immediately followed by the resignation of the first President of the Fifth Republic. From April to September 1970, de Gaulle published a collection of speeches and messages, followed by his Memoirs of Hope. He died at La Boisserie on November 9, 1970 at 7:30 p.m.

On September 10, 1966, aboard the cruiser, De Grasse, Charles de Gaulle had confided to his minister, future memorialist, Alain Peyrefitte, these few words, which define the essence of Gaullism: “We have tried to invent a new regime, a third way, between oligarchy and democrappy.”

Some Reflections On Gaullian Thought

At the center of Gaullian thought is the desire to reconcile idea of national identity with social justice. De Gaulle knew that one cannot ensure freedom, social justice and the public good without simultaneously defending national sovereignty and independence (political, economic and cultural).

The strength of Gaullism lies in its passion for the greatness of the nation; its aspiration for national unity; its praise of the heritage of Christian Europe; its demand for Europe, from Brest to Vladivostok; its resistance against any foreign domination (American or Soviet); its non-alignment on the international level; its direct democracy (universal suffrage and the popular referendum); its anti-parliamentarianism; its ideal of the third way, neither capitalist nor collectivist; its indicative planning, its “ordoliberalism;” its capital-labor association or participation; and its selective immigration and national preference.

The many links that de Gaulle forged during the 1930s, with various politico-intellectual circles, contributed to the formation of Gaullist Tercerism. From his family roots, de Gaulle very early on received the imprint of double social Catholicism (that of traditionalists, such as, Armand de Melun, Albert de Mun, René de la Tour du Pin, and that of liberals, such as, Ozanam and Lammenais). He also read Maurras in the 1910s, like many officers of his generation; his father was also a supporter of Action Française.

But while he recognized the primacy of foreign policy, and the traditional view of the struggle of states, with an indifference to ideologies that pass away while nations remain, along with anti-parliamentarianism, the strong state and the exaltation of national independence, proclaimed by the “master of Martigues,” de Gaulle also rejected full nationalism and, in particular, state anti-Semitism, preferring instead the philosophy of Bergson, the mystique of the republican idea of Péguy and the nationalism of Barrès ( the author of The Faith of France). Like Barrès, de Gaulle defended the idea of a unitary national history that included the Ancien Régime and the Revolution of 1789, and in which the Republic was a given. Being a subscriber to the Cahiers de la Quinzaine, before the First World War, de Gaulle expressly claimed Péguy as one of his masters. Let us also not forget one of his favorite authors, François-René de Chateaubriand, whom he read and reread his entire life.

In the 1930s, de Gaulle attended the literary salon of Daniel Halévy, historian and essayist, a great connoisseur of Proudhon (anarchist), Sorel (syndicalist-revolutionary) and Péguy (Catholic nationalist). He also participated in the meetings of the circle of an old retired soldier, a Dreyfusard and nonconformist, Colonel Émile Mayer. Close to the socialist left, Mayer made him meet, in addition to his future friend, the lawyer Jean Auburtin, several politicians, such as, Paul Reynaud, Joseph Paul-Boncour, Marcel Déat, Édouard Frédéric-Dupont, Camille Chautemps, Alexandre Millerand and Léon Blum. It was thanks to Colonel Mayer that he came into contact with Daniel-Rops (Henry Petiot). All this new knowledge allowed him to give more resonance to his military writings.

De Gaulle also took part in meetings and conferences of the Ligue de la Jeune République, an organization for political resurgence, after its condemnation by Pius IX, in favor of the Sillon, the progressive Catholic movement of Marc Sangnier. In 1933, de Gaulle contributed to the debates organized by L’Aube, a newspaper close to the CFTC (Christian Trade Unionism in France), which was later chaired by Georges Bidault.

In 1934, de Gaulle subscribed to the review Sept, created by the Dominicans; then, in 1937, to its successor, the weekly, Temps Présent, while he also belonged to the association, Amis de Temps Présent (Friends of Temps Présent). Openly Catholic, these two reviews and their circle, were politically in the center-left. Finally, and above all, a decisive factor in the formation of de Gaulle, undoubtedly much more important than his contacts with representatives of the Christian Democrats, Charles de Gaulle spent time with members of the Ordre Nouveau (O.N.). He regularly attended O.N. meetings, a personalist think tank which, along with the Jeune Droite, and Esprit magazine, was one of the three main streams of “non-conformists of the 1930s.”

Created by Alexandre Marc-Lipiansky, Arnaud Dandieu and Robert Aron, the Ordre Nouveau published, from May 1933 to September 1938, an eponymous review, which claimed to be a third social path, and which wanted to be anti-individualist and anti-collectivist, anti-capitalist and anti-communist, anti-parliamentary and anti-fascist, anti-warmonger and anti-pacifist, patriot but not nationalist, traditionalist but not conservative, realist but not opportunist, socialist but not materialist, personalist but not anarchist, and well, human but not humanitarian. In the area of economics, it was a question of subordinating production to consumption. The economy, as it was conceived by the editors of the journal Ordre Nouveau, must include both a free sector and a sector subject to planning. “Work is not an end in itself.” The “neither Right nor Left” approach of the journal and the group gave itself the objective of placing institutions at the service of the person, of subordinating to man a strong and limited state, modern and technical.

We find in this “non-conformism of the thirties,” as in Christian social thought, three fundamental themes that were dear to de Gaulle: the primacy of man, the refusal of standardization, and the concern for respect of the individuality within community; which implies, of course, an important place given to the principle of subsidiarity. In an interesting article in Figaro, “De Gaulle à la lumière de l’Histoire ,” [“De Gaulle in the light of History”], (September 4-5, 1982), the Gaullist and Protestant historian, Pierre Chaunu, drew my attention, for the first time, to the similarities and convergences which exist between the thought of General de Gaulle and those at the same time of the French non-conformist personalists, of the Spanish national-trade unionist, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and of various authors of the conservative German Revolution. This striking parallelism is also found in the case of the thought of Eamon de Valera, the founder of the Irish Democratic Republic, and leader of Fianna Fáil. But it still takes a minimum of openness to admit this, without sinking into caricature and propaganda.

In fact, these political aspirations, which have as a backdrop the themes of “civilization of the masses” and “technical society” (dealt with in particular by Ortega y Gasset) are found among a great many European intellectuals of the 1930s who are not reactionaries, but who seek a synthesis, a reconciliation in the form of dialectical transcendence: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be an imbecile; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia,” wrote José Ortega y Gasset in his Preface for French readers of La Révolte des masses (1937).

Like all these thinkers, de Gaulle was in no way a reactionary conservative. He admitted to the civilization of the masses and to technology; there was no pastoral nostalgia with him. Gaullism and the personalism of the nonconformists of the 1930s only really diverged in the conception of the nation: the Gaullian defense of the unity, independence and sovereignty of the nation is opposed to the European federalism of the personalists. The fact remained that de Gaulle would always seek to defend a political doctrine that went in the same direction as that of the personalists, marked by the desire to go beyond the Right and the Left.

Throughout his life, de Gaulle sought to find a new system, a “third way” between capitalism and communism. In 1966, when he seemed interested in Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke’s ordo-liberalism, he wrote to Marcel Loichot: “Perhaps you know that for a long time I have been looking, or groping about, for practical way of determining change, not in the standard of living, but in the condition of the worker. In our industrial society, it must be the beginning of everything again, as access to property was in our old agricultural society.” All his life he always refused to position himself on the Right-Left axis. For him, the Right or the Left were only political references that were completely foreign to him. “To be a Gaullist,” he said in 1965, “is to be neither on the Left nor on the Right. It is to rise above. It is to be for France.” And, again, “France is all at the same time. It is all French people. France is not the Left! France is not the Right!… Now, as always, I am not on one side, I am not on the other, I am for France” (12/15/1965).

In the 1930s, de Gaulle did not consider the social question to be primordial. A senior officer needed to focus first and foremost on the implementation of the best means for the independence of the nation. In a letter of November 13, 1937 to his friend Jean Auburtin, he explained: “For me, I’m in tanks up to my neck.” In this immediate pre-war period, for him everything seemed to boil down to psychological phenomena of jealousy and envy on the one hand, and pride and selfishness on the other.

Before being a social thinker, General de Gaulle was always a philosopher of sovereignty, independence and freedom. But his social thought would emerge in London, during the war years, after the long silence of the twenties and thirties. His first speech, in which the social question appeared, was given in Albert Hall, on November 15, 1941, a month and a half after the Labor Code brought in by the Vichy regime on October 4, 1941. The speech at Oxford, on November 25, 1941, is also essential in understanding the thought of de Gaulle, because it evokes the role of the machine, the advent of the masses and the collective conformism which undermines individual freedoms. The economy is certainly important, but it is only a means to the service of higher ends. Therefore, any system where the economy is an end in itself, whether it be savage capitalism or totalitarian collectivism, is sidelined. Gaullism postulates the primacy of man over economics, technology and any doctrinaire system.

While he agreed to parties, unions and notables, and conceded to them the day-to-day management of politics, de Gaulle denied anyone the right to question the major options of his national and international policy. Contemptuous of “the chattering, maliciously gossiping, and babbling class,” severe critic of the inconsistency, ineffectiveness and carelessness of the Left, de Gaulle pitilessly denounced the stupidity and immobility of the Right.

But his most acerbic criticisms were addressed to the privileged classes, to the money and knowledge bourgeoisie, that were all too often considered jaded, unhealthy and gangrenous, and to its spokespersons from the journalistic fauna. “The people have healthy reflexes. The people feel or are have the interest of the country. They are not often wrong. In reality, there are two bourgeoisies. The money bourgeoisie, those who read Le Figaro, and the intellectual bourgeoisie, who read Le Monde. The two make quite the pair. They get along to share power. I don’t care that your journalists are against me. It would actually annoy me if they weren’t. I would be sorry. Do you hear me! The day when Le Figaro and L’Immonde [the foul – a play on the name of the French daily, Le Monde. Trans.] supported me, I would consider it a national disaster.”

Firmly attached to the Colbertist tradition, for him, nothing important could be done in France, if not by the state which must take the initiative. The state has the means, it must be used. “The aim is not to dry up the sources of foreign capital,” declared de Gaulle, “but to prevent French industry from falling into foreign hands. We must prevent foreign management from taking over our industries. We can’t rely on the selflessness or patriotism of the CEOs and their families, can we? It is too convenient for foreign capital to buy them, to pay sons and sons-in-law in good dollars… I don’t care about BP, Shell and the Anglo-Saxons and their multinationals!… This is just one of the many cases where the power of the so-called multinationals, which are in reality huge Anglo-Saxon machines, has crushed us, the French in particular, and the Europeans in general… If the state does not take matters into its own hands, we get screwed.”

In the twentieth-century, the state had the duty to stimulate a shared economy and to establish the participation of workers in the life of the company. To avoid the situation of permanent antagonism between bosses and workers, capital-labor association and participation (a theme particularly dear to de Gaulle) needed to be implemented at three levels. First and foremost, profit-sharing in the company. Second, participation in capital appreciation to make workers co-owners.

Finally, the associative management of companies by both executives and all staff. Wage earning, in other words, the employment of one man by another, “should not be the definitive basis of the French economy, or of French society,” said de Gaulle, “and for two reasons: first of all, human reasons, that is, reasons of social justice; then for economic reasons, since the system no longer makes it possible to give those who produce the passion and the will to produce and create.”

It is quite obvious that this type of relationship cannot fit into either liberalism or Marxism. Thus, it clearly appears that the Gaullian position, since it repudiates on the one hand, collectivist totalitarianism, and on the other hand, laissez-faire and the law of the jungle, can only be based on the principles of the shared economy.

De Gaulle was not anti-European, as his adversaries, who are subservient to the United States and NATO, say he was. He wanted Europe, but not just any Europe. He even had the deepest awareness of what it represents: the historical link between peoples, beyond their discords, their conflicts; the extraordinary contributions that each of them has made to the world heritage of thought, science and art. In his Memoirs, he does not hesitate to emphasize “the Christian origin” and the exceptional character of the heritage of Europeans.

His idea of Europe and nation-states was radically different from that of his social-democratic or Christian-democratic opponents, such as Alcide De Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak, Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. While they dreamt of a federation, he wished for a confederation. While their perspective was the absorption of Europe into a larger community, into the Atlantic community, de Gaulle wanted a continental, independent and sovereign whole: “Each people is different from the others, incomparable, unalterable,” he stated. “They must remain themselves, as their history and their culture have made them, with their memories, their beliefs, their legends, their faith, their will to build their future. If you want nations to unite, don’t try to integrate them like how you integrate chestnuts into chestnut puree. You have to respect personality. We have to bring them together, teach them to live together, bring their legitimate rulers together, and one day, to confederate, that is to say, to pool certain skills, while remaining independent for everything else. This is how we will make Europe. We will not do it otherwise.”

The idea of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals,” of a Europe liberated from the American-Soviet condominium, of a “new European order,” of real independence for all of Europe from the outside world, is fundamental in the Gaullian vision of the future multipolar world.

Without the obsession for emancipating Europe from its position as a satellite of the United States, one cannot understand de Gaulle’s foreign policy, nor his exit from the NATO system, (“a simple instrument of American command”), neither his hostility to the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar playing the role of international reserve, nor his repeated refusal to admit the candidature of Great Britain in the Common Market, nor his obstinate fight for the common external tariff and the preference community. “If Westerners of the Old World remain subordinate to the New,” said de Gaulle, “Europe will never be European and neither will it be able to bring together its two halves.”

“Our policy,” he confided to his minister and spokesperson, Alain Peyrefitte, “I ask you to make it clear: it is to achieve the union of Europe. If I wanted to reconcile France and Germany, it is for a very practical reason, it is because reconciliation is the foundation of all European policy. But which Europe? It must be truly European. If it is not the Europe of the peoples, if it is entrusted to a few more or less integrated technocratic organizations, it will be a story for professionals, limited and without a future. And it is the Americans who will take advantage of this to impose their hegemony. Europe must be independent.”

For de Gaulle, it was clear that Western Europe must have strong allies to face the dangers of communism. But in his eyes, there was also a second threat, just as formidable – American hegemonism.

The construction of Europe therefore needed to be done without breaking with the Americans, but independently of them. Further clarifying his thinking, de Gaulle added “You can only build Europe if there is a European ambition, if Europeans want to exist for themselves. Likewise, a nation, in order to exist as a nation, must first be aware of what differentiates it from others and must be able to assume its destiny. National feeling has always been affirmed in the face of other nations: a European national feeling can only be affirmed in the face of the Russians and the Americans.”

What he criticized the Anglo-Saxons for is wanting to build a Europe without borders, a Europe of multinationals, placed under the final tutelage of America, a Europe where each country loses its soul. Realistically, he continued: “America, like it or not, has today become a business of global hegemony… The expansion of the Americans since WWII has become irresistible. This is precisely why we must resist it.” And again: “The Europeans will not have regained their dignity as long as they continue to rush to Washington to take their orders. We can live like a satellite, like an instrument, like an extension of America. There is a school that dreams only of that. It would simplify things a lot. That would free from national responsibilities those who are not able to carry them… It’s a design. It’s not mine. It is not that of France… We need to pursue a policy which is that of France… Our duty is not to disappear. It has happened that we have been momentarily erased; we never resigned ourselves to it… The policies of the Soviet Union and that of the United States will both end in failure. The European world, mediocre though it has been, is not ready to accept Soviet occupation indefinitely on the one hand and American hegemony on the other. It can’t go on forever. The future is the reappearance of nations.”

Firmly attached to the French nation, whatever its components, de Gaulle would have been indignant against those who today do not give preference to the French. “It is in the preamble to the 1958 Constitution,” he recalled. “The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to human rights and the principle of national sovereignty… Article 1: equality before the law is guaranteed to all citizens. We don’t talk about others. So, there is primacy of the citizen whatever the source.” And again: “Was it not up to us, former colonists, who allowed the former colonized to give preference to the population, to demand today that preference be given to the French in their own country? Refusing causes racism.”

Love de Gaulle or hate him, but in terms of the General himself, we can only feel disgust and contempt for his successor-impostors who have mythologized him the better to betray him.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a mural of Charles de Gaulle before the Saint Mandé tow-hall, by Bernard Romain.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Ideology And Global Politics: A Conversation With Ciro Paoletti

We are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with Dr. Ciro Paoletti, the renowned military historian. Dr. Paoletti is the author 26 books and several hundred essays and reviews. He serves as General Secretary of the Italian Commission of Military History, and as Director of the Association for Military and Historical Studies. He is a Life-member of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento, a member of the (US) Society for Military History, a corresponding-member of the Instituto de Geografia e História Militar do Brasil, a member of the Società Dalmata di Storia Patria, and a member of the International Commission of History of Technology. In 2007, he was awarded the SMH Moncado Prize, which he holds along with two other Italian prizes. Dr, Paoletti curretnly works for the Education, University and Research Ministry. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are a military historian, which, if I am not mistaken, is a rare breed. I can only think of three others: Jeremy Black (English), Donald Kagen and Victor Hansen (American), and you. The four of you also happen to be conservatives. Is there any relationship between your discipline and conservatism?

Ciro Paoletti (CP): I know many military historians who belong to the Left. Many of them may have chosen the Left to be successful in terms of their career. Others are believers. I have in mind a historian, who, when asked why he was a Leftist, candidly answered: “Because this allows me to say whatever I want, feel protected, and suffer no persecution.” However, whenever a historian melts politics into his work, the result is bad quality of work. If you want history to support your political ideas, you have to be a liar. If we don’t rely on facts, if we don’t reconstruct facts properly, and if we don’t present facts as they occurred, we do bad work, and the result is therefore quite bad.

ZJ: From what you said, I gather you consider history, not just military history, to be conservative by definition. Am I right?

CP: Military history and conservatism are not necessarily linked. It depends on the time one lives in, and on the political background. As things are, in this historical period, if one in the so-called West relies on facts, he is a conservative; it is a matter of logic. When you know how things happened in the past, and apply their schemes to the current affairs, you may easily realize how close Political Correctness (PC) is to the worst 20th-century dictatorships.

In Italy we had Fascism, as you know. Fascism altered a lot of things, provided its own historical versions and interpretations, but it did not alter – never – the content of books written in the past because they were not in conformity with Fascism. Communism under Stalin modified paintings, exterminated people when they became “enemy of the people.” The Soviets banned and eliminated books from libraries, the Nazi did the same and burnt books, but did they alter their content? No.

ZJ: Is there a connection between the former totalitarian approach to history and the new PC (politically correct) ideology?

CP: PC makes changes to the original version; It does it in some books, it does it in theater. Thus, how can an honest historian join the politically correct, if it’s based on the falsification of sources?

ZJ: Italians are the most historical nation in European history. As my older friend told me, everybody must study art history, except the Italians. They live in a “museum.” Does this “historical” experience translate into greater attachment to history? Here I want to make a distinction between being culturally conservative and politically conservative.

In the US, where I live, when I say that I am conservative, people almost instinctively think I always vote Republican. To me, to be conservative means to be conservative in the cultural realm, which, in my mind, is the only realm that truly matters. Political allegiances come and go, culture lasts. When you start changing the past, you wage war on the whole cultural heritage, going all the way back to our historical beginnings. The former totalitarians may have done it as a matter of expediency; today’s totalitarians condemn history as such, and find little in it to learn from. What is your take on this?

CP: Italians are instinctively traditionalist, and highly nationalistic. They don’t like sudden changes – but there has been a generational dramatic change since 2000. Historical heritage provides an instinctive common background, comprised of Rome, the Renaissance and Garibaldi. But there it stops.

Translated into politics, this means that the majority – with the exception of the young people – is surely conservative, for almost every-time a general election has been called, the higher the number of voters, the better the result for conservatism. But, as things have gone in the last twenty-five years, almost every time the Right won, the ballot result was turned upside down by political crises and rule went to so called “technical governments” which more or less pended to the Left. And these crises, which were called by the Right “palace plots,” allowed the Left to take power again.

Paradoxically, as things are today, the Progressive Left – composed of former Communists – Is tasked to keep things as they are, to keep the power as much as possible, no matter what the compromise and the related cost for Italians, whilst Conservatives are the real progressive forces. Unfortunately, as things went in early 1995, in 2011, and 2019, the majority of Italians think voting is useless, because, no matter how you vote and what the result, later “they do what they want.”

Young people today are the product of diffused technologies and related apps. The vast majority do not read; hence they do not think, and they vote according to how familiar this or that sounds. Thus, political propaganda is basically advertising: the easier the slogan, the easier to get the vote, even if there is an instinctive resistance to “inclusion” and what it implies. People can also rely on national heritage to justify the reaction to “inclusiveness;” but this reaction is not a consequence of the national heritage, which exists by itself.

ZJ: In the 1970s, we used to say – after Hayek – that there is a distinction between European and American Liberalism, because one could not apply the term Conservatism in the European sense to American reality: no monarchy. Accordingly, the European liberal was conservative in the American sense, and the European socialist corresponded to the American liberal, or, supporter of state intervention, state social programs. If you remember, Hayek even wrote a chapter, in his important Constitution of Liberty, “Why I am not Conservative” – and this, despite the fact that many conservatives claimed Hayek to be in their camp. Do you think that this lack of parallel between the terms – conservative, liberal, socialist – in America is still valid? If I may suggest, my impression is that because Liberalism – or what used to be called classical Liberalism – simply disappeared and became PC. As far as the economy is concerned, both conservatives and “liberals” or democrats are for big state, something inconceivable to liberals and conservatives of old.

CP: You are right, but it depends on a tricky misunderstanding that occurred many decades ago in America. The Leftists never attempted to call themselves Socialists, and sneaked in as “progressive Liberals.” But a look at American affairs allows you to realize that the Democratic Party has never supported state interventionism till F.D. Roosevelt – who copied it from Mussolini, who was and remained a socialist all his life – and, also after Roosevelt, the Democrats were never as progressive as they claim to have been. The conservative South traditionally voted for Democrats “because Lincoln was a Republican.” Thus, due to such a core of voters, how could the Democratic Party not be conservative?

Additional example: in Italy we had the Liberal Party. In 1848 it was at the extreme Left and Republican. In 1876 it got into power and was loyal to the king. In 1948, it sat at the right and was considered a conservative party for the next 50 years. The problem is that the name on the box often does not, or does no longer, correspond to what’s inside the box. In 18th-century Britain, being a Liberal simply meant to be a supporter of free commerce, thus to be a capitalist, no matter the cost for low-income and non-mercantile classes.

As things are now, so-called Liberalism claims to be different, but actually it is still what it always was, and again no matter the cost for low-income and non-entrepreneurial classes. All those other narratives about care, inclusion, the environment, peace and love, and so on, are only a nice package to let the worst and most greedy capitalism be accepted by the people.

The same goes for conservatives: conservatives are the real revolutionaries today, because conservatives want people to use their own brain, feeding it with education and culture, in order to think, and then to act according to their own decisions. Unfortunately, thinking means realizing how dangerous debt can be, and how useful saving is. Thus, thinking is not welcome by the current Liberals, because it may affect the market in an unpredictable way. What the market likes are standard-minded people, a society whose consumers are predictable – and thus planned – in order to minimize losses due to stocking costs and unsold items, and to maximize profits.

ZJ: In our private conversations, you often refer to America as Calvinist, meaning in broad historical terms, Protestant, as opposed to Catholic, meaning different attitudes towards private and social realms. Those attitudes today do not express themselves as theological differences, nor a religious vision on how to organize earthy existence, or work-ethics, as Max Weber would have it, but as social attitudes broadly speaking. One of the characteristic features of life in early Protestantism was insistence on certain socially acceptable behavior.

There were no libertines in Protestant countries, who would mock religion. Sin is evil and thus we must eradicate it. Today religion does not have much of a grip on our lives, but PC in America does. Since punishment cannot be postponed till after death, we use the power of the state – rules, regulations, ostracism to thwart social sins. The last three decades in the US saw unprecedented growth of regulations affecting human behavior, and confessions for saying something considered socially “unacceptable.” Our reality looks like Calvin’s Geneva, with sinners prostrating themselves before the public, expiating their sins. Do you see a connection between PC, which has assumed totalitarian posture, and what you see as American Calvinism?

CP: First of all when I say “Calvinist,” I mean exactly Calvinist, not Protestant in general, because Calvinists consider salvation as a gift; and, in order to feel safe, they think they can realize whether salvation has been conceded to them by looking at the success of their actions during their lifetime. The best measure of success is money: thus, the richer one becomes, the surest one is to go to Paradise.

Due to its Puritan heritage, the USA still relies on a Calvinistic background, and this is part of the explanation. Then I’d say that the current mind depends in part on the Deism of the 17th- and 18th-centurries. That is to say: be loyal, pay your debts, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t be a liar, and be friendly to other human beings – and this depends on whom one perceives as human beings, because many deists, including Voltaire, got good returns on the money they happily invested in the slave trade – and this in part depends on a Calvinistic vision of sin and money. I have already mentioned money.

About sin, the problem was that no official absolution could exist, for it was Popish. In early America a person was judged by the community, and, when found guilty, punished. That’s why it is so important on one hand to strip some behaviors of their quality as sins – those related to sex – and on the other hand to still identify some “sinners” to go after. If a behavior is no longer a sin, that behavior is by definition correct and you are no longer a sinner.

Thus, a person who is rejected (but who is otherwise a good member of the community) is one who criticizes your behavior; for this criticism makes that person “ipso facto” wrong; thus, he is a sinner. On the other hand, if you have sinner to go after, it means your society still has a “moral code.” Thus, if it has a moral code, it is still a “good” society; and, when supporting such a code, you are “on the right side” (that is, of the community); and you act well when going after the “sinners” opposing such a code, because they are out of the community, and thus a threat.

Legal means may seem soft, but are becoming far less soft. As far as I know, if German parents prevent their child from learning what is taught about gender at school, they are fined and can be also jailed. But this is only in theory a punishment of the sinner. In fact, it’s just the same system the KGB used in case one missed the Komsomol meeting and, by the way, is just the same system used also by the Church in the Middle Age when one refused the globally accepted behavior.

The problem is that these fake liberties are in fact the surface of a dictatorship which, thanks to Facebook, Watsapp and similar things, is more and more controlling and conditioning every aspect of our life, to plan it as capitalism wants, and not as we want. And capitalism has no interest in punishing our soul after our death, because, first as things are, you can’t trade souls, for now. Second, your death would simply mean one consumer less, thus depriving the market of a client – excluding funeral houses, of course. No, capitalism wants us to behave all in the same predictable and planned way, and that’s it.

ZJ: To move on to a different but related topic: The Protestant Reformation. It is a great modern event, whose consequences we are feeling even now. The second greatest event was the French Revolution of 1789. It proclaimed equality of all. It was the end of the world as we knew it. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is a great document of the old frame of mind, which saw the end of a long epoch. It abolished not just the monarchy as a political system but delegitimized the idea of social hierarchy.

For about 150–200 years the world went on without noticing how destructive this is. it is one thing to say, everybody should share political power to a small extent, have the right to vote and influence politics, it is quite another to assert equality in the way it manifests itself today as “discrimination.”

CP: America and Americans are a consequence of their revolution, not of the French one. The latter abolished slavery; the former kept it. Both stated a deistic application of the Christian principle of equality. But in both cases the principle of hierarchy was preserved. I do not see the root of the idea of “discrimination” in the French Revolution. America kept discrimination alive. It did not change significantly till Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.

ZJ: Since you referred to slavery, would you agree that there is a difference of attitude in Catholic and Protestant colonialism for this every reason. The Spaniards and Portuguese were Catholics; the Dutch and British were Protestant. The Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese went to the new world without women; the Protestants fled the British Isles taking populations of villages – men and women. They were self-sufficient; they wanted to recreate their life in a New World on old principles minus the British hierarchy. The local population was a nuisance.

CP: The Spaniards started their colonization, wherever it was, as a military operation, thus no woman could go with them. The Portuguese started their colonization establishing trading posts to support their commercial expeditions, thus in this case too there was no room for women, at least at the beginning. The Dutch and the British were looking for free spaces to migrate. They emigrated with families. On the other hand, the French started their North-American colonization smoothly, as a commercial penetration, thus they allied with the Hurons, and converted them to Catholicism. As a result, there was no destruction of the local population in Canada, whilst it occurred in the 13 British colonies (as happened in a similar way in South America ruled by Spaniards and by the Portuguese).

America

ZJ: Let me move to 20th-century. Here is something that an American military historian, an expert on the Greek historian Thucydides, Donald Kagan, said in an interview for American Heritage: “In my view America represents something relatively new in history of international relations. We are the greatest military power in the world today and we remain the greatest economic power. There haven’t been very many times in the past when there has been a single power with so much relative strength. And we are still almost universally perceived to be what Bismarck called a satisfied power, happy with what we have, self-sufficient, not aiming to seize anything essential to others. We don’t represent the kind of menace that powers approaching our relative strength have in the past. I think there is a new set of rules for us: If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new.”

Kagan said this in 1997. It is hard to believe how much changed: September 11th and all that it entailed, financial crisis in 2008, and, above all, the rise of China, which in 1997 one could not mention as a threat to American hegemony. What, if anything, from what Kagan said still holds true about the position of the US.

CP: Kagan at that time probably presented the shared great American pride after the fall of the Soviet System, when everybody thought America to be unchallengeable. It lasted till September 11th, only a few years later. That America was “not aiming to seize anything essential to others” is something many countries could easily argue about, but my answer to your question is – not that much still holds true.

Rules to hold power are always the same, no matter the historical period and the geographical location. In case you may dispute it, it is about how much velvet to use for the glove dressing your steel hand, but that’s it. Americans still rely on Theodore Roosevelt’s statement: “Speak kindly, and bring a big stick.” The typical American likes very much the self-perception of America as the land of liberty – which in Academia no longer exists and is severely scrutinized by the progressive press and television – and of Americans as welcome everywhere because they bring democracy.

Well, in 1944 and 1945 they were perceived this way, but now? What do they bring? Political correctness? The Americans are not aiming to seize anything essential to others because they are at the top. “If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new?” Oh, please, which new ways? There are no “new ways;” there is, perhaps, only a new way for dressing and describing the old ways. But the core is the same used since the days of the Egyptians to now, passing through thirty or forty or centuries of human civilization everywhere in the world.

ZJ: To bring support to your claim I can invoke two examples. When Hilary Clinton went to India, she uttered her famous slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights.” When Barak Obama visited Ethiopia and Kenya, he was talking about gay rights. My Ethiopian friend was outraged and said: “Ethiopians have serious problems to worry about: poverty, brutality of the government, non-existence of a free press, a corrupt ruling class, rule of law, and Obama is talking about gay rights!” One can, of course, score some points at home by saying such things, but it shows Kenyans and Ethiopians that America offers no support for the people in Ethiopia and Kenya in their fight against corruption to bring necessary reforms in their countries.

When President Carter came to Poland, in 1977, he talked about violation of human rights, his wife met with the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. It gave us hope and created the impression that the US stands for universal values and supports opposition. In contrast to Carter, Clinton and Obama were the supporters of new ideologies.

Would you agree that the more the American mind is preoccupied with ideological thinking, the less effective it can be in shaping politics outside America, and this preoccupation weakens its own influence? What America exports now is ideology which, incidentally, is inimical to freedom. This attitude antagonizes many people in other countries. People in former communist countries in the 1970s and 1980s were looking up to America. Today, no one is looking up to America any more.

CP: I subscribe to everything you said. Americans have often a very poor perception of what happens outside America. if you look at the American press, you know all about the city, enough about the county, not that much about the state, or about the USA, and practically nothing about the world. Americans like to think that what works for them works for everybody and that everybody must be happy with it.

Unfortunately, it is not so. A politician, of course, thinks above all of re-election, and thus speaks in order to keep or enhance the number of voters. This is normal, but what Obama did, and what Hilary did, seems something, in a certain sense, different: they seem to have perceived themselves as the apostles of progressive evangelism, telling the people living in the darkness how to think, behave and act. They had no doubt about being enlightened, thus better. But this is what we are dealing with since the French came to Italy in 1796 – which, believe me, was not a good period; and they were hardly welcomed, given the popular armed resistance they had to face for a very longtime – and it is something we know well. Beware of it.

When you make a comparison between Politically Correct and Communism, you are not right; the real comparison is to Jacobinism, and, of course, since people are all but stupid, the result is just what you say: no one is looking up to America any more, except, in my country, the provincial-minded and not the cultured leftists, who think America to be the land of the best by definition. By the way, until 1994, these cultured leftists were all formally Communist.

ZJ: As you said, Obama and Hilary Clinton perceived themselves as the apostles of the progressive evangelism. This struck me, because I heard the same argument some 25 years ago from conservatively minded Poles: the liberal elites feel disdain for the uneducated, simple people. And, 25 years later, the same argument came to the fore in France, Britain and the US. Trump and Johnson came to power on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with the liberal elites who are suspicious of ordinary people. It is the same thing everywhere in the Western world. The liberal elites, like the Democratic Party in the US, claim to be on the side of “the people,” but any real contact with them terrifies them: dirty, primitive, uneducated and, therefore, stupid. Or, as Hillary Clinton called them – deplorables!

CP: Yes, deplorability. This is the term which tells you who we are dealing with. But this is also why I perceive Political Correctness as Jacobinism, and not as Communism. A Communist will hate you, but will rarely look at you from on high because you don’t share his opinions; and a Communist will never consider you as “nothing:” you are equal, but opposing, thus an enemy to be destroyed – which is easier, faster and safer than re-educating. But the Jacobins felt superior; they had all the arrogance of the authors of the Encyclopedia, the same arrogance Voltaire displayed. They claimed they were right because they were enlightened. Being enlightened – of course, according to their standards, agreeing with those standards – meant ipso facto to be superior. If you think of it, you realize also that Communism was a result of the Jacobinism, not much different from it.

I would add that the worst form of arrogance is the intellectual one. This is an infringement of the first rule of democracy: parity. No matter what the Politically Correct people claim to be, they perceive as unequal everyone who is not like them. Thus they in fact deny fundamental parity to those who are not like-minded. This is undemocratic.

America, China, Russia

ZJ: I would like to ask you about China, but before that I want to ask you about ancient historians, whom, I know you studied, as most military historians do. Whom among the Greeks and Romans did you read? And, how important are they for military history?

CP: They are very important for history in general, and they are the first Europeans who wrote what they knew, and thus our cultural identity is widely indebted to them. What did I read? Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius and Epaminondas, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and Suetonius, the last ones both in Latin and in translation. How important are they for history is well-known. In military history, well, just think that the military academies normally include the Greek and the Roman wars in their teaching, because neither strategy nor tactics has changed.

ZJ: The reason I invoked the ancient historians is that the Chinese Communists are interested in them. Xi Jing Ping read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. Books by European classicists, for example by the Jacqueline de Romilly who wrote about Thucydides, were translated into Chinese. Recently two books on Thucydides were published here in the US – Thucydides’s Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relationship by Steve Chan, or Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison. One can observe a renaissance of ancient authors, Thucydides and Polybius, in particular, in small circles of specialists and political decision makers.

Wouldn’t you say that there is no better recommendation than the fact that non-Western communists read Western classics?

CP: I agree with you, but I’d add something. They, too, wrote incredibly valuable books. So, if they are reading ours, it’s because the first rule of a commander is – know what, and how your potential – or not – enemy thinks. This is what the Chinese are doing; and this is what we are not doing, because I don’t think our decision-makers have read, for instance, Sun Tzu. And it is dangerous.

Then you ask why the Greeks, the Romans? Well, it would be best to ask the Chinese. I can only wonder why. Maybe because our mentality is still that of ancient times, and because Greece and Rome are the roots of our culture. But honestly, I’m not a Chinese political leader; thus, I don’t know. Also, I do not know how much Classical education in the West is dead, because I do not have an idea of how it is in other countries but mine. I know that in my country we still have to study Latin and ancient Greek during the five years of high school – in the classical lyceum – or only Latin, and also five years in the scientific lyceum. Of course, a lot of families don’t like Latin and Greek, and thus look for not so “useless” subjects for their children. Nonetheless, many others still study them; and this is something. As for the last question, it is highly possible that by not reading – not reading in general I mean – the new generation of Westerners is bound to lose to the Asians who are learning from our heritage. Unless we forbid the use Facebook, WhatsApp, and related chats, I don’t know what we could do.

ZJ: Should we – and by WE I have in mind many different “WEs” or us – be afraid of the rise of China for the same reason? In the case of the West, the rise of China as a world power is threatening because we fear that the Chinese mentality, world-view is incompatible with ours, particularly the idea of the relationship between the individual and the collective. We fear that if China becomes a world-power, collectivism will have to override Western individualism. Asian countries, on the other hand, whose cultures are closer to that of China, see the threat more in economic and military terms. African countries, where China’s presence is ubiquitous, see China as a force exploiting their countries’ natural resources. China allies itself with corrupt local authorities. Is there a common denominator in everyone’s fear; or, is the situation in each of the three cases different?

CP: The answer is yes to the first two questions. The problem is that I hardly see a way to react or to avoid it.

Let’s take the case of Poland, at least the case of Poland of ten years ago. I went to Wroclaw that year, because I was going to be appointed to the scientific board of a journal published by the University of Lower Silesia, and I complimented my friend who invited me on how Poland had improved in less than ten years. I remember quite well that during the meeting of the board, when discussing the distribution of the journal, my friend said that 10 euros (yearly subscription) was too much for students. I was surprised, but made no comment. The next day, I asked him: “If a student can’t pay 10 euros per year, how can families purchase what I see in stores?” The answer – you know it but I did not know it at that time – was: “Whatever you see on sale is very inexpensive in Western terms, and it all comes from China. It’s all made in China: pencils, pens, paper, cloths, shoes, all. Otherwise we could not otherwise purchase it.” So, the terms for Poland were: better to buy Chinese goods and get what you need, even if it is not of the best quality, than not have at all.

That’ s the core of the problem: China grew because it was – and it still is – competitive in terms of prices, because of her lower standard of li ving, and because now China is competitive also in terms of quality. As things stand, you can’t stop it, unless we introduce strong protectionism. But what will happen if, for example, China causes a collapse of US bonds? What then? America would crash in a month, or less than a month, or would go to war.

So, you can’t stop it, unless you have no state debt, a lot of raw materials making you potentially self-sufficient; or, you don’t care about your citizens’ standard of living; or, if you don’t care how your citizens react in case their standard of livinggoes plummets. And there is only one country in the world, today, in such a situation: Russia, and it stands together with China – thanks to the US.

ZJ: Is there a way to avoid it?

CP: There is no way. Rather, the question is how to survive. Only in a Japanese way: keep the standard of living relatively low, keep manpower cost relatively low, increase technological innovation in order to render national production more competitive, and reduce national debt.

In all four cases, this is very hard, if not impossible, to do in the West; and in Japan it works only due to their longstanding tradition of low standard of living, hard and prolonged daily work, and, above all, a national debt which, by law, can be held only by Japanese nationals. But we can’t do it, unless a major social U-turn happens, which nobody is ready for. Think of the French under Macron in the last 28 months.

The problem is that the Chinese have a centralized decision-making process, and we have not. In military terms, they have already won, because a centralized command is always far more effective than a non-coordinated one; and in the West, we are not-coordinated.

Hopes? None, or a very small one: the increasing social gap between inner China and coastal China. To be even clearer – coastal China enjoys far better standards of living than inner China. Coastal China is in relatively good condition as far as I know, as good as Poland could be in 1980. Inner China is far below, as far below as the Soviet deep countryside could be in the 1960s, or more. Now, the Chinese government knows this and must somehow fill the gap. A way to fill the gap is to open the inner market, increasing wages in some areas. This will heavily push production – thus incomes should increase.

So there is a slight, very slight possibility that, on one hand, this may push prices as high as needed to render Chinese goods less competitive on world markets; on the other hand, there is a slight possibility that once richer, the Chinese may be a bit less disciplined than they are now, and thus they could somehow start not to obey as blindly as they do now. But I don’t believe either the former or the latter scenarios. Moreover, in Germany and Italy, we have seen how effective the dictatorial control can be, even when improving standards of living; and back then, there was no internet, and no mobile networks. Think of mobile networks and the internet controlled by Hitler and the Gestapo!

We can only hope to be left alone, because, as things are, there is no way to stop them. Besides, with this stupid Political Correctness, I don’t think there is the smallest room to challenge China. America is fighting rearguard action: it’s trying to keep the advantage it still has in terms of technology. But for how long?

ZJ: Given what you’ve said, I have two related questions. Let me begin with the following. Liberal states with their hostility toward power are ill-equipped to fight or oppose the dominance of non-liberal regimes, like China. Any attempt to endow the State with more power is seen as “fascist.” The moment Covid-19 broke out, liberal journalists claimed that the extraordinary measures which some governments took, in Poland, for example, is a smokescreen to amass more power. In the US we heard the same rhetoric. Now, weeks later, when people want to leave homes, go back to work, restart economy, and, like in the US, start rebelling against stay-at-home orders, the same liberal media outlets which complained about the government amassing power want the State to go after those who want to relax the regulations.

This leads me to believe that the liberal idea of a weak state is untenable precisely because when a danger looms, the state must have considerable power to provide order, and it is never because of extraordinary circumstances. Such circumstances, whether they manifest themselves on a daily basis or not, they exist by the very nature of political existence. For example, we don’t fight wars on daily basis, but we maintain the military in case we go to war, and it would be impossible to organize the military overnight if a country were to be invaded. It makes me think that the liberal state can work only when there is no danger (be it Covid-19, or threat to national security), which is a rare or impossible scenario.

CP: The so-called liberals wants a weak state because a weak state cannot fight an organized massive opposition. A state can oppose better than a single person; thus, a state must be weakened; and liberals, as you say, accuse the states, which try to keep some of their natural powers, as being freedom-threatening and fascist. But this in their minds has nothing to do with state-power as such. According to them, the state should be a sort of waiter, providing all the needed commodities, while allowing them to do what they want, when they want, and the way they want. The State, according to them, should be a gadget to be used as they like. So, there is no paradox: they are quite coherent. It’s the idea of the state which is different. Their idea is not ours.

ZJ: What you said in your previous answer sounds like the West’s doomsday or even its death certificate. The 20th-century is often referred to as the “American century.” That century started with a very optimistic statement by President Wilson, known as a “doctrine:” “To make the world free for democracy.” Fascism and Nazism failed. Soviet totalitarianism disintegrated. But now America and the West are being slowly replaced by a very non-democratic China. Do you see in Wilson’s doctrine something naïve; an expression of typical American optimism; or, the unfolding of the Enlightenment idea that Reason, democratic egalitarianism, will win over tribal passions and national interests?

Second, do you think that Americans will learn a permanent lesson after what one can call a defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan; or, for as long as America cherishes its Enlightenment principles, it will commit the same mistake again? Last but not least, would you say that under Trump, America already changed in this respect, not because Trump has any doctrine, but simply because he is a pragmatic businessman who sees the world in terms of dollars, not ideas and ideals, and looks at politics as a tool, not as a science of moral principles.

CP: Wilson was an academic who had no actual experience in foreign affairs, and in politics other than in the USA. His principles were fine on paper, but think of how easy would it be to apply them in Danzig and neighboring area. And in Silesia? And what about Czechoslovakia, where Czechs were only half of the population? Had his been applied, as he stated them, in Poland, you would have the cities kept by Germany and in the neighboring country; in Dalmatia the cities, and only the cities, had to belong to Italy; the countryside would belong to Yugoslavia – it was a mosaic of people changing into a nightmare. It was impossible, because the countryside wanted also the city they relied on; and the city wanted to rule the countryside it relied on.

As for Afghanistan and Iraq, let’s start with the latter. A couple of American friends of mine, deeply liberal, voting Democrats, fully objected to the Iraq war. As she always said: “It’s only for the oil.” Then, from a military point of view, it started badly, because the US Expeditionary force was less than two thirds than what should have been. Thus, it was clear to everybody with a bit of military experience (including me) that from the very beginning they were going to face a lot of troubles once the offensive was achieved. Afghanistan was an additional disaster. Why? After September 11th the US needed to show that they were reacting, the faster the better. They needed a target. They knew where Osama bin Laden was and they attacked. Now, as military history teaches, nobody can seize and keep Afghanistan, nobody. That’s why the Czars never tried. The British left it unoccupied after having suffered many severe total military disasters every time they entered Afghanistan. Ok? And Moscow entered in 1979. You know how that ended.

Will they make the same mistake again? My answer is, Yes. But it does not depend on their military; it will depend on their politicians; and it has nothing or very little to do with the Enlightenment mentality, because in both cases the fight for democracy was only the badge and did not correspond that much to what was in the box.

ZJ: Ever since the collapse of Communism, Russia feels uneasy about what to do and where to go. Whatever Sovietism was, it gave them a sense of being a great power; and, of course, the victory over Nazi Germany strengthened the feeling of being a liberating force. (It did not matter that it was one totalitarian power fighting another totalitarian power). All that went hand in hand with the old idea of Imperial Russia. Then, 1991 came as a psychological blow; the colossus collapsed, but the huge territory remained. As you know, in Putin’s mind, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th-century’s greatest disaster. Today, Russia’s economy is the size of that of Italy.

It leads me to think of a paradox. I gather Italy does not have imperial ambitions; it is not flying military planes, armed with nuclear weapons over Europe, and so on. But Russia does. Does Russia, Russians, or Putin live in an illusory reality? Is their perception of the world, first, based on the divorce between their real power and the illusion of power they have? Or, is historical reality so strong that it makes it almost impossible for the present generation of Russians to reconcile themselves that the world has changed. After all, Britain ruled one third of the world. It lost its Empire, but accommodated well to the new reality.

CP: Russia is a nuclear power; we Italians lost World War II. Thus, we were prevented by a treaty, and we had to renounce military ambitions. But we belong to NATO; and this dictates our behavior. Britain did not exactly accommodate to the new status. Britain was heavily forced by the USA to progressively renounce her world power status – the Suez intervention in 1956 and the Bermuda Treaty about nuclear weapons were the two major steps in Britain’s decline, both enforced by the USA. But Russia is too big to be forced, and has too many assets to be used, in order to survive.

Russia won last World War II, and thus got and still holds a permanent seat with the right of veto in the UN security council, which we Italians have not got. Russia has plenty of raw materials – which we have not, as Britain too practically never had – from uranium to natural gas, including crude oil, gold, iron and so on. Russia is overextended in two continents, bordering with China. And, not the smallest issue, Russian is still a communication language in many countries, as I saw in Prague when, in 1997, I realized a Czech captain was speaking to a Chinese colonel in Russian, and as I still realize when in the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, or in Israel.

Whilst Britain, once she lost her colonies, remained a peripheral, relatively small island off the European Atlantic coast, Russia must exist as a world power, simply because it shares the border with China. Russia has no alternative. It must remain a world power or disappear; and this is, I think, what Putin has in mind; because I do not think anybody will prefer to let his own country disappear.

ZJ: I would agree with your last point. But on the additional supposition, that Russia’s interests are or could be co-extensive with our interests, I am not sure. However, as things stand today, Russia appears to prefer, or pretends to, a close alliance with China over America, probably to oppose America’s influence for the 1991 humiliation. But given the size of Russia’s economy, her alliance with China makes her look more like “a gas station” for China, whose primary purpose is to secure resources for itself.

You can say, and the argument seems valid, that part of the blame is the attitude of the Democrats in the US. It is mindboggling to see the Democrats running around and screaming at Trump because he wants to have a relationship with Russia. Even Steven Cohen, an American scholar of Russian history, is stunned by the Democrats’ attitude. The Democrats sound as if it was in America’s interest to continue the Cold War. None of this seems to get Russia onside the West’s cultural and political influence to oppose China.

CP: When the USSR collapsed, Russia found itself weak, and isolated. On the other hand, USA did their own best to help all the former Soviet nationalities to get their independence. Hence the USA was perceived still as an enemy destroying Russia; for in Moscow’s mind, Russia and the USSR were basically one and the same. When that process ended, Russia found itself weaker than in the past, hugely indebted, and still alone, sharing an incredibly long and impossible to defend border with an increasingly powerful China. What to do?

After what just happened, Russia could not rely on the USA, and had to find a solution. China in that moment was not a threat and, according to the old rule, “if you can’t fight them, join them,” Moscow signed the Shanghai Pact. The consequence – both partners felt their back was safe. An important Chinese general in 2007 in South Africa clearly and officially said, in an international conference I attended, that China appreciates nothing better than harmony, and harmony leads to happiness; and the Shanghai Pact was aimed to keep harmony, thus rendering everybody happy. As I later wrote in the Italian Navy Journal, this basically meant: “We want to run our own business according to our own mind. So, please, don’t intrude, or you will be against harmony, and the Pact will be turned against you.”

I do not know when, and if, Russia will be compelled in the future to choose whether to break harmony and survive, or submit to Chinese hegemony and become a satellite. But it is certain that, as things are, if the USA does not take a different approach, the relationship between Washington and Moscow will hardly change. I remember well the terror that existed in Eastern Europe in many countries, before the last US presidential election – because everybody considered the election of Hilary Clinton as the trigger for a war on Russia, with their countries in the middle. Nobody forgot that the USA entered both the World Wars led by a Democratic president, who had been re-elected promising to keep peace. It is something some Democrat should keep in mind.

ZJ: Are you saying that European alliance with the US is not necessarily in the interest of Europe and that Russia’s flying her planes over Europe is a benign exercise.

CP: Please don’t rely on the American vision: America, seen from here, did her own best to destroy Russia, and went further than strategically needed. Yugoslavia had to be dissolved, for it could no longer hold as it was. But there was no need to attack it, as was done in the 1990s, thus creating that ghost named Kossovo, and the other ghost called Bosnia, after a bloody civil war, and compelling NATO to keep its forces there for 30 years. But if it was done, it was only to deprive the Russian fleet of a possible port on the Mediterranean. That was the only reason for that war: democracy and self-determination were empty words. Now, try to see who the Serbs perceive as being closer to them – Washington or Moscow. And the answer is, Moscow, and right in the center of the Balkans! Wonderful result!

What do you think that many Poles thought? Do you think that they were supportive of the American initiative in Kiev? Not at all. Poles know quite well that in case of war, they will be alone in facing Russia, because, as the press reports, the Germans have exactly 16 effective aircrafts – 16, no kidding – and far less tanks then the Polish Army has; and in Warsaw nobody seriously thinks the USA is ready “to die for Danzig.” And what did the Americans do? The Orange surge in Kiev; and why? To establish in Kiev a government whose first declared task was not to renew the lease of Sebastopol to the Russian fleet! Could whatever person with a working brain think Putin would just happily accept the loss of such an asset? Could Putin agree to such a change? What do you think the USA would do in case a party in Italy would run saying, Let’s kick out the 6th US fleet from Naples and the Mediterranean?

I have heard with my ears Poles terrified by the perspective of an Orange success in Kiev, for that meant war on Russia, and many others in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the three Baltic States were frightened by the possible victory of Hilary Clinton – for that, in their mind, meant WAR, with Poland alone in the first line. Putin is no choir-boy. But the Americans, my goodness, they did their own best to push him in the corner where he is now, to push him to find an agreement with China, and now they complain!

We are losing tens or hundreds of billions of euros to be loyal to the NATO-imposed – thus American imposed – commercial embargo on Russia: does the USA care? Not at all. We, not USA, gets damaged. Obama left Iraq to be devastated because it was a former Russian ally; and then he did the same with Assad; and when Syria – which is flooding us, not America, with her refugees – after years of not ending war – asked for help, and Putin said, Yes, for he could not decently refuse to support a longstanding ally, what did Washington do? It said “Oh-oh, this is unfair.” But when Syrian people were massacred by the war, was that fair? And why did it happen? In the past 30 years, it seems that there was not a single day when Washington did not try to destabilize Russia once and for all – and this is the result.

Russia would like to come to an agreement, but America prevents it. I know that one can’t trust the Russians, but, for Heavens’ sake, when did we, the West, offer them one – I say just one – opportunity to show how reliable or unreliable they can be? Never! That’s a very bad and shortsighted policy. Only the Americans can think that it is only a matter of Russian goodwill. It is a matter of nonexistence of American goodwill. That’s it!

You say, Russian planes fly over Europe, and close the US coasts? And what does the USAF do? It patrols along the Russian border, just above the line of the Russian border? Who started first, guess… the Americans. Putin is reacting, due to many reasons, to show his Chinese allies that “he can,” that he is not the weak member of their dual alliance, to let the USA realize that he will not surrender, and that “he can stand up,” and provide evidence to his people that they are still under threat. Thus, the current situation – bad or good – has to be kept due to the external threat. And the problem is that, as things have been and still seems to be, he is right, because the external threat does exist – from America.

America wants – Russia destroyed, the European Union weak and disbanded, and China falling. As American policy is going, they may have the EU going down, but no success with the others. Thus, if they do not offer Putin a good compromise, a good loyal offer, they won’t achieve whatever result they want. And whilst Trump could, the Dems won’t; and you will see the result.

ZJ: Henry Kissinger’s view was that America in the late 1960s and 1970s was a declining power, and the best thing America could do was to contain the Soviet Union by agreeing to the division of the sphere of influence between the US and Soviet Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Carter, devised a different policy: using human rights as a weapon to build opposition in the Soviet empire and hold the communist governments accountable for their violations, and indirectly and slowly weaken communist grip on society.

After the collapse of communism, the sphere of America’s influence spread; but it spread exactly at the time when America entered the phase of its moral decline: its economic model – living on credit which was in perfect agreement with the hedonistic values of the society – led to unprecedented debt, which, as you remarked, makes it even less possible we can build a sensible opposition to China.

So, we moved from the world being split between America and the West and the Soviet Union, to the West and America being ripped apart by unprecedented debt and lack of ideological cohesion which makes it impossible to build an opposition to China. Does America have an attractive message to its allies and other countries, who are afraid of China as well, that could unite them today?

CP: No. It once had one; but now no longer does. Political correctness is not a message; and its rules seem to push people far away from America instead of becoming close to America.

ZJ: Hence my last question. Does China have an attractive message? Before you answer my question, let me read to you something that Xi Jing Ping said in 2014: “The Soviet Union collapsed because nobody was man enough to stand up and resist [its downfall]… Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, a multiparty system and the presidential system – we considered them, tried them, but none worked.” You can contrast it with Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” Was Churchill too optimistic, as was Pericles in his funeral oration during the Peloponnesian war? Are Xi Jing Ping’s words the next superpower’s message to the world?

CP: A mistake usually made in the West and above all in America, is that of thinking of the others as compact. Europe is not compact – think of the differences among the different European peoples – and China too is not, and it is big, enormous, and, till now, the most populated country of the world. Can you imagine what if all the ethnic groups would start acting with the same freedom we have in the West? Divisions, quarrels, differences, and who would settle them? They would soon be back to the War Lords time, or something like it; and that was a very sad time. We cannot, and we must not think that what works for us, here and now, may suit the others in the same time, and in another part of the world, because this is just the mistake Political Correctness does: it’s right, it works here, hence it must be exported everywhere. That’s wrong.

Some years ago I met an American based in London, who had a deep knowledge of the Far East and he had to agree with me when I told him that we can’t export democracy; we can’t enforce other people to accept democracy, because if they want not to have it, there is nothing to do, and we can’t go to war to impose democracy. This is America’s biggest fault – to believe that the American way of life can work everywhere, and thus must be exported and, in some cases, enforced. As long as it was a sort of shared idea, it could be neglected. But for the last 25 years, it is no longer so. It was officially stated by Warren Christopher in an article published in 1995 in Foreign Policy. Christopher wrote that the post-USSR-collapse situation presented the USA with an exceptional opportunity to shape the world according to their standards. His idea was based on four points; and the fourth was the support for democracy and human rights, according to American interests and ideals. Soon thereafter, senator Robert Dole also published an article – “Shaping America’s Global Future.” He said basically the same things Christopher said. Thus one could conclude that, no matter the party ruling the country, that policy had to be the future American policy.

So, back to China, why should the Chinese accept to share American standards, if those standards can’t be safely applied to their country? Primum edere, deinde philosophari – Food first, then philosophy. After that, many other things can follow.

ZJ: Dr. Paoletti, thank you for your time.

The image shows “Fury of Achilles,” by Charles-Antoine Coypel, painted in 1737.

Charles de Gaulle, Mythologized, Yet Betrayed, Part II of III

II. De Gaulle vs. Pétain – The Defeat And Rejection Of The Armistice

The trial of Marshal Pétain took place from July 23 to August 15, 1945. Prosecutor Mornet was the only magistrate who did not take an oath of loyalty to the Marshal, not out of insubordination, but because he had been retired for several month. The jurors, on the other hand, were chosen from parliamentarians who had not voted for full powers, and representatives of the various Resistance movements. Found guilty of colluding with the enemy and of high treason, the court condemned Pétain to death for national indignity and the confiscation of property. But let’s go back to 1938, the beginning of the quarrel and the rupture between Pétain and de Gaulle.

De Gaulle – Pétain, Two Opposing Destinies Linked By History

It was at the request of Daniel-Rops, editor-in-chief at Plon, that de Gaulle undertook the publication of his reflections on the military profession. He again took up the book, The Soldier, written ten years earlier for the Marshal, which the latter seems to have left in some drawer, collecting dust. He revised, completed and enlarged the manuscript and gave it the new title, France and its Army. In August 1938, de Gaulle brought the proofs to the publisher and informed the Marshal of its imminent publication. That the book was undertaken at the behest of Pétain, de Gaulle wanted to mention clearly in a Forward, the draft of which he sent to Pétain.

An exchange of letters and unfriendly words ensued. Pétain, annoyed at having been presented with a fait accompli, asserted that “this work belonged to him,” that he reserved the right to oppose its publication. In opposition, De Gaulle contended that the Marshal could give him orders in military but not literary matters. Eventually the two men met and worked out some sort of agreement.

Afterwards, the Marshal sent the Foreword which he wished to see placed at the beginning of the book. For his part, de Gaulle directly sent to Plon, without warning Pétain, a slightly modified dedication which would finally be published (it excluded the allusions, desired by Pétain, to chapters II to IV and to the years of writing, 1925-1927): “To Marshal Pétain, who wanted this book to be written, who directed, with his advice, the writing of the first five chapters, and thanks to whom the last two are the story of our victory.”

The battle of egos ended in a definite break between the two men. The dedication disappeared in post-war reissues. For Pétain, de Gaulle would henceforth be “a vain, presumptuous and ungrateful young man.” For de Gaulle, Pétain was “an exceptional man, an exceptional leader,” but who was “finished by 1925,” an “old man,” a “sad husk of a past glory,” who “chased after honors.”

In March 1935, Pétain already confided to the future General Alfred Conquet, “I know de Gaulle has height, confidence, a tenacious will, fine talents, an incomparable memory. But I have a problem with him myself.” Still according to Conquet, Pétain would have agreed to allow de Gaulle for promotion in 1938. De Gaulle’s admiration for Pétain seemed to gradually fade during the Rif War (1925). He did not reproach the Marshal for the success in pacifying Morocco, obtained in collaboration with the Spanish forces of the directorate of General Miguel Primo de Rivera.

De Gaulle was not and never would be a primary anti-colonialist. His son Philippe, explained that, on the contrary, he praised the prodigious example of the Romans in Gaul, “from which they learned so much,” and even said: “Only imbeciles do not recognize colonization, even if it was not always tender, because of their own barbarism. They forget that they were colonized because they themselves were incapable.” And again: “Americans have always considered colonization to be exploitation. But it is first of all development! It is clear that they were not colonized by the Romans.”

The policy of the American colonists and their government towards the Amerindians had been, it is true, ruthlessly and indelibly marked by massacres, the ripping up of treaties and deportations. After this treatment, the Indians of North America existed only in homeopathic doses (unlike those of Hispanic America), and the American leaders could not be inclined to imagine the possibility of a humanist and developmentalist colonization.

But anti-colonialism was not at the heart of the dispute here. What de Gaulle criticized Pétain for was having accepted the mission of the Republican-Socialists Painlevé and Briand to go to Morocco to replace Marshal Lyautey. De Gaulle sided with Lyautey, the monarchist, the anti-assimilationist colonialist, respectful of local culture, who wanted to spare Abd El Krim, against Pétain, the republican, obeying the orders of the Left Cartel, and a government that was secularist and assimilationist, and who wanted at all costs to put an end to the revolt.

The comparison between Pétain and de Gaulle did not fail to arouse the indignation of many adulators and despisers, but it was nonetheless rich in lessons. These two soldiers, these two statesmen, triggered all kinds of passions, adulation and recognition as well as hostility and hatred. Two lives, two opposing destinies, which nevertheless remain linked by history. One, Pétain, son of a plowman, “victor of Verdun,” glorious Marshal of the War of ‘14, “pacifier of Morocco,” academician, old head of state of Vichy who had been recalled, condemned to death, struck with national indignity for collaboration with the enemy, who died covered with shame, isolated in his cell, at the age of 95 (1951).

The other, de Gaulle, son of a professor in khâgne, rebel general, rebellious, leader of Free France, winner at the Liberation, who resigned in 1946, returned in 1958, was elected first president of the Fifth Republic, retired after having being disowned in a referendum (1969), and who died alone in his residence in La Boisserie at the age of 79 (1970). One, Pétain, the Republican soldier, agnostic, great seducer of women, a handsome man, a hardened bachelor, who married a divorced woman at sixty, Annie, the faithful and loving companion throughout the years of glory and sordid mess-ups. The other, de Gaulle, the Republican soldier, fervent Catholic, man of letters, brilliant lecturer, charismatic leader with ungrateful but distinguished physique, married at the age of thirty-one to a young woman, the advisor and unwavering support of all his life, “Yvonne without whom nothing would have been done.”

Two exceptional careers, two dazzling but late ascendancies. Colonel Pétain was 58 years old and in early retirement when the First World War broke out. He was elevated to the rank of Marshal of France in 1918 for services rendered to the Republic. Twenty-five years later, an 84-year-old man was elected by the National Assembly to bring about a new Constitution of the Republic (a draft Republican Constitution, which was signed by Pétain in January 1944, but never brought into effect).

In 1945, definitively on the sidelines, the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, remarked that everything was done in form only – the change of government, the armistice, the scuttling of the assemblies. During the vote for full powers “to the government of the Republic under the authority of Pétain,” on July 10th, 1940, out of 649 parliamentarians present, 569 voted for and 80 against. [Among the favorable votes 286 were from the Left and from the Center-Left, 237 from the Right and Center-Right, and 46 were left blank.

The deputies of the Left were those who were elected on May 3, 1936 under the colors of the Popular Front, with the exception of the Communists who were excluded from the chamber by the Daladier government, following the German-Soviet pact. Refusing to see the conflict as a patriotic war, the Communist Party was then seen as an objective ally of the enemy. By the decree of September 26th, 1939, the deputies who had not broken with the PCF were stripped of their mandate and interned, along with many nationals of enemy nations, regardless of their race or religion]. But in June 1940, the support for Pétain was nearly complete within the political class and almost total in public opinion.

When General de Gaulle founded and led Free France, in June 1940, he was 50 years old (he was thirty-four years younger than Pétain). But on the other hand, in 1958, he is a relatively old man – he is 69 years old – who, after being invested on June 1st as President of the Council by the National Assembly (329 votes in favor and 224 against), had the Constitution of the Fifth Republic adopted on October 4th and was elected President of the Republic by an electoral college of 80,000 electors on December 21st of the same year.

Pétain, de Gaulle, two warlords, two statesmen with the same firmness of character and the same independence of mind, at least when they were young. Two officers who had similar physical courage and the same detestation of privileges and compromises. Two leaders who, when they believed that the interests of the nation, the Republic and the people demanded it, could be inflexible, if not ruthless. Pétain, reputed to be thrifty in life, did not hesitate to have 50 soldiers shot to put an end to the 1917 mutinies; military above all, he suppressed the revolt of the Rif under the orders of the Cartel des Gauche; head of the French state during the Occupation, he was held responsible for the deaths of nearly 60,000 deported-resistance fighters and the disappearance of 75,000 Jews out of 330,000 Jews present in metropolitan France. [25,000 French Jews and 50,000 foreigners , including 12,000 foreign Jews who took refuge in the Free Zone, who were handed over to the German authorities after the general invasion of November 1942; the Jews of the Maghreb countries, some 400,000 remaining beyond the reach of the Occupier; a lower proportion than that of the other occupied European countries but nevertheless higher than that of Mussolini’s Italy, where 7,800 Jews disappeared during the German occupation of Italy, from September 1943 to May 1945].

The American and Canadian historians, Robert Paxton and Michaël Marrus, and their French heirs, Henry Rousso and Jean-Pierre Azéma, claimed to upset the reading of the history of the Vichy regime by asserting against Robert Aron that the French State not only collaborated but even anticipated German orders. Paxton, on the other hand, avoids dwelling on the fact that his government refused entry to European Jewish refugees into the United States and made it very difficult for them to obtain visas. Anxious to better reflect the complexity of things, Franco-Israeli historian Alain Michel has cast aside many of Paxton’s blunt assertions. We know the hysterical reactions of many mainstream media when journalist Éric Zemmour allowed himself to severely criticize the Paxtonian doxa.

De Gaulle, for his part, remained silent in the face of the extrajudicial repression of 1944-1946 (from 10,000 to 40,000 deaths depending on the sources). He was indifferent to the exodus of a million French people from Algeria (in 1962) and the disappearance of 2,000 to 3,000 of them. He refused to repatriate Muslim “refugees” who do not return to “the land of their fathers.” sacrificing 60,000 to 80,000 Harkis massacred by the FLN and the ANP. He did not hesitate either to eliminate his enemies of the OAS (which five times tried to assassinate him), with the help of the “long arms” of the SAC (Civic Action Service) or even secret agents, and “barbouzes” of the SDECE. However, all of these facts need to be put in their proper perspective, or “contextualized” as we say today. Were de Gaulle and Pétain more implacable in the conduct of war or in internal repression than the great politico-military leaders of the twentieth century, such as, Clemenceau, Joffre, Foch, Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill or Mussolini, to name a few? We can discuss this. Either way, we are also light years from the death tolls of the twentieth- century berserks Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Pol Pot, etc., with their loyal collaborators.

The Rejection Of The Armistice And The Reasons For The Defeat

The Épinal print caricatures pitting Pétain the defensive against de Gaulle the offensive, forged after World War II, must be qualified. Pétain was not fundamentally against the offensive; he wanted it to be efficient and as inexpensive as possible in human life. His doctrine was to avoid attack at all costs in favor of a more rational combat in which preparation and firepower prevailed. It was thanks to this method that French losses decreased year after year during the First World War. But in November 1918, the positions were reversed: Pétain advocated attack, while General Foch held him back. The defensive method, Pétain would later say, “corresponded to a period when our equipment was completely insufficient.” If he did not get “his” offensive, which was set for the morning of November 14, it is because three days earlier, on November 11, 1918, the plenipotentiaries signed the Armistice in the Rethondes Glade.

It seems that the opposition of Pétain and de Gaulle over the importance of the use of armored units has been exaggerated. In the 1930s, military writings on the use of armored units were abundant in France, as in Great Britain and Germany. Generals Jean Estienne and Edmond Buat, or Colonels Michel Bouvard, Aimé Doumenc and Pierre Dufour, to name a few, were all, like de Gaulle, supporters of a motorized army, followers of tank and armored squadrons. On the other hand, the effectiveness of the tank-plane pairing in “Lightning War” (Blitzkrieg of Guderian and Rommel) would be clearly demonstrated in the campaign in Poland, in 1939.

Pétain was probably not so out of step as some have said, judging by some of his words. On April 9, 1935, in a speech at the École supérieure de guerre, he warned against the temptation to freeze military art, under penalty of being surprised by the adversary: “Mechanized units are capable of giving operations a pace and amplitude hitherto unknown. The plane shattered the framework of the battle, formerly limited to the range of artillery shots, and changed the conditions for strategic action. The essential rules of the art of war risk being deeply affected. One can even wonder if the plane will not dictate its law in the conflicts of the future… In fact, victory will belong to the one who will be the first to exploit the properties of modern machines and combine their action, at whatever level (on the technical level as well as on the strategic level), to eliminate the means of resistance of the enemy.” The ideas he expressed in a speech in Saint-Quentin on October 4, 1936, even seem very close to those of de Gaulle. The thesis of the defensive army, which prevailed after Versailles, “has had its day,” he said, “While using and developing as much as possible the fortifications fortunately established on our borders, we must orient our activity in such a way as to deploy a powerful force on land and in the air immediately, which will be of a nature which will evoke respect in the potential enemy.”

Historians have not ceased to wonder about the circumstances of the defeat, but many questions remain to this day still undiscovered or undiscerned. As Temporary Minister of War, in the government of the radical-socialist Gaston Doumergue, Marshal Pétain clearly declared before the Senate army committee on March 7, 1934: “The forests of the Ardennes are impenetrable, if we make special arrangements.” These ambiguous and unfortunate remarks were later used to criticize him, for having agreed to reduce the army budget to allow a recovery of public finances. And from here, to blaming him for the defeat, there is only one step that some have not failed to take: The transfer of the “original fault” to Pétain is practical, for it enables the debate to be closed by prohibiting opening it.

Historians are still divided on whether France’s rearmament began in 1934 or 1936, but the military budget did not really increase dramatically until 1938 and 1939. In order to lessen the responsibility of the military, Vichy presented defeat as inevitable, claiming that the Wehrmacht was superior in numbers and weapons. Conversely, after the Liberation, radical and socialist politicians responded that the governments of the time had provided all the necessary funds. According to them, the equipment existed in abundance, the responsibility for the defeat rested exclusively with the soldiers unable to use the weapons placed at their disposal.

However, this must not lead to the conclusion that the high command of the French army was just a bunch of sissies or old skinflints. The possibility of the Germans crossing the Ardennes had been known and feared by the French military since the early 1930s. As early as 1932, the question had been asked by General Weygand, but the balance of power was then still in favor of France. After Hitler came to power, this concern increased. Weygand’s staff felt that the Sedan sector absolutely needed to be strengthened and that 15 days would be needed to ensure an appropriate response.

In January 1935, Weygand retired and his rival, General Gamelin, succeeded him. But the question arose again, in March 1937, with Colonel Bourguignon, who commanded the tanks of the 2nd Army in the Sedan sector, and then in 1938, with General Prételat, who was designated commander of the 2nd Army in the event of war. Prételat even organized a “framework” exercise with his staff to find out under what conditions the 2nd Army could stop a German Blitzkrieg attack across the Ardennes, at the limit of the Maginot line, and then resist until the arrival of reinforcements.

Unfortunately, when General Prételat reported back to Gamelin on the conclusions of this exercise, his findings were condescendingly referred to as “his dear, little pet theories.” Generalissimo Maurice Gamelin decided to play the defense card to the limit, taking refuge behind the Maginot line. In the final analysis, it was not Germany’s numerical or technological superiority, nor the general incompetence of high-ranking military personnel that led to France’s defeat, but rather the strategy of the high command, the inability to manage or control the clash of egos, and the incredible stubbornness of Gamelin who had repeatedly received information from Belgium, indicating that the German offensive would target the Ardennes.

There is also a crucial factor that must be taken into account here: The wave of pacifism and anti-militarism which overwhelmed France in the 1930s and for which the political class (socialists, communists and radical socialists alike) was largely responsible. To understand this, we must not be fooled by the fact that the pacifists and anti-militarists of the interwar period became patriots or even nationalists in 1944.

But the weight of this attitude is not measured only by the yardstick of the more or less passive fraternization of the PCF leaders with the occupiers until 1941. Let us not forget that. Twelve of the seventeen socialist ministers (SFIO) of the Popular Front government in March 1938 were removed from the party at the time of the Liberation; 60% of Radical and Radical Socialist parliamentarians prudently withdrew from political life under Vichy; 20% supported the regime; and 20% resisted. The group of eighty parliamentarians (self-qualified at the Liberation as “the first resistance fighters on French soil,” a designation which rightly irritated many Gaullists), voted against full powers (“To the government of the Republic, under the authority and signature of Marshal Pétain, has the power to bring in a new Constitution”). But the majority government voted this way, not in the name of national defense, of patriotism or of warmongering, but out of fear of “authoritarian temptations,“ or “fascist drift,” or a military coup.

This made all the difference in de Gaulle’s own fight. The General had little esteem for the politicians of the Third Republic, or for the “routine” Right, which “does not want to change anything,” and “understands nothing;” nor for the “Left of the“ Popular Front, “which ended with capitulation: The abdication of the Republic into the hands of Pétain.” He refused the Armistice, and his fight and resistance were above all anti-German. Conversely, the “Group of Eighty” waged a primarily political struggle, by defending the institutions, the status quo of the Third Republic. All-in-all, he wanted to continue to perpetuate the system of parties and assemblies without really reforming it.

The example of the socialist Leon Blum deserves to be cited in this regard. “I think, for my part,” he wrote in 1931, “that, in the moral dispositions in which the war had left the peoples of Europe, it was possible for a great nation to take the initiative of total disarmament… I think that if a Nation had offered itself in this way, that it had, of its own accord, threw down its arms, without prior agreement with the other States, without stipulation of reciprocity, it would in reality have run no risk, because the moral prestige that it would have won would have made it unassailable, invulnerable, and the strength of the example set by it would have forced all other States to follow suit.” (“Problems of Peace, Security through Disarmament”).

This was the same Blum who deplored in Le Populaire of March 3, 1934: “The old men whom the fascist mob [of February 6, 1934] brought back to power [Doumergue and Pétain] have returned to the arms race.” Or again, on October 30, the day after Pétain spoke before the House Finance Committee: “Marshal Pétain cynically declared that very soon he will request a special budget to increase supplies and equipment.” It was also the socialist Jules Moch who called Pétain to the rostrum and protested against “your obvious desire to return to the professional army.” It was the Communist newspaper l’Humanité which proclaimed that “the scarecrow Hitler is a pretext,” and that the first duty of youth is to oppose all plans for militarization en masse. It was Thorez who recalled Lenin’s slogans in 1934: “To transform imperialist war into civil war.” Such words, irresponsible and reckless, could not but fail to arouse contempt and even hilarity from Hitler and his colorful officers. But as we know, France from 1933 to 1938 was thinking of much more than war.

An important point must now also be stressed: The Third Republic was a system of assembly; It was from the Chamber of Deputies that all the ministerial staff, who set the rules of the game, were recruited. The military, on the other hand, was nothing more than the “boot” of the politicians, and thus unable to awaken the indispensable patriotism of the French. After the Liberation, Georges Bernanos would say: “If there had been more Darnand in 1940, there would have been no militiamen in 1944.” Paraphrasing the author of Under the Sun of Satan, we may say that “if the French had fought like de Gaulle during the Battle of France, they would not have been ultimately victims of the weakness and cowardice of their political leaders.”

The alleged vast plot of Pétain intended to seize power at all costs to destroy the Republic, establish the dictatorship and throw France into the arms of the occupier is cheap propaganda. (The former socialist, who became a patriot, Gustave Hervé, author, in 1935, of C’est Pétain qu’il nous faut! (It is Pétain That We Need), was a supporter of the struggle on African soil, in 1940. The radical minister of the Popular Front, Pierre Cot, who also advocated the appeal to Pétain in 1935, ended up as fellow-traveler with the PCF and the USSR). The “providential man,” the eighty-four-year-old chosen by the parliamentarians of the Third Republic in June 1940, was never more than someone expedient.

The truth about this affair was expressed bluntly, as early as 1945, during the Pétain trial, by one of the freest and bravest minds of his generation, the future General Georges Loustaunau-Lacau, who had returned from the concentration camp in Mauthausen, where he had been deported for acts of resistance: “I owe nothing to Marshal Pétain, but I am disgusted by the sight of the men who, in this enclosure, try to pass on to an old man, nearly a hundred years old, the full slate of all their mistakes.” On August 17, 1945, de Gaulle commuted the death sentence pronounced against the Marshal to life imprisonment, thus putting an end to thirty-three years of at first good, then distant, and finally antagonistic and hostile relations.

Appointed Brigadier General the day before his death in 1955, the Béarn native, Georges Loustaunau-Lacau was one of the most decorated French soldiers of the two world wars. The 203rd class of Saint-Cyr (2016-2019), which had chosen to bear his name to honor him, was renamed by the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces because of Loustaunau-Lacau supposed anti-communist and anti-Semitic stances in the 1930s. Loustaunau-Lacau was nevertheless cleared of these accusations, before his official funeral at the Invalides, more than sixty years ago.

This precedent is unique in history, de Gaulle had even refused to rename the Pétain class. In fact, where things are now going, other censors, jealous guardians of single thought and political correctness, should not fail to demand that we also rename the Clémenceau class, or that Voltaire be removed from the Pantheon for the same reasons. A large number of figures, among the most illustrious of French culture, could then find themselves thrown into the garbage, in the name of anti-racism, anti-Semitism or anti-colonialism.

As President of the CFLN, since October 1943, de Gaulle signed on April 21, 1944, the ordinance on the organization of public powers, after the Liberation, providing to grant the right to vote to women and on September 30, 1944, the ordinance creating social security. De Gaulle’s role has sometimes been contested in the case of social security, but it was he who provided the impetus. Other promises of war would then be quickly realized: The creation of the Atomic Energy Commission, nationalization of Renault factories, nationalization of the major deposit banks and the Banque de France, nationalization of air transport, creation of works councils, expansion and unification of family allowance systems, health insurance, accident insurance, and pensions for employees, etc.

All these reforms are best explained as the will of de Gaulle than by the program of the National Council of the Resistance (March 15, 1944), drawn up by resistance members of the PCF and the SFIO. Significantly, the General avoided any reference to the CNR program, when announcing the principles of his government’s actions in the speech of September 12, 1944, at the Palais de Chaillot.

On November 13, 1945, de Gaulle was unanimously elected President of the government by the members of the Constituent Assembly. But very quickly a serious political crisis broke out within the tripartite government (Gaullists, Socialists and Communists). De Gaulle was, as we know, hostile to the assembly regime which had led to the disaster of 1940, to the return of the party system and to anything resembling the restoration of the Third Republic.

For him, the cup was full; as a result, he resigned: “The exclusive party regime has reappeared. I disapprove of it. But unless I forcefully establish a dictatorship which I do not want and which would undoubtedly turn out badly, I cannot afford to prevent this experience. I must therefore withdraw.” His absence from the political scene would last twelve years.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a statue of Charles de Gaulle in Bucharest.

Translated from the original French by N. Dass.

Towards The Fall Of The French Fifth Republic

The complete lockdown of my country, in March to May 2020, was a good opportunity to sit down and think about its political and institutional condition, a topic that particularly worries me ever since the Yellow Vest riots at the end of 2018, when I, and a lot of my fellow countrymen, felt the regime of the Fifth Republic falter. From that moment, the possibility of the collapse of the regime obsessed me, along with my previous thoughts on the real nature of the Fifth Republic as political regime. I tried to figure out what is to be expected in the coming months and years in my country, using my usual method of historic comparative analysis.

Here’s why I think that the French Fifth Republic is not a democracy, but a new Ancien Régime, and will therefore be destroyed by a new Revolution. And this is how it will happen.

A New Ancien Régime

The first thing to say is that France is not a democracy, and that’s true from the very beginning of the Fifth Republic, in 1958, and has only worsened since.

Usually in France, we think that our Constitution implements a possible form of democracy, one of the many different sorts existing in the West, and showing only a few constitutional and institutional variations from these; and that the others differ amongst each other in the same way and range, and that they together thus draw a spectrum of possibilities in the political realm called, “democracy,” which constitutes the enlightened form of government in the modern West.
That’s completely wrong. All our European neighbor-states have identical constitutions and rules about some crucial points, while France shows a radical singularity. Thus, France is not another democracy among others; it’s the exception to the rule. All great democracies in Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain), are parliamentary democracies, where head of state and head of government are clearly separated, and the Government is accountable to parliament. It’s also the case in India, in Japan, Canada, and Australia. It was also the case under the French Third Republic. It’s not the case in France today.

The separation of power is not even strictly implemented, as in the American constitution, in which the President is both head of state and government, but the Congress is independent from him.
France has a so-called “semi-presidential system,” in common with countries like Russia, Syria, Algeria or Egypt, which are not democracies at all. France is not a “democracy” in the usual sense of this word. But nor is it a dictatorship – France under King Louis XVI was not a dictatorship, neither was Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II. France is an exception, an intruder in the democratic world. There is no balance between powers. The President isn’t accountable before anyone, as long as his term lasts; but he has the power to dissolve the Parliament. The presidential function is a sort of political gravity pit – as time passes, everything ends up depending on it.

In a society, political mores and institutions form a feedback loop. When the Fifth Republic was founded, democratic culture in France had been well established for more than eighty years. The “Republican monarchy,” as the French constitutionalist, Maurice Duverger, called it, gradually altered and erased this democratic habitus – court manners now came to rule the political world and the media, the arts and the economy. The French political ecosystem today matches the institutions of the Fifth Republic, that is to say, we are now culturally this “Republican monarchy,” which we were previously, in the 1960s and the 1970s, only formally. Among our neighbors, the seat of political power is the Parliament. In France, it’s the Elysée palace, the presidential residence – and it’s just not the main seat, but the only one. There’s no debate there; everything is decided in the backrooms, and the French people only hear some rumors in the press about why and how important decisions are made.

This return to a pre-democratic political culture, as in the Ancien Régime or the German Empire in the 1900s, has had a spectacular outcome – missing real democratic debate, the French people show their discontent with riots, such as the Yellow Vest movement.

Here, I should reiterate what I said in my last book, La Structure de l’Histoire (The Structure of History) – that the parliamentary Nation-State is the result of a long deterministic process. First, a feudal society evolves towards centralized monarchy through the growing power of the feudal king, and the creation of a representative assembly made up of different parts of the feudal system (English Model Parliament in 1295, French Estates General in 1302). The last stage of the process towards national parliamentarism is what I call a “national revolution.” a revolutionary cycle which transform a regime of centralized monarchy into a parliamentary regime, an autocratic power into a democratic-representative power. This stage lasts approximately forty to fifty years, as in the two English revolutions (1641-1689), the French Revolution and the July Revolution (1789-1830), or the Spanish revolution and Spanish transition to democracy (1931-1977). The scheme is always the same: Fall of the old regime, an attempt to establish a moderate new regime, economic collapse and the rise of the radical revolutionaries, civil war and military dictatorship, authoritarian regime, then finally an “easygoing” revolutionary episode.

In my previous book, Atlas des guerres à venir (Atlas of the Wars to Come), I also described the historical phenomenon which I termed, “avenger-imperialist,” or “revolutionary imperialist,” a nationalist dictator. who simultaneously is a product of a “national revolution,” who seeks to end this revolution by way of a synthetic new order by amalgamating revolutionary democracy with the autocracy of the old regime; and seeks to insure the domination of his people by what he sees as “natural borders.” Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin or even Mussolini or Francisco Franco are such figures.
So here’s the point: If the deterministic historical process dictates a one-way evolution towards a parliamentary nation-state, a reality we observe in every great European state, how is it that France has regressed to a sort of new Ancien Régime in the middle of the twentieth century? It can’t be because of any sort of advancement that France had made, in comparison to its neighbors, since the United Kingdom is its elder in the fulfilment of this historical path and is still ruled under the same parliamentary system we find in Germany, Spain or Italy, which all accomplished their national revolutions later than France.

The answer, in fact, is to be found in Russia. This country is remarkable for having passed through two national revolutions in a row during the twentieth century; first in 1917, then in 1991, which is ongoing (in which Putin is a new avenger-imperialist; but that’s another topic).

How is such a thing possible? Because the first Russian revolution took place at the same time as the German revolution (1918), and the Russian and German revolutionary-imperialists, Stalin and Hitler, crashed into each other. Normally, a revolutionary imperialist expends the power of his country, unites against him all the neighboring countries, and is finally crushed by their coalition, and his defeat finally establishes the borders of his country by terminating its imperialists ambitions. The typical case is Napoleonic France. Hitler’s Germany also matched this scheme, because Hitler was, as Napoleon, the aggressor, and created the unity of the nations against him.

But Stalin, who was on the same trajectory, was attacked by Hitler before he himself could attack Germany. Thenceforth he was not an aggressor, but a defender of the Russian homeland, in what is known in Russia as the “Great Patriotic War,” which legitimized the Communist regime internationally, making USSR one of the Allies against Hitler, and internally, where the Communist regime become the savior of the motherland.

This historical accident derailed the Russian trajectory, changing the revolutionary – and as such, temporary – Soviet regime into a new “old regime,” which is to say, a regime strongly accepted by the people, not only by the means of terror but because of its great prestige, its authority which faced no serious questioning, and propped by national pride because of its imperial capacity. Such had been the case of France in the 18th-century, right after the numerous conquests of Louis XIV and the victory in the war of the Spanish Succession; it had been the case in Germany, united under Prussian rule, after the victory against France in 1871; it had been the case of Russia after a series of wars that took place in the second half of the 19th-century, which had resulted, in the extreme extent, in the Russian Empire in Europe, against the Ottomans. That is why the Soviet regime, in 1991, collapsed, as all “Ancien Régimes” are supposed to, that is to say, by a national revolution.

This brief look at the Russian case proves that in some cases, a temporary structural backward trajectory can be observed, a one-off regression from the historical path.

And it’s precisely this kind of historical accident which is the cause of France’s current institutional problem. In France, the historical accident is the defeat in 1940. No other European country had to face such an upheaval so late in its national historical path, after becoming a parliamentary nation-state. In fact, at this time, only two great European countries had reached this stage of evolution: United Kingdom and France. The defeat provoked the collapse of the French democratic regime of the Third Republic, and the establishment of an authoritarian regime for a few years with Vichy France, and which opened a new revolutionary phase. It must be noted, indeed, that a national revolution always starts with a painful episode that discredits the previous regime, destroys its authority and plunges the population into disarray. Such was the case of the humiliating defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War, which cost the monarchy the people’s trust, inspiring a predictive resentful song, Comprenez-vous? (Do you understand?), attributed to Voltaire: “When we’ll be out of tears/ When we’ll be exasperated / We’ll know well to who, Madam / We’ll have to bend our neck / Do you understand?”

It was, similarly the case of Russian and German defeats in the First World War, ending the Russian and German Empires with revolutions. And we saw again the same scheme when the USSR, humiliated by defeat in Afghanistan, and with its incapacity to match Reagan’s IDS, along with the Chernobyl disaster, collapsed in 1991.

Such catastrophic defeat leads to an all-round questioning of values and the ruling system, and generates a collective impulse towards a new political model, through a national revolution.
Thus began a new revolutionary phase, in France, including its radicals (Communists) and its synthetic dictator, an avenger-imperialist – General Charles de Gaulle, who was often called a Bonapartist, unsurprisingly. Of course, this national revolution was less violent and its consequences lower than the first occurrence, but it seems that it’s always so with such an accidental repetition of a national revolution – in the same way, the collapse of USSR was much less bloody than the Revolution of 1917, and Putin is not Stalin.

In fact, it was not the first time France has gone through a throw-back and new national revolution. As a matter of fact, France went through three national revolutions: The first started in 1789, the third in 1940, and the second in 1870, after the humiliating defeat against Prussia. Then, France suffered the Paris Commune, then an aborted avenger-imperialist with general Boulanger, who never took power, allowing democracy to be established quickly.

But de Gaulle failed to establish the regime he wanted in 1946 – the Fourth Republic was in fact a restoration of the Third. And the Fifth Republic is the product of a coup, which was its original sin. De Gaulle came back to power with a putsch – or under the threat of a putsch, which is the same thing. The Constitution wasn’t written by an Assembly elected for that, which is the normal way to adopt a constitution in the democratic tradition, but by a man – Michel Debré – on behalf of another – de Gaulle – and then offered to the people by way of a referendum. So, there it is: The French Fifth Republic was set up by an avenger-imperialist.

As well, this regime wasn’t contested afterwards, and it came to accentuate its vices through the many successive amendments to the Constitution. That’s how, like the Soviets in the 1980s, we again have today, in France, a new pre-national revolution regime, a new Ancien Régime: a non-democracy, marked by all the vices of this kind of aging system – very little social mobility, very much depending on the State and its apparatus, and diminishing freedom of speech.

A New Revolution

With that being said, where are we headed? The answer is quite obvious: A new national revolution. It’s the way defined by the determinism I explained earlier; and even when an accidental regression occurs on the path to historical determinism, a country continues moving forward, as Russia did after 1945. And this implies that it follows the same determinism.

What is the first stage of a national revolution, the trigger of the regime’s collapse? A humiliating event that seriously undermines its authority, especially one which questions its core-legitimacy and is the institution that is the main pillar of its supremacy. In the 2020 France of the Fifth Republic, the most cited pillar of the State’s legitimacy is the so called “modèle social français” (the French social model), which is based on a very powerful welfare-state and the promise of an unrivaled healthcare, brought about by the largest investment of the European Union in this sector – 11.3 % of the GDP.

In dealing with Covid-19, France obviously did much worse than Germany, and not much better than Spain or Italy – whose healthcare systems where described in the mainstream French media up until March 2020 as less professional and less efficient. France still had a worse mortality rate per million inhabitants than the United States or Brazil, despite the efforts of the French media to hide this reality, by speaking only about the total number of deaths.

No tests, no masks. In the weeks following, this important information the French government could not hide, and it had a disastrous effect on the population’s morale, like going to war with too few guns and missing ammunition. Perhaps it’s understandable, though annoying, that an “average” country is not ready to face a pandemic. But it’s a humiliation, in a country which prides itself on its healthcare, to appear so helpless. Especially at a time when the authority of the State is already low and lacks legitimacy, just a year after the Yellow Vest crisis, in which the regime already seemed on the verge of collapse.

In addition, the French economy will be one of the most affected by the consequences of the coronavirus – experts expect GDP to drop by more than 10 %, and a million French workers will probably lose their jobs within a year. A ten-fold Yellow Vest crisis is expected to come about.

What Will This New National Revolution Look Like?

Historionomy can help us to draw a sort of cone of possibilities. Here’s the method: We have to re-examine the cases of national revolutions and avenger-imperialists in French History (Revolutionary and Imperial France, the Paris Commune and the Boulangist crisis, the defeat of 1940, and the de Gaulle presidency) in order to figure out the main common stages and the variables causing the variance between the different cases. Then we will be able to compare this model with other main cases mentioned previously (the German revolution of 1918 and the Third Reich; the Russian revolutions of 1917 and 1991) to ensure its reliability. Then we will use this model to predict how the political and institutional situation in France could evolve in the next years.

Here’s the table summarizing the French case:

It is to be noted that the Revolution-Empire cycle lasted 26 years (1788-1815), the Paris Commune-Boulangist crisis cycle lasted 19 years (but it was aborted), and the 1940 defeat-de Gaulle presidency lasted 29 years (1940-1969).

Here’s the table summarizing the Russian case:

And, lastly, here’s the table summarizing the German case:

Before trying to figure out the future of the French Republic, a few remarks must first be made.

The French Revolution-Empire case, the first Russian case and the German case are about a first national revolution, not a replica, and show a greater degree of revolutionary fervor, with much more violent consequences concerning the number of victims and geopolitical upheaval. Replicas, in France as in Russia, despite a similar path, show a much less tragic outcome on these points, probably because ideology was less influential: Jacobinism, Bolshevism, Nazism were very powerful ideologies. Nothing like these is visible in the other cases.

Besides, there are two factors that are quite new and could affect the development of the scheme.
On one hand, the ethnic situation of the country, after half a century of mass immigration that led to the appearance of large ethnic and religious minorities, especially Muslims from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, the regime collapse could degenerate towards a 1990s Yugoslavia-like scenario, with episodes of racial war and ethnic cleansing.

On the other hand, France is now a province of the American Empire, belonging to NATO, and its stability is of strategic concern for Washington. One could wonder how America would react to a collapse of the French Fifth Republic: Would it let the revolution go its way in a “wait-and-see” posture, or intervene immediately to ensure the stability of Europe? In case of a plunge into the chaos of an interethnic conflict, will America act like it did against the Serbs in the Bosnian War, or accuse the French people of genocide, if the conflict results in the expulsion of some populations recently immigrated?

These are questions I did not incorporate in my projection, because the model says nothing about them, but it must be said that they can, at any stage, influence the chain of events.

That being said, here is the projection resulting from the application of our model:

Philippe Fabry is a lawyer and a theorist of history. His approach to history is found in a recent interview with the Postil. He is the author of Rome, From Libertarianism to Socialism, A History of the Century to Come, and The Structure of History. His personal website is: https://www.historionomie.net.

The image shows Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas being presented the head of Deputy Jean Feraud by Jacobins in 1795. The painting, by Auguste Vinchon was completed in 1831.

An Interview With Jeremy Black

This month the Postil is most pleased and honored to present this interview with Professor Jeremy Black, the prolific and influential British historian. Professor Black has added greatly to our understanding of Britain, Europe and America within the context of international affairs, as well as, diplomatic, military and cultural history. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, author of several books on Descartes and a forthcoming book Homo Americanus. The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Allow me to begin with a short biographical note. Among your books are: Military Strategy: A Global History, The Atlantic Slave Trade in World History, Maps of War, Naval Warfare: A Global History since 1860, Naval Power: A History of Warfare and the Sea from 1500 Onwards, Rethinking Military History, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour In The Eighteenth Century, A History of the World: From Prehistory to the 21st Century, The Age of Total War, 1860-1945, Geographies of an Imperial Power: The British World, 1688-1815, War and the World: Military Power and the Fate of Continents, 1450-2000, Imperial Legacies: The British Empire Around the World, English Nationalism: A Short History, The British Seaborne Empire.

I missed “a few books”—or, more precisely, I did not list the 80 other books you wrote! In your bio, I found that you have authored 100 books. That’s more than what Paul Johnson, Arnold Toynbee or Guizot wrote. It is more than most, even very well-educated people, will ever read, let alone by a single historian. Are you writing, thinking what the potential reader should know, or are you answering your own questions?

Jeremy Black (JB): As you suggest, I have written more history books than any other British writer. I do not count them, but I think there are about 140 single author books, as well as three co-authored and quite a few edited. I obviously have a compulsion, but there is also a determination to rewrite what I think is poorly covered, at the very least offering a different interpretation so that no one can pretend that there is only one view, which is a flaw of the zeitgeist approach.

ZJ: In his The Idea of History, Robin Collingwood, following Voltaire, says that the idea of “Philosophy of History” means “a critical or scientific history, a type of historical thinking in which the historian made up his mind for himself instead of repeating whatever stories he found in old books.”

The Positivists claimed that there are general laws governing the course of events. Thucydides, Joseph Flavius, Dio Cassius, Procopius of Caesarea, and others on the other hand, say that the task of history is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion. Do you subscribe to any of the above “schools”?

JB: I do not think that there are general rules in the writing of history, as it depends on the complex interaction of cultural and temporal contexts, individual approaches, and the particular issues at stake in specific topics. For each book, I consider the task I have set and the audience I have in mind, and I try to write and reason accordingly. The space available is also a key point. The analysis of documents can be scientific, but that of humans is necessarily more limited.

ZJ: So, let me follow up on your claim that there are no general rules in the writing of history. John Stuart Mill, who is hardly ever mentioned as a philosopher of history, claims that most of mankind has no history properly speaking. What he means by that is that history is more than chronology, and to turn chronology into history there must be an engine that drives it for history to develop. Otherwise we deal with static civilization, like China, which he uses as an example. Several thousand years and nothing, or not much. The same can be said about ancient Egypt, which Mill does not mention, but which falls under the same category of static civilizations.

If we look at, for example, sculptures, they seem to be the same for two thousand years. If we go to ancient Greece and compare the development of sculpture and vase design, from the white geometric style in 800-700 BC, to the Classical period, and the almost flamboyant, expressive, emotional Hellenistic style in 4th-century BC (Pergamon reliefs, for instance), we see fantastic “progress” or change in design and expression. Greece changed; China and Egypt did not.

Is Mill’s insight essentially correct? That is, to have history we need to inject the idea of progress into chronology?

JB: I see History as the Past, how we tell stories about the past. Neither in my view is inherently progressivist and I would argue separately that that is the conservative position; but then I am a committed conservative.

ZJ: Let me move to something you wrote about in The British Seaborne Empire. There you claim that in the middle of the 19th-century, Britain applied the new technology more successfully than other European powers, and its industrial production motivated the Empire to expand. However, this insight explains 19th-century expansion. What were the earlier motivating factors, and were they the same that made others seek to build empires?

JB: A quest for trade, a sense of destiny and a feeling of Christian providential is the same three for Portugal and Dutch.

ZJ: You mention what you call “gentlemanly capitalism,” which places emphasis not only on manufacturing of goods, but on finances, insurance etc., what we could call today infrastructure, which is connected with social values. Those values were propagated by the graduates of the British schools. Would you say that there were in fact two empires: one heavily industrial and the other “cultural,” which disseminated the British values (not necessarily intentionally), and that in doing so the British exported their value system to one fourth of the globe?

JB: I would agree entirely. To be effective an imperial system has to have an attractive ideology, else it relies on force and coercion which does not work in the long term as the continued free spirit of Poland shows.

ZJ: Here is a fragment from the description of your book, English Nationalism: A Short History: “Englishness is an idea, a consciousness and a proto-nationalism. There is no English state within the United Kingdom, no English passport, Parliament or currency, nor any immediate prospect of any.” Sir Roger Scruton in his England: An Elegy made what I believe to be a similar claim: England did not succeed in creating a nation, but, rather, Home for the English.

JB: That does not mean that England lacks an identity, although English nationalism, or at least a distinctive nationalism, has been partly forced upon the English by the development in the British Isles of strident nationalisms that have contested Britishness, and with much success.

So, what is happening to the United Kingdom, and, within that, to England? I look to the past in order to understand the historical identity of England, and what it means for English nationalism today, in a post-Brexit world. The extent to which English nationalism has a “deep history” is a matter of controversy, although he seeks to demonstrate that it exists, from ‘the Old English State’ onwards, predating the Norman invasion.

I also question whether the standard modern critique of politically partisan, or un-British, Englishness as “extreme” is merited? Indeed, is hostility to “England,” whatever that is supposed to mean, the principal driver of resurgent English nationalism?

The Brexit referendum of 2016 appeared to have cancelled out Scottish and other nationalisms as an issue, but, in practice, it made Englishness a topic of particular interest and urgency, as set out in this short history of its origins and evolution.

ZJ: What you said makes me wonder whether the reason for Asian civilizations not expanding or building empires lies in a very different character of Eastern religions. After all, around the same time, say 1500, Asia (China, Japan, India) was in some respects more advanced than Europe: Small continent, very divided, small kingdoms, principalities. Asia, viewed from above, appeared to be a better candidate to dominate the world than the West.

JB: You are absolutely correct. They were predominantly courtly and rural and hostile to mercantile interests.

ZJ: The British of 18th- and 19th-centuries did not study business, administration, finances, etc., the disciplines that are popular today. Yet, “reading” the classics or history, as you say of the UK, was fundamental in creating a frame of mind that was conducive in preparing a host of people to run the empire. What role did Classical education play in it?

JB: The Classical education that was dominant in England provided in the shape of Rome a model of imperial behaviour that was seductive in terms of British imperialism, but the mercantile order instead focused on experience-led understanding of opportunities.

ZJ: Since you invoked Poland, let me quote something that an Australian friend of mine wrote me recently: “I admire your energy, but cannot share in any optimism about the immediate future of the US or Western Europe – perhaps something from Central Europe, even Russia might be born – but I am with Kafka – yes there is hope but not for us. I am not trying to convince you – or anyone on this, I am just sharing what I see and feel about now and the future.”

Do you share my friend’s sentiment? I hear it often; the West—the US, Europe etc.—is lost; letting millions of immigrants who cannot assimilate was a mistake, the West abandoned its commitment to Tradition, history, values. Eastern European countries resisted and are in a better position to defend themselves.

JB: There is certainly a cultural crisis in the West, one linked to grave social issues; but the uncertainty of developments, the prime law of history, makes it impossible to predict the future.

ZJ: Does your claim about the rise of industrial production in 19th-century, which made Britain look to expand the empire, apply to China today? The new Silk Road, etc. inscribes itself well in what you said in your book. Is the mechanism the same, similar?

JB: China today has parallels to Britain’s pattern of growth, but is far more authoritarian.

ZJ: Let me move to another topic, but before I do, I would like to give you a few examples. In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: “The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.”

In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as “Indigenous Peoples Day.” According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples.” Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: “Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.”

In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12-0 to rename the Laura Ingall Wilder Award as the “Children’s Literary Legacy Award.” Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of books for children, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: “Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.”

What is happening in America today sounds, to me, very familiar. As a former denizen of the Socialist paradise, I have the déjà vu feeling. Monuments were torn down, awards were renamed, etc. How do you explain these stunning similarities? To me, and I do not have a better explanation, things come down to History, the understanding of its essence.

History is seen as progressive, has a logic of its own and destroys its past; it condemns itself, its infancy for being immoral and discriminatory. The examples I gave you are American, but similar problems can be derived from the UK. I remember a controversy over the monument of Cecil Rhodes (the founder of a very prestigious scholarship for American and Canadian students) at Oriel College, Oxford, except that Oxford did not give in to the activists’ demands to remove it.

JB: I would prefer not to repeat what I covered in several books on the memorialisation of the past, which I commend to your attention, not least as they offer an account of historiography that is not limited to the narrow world of intellectuals. So, can I add a few contextual points?
A facile and inaccurate approach is to argue that battles over identity reflect the failure of the Marxist narrative and the competing ideologies of the twentieth century.

I am less sanguine. In part, I see a continuation in a new iteration of anti-Western Cold War narratives, especially of the Maoist type; in part The Long March through the Institutions, in part a narcissistic preference for present day emotion and sentiment over continuity, reason , and an understanding of the fecklessness of much current commitment, and in part a brilliant way by self-important monochromatic thinkers to advance their careers through polemic; monochromatic referring to a failure to see a full spectrum of arguments and polemic chosen rather than rhetoric.

ZJ: On September 1st, 2018, the Editors of a prestigious British Magazine the Economist, published “A Manifesto” to “rekindle the spirit of [liberal] radicalism.”

In it, we read: “Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling to solve the problems of ordinary people… For the Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish progressivism’ of American university campuses or the rightish ‘ultraliberalism’ conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.”

However sober the Economist’s statement appears, it is reminiscent of past declarations by the Communists (in 1956, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1980). After each crisis, they made their declarations to keep the faith in the health of communist ideology by blaming the former Party executive committee. The declarations found the classic expression in the slogan: “Socialism Yes, distortions No!”

Once again, as a historian, do you see analogy between Socialism and Liberalism?: “Liberalism Yes, distortions No!” Same problems, same explanations, same idea of blaming someone: the kulaks, the party members, the corrupt elites—but never the Idea, be it the Communist idea or Liberal idea.

JB: Liberalism, like Conservatism, is a mood as well as an ideology, and practices as well as precepts. Inherently, a Liberalism predicated on individual freedom had much to offer and there are contexts in the nineteenth century where Liberalism or at least Liberal causes were meritorious and remain attractive. Anti-slavery, opposition to censorship and support for religious freedom are prime instances. It is ironic to a degree but also a reflection of the ideological essence of the last century, that these ideas are now best advanced by Conservatives while the progressivist dimension of Liberalism has been transmogrified into an authoritarian statism that owes something to Socialism but is not restricted to it.

ZJ: Can there be a healthy conservatism in the US? As our friend Jonathan Clark argues, Americans have problems answering the question what should be conserved. The new country was founded as a rebellion against the Past, against the hierarchical order.

JB: The differing natures of ideological parameters are suggested by the contrast between The USA and Europe. In the former case, the competition has been between different conceptions of individualism with the ability to choose and change religious affiliation at will, a key form of individualism. Conservatism tends to be expressed in terms of hostility to government, hostility which indeed can have an anti-societal perspective and notably so if social norms are imposed. In Europe, notably Continental Europe, the understanding of society places less of an emphasis on the individual.

ZJ: We tend to see the PC movement in the US as an aberration, even insanity, and there is every reason to consider many of the claims made by the advocates of PC as insane. One can hear the call to dismantle “power structure” daily. Listening to the liberal rhetoric one often gets the feeling that oppression is real, as real as it was in 18th c. However, from a broader historical perspective one can see what is happening as further unfolding of the principles which were at work in 18th-century America

JB: There is no correct format, that indeed being a characteristic of Conservatism, being more pluralistic than the doctrinaire nature of the Left. As a British Conservative, I seek a middle way between the two, which incidentally helps explain my support for leaving the European Union. I am wary of government but keen on society.

ZJ: Let’s dwell for a moment on what you just said: As for the first part of your statement (“Conservatism tends to be expressed in terms of hostility to government”), the same thing can be said about Liberalism. You remember how German socialist, Ferdinand Lasalle, described the limited or Liberal government: Nachtwächterstaat—a night-watchman state, or, in the words of the British historian, Charles Townshend, as a “standard-bearer.” If I remember correctly, the opponents of the liberal states called their supporters the “minarchists.”

The sole duty of such a state was to prevent theft, enforce property laws, and provide security. This is not the reason why the Conservatives are hostile to government; they, as you said, are afraid of the government because it can be an instrument of the imposition of laws and regulations which are fundamentally hostile to the “natural order of things.” Can one say, then, that both parties differ with respect to what they see the function or role of the state should be, or why the state is there in the first place.

JB: The interaction, indeed melding of traditional conservatism and liberalism, has varied greatly and will continue to do so. In large part, this reflects contingent circumstances and the way in which they are debated and recalled, in short, the weight of history, but there is commonality of the issues posed by democracy and democratisation, as well as the particular inroads and challenges of Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. To a degree, these developments made classic liberalism redundant unless in a conservative context.

ZJ: With respect to how Liberals and Conservatives perceive the role of the State, can one say that the difference between the two lies in that the Liberals use the state to impose abstract social norms, whereas the Conservatives see the state as a guardian of the inherited order of the Past. Edmund Burke saw it when he talked about the “Empire of Reason,” “cold hearts.” This way of thinking underlies the idea of social engineering, that is, finding a method of molding reality into what the abstract reason, unrestrained by tradition, history, the Past, wants it to be. Thus, the Past—national history, national identity—is no longer something worth preserving, but a piece of clay in the hands of “experts” who know what social and political life should be like.

JB: You have expressed that very well. Macron is a liberal in these terms.

ZJ: Going off of what you just said. (In large part, this reflects contingent circumstances and the way in which they are debated and recalled, in short, the weight of history, but there is commanality of the issues posed by democracy and democratisation, as well as the particular inroads and challenges of Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. To a degree, these developments made classic liberalism redundant unless in a conservative context).

This raises a few interesting points, which I would like to phrase in the following way: First, redundancy. The appearance of the Socialist idea made Liberalism, or some of its propositions, redundant or even obsolete because socialism (not in the Stalinist version but in socialist-democratic version) could be said to have proposed them all, or made them look even better. Second, your redundancy thesis against the Conservative background also helps to explain why Liberalism appeared to be benign and made Conservatism look like a proposition which does not have much to offer.

For as long as Communism was threatening, Liberalism appeared to be attractive because it fought for individual liberties against its collectivist rival. With the collapse of Communism, Liberalism lost its urgency to defend the individual against the democratic collective, which de Tocqueville feared so much. Would you agree?

JB: I would agree completely, and would add that the challenge from liberalism has become more serious because of the ability of left liberals to control the mechanisms of the steadily larger public sector. This provides a different ethos for statism to that of Communism, but it is statism nonetheless.

ZJ: I want to quote something to you. It surprised to me how few people noticed the similarity between Marxist and Liberal understanding of history. Here is the first passage: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations..”

And here is another passage: “The entire history of social improvement has been a series of transitions, by which one custom or institution after another, from being a supposed primary necessity of social existence, has passed into the rank of a universally stigmatised injustice and tyranny. So it has been with the distinctions of slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and plebeians; and so it will be, and in part already is, with the aristocracies of colour, race, and sex.”

The second passage comes from the very end of Mill’s Utilitarianism. Marx talked about laws of historical development; Mill in his earliest writings –”Perfectibility,” “Civilization,” “The Spirit of the Age” – talks about “tendencies” (i.e., the spirit).

What is the goal of History to Marx and Mill? Essentially an egalitarian world, a world without polarizing impulses which divide people, and which create hierarchy. History, as it unfolds itself, eliminates hierarchy and leaves “no one behind,” as we say in America.

First, how does such a proposition of a non-hierarchical order of things sound to an eminent historian like yourself? Second, given the “equality” of results—that is, the fact that liberalism is turning into soft totalitarianism—should one see the progressive vision of history as the source of oppressiveness of the two socio-political systems?

JB: To be succinct, equality of outcome, as an impossible result, can only be the objective of the misguided and/or totalitarian. That encompasses liberalism and Marxism, both of which are based on the flawed proposition that mankind must be made equal, and that all else is a false reaction and/or consciousness. Thus, the false consciousness that the Left propounds is in fact its condition.

ZJ: A typical liberal response to your answer about equality of outcome is: we want equality of opportunity. When I hear it, I tell my students: “do farmers in all places have the same opportunity, the same fertile soil and good climate? The same goes for fishermen, and so on.” My second response is: “consider your situation: you have equal opportunity in my class to learn from me; do all of you take the advantage of it? The majority of you did not even do the reading for today.” Some of them seem to understand what I am saying; others resist it. How do you respond to it?

JB: I agree entirely with your observations about teaching. Moreover, the pursuit of equality only creates more inequalities, not only in the determination of an alleged problem, but also in the measures pursued by means of implementation and with reference to the likely outcomes. As a consequence, we are in the world of fleas on fleas.

More subtly, the quest to end inequality inevitably destabilises the precarious equality between state and society, and between government and the individual.

ZJ: Let me put forth a suggestion here, and please do not hesitate to correct me if I am wrong. England is not exactly a home of Liberalism. True, we can talk about the project of broadening the franchise through the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884–85. But they can be said to be fundamentally democratic claims. Yet Mill’s Liberalism, as a panoramic, all-embracing vision in the context of 19th century English political thought, occupies a rather exceptional place. Mill’s ideology, because that is what his system is, inscribes itself better in the Continental way of thinking.

Could one say that Liberalism came to England through the back door, through France? I do not mean by that a commonsensical claim, which says that we all are influenced by ideas which come from different geographical places. But that Mill created a political philosophy that had little chance of being created out of “natural” English soil? One could literally point with a finger to places in his On Liberty which Mill “borrowed” from Guizot, in whose General History of Civilization in Europe he found a progressive scheme of history, as much as he borrowed from Wilhelm von Humboldt and Alexis de Tocqueville.

JB: English political thought and practice are traditionally accretional, with the ad hoc quality owing much both to the specific nature of case law and to its use in a parliamentary context on a contingent basis arising from particular challenges. As a result, Mill’s systematic prospectus prefigured the challenge of the later stages of the EU in providing an account that left no real role for the granulated character of English life and institutions: An excess of philosophical idealism cut across the organic development of the nation.

ZJ: You call yourself conservative. Can you explain what it means to you today?

JB: Change in the form of adaptation is an obvious necessity of the human species, but a conservative knows that in itself change is not a moral good, and that change ought to be referential to the past and reverential of it. The social and psychological benefit of continuity is as one with an ideological commitment to the value and values of the past. That is not reaction, but a key element of the trust between the generations that is a necessity for us as individuals and as part of a broader group.

ZJ: You wrote 140 books, including the history of the world, which means you know more history than any single individual on the planet. Historians by the very nature of their profession should care about the Past. Many of your colleagues seem to use history to invalidate Tradition, Culture, the Past—History. How do you explain their attitude? Is it the hatred of oneself—mankind—as Herr Freud would have it? But to be serious: could we say that they are unhappy about who we, as human beings, are?

JB: I fear we are looking here at a profession which is disproportionately attached to identity politics of a peculiarly destructive form, in large part because of a combination of facile Post-Modernism with doctrinaire Socialism. Existing systems are rubbished in terms of an alleged false consciousness.

ZJ: The Walters Museum in Baltimore, where I live, announced (proudly) that this year they will not purchase any pieces of European art; only the art by minorities. They are looking for funds to by art created by “minority” cultures. Decisions like that could be considered insane, but they are made by people in charge of serious cultural institutions.

Looking from a broad historical perspective, one could say, there is nothing surprising in it; the Americans are repudiating, and disposing of, the Past, they continue the 1776 Rebellion. In the middle 1980s they started repudiating education by doing away of what used to be called in the US Western Civilization courses, or Great Books programs; 35 years later we see the intellectual devastation not just in the educational realm but public realm. American students do not know anything. Compare them to students from Kenya, Nigeria, Nepal, Pakistan, India and other places…

Once again, the comparison with Communism comes to mind. They too, were selling “the bourgeois” art in the 1930s. American museums are full of the paintings the Hermitage sold, including a great Poussin in Philadelphia.

JB: Yes, see also the sales by the Newark Museum. The destruction of a great heritage is serving fashionable interests deploying an anti-colonial agenda, so-called, in order to justify their sectional and partisan political agenda. It has no intellectual purpose, but is a deliberately iconoclastic movement which delights in disorientating culture and society

ZJ: Here is a sentence from a recent email by my former (female) student: “I had told you once: We are all on the same conveyor belt headed to the slaughterhouse, just some are further down than others. I’m just trying to save my soul.”

First, what I see in her email is a sense of desperation—the same sense of desperation that people under communism felt—the Roller of History will crush us, thus we need to “adjust our thinking to the official views.” It explains why so many intellectuals compromised, sold themselves, their intellect, talent, integrity… to the ideological devil. More importantly, my student’s reaction is emblematic of how the young and thoughtful American feels.

I used quotations from Marx and Mill to make a point. What is the goal of History to them? An egalitarian world, a world without polarizing impulses which divide people, and which create hierarchy. History eliminates hierarchy and leaves “no one behind,” as we say in America.

JB: The presentation of history as uni-totalitarian is morally flawed and empirically wrong. It is a present, not conceit that seeks to extol a particular perception at the expense of the complexity of the past and the role of free will and choice, both moral and otherwise. The idea of determinism underlies such teleological visions, but they empty life of choice and therefore moral compass.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Black.

The image shows Captain Ewart capturing the eagle standard of the French 45th Regiment, at the Battle of Waterloo, by Denis Dighton, painted 1815-1817.

This interview was prepared for the Polish magazine Arcana and appears with permission.

The Roots And Branches Of Spanish Enlightenment Thought, Part Two

The Oldness of Spanish Reformist Thought

Spanish thought, whether of a theological, philosophical or political nature, is old since it dates back to the Middle Ages, where it flourished (among others) in the universities founded in this period: Palencia, Salamanca, Lérida, Valladolid, Huesca, Calatayud, Girona and Barcelona. The consolidation of the Spanish university system continued during the Renaissance and the Baroque era, with nearly thirty higher education establishments founded between 1483 and 1624 – not counting New World universities.

It is from these establishments (and in particular from the Colegios Mayores that we mentioned earlier) that the letrados, jurists and great administrators came first from the underprivileged classes, who then were intended for service within various national, regional and local bodies of government (Royal Councils, Provincial Audiences, Chancelleries, the post of corregidores, etc.).

If classical education (logic, rhetoric, theology, civil law, canon law, medicine) remained on the agenda, the renewal brought about by these prestigious letrados explains the superiority of the administration of the Habsburgs of Spain over that of the other European countries, in particular at the beginning of the reign of Philip II (1556-1598), the sovereign considered as the “inventor” of polysynodal governments.

The administrative and ideological revolution that early gave birth to Spanish absolute monarchy is also partly behind the origin of French absolutism, as recent historiographical research has clearly shown.

Salamanca, the Arbitrators and the Novatores

It is also in the shadow of the University of Salamanca that the second Spanish scholasticism is born, commonly known as the School of Salamanca. This group of thinkers, teachers, jurists and theologians (including Martín de Azpilicueta, Tomás de Mercado, Francisco de Vitoria, Martín Fernández de Navarrete, Miguel Caja de Leruela, Diego de Covarrubias, Juan de Mariana, Luis de Molina, Bartolomé de las Casas, Martín González de Cellorigo, Francisco Suárez or even Domingo de Soto) profoundly renews political and legal science. It transforms and indeed creates many concepts, even branches that did not exist until then: Property law, usury and interest, fair price, public finances and taxes, international law, etc.

From the end of the 16th century onwards, Spanish thought changed again with the appearance of arbitrism (arbitrismo), a pejorative term first created in 1613 by Miguel de Cervantes in the short story, The Dialogue of the of Dogs. Here, the masculine name arbitrio designates the “extraordinary means” that a sovereign can use to achieve a given end or resolve a complex situation. Thus, the arbitrators (arbitristas), like Cellorigo, Fernández de Navarrete, Sancho de Moncada, Luis Ortiz or Luis Valle de la Cerda, sought to influence the sovereign by offering him a primer on a given subject, generally of an economic nature (speculation, unfair tax treatment, excessive concentration of agricultural property, government debt, export of capital and raw materials, depopulation).

There was, therefore, among the arbitristas (many of whom come from the School of Salamanca), awareness of a series of concrete problems that the government of Spain must work to resolve for the sake the common good – a theme that was largely taken up. in the Age of Enlightenment.

Between the end of the reign of Charles II (1665-1700) and the beginning of that of Philip V (1700-1746), while Spain experienced a change of dynasty as part of a War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the arbitrators yielded to a new current of thought, that of the novatores, who in 1700, founded the Royal Society of Medicine and Sciences of Seville, responsible for disseminating their ideas, which were based on atomism. These researchers (represented by Diego Martínez Zapata, Luis de Losada, Alejandro Avendaño, Martín Martínez, Tomás Vicente Tosca, Juan Bautista Berni or Juan de Cabriada) advocated above all the reform of Spanish higher education which, in their eyes, would have to favor physical and natural sciences rather than abstract scholasticism. They blended a renewed arbitrismo with the gestating rationality of the Enlightenment.

This transition was not specific to Spain. Across the Pyrenees, it was Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676-1764), forerunner of the Ilustración, who spread the theories of Galileo, Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke or Pierre Bayle to renew philosophy and the sciences. Feijoo advocated a greater opening of Spain to the rest of Europe. The clergyman was not the only one to support such theses, since he was preceded by Francisco Gutiérrez de los Ríos, author of a treatise entitled El hombre práctico o discursos sobre su conocimiento y enseñanza (1680).

Enduring Quarrels And An Ambiguous Legacy

If we can credit the Spanish Enlightenment, which fed on the above-mentioned currents, with a certain number of successful reforms (upgrading of work, trade, industry and agriculture; reorganization of the administration; metamorphosis education and university), it should also be noted that they also contributed to deepening old fractures between supporters of an Iberian way (especially turned towards America) and a European way.

This confrontation between the casticistas (partisans of the casta, that is to say, of the national tradition) and the extranjerizantes (which we may call hereafter the europeístas, that is, Europeanists) is illustrated by the opposition of a large part of the Spanish church to new ways of thinking introduced in the Iberian Peninsula. Resistance to the publication of works deemed contrary to religion was the work of the court of the Holy Office, but the latter censored almost as much the monarchy itself – behavior which was not abnormal in the Europe of the time.

In the 18th-century, the casticismo musical rebelled against the predominance of forms from the rest of the continent (in particular from France and Italy), and this attitude favored the popular success of Spanish genres, such as zarzuela or tonadilla.

The Italians Domenico Scarlatti and Luigi Boccherini, who both ended their days in Madrid, exercised a quasi-tyranny at the court of Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788) (24), just like the castrato Farinelli had met with immense success with these kings’ father. The few Spaniards to break through, like the organist and harpsichordist Antonio Soler (1729-1783), were their pupils.

Literature also testifies to this European preponderance, notably French and English. We see this in Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760-1828), nicknamed “the Spanish Molière”, or in José Cadalso (1741-1782), whose Cartas marruecas was inspired by Montesquieu and his Noches lúgubres by Edward Young.

It was around this time that the unflattering qualifier of afrancesado (“Frenchified”) arose, and which was revived with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion (1808-1814). The demand for Spanish arts and literature served as a weapon for an ideological war against foreign influences, considered impious and harmful by certain sectors. The rise of the casticista movement was favored by the fate of Louis XVI, the “cousin” of Charles IV (1788-1808), who tried to save the French sovereign from the guillotine, and by the censorship of many foreign works.

During the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by the First Empire, the opponents of Napoleon Bonaparte were not all adversaries of the new ideological currents – which explains the promulgation of the Constitution of 1812 (one of the first in Europe). The struggle between the Old Regime and liberalism continued for the next two centuries, with reformulations according to the times: Carlist reaction from 1833 to 1876, the difficulties in giving birth to a parliamentary regime from 1875 to 1931, then bloody civil war of 1936 in 1939, followed by a dictatorship which lasted until 1975.

It is through the bias of “two Spain” (dos Españas) that this age-old conflict is often addressed. Even if it is not for us now to discuss the relevance of this concept, we must nevertheless be careful when it comes to applying it to the Spanish Enlightenment.

Most of them were indeed moderate, deeply Christian and patriotic, even if they favored an evolution of religious doctrine. It is probably the painter Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), straddling two periods, who best illustrates these tensions inherent in the time. Favorite of the court, darling of the aristocracy, he did not hide his closeness to the most advanced ideas of his time. Nevertheless, disenchanted with the cruelty of the war unleashed by Napoleon, he found it difficult to progress in the absolutist Spain of Ferdinand VII (1808-1833) and chose exile in France in 1824.

The engraving, the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, which is part of Los caprichos, has an ambiguous title in Spanish, where the term sueño designates both the sleep and the dream. Is it when he abandons reason, dear to the Enlightenment, that man drifts and gets lost in the horror of irrationality? Or does reason, pushed to the ultimate and imposed by force, end up producing horrors similar to those that Goya represents in the last years of his life? None of the Ilustración representatives could resolve this dichotomy.

The original, French version of this article appeared in Revue Conflits and was translated by N. Dass.

Nicolas Klein is Associate Professor of Spanish and a former student at ENS Lyon. He is a teacher in preparatory classes. He is the author of Rupture de ban – L’Espagne face à la crise and Comprendre l’Espagne d’aujourd’hui – Manuel de civilisation. He has also translated Al-Andalus: l’invention d’un mythe – La réalité historique de l’Espagne des trois cultures by Serafín Fanjul.

The image shows, “The sleep of reason produces monsters” (No. 43), from Los Caprichos, by Francisco Goya, a print from 1799.

The Enlightenment in Spain

Part One – The Historical, Political And Intellectual Context: Has Spain Contributed Anything To Western Civilization?

In 1782, as part of the Encyclopédie méthodique par ordre des matières, published in France by Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, the geographer Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers expressed himself in these terms regarding the country of Spain: “The Spanish […] exercised in Europe and in the Indies, cruelties which make one shudder and which have made them odious to the peoples of the two worlds. […] Spain is perhaps the most ignorant nation in Europe. All overseas work is at an end. The monks lay down the law… […] Today, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland itself, Germany, Italy, England and France, all these peoples, whether enemies, friends, or rivals, all burn with generous emulation for the advancement of science and the arts […]. Each of them, so far, has made some useful discovery, which has turned to the benefit of humanity! But what do we owe to Spain? And for two centuries, for four, for ten, what has it done for Europe?”

This judgment, brutal as it is, is far from isolated in pre-revolutionary Europe. Voltaire does not have a better opinion of the historical role of Spain. He sees Philippe II (1556-1598) as a kind of “demon of the south;” the perfect counterpoint to the good Henry IV so tolerant. At a time when modern nations were really starting to take shape and stereotypes were fundamental anchors to their perception, Montesquieu is not any kinder towards Spain.

The same rabid Hispanophobia is found in many authors of the time, from the Marquis d’Argens to Father Reynal and Madame d’Aulnoy. Though Portugal suffers more or less the same fate, it is not the same for Italy, the cradle of European civilization. In addition, a similar trend can easily be seen in the following century. All of Europe is concerned with this propensity to see in the Iberian Peninsula a sort of desert when it comes to civilization, the arts and the sciences.

This is why the decision of the French authorities to censor the Encyclopédie méthodique at the request of the Spanish Ambassador to Paris, Pedro de Bolea y Pons de Mendoza, Count of Aranda, did not convince anyone for too long. Everyone knew already that the author had only openly said what all the European elites muttered under their breath among themselves.

The Bourbons of Spain: Promoters Of Enlightenment Thought

It is not for us to settle this debate here-and-now, a debate which has animated Iberian historiography for more than two centuries; nor shall we even enumerate the multiple contributions of Spain to European and world culture. On the other hand, we may still be surprised at the virulence of the above-mentioned remarks. Was there not a philosophical light which, issuing from the European Enlightenment, shone across the Pyrenees and carried across the ideas then in vogue in the other nations of the continent (progress, science, rationality, reform, education, elevation of the spirit)?

Although much less known than their English, French or Germanic colleagues, the Enlightenment thinkers and writers, in Spain, were active and fruitful. They benefited from the accession to the throne of the Bourbons from France in the person of the Duke of Anjou, Philippe V (1700-1746), whose descendants still reign today. Until the Napoleonic invasion (1808-1814), his sons, Louis I (January-August 1724), Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788), as well as his grandson Charles IV (1788-1808), succeeded one another as the heads of a country which they were trying to transform deeply, in particular from an economic and technological point of view. It is the Golden Age of what is called in Spain, the Ilustración, a term closer to the English “Enlightenment,” or the German Aufklärung than to the French Lumières (although we also find the expression, siglo de las Luces in the language of Cervantes).

It is indeed French influence that is decisive in the development of this particularly obvious intellectual movement during the reign of Charles III, the Spanish prototype of the déspota ilustrado (“enlightened despot”). Having gained experience as the King of Naples and Sicily, from 1734 to 1759, the eldest son of Philippe V and Elisabeth Farnese, was closest to the Hispanic reformist movements – even if his father, trained in full Grand Siècle style by Fénelon and the Duke of Beauvilliers, had a solid intellectual background. Throughout the period, there were an increasing number of bodies created, from academies (including that of the Spanish language) to learned societies and think tanks which enlivened the life of ideas beyond the Pyrenees and renewed scientific research and technology.

The ministers surrounding Charles III – whether Spanish, like the Count of Aranda, Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca, as well as Pablo de Olavide, or foreigners, like the Genoese Leopoldo de Gregorio, Marquis d’Esquilache – were all instrumental in the development of a progressive spirit within Spain.

However, it should not be forgotten that, as in France or England, these statesmen, philosophers and writers whom these learned bodies permitted to flourish were part of a minority (Spanish historiography speaks about them as the minoría selecta). In addition, the ministers of the “enlightened despot” did not arise from nothing, since they pursued their studies within traditional social structures (aristocracy, clergy, petty bourgeoisie), as well as in the Colegios Mayores, those universities of the Golden Age which for a long time were marked by scholasticism. Among them were a majority of golillas, jurists (letrados) trained in Salamanca, Valladolid or Alcalá de Henares, as well as their lifelong opponents, the manteístas, who came from less prestigious universities.

Controlled Ferment

It is therefore within an official and oft-controlled context (some historians speak of cultura tutelada) that the Spanish Enlightenment flourished. It owed its protection, as we have said, to Charles III and his advisers, but, more generally, to royal absolutism, which favored the implementation, throughout Europe, of a series of first-class modernizing measures; and Spain was no exception to this phenomenon.

But the monarch was not the only one to have a say in Spanish intellectual life. Works published in Spain had to obtain the imprimatur from the Council of Castile, and more particularly from the Printing Court (Juzgado de Imprentas), which could censor them. The procedure was identical for foreign publications and for well-informed periodicals, such as La gaceta de Madrid and El mercurio.

Internal Opposition To The Enlightenment

In general, opposition to what some pejoratively called filosofía, or even filosofismo, was not uncommon in Spain – any more than it was in the rest of the continent. The questioning of theology as the queen discipline of the intellect, the rejection of the worldview imposed by the Counter-Reformation, the surpassing of the baroque, and the analysis of the sensory universe beyond the Aristotelian categories, in force in medieval and modern scholasticism, were all factors that shook up a cultural and educational elite reluctant to give up its place.

The unpopularity of the reforms is reflected, for example, in the revolt against the Minister Esquilache (motín de Esquilache). In March 1766, a popular rebellion broke out in Madrid, and then in other Spanish cities, against the decompartmentalization of the internal market in the midst of the food crisis, but also, and above all else, against the ban on certain elements of traditional Spanish attire.

All this contributed to undermining the beginning of the reign of Charles III. The latter was forced to accept the resignation and exile of Leopoldo de Gregorio, whose downfall was less because of the prohibition against wearing the chambergo (a soft hat with a wide brim; very fashionable at the time) than on the intrinsic limits to Bourbon reformism.

The burdens of society were quickly attributed by the monarch and the “philosophers” to the influence of the Catholic religion, which must be limited, in particular the Inquisition (which was already only a shadow of itself); and by expelling the Jesuits from all Spanish possessions.

A Thirst For Reform In Madrid And In The Provinces

At the same time as the movement to construct nation-states (which started almost everywhere in Europe at this time) the modernization of Spain appeared as an absolute necessity in the eyes of the Enlightenment of the Pyrenees. The ministers and thinkers belonging to this idea were aware that the recovery of their country, after the difficult years of the reigns of Philippe IV (1621-1665) and Charles II (1665-1700), could only come about by the adoption of solutions already tested in France, in England or in certain German principalities.

As contemporary historians point out, it was more the theme of Spanish decadence, the (necessarily subjective) perception of a decadence, rather than the reality of such a phenomenon which pushed men of letters and the intellectuals to think about the causes of the malaise which affected their country.

The reasons put forward in the 18th-century (and then during the years that followed) were numerous, often imprecise and generally not very convincing (even grotesque): The Spanish disdain for technology and manual work; the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and then the Moriscos (those Muslims who converted to Christianity as a facade) in 1613; the omnipotence of the Mesta, that association (it seems today more a lobby) of owners of nomadic sheep herds; the military drain that maintained the dominance of the Habsburgs in Europe; the constant drain of emigration to America; the deficient administration of the House of Austria, etc.

The abundant reflection generated by such considerations helped to create the feeling that it was not that Spain had problems, but that Spain was a problem in itself.

The economic and institutional obstacles to the development of Spain within the European context were real. In this sense, evoking the omnipotence of the Mesta (responsible, at least in part, for the agricultural backwardness from which the country suffered), or the dependence of royal finances on metals from the New World, or the French bank was certainly relevant. Nevertheless, the multiplication of the sources of complaints, and the obsession of some, both in Spain and abroad, with the idea of decadence, ultimately made any ilustrada philosophy sterile.

Fortunately, this was not the view of all representatives of the Spanish Enlightenment; quite the contrary. Often moderate and pragmatic thinkers and statesmen of the period proposed more or less ambitious reforms in all directions. It seemed indeed difficult that all could succeed and some were even horrendous failures – which fed, at regular intervals, the melancholy of Spanish intellectuals, who saw in the reign of Charles III a missed opportunity to transform their country in a fundamental way.

However, it must be said, many of these measures did bear fruit so that Spain has long lived “on” the legacy of the Ilustración. We can already cite a quite few:

  • The creation of learned societies, reflection clubs (the future Spanish casinos in the 19th-century). These were academies and gatherings whose aim was to work for the public good and were found throughout the breadth of Spain, and not only in Madrid;
  • The desire to better educate the people, in particular by suppressing certain entertainment of a religious nature, such as the sacramental autos (pieces of a hagiographic character, very popular in medieval and modern Spain), but also by attacking the ecclesiastical monopoly on universities;
  • Decisions aimed at improving the social situation of the poorest Spaniards, in particular by fighting begging and modernizing agriculture and irrigation, whether from a theoretical or practical point of view;
  • The reorganization of the state, the territorial administration, and the American colonies, in particular in order to derive greater economic profit;
  • The repopulation of certain demographic deserts, as in the Sierra Morena, north of Cordoba;
  • The stimulation of nascent industry, especially in Catalonia, and the foundation of royal factories on a more or less Colbertist model.

The real intellectual and political ferment that Spain experienced in the years 1760-1780 was not limited to the capital. Many thinkers and decision-makers were born and matured in Catalonia (Antoni de Capmany, Jaume Bonnels, Josep Climent), in Galicia (Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Martín Sarmiento), in Aragon (the count of Aranda), in the old Kingdom from Murcia (Floridablanca), in the Principality of Asturias (Campomanes, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos), in Andalusia (José Cadalso), and even in the American colonies of Spain (like Olavide, who was born in Lima). It is therefore no coincidence that, in 1962, the Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, located the action of his novel, El siglo de las Luces, in Havana.

This ferment did not come about without a series of ideological clashes that drew upon rivalries from before the reign of Charles III. The Spanish Enlightenment was not born out of thin air and did not owe its success solely to French or English influence. It had its roots in an older reform movement that consisted in the stinging denial of all those who wanted to see in Spain a nation without thought of its own.

The original, French version of this article appeared in Revue Conflits and was translated by N. Dass.

Nicolas Klein is Associate Professor of Spanish and a former student at ENS Lyon. He is a teacher in preparatory classes. He is the author of Rupture de ban – L’Espagne face à la crise and Comprendre l’Espagne d’aujourd’hui – Manuel de civilisation. He has also translated Al-Andalus: l’invention d’un mythe – La réalité historique de l’Espagne des trois cultures by Serafín Fanjul.

The image shows, “Philip V in Hunting Costume,” by Miguel Jacinto Meléndez; painted in 1712.

A Nationalist Account Of The Spanish Civil War

Among the many tools of the superbly effective Left propaganda machine, is its able control of publishing. Leftists use this to ensure that innumerable books fitting the Left narrative stay in print indefinitely, primarily for use as indoctrination tools in schools, as a glance at any modern curriculum at any grade level will show you.

On the other hand, books not fitting the Left narrative disappear—never republished, expensive to buy used, and impossible to read online because of the stupidly long terms of modern copyright law. Thus, the reprinting, by Mystery Grove Publishing, of this excellent book, by an Englishman who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, is a great service.

Peter Kemp was born in India in 1915; his father was a judge in what was then called Bombay. As I have covered at great length elsewhere, the Spanish situation deteriorated from 1933 through 1936 (really 1931 through 1936, as the Spanish Left attempted to consolidate permanent power).

During this time, Kemp was studying at Cambridge to be a lawyer. His politics appear to have been quite conservative, but he makes only passing reference to his own beliefs. Kemp’s main reason for going to Spain seems to have been a desire common among young men throughout history, to seek adventure through warfare, although he was also horrified at the widespread atrocities of the Spanish Left immediately prior to the Civil War.

He acknowledges his desire in the title, which comes from an A. E. Housman poem used as an epigraph: “The thoughts of others / Were light and fleeting, / Of lover’s meeting / Or luck, or fame / Mine were of trouble / And mine were steady, / So I was ready / When trouble came.” If he had been a man of the Left, no doubt he would have joined the International Brigades, the collective organization of those non-Spaniards who fought for the Spanish Communists, the Republicans.

It would have been far easier and socially acceptable for him to join the Republicans, too, since they had an active, successful, and extremely well-funded propaganda operation that blanketed Europe, while the Nationalists made almost no effort to persuade others, aside from occasionally arranging curated tours for newspapermen, incorrectly believing their cause was self-proving or that foreign opinion was unimportant.

Thus, polite opinion in England favored the Republicans, something that troubled Kemp not at all. His complete lack of Spanish did not deter him either. And in those days before the overweening state presumed to dictate to us the smallest details of our lives, it was easy enough to go fight in a foreign war. True, as today, the Left was better organized, and every country in Europe had official, open recruiting stations for the International Brigades. Kemp simply got a letter from a newspaper editor friend saying that he was authorized to send back wire copy, as a cover story, and off he went across the French frontier.

This was November 1936. Kemp offers a thumbnail sketch of the first four months of the Civil War, which had passed by the time he arrived. At this point, Francisco Franco had not yet assumed supreme command, nor had he amalgamated the different political factions of the Nationalists under his personal control. As a result, the Nationalist military was organized in a fragmented and ad hoc manner. (The Republican military was too, but the Nationalists were much better as the war progressed at welding together the disparate components of their forces, helped by not being subject to the Moscow-directed purging that bled the Republicans).

The core of the Nationalist fighting forces was the Army of Africa, consisting of most of Spain’s land forces that actually had experience fighting. One part of this was the Spanish Foreign Legion (which meant Spaniards fighting abroad, in Africa; it was not a collective of foreigners, like the French Foreign Legion). The other was native Moroccans, the Regulares.

Two political parties also raised separate forces. The first was the Carlists, one branch of the Spanish monarchists (favoring a king other than Alfonso XIII, who had resigned in 1931 to avoid the civil war being fomented by the Left). The Carlists were dominant in the north of Spain, in Navarre and the Basque provinces, and were old-fashioned, happy to die for King and country. The second was the Falange, the small Spanish fascist political party, who had little in common politically with the Carlists (and in fact in later years squabbled violently with the Carlists). Franco, of course, was not a fascist or a member of the Falange; most Nationalist military officers were not political.

Kemp joined the Carlist forces, the Requetés. The Falange Kemp treats with some disdain; he seems to regard them as less than competent, brave enough but prone to scheming in preference to honest fighting, and too often substituting ideology for honor. And he was warned away from joining the Legion, which was regarded as extremely tough and demanding, and less than welcoming to a foreigner who spoke no Spanish. So the Carlists it was, and they were very welcoming, if highly informal, bordering on lax, in their organization.

From here, Mine Were of Trouble is personal narrative of Kemp’s experiences. For the most part, the Spaniards were glad to have him fighting with them, though sometimes he was the target of suspicion from military bureaucrats. He fought with the Carlists in various skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Jarama (February 1937) and the Battle of Santander (July 1937).

He very much enjoyed his time with the Carlists, and was quickly promoted to alférez, a junior officer rank, sometimes translated “sub-lieutenant,” meaning in practice he commanded part of a platoon, apparently ten to twenty men at a time. But he disliked the Carlists’ lack of discipline and technical training; they substituted suicidal courage for better entrenchments and the use of modern guns and gun techniques. Kemp wanted to learn “first-class soldiering.” So, late in 1937, he joined the Legion.

The Legion was divided into twenty banderas, and Kemp was assigned to the 14th, a new bandera composed of disparate parts. His welcome was frosty – he was viewed with suspicion, as a foreigner, and as a Protestant, something the Legionnaires associated with Freemasonry, one of the main avenues by which leftist poison had entered the Spanish body politic.

Still, using time-honored tools to overcome such military suspicion, hard work and bravery, Kemp soon enough became accepted by his men, and by most of the officers, even though some of the latter never warmed to him, less from suspicion and more because they felt he could never truly understand the existential evil of the Spanish Left, which drove many of them personally, since nearly all had had relatives murdered in Republican-held Spain.

Kemp led a machine-gun platoon, with four obsolete guns with zero spare parts as their only rapid-fire weapons, so soon enough, it was three guns, and then one. In November 1937, his unit moved southeast, to the Guadalajara front close to Madrid, as the Nationalists successfully liberated more and more of Spain.

The book’s narrative is compelling, and not just the battle scenes. Kemp does an excellent job of describing the landscape of the various areas in which he spent time, initially in the north, and later both west and east of Madrid. The reader gets a good feel, in particular, for the rugged nature of much of the terrain.

He also describes the towns and villages in which he was billeted (as with most wars, waiting occupied much of his time), as well as their inhabitants, nearly all of whom strongly supported the Nationalists, both in general and especially after roving bands of Republican militias had come through early in the war, tortured the local priest to death, killed other citizens, and moved on. At no point does the book drag. You might even call it a page-turner.

Occasionally Kemp diverges to discuss events to which he was not personally a witness. Notably, he discusses the April 1937 bombing of Guernica, which took place not far from where he was then stationed, and was the supreme propaganda triumph of the Communists and their international supporters during the entire war.

Kemp strongly believed that the Republicans burned the town themselves, as they had many other towns from which they had been expelled. That was the Nationalist line at the time, in opposition to the massive global campaign spreading the lie that the Nationalists, with the help of the Germans, had bombed a non-military target to terrorize the population.

No doubt Guernica was a wholly legitimate target, and the bombing wholly appropriate, if not executed entirely competently. (Bombing civilian towns without a military presence was actually a Republican specialty; Kemp notes that early in the war, Toledo, a Nationalist town, had been so attacked). But objective modern historians (as opposed to Communist mouthpieces like Paul Preston) generally conclude that the Nationalists were lying that the destruction was caused by the Republicans burning the town, in a crude and unsuccessful attempt to counter Republican propaganda.

Kemp offers all his experiences with no sugarcoating. In the Legion, there was extremely rigid discipline, with corporal punishment for minor infractions and the death penalty for any insubordination. The good result of this was that looting and rape, commonly committed by Republican forces, was nonexistent.

The bad result was that in Kemp’s bandera, though it was against Nationalist policy, many prisoners, and all of certain categories, were shot out of hand. Those categories included members of the International Brigades, blamed for prolonging the war by preventing the early liberation of Madrid. Of course, Kemp would have been shot too if captured; he knew that at the time, and he quotes a British captain in the International Brigades whom he talked to after the war who leaves no doubt.

Early in the war, both the Republicans and the Nationalists took few prisoners, but by this point the Nationalists had mostly stopped that practice, and the Republicans, consistently losing, didn’t capture that many fresh prisoners, having murdered most of them already, along with any Nationalists they could find in the cities, towns, and villages they controlled. (Kemp notes that when international bodies such as the Non-Intervention Committee began to organize prisoner exchanges, they found almost no Nationalist prisoners held by the Republicans, and large numbers of Republicans held by the Nationalists).

Tactically, of course, this is a poor decision—as Niall Ferguson wrote in The Pity of War, refusing to accept surrender needlessly prolongs wars. Regardless, Kemp thought that his own superior officers were perniciously fond of killing prisoners, and relates at horrified length how an Irish deserter from the International Brigades presented himself, claiming he had been impressed into the Brigades. Kemp got permission from his immediate superiors to send the Irishman away as a POW, but the colonel above them curtly ordered Kemp to shoot the prisoner, which he did (or rather he had two of his men do it), something he found extremely difficult.

Back at the front, the war ground on and the Nationalists implemented Franco’s slow strategy. (It was later called plodding and unimaginative, which perhaps it was, and also called an attempt to kill as many Communists as possible, which perhaps it also was. We’ll never know; Franco was famously taciturn).

Kemp fought in the Battle of Teruel, which was bitter and more of the same, featuring hand-to-hand fighting in olive groves and the intermittent appearance of light tanks, often turning the tide at the last minute, including once when Kemp’s unit was about to be overrun. Many of Kemp’s friends died; he gives full credit to his opponents for bravery and competence.

He was stationed for a few weeks in Belchite, a village that had been destroyed earlier, which was left destroyed after the war and was used as the backdrop for the BBC series, The Spanish Civil War. It is here, late in the book, where the most jarring passage of book occurs. Kemp relates how four Western journalist friends of his, two American and two British, were driving near the battle when a shell hit their car. Three were killed. The fourth, the survivor, he mentions only here: Kim Philby.

Of course, in 1957, when this book was published, Kemp could not have known that Philby, a traitor since the 1920s, was one of the most evil men of the twentieth century, responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions. He was in Nationalist Spain masquerading as a journalist in order to spy for the Communists, and in fact this incident, since it brought him to the favorable attention of the Nationalist authorities, strengthened his ability to spy, bringing him into direct contact with Franco, with the goal of furthering Franco’s assassination by the Communists. But Kemp knew none of this. It is strange how history works, and how it could have been different had we been more lucky, and Philby killed in 1937.

Kemp was wounded several times, and had to recuperate, but was back in action by May 1938. Not for long, though. Fighting near Aragon in July, a mortar bomb exploded next to him, shattering his jaw and hand, burning his throat, and nearly killing him. Recuperating for months, he asked permission for leave to return to England to convalesce, which was granted.

First, however, Franco asked to see him, and he had a thirty-minute interview, consisting mostly of Franco talking about the dangers of Communism. Franco concluded by asking Kemp what he would do after the war, to which Kemp said presumably he would fight in the British military “in the coming war.” Franco responded, with a “wintry smile,” “I don’t think there will be a war,” to which Kemp’s response was, “I wonder what he really thought.”

By March 1939, the Spanish war was over, and Kemp did not return to Spain for some time, although he fought with great distinction in World War II and thereafter. But that is another story, told by Kemp in other books.

Today, of course, the modern successors of the Spanish Communists would ensure that a man like Kemp had no peace after the guns fell silent. Those who fought for the International Brigades received nothing but lionization, and to this day are unjustly and foolishly praised, but even in his time, Kemp was threatened by his local police chief in England that he “might find [himself] liable to prosecution under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1880, or some such date.”

Kemp died in 1993, but we can be certain that if he had lived longer, the European Left, both in Spain and England, would have tried to prosecute him as a “war criminal,” by which they mean any person who opposed their totalitarian aims of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I often complain about this, that the Left ensures that its enemies are hounded to the grave and beyond, while the Right fails to do the same and, an equally great failing, fails to fight back adequately. Maybe this is a historical anomaly and in the decades to come the roles will be reversed; one can hope.

You will not find here new lessons on the Spanish Civil War, but you will find lessons that are not commonly known. This book is interesting in its own right, and a quick read. I highly recommend it. Most of all, it’s a vivid exposure to the reality that the side that deserved to win the Civil War, and fortunately did, was the Nationalists, who bore little resemblance to the caricature that nearly a century of Left lies has planted in the rest of the West. More people should know this, and Mine Were of Trouble is a good place to start.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “I will join up with my companions,” a poster by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, from 1940.

The Lopsided Spanish Civil War

Years ago, I lived in Budapest with an elderly Hungarian relative, my grandfather’s cousin. She had lived through World War II as a young woman. One day, as we were eating lunch, she reminisced about the Russian invasion and conquest of Hungary in 1945, which she survived.

She looked at me and said (in Hungarian), “Always remember, when you are grown and are a powerful man, that war is a terrible thing.” We all know this, but it is easy to forget the personal impact of war—both on soldiers and on everyone else in a society. This uneven book is a reminder of those costs, and an opportunity to ponder when they are worth paying, as civil war slouches ever closer to us.

I’ve been on a Spanish Civil War kick for some time now. No points for guessing why. This is the first book on modern Spain that I have read, however. Well, it’s half about modern Spain. It is an odd book, by an author apparently famous in Spain, Javier Cercas. Half of it is about Cercas, his family, his emotional states, and his quest to explore the brief life of his great uncle, Manuel Mena, a soldier who died in the Nationalist cause.

The other half is about Mena himself, where Cercas teases what little definite history exists into a narrative, and then extends the narrative to structural failure by wishful thinking that Mena was really not who he was. These two halves repeatedly cross over into each other, in a choppy narrative that contains entirely too much navel-gazing by Cercas about himself. But hey, it’s his book, and maybe this is what sells in Spain.

Lord of All the Dead is tightly focused on the village in which Mena lived and in which Cercas was born, and in which their extended family all lived, until mostly leaving in the 1960s, during the massive economic boom brought about by Francisco Franco in the third act of his life, as dictator of Spain for nearly forty years.

That village is called Ibahernando; it lies in the west of Spain, in Extremadura, always an impoverished, rural province. (Fleeing from there to places where one can make money has a long pedigree—many of the most famous conquerors of the New World came from Extremadura, including Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro). In Cercas’s description, it is today nearly empty and irrelevant to the nation as a whole, though I can’t tell if that’s true. It would certainly not be surprising, in these days of urbanization and plummeting populations.

We do not learn until near the end of the book why the title, though I should have caught it on my own. It comes from the famous response given by the shade of Achilles, asked by Odysseus how it goes in the afterlife. Achilles responds that he would rather be a penniless farmer than lord of all the dead. Although this book is framed as an exploration of the life of Mena, as the title shows it is really an attempt by Cercas to rewrite his sacrifice as a tragic waste, in contradiction to what Mena himself very obviously thought.

What Cercas is selling is that although Mena, and many of his relatives, saw Mena’s death as a kalos thanatos, a perfect death, really it was stupid, not just because it was a young man’s in war, but most of all because he was ignorant of his actual interests, which, Cercas lectures us over and over, as with everyone in Ibahernando, lay entirely with the Republicans, for whom they all would have been fighting if they had had any sense. Yes, this is really his claim.

We will get later to the interests of the villagers. I am not going to discuss the whys and wherefores of the Spanish Civil War; I have already done that elsewhere. What I’d like to explore is two things. First, what drives civil conflict in small polities far from the centers of power? Second, ignoring Cercas’s attempts to impose his own views on Manuel Mena, at what point should a society be willing to sacrifice its young men in battle, and its young women at home if they lose to the wrong adversary, along with much else, to a cause? Or, put another way, at what point should the costs my own aunt related be borne?

For the most part, I am therefore going to ignore that Cercas unreflectingly parrots standard left-wing propaganda about the war, which is doubtless the norm for his social class and standing in Spain today. In this view, the Spanish Republic brought low by Franco was a pure and wonderful democracy that came to power by democratic means. It represented all Spain. It committed no wrongs, except a few minor excesses in response to right-wing rebellion.

Cercas says nary a word about the massive violence and atrocities against conservatives and the Church that resulted in Franco’s entirely rational and moral rebellion against an illegitimate Communist-dominated regime. (Cercas delicately refers to violence and atrocities encouraged and permitted under the Republic as “confrontations produced by the Republic’s efforts to modernize the country”).

Words in this book are carefully chosen for propaganda effect; the name “Hitler” appears early and often attached to Franco; the names “Stalin” and “Soviet Union” do not appear a single time anywhere. I assume all this is mainline modern Spanish leftism. To be fair, it’s not over the top, not like Communist apologists, such as, Paul Preston. It’s more like Cercas has just absorbed the party line and regurgitates it as he goes along, focused primarily on creating an alternative history of his uncle that will be palatable to his social circle.

The story of Mena is fairly straightforward, though Cercas manages to make it somewhat difficult to follow by making the story not about Mena, but about his own gradual unearthing of facts about Mena. He couples this with endless maundering about his own emotions as they relate to Mena and to the rest of his family. Run-on sentences and the use of directly translated Spanish idioms making little sense in English do not contribute; nor does a lot of talk about his filmmaker friend whose wife left him for Viggo Mortensen, though that’s a little bit amusing. She probably left him because he had annoying friends like Cercas!

I will impose some order on the narrative. The core figure in Cercas’s exploration is his own mother, still alive and a major character in this book. She was eight years younger than her uncle, Mena, her father’s brother, to whom she was very close. In a village community of this type, large families were the norm at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the families tended to intermarry, with second cousins marrying each other.

We forget, in these days of sad wine aunts and atomization, that this kind of tangled, extended-family web used to be the norm for most people. Thus, through his mother Cercas is introduced to all those still alive who can shed light on Mena’s life. Other than in the village, where a main street is named after him, nobody at all remembers Mena.

Starting with his mother, Cercas gradually expands his circle of interlocutors. He does not talk to a single person who supported Franco or the Falange. Rather, he talks to elderly leftists, none his relatives, and to younger leftists who are all cousins of one type or another, most of all one who is today a socialist delegate to the European Parliament.

This is also bizarre, for in his own telling everyone was a Francoist until the 1970s, yet Cercas does not offer a single word from anyone in support of any Right political position. He talks of “Francoist families” and how they still remember Mena’s funeral, but does not talk to any of them. Rather, his project is to signal to his readership the illegitimacy of any support for Franco, so it is no surprise that he offers no Francoist perspectives. Instead, he offers the unconditional self-abasement of a Maoist struggle session.

I lost track of the innumerable times Cercas refers to Mena’s, and his extended family’s, “shame” and “dishonour,” while never once specifying in what way they were shamed and dishonored. (On one page the words show up eight times, along with an incomprehensible reference to the “defeats” of his shamed ancestors, who, after all, won the war).

I can only assume that in the left-wing circles in modern Spain in which Cercas lives and breathes, it is presumed that any connection, no matter how faint, to Francoism is somehow shameful and dishonorable. His social class, represented by his cuckold filmmaker friend, tells him as an established fact that opposing the Communists was “a mistaken cause” and “unjust.” None of this is true, and Cercas even tells us the cliché that victors write the histories, ignoring the obvious falsity of that here.

But let’s turn to Mena. It is a short enough story. When the time for political choosing came, Mena was, like many young men, attracted to the Falange, with its blend of traditionalism and modernism. Cercas unearths some speeches written by him for delivery to the local Falange youth group, which are standard boilerplate.

When the war broke out in 1936, Mena volunteered, at age seventeen. He was made a second lieutenant, in the Ifni Riflemen, a regiment of the Regulares (mainly Moroccan enlisted men with Spanish officers) and fought in several battles. He was killed in 1938, at age nineteen, at the Battle of the Ebro, in Catalonia, shot in the abdomen. His body was brought back to Ibahernando and buried, an event of great significance in the village, and one of the defining events of Mena’s mother’s life – although, strangely, Cercas never asks her any of her opinions, just for the facts.

Cercas is very focused on the political situation in Ibahernando, and as we will see, it is through this prism that he interprets the meaning of Mena’s life. I find this fascinating, because it says much about politics outside the centers of power, once you strip away the distortions Cercas creates while twisting history to fit into his frame.

The author views the politics of the 1920s and the 1930s in Ibahernando through a tired Marxist lens. In Cercas’s telling, most of the land in Ibahernando was owned by absentee landlords, nobles of one sort or another, who lived in Madrid. Until a few decades before the war, everyone was essentially a serf who worked the land. But at some point, enterprising farmers began renting land from the nobles, and even were able, after some time, to own a modest amount of land.

In other words, they became what Stalin called kulaks – farmers a little better off than their neighbors, as a result of their own initiative and hard work. Others remained landless farm laborers or tenant farmers. Cercas tells us this introduced class stratification into Ibahernando, and that rather than being united against their real oppressors, the absentee landlords, a type of local aristocracy, a very modest type, emerged. A key member of this aristocracy, he says, was his own family.

Whatever the accuracy of this history, which so far probably is pretty accurate, such stratification is completely unsurprising. In any human grouping, an aristocracy naturally arises, because people are not the same, and some people’s talents are better suited to any given situation, so rewards and leadership flow their way.

But Cercas obviously can’t accept that; it contradicts left-wing doctrine of emancipation and equality, and thus reality must be denied, or rather simply ignored. Still, he is puzzled, because he doesn’t have an alternative explanation for the development of this split. He didactically instructs us that “the interests of the community were the same,” without making any effort to demonstrate it. It’s obvious the villagers didn’t think so.

For example, Cercas talks several times about agricultural wage laborers forming “right-wing unions” early in the Republic, which would suggest that they didn’t see their interests as the same as everyone else’s, and he also talks briefly about how Ibahernando had a significant Protestant minority, although otherwise he ignores the importance of religion. Anybody but a Marxist can see that Ibahernando, like any other polity, had many competing interests, and only a few of them were economic ones.

That doesn’t mean his family was conservative in Spanish political terms. His grandfather, one of the most prominent men in the village, was a Socialist when he was mayor for a brief time in the early 1930s. What seems to have happened is that much of the village did in fact view politics, for a time, though the lens of class, and supported the ending of the monarchy and the establishment of a republican form of government.

But when it became evident what the real program of the Left was, agreed to at the infamous Pact of San Sebastien, most of the village rejected it, especially when the Left unleashed violent attacks across the land, whereupon most of the village, from the meanest laborer to Cercas’s grandfather, turned against the Left. Bizarrely, Cercas denies any of this leftist violence happened, at the same time he says that it caused a political earthquake in the village. “[T]he memory many elderly people in Ibahernando have of the Second Republic is a memory poisoned by confrontation, division, and violence. It is a false memory, a memory distorted or contaminated retrospectively by the memory of the Civil War that swept the Second Republic away.”

There is indeed a falsehood here, but we don’t need to go to the history books to see that Cercas is either lying or fooling himself, for his own history shows the lie.

Cercas narrates how in 1933 the local Communists demanded suppression of religious festivities and repeatedly tried to burn the local church; how they collected weapons and shot at their enemies; how in 1935 they put together a plan to take a list of “people on the Right” and “proposed taking them one by one from their houses and murdering them” (a plot only stopped by the mayor’s intervention); and how they tried to assassinate his maternal grandfather in 1934, by shotgunning him in the street. And when men on the Right asked for state protection, they were “advised to protect themselves.” So they bought guns – and immediately after the February 1936 elections, the new Left governor of the province put both of Cercas’s grandfathers in prison for “stockpiling weapons.”

No wonder there was “growing anxiety.” But there was only one source for that anxiety—the violence and hatred of the Left, and their open desire to exterminate their political opponents. Cercas, though, speaks constantly of “Francoist terror,” without naming a single example prior to the war. There was some, later – as in all these divided Spanish villages, when the war broke out, the Right punished those who had been attacking them for years, and often people took the opportunity to settle personal scores.

But Cercas, even though his own facts contradict him, treats Right violence as the only problem, when in reality it was purely reactive and defensive, and perhaps inevitable after years of Left threats and violence, and in an atmosphere where the town expected Republican army attack at any moment, such that the town square and the houses surrounding it were entrenched and sandbagged.

That doesn’t mean the villagers who rejected the Left became Falangists, or even Francoists. Outside the centers of power, most people aren’t driven by politics, or at least to the same degree, and this is a lesson for today. They just saw the Left as the greater evil, and they had to pick a side, because of what men of power far away had done.

Many of the men of the village, rich or poor, fought in volunteer militias for the Nationalists in the first few months of the war, including Cercas’s paternal grandfather, but they were sent home by the end of 1936, as the Nationalists consolidated and professionalized Franco’s initially ad hoc army. Cercas throws up chaff to obscure their choice, condescendingly claiming that the poor disliked “disorder.” They had a “superstitious love for order and tradition”; they were “addicted to order,” so they joined the Nationalists.

His argument is that if the Left had simply been more communicative about the reasons they were killing people the village would have supported them. But the truth is pretty obvious, if wholly unpalatable to Cercas—his village was mostly, or nearly all, Franco supporters, including his great uncle, and presumably including his mother, about whose political beliefs Cercas says nothing. But, as I say, we never get any detail or discussion about Right political views, in fact, other than the bare narration that many of the author’s relatives fought for the Nationalists.

Cercas marches on, though, trapped in his own frame. He quotes his socialist cousin at length, that it is incomprehensible that villagers didn’t unite with the Left to fight their “true enemies,” the landowners. He studiously ignores the complexities of the Spanish Right, such as that the Falange’s philosophy actually had many left-wing, populist elements, and, as Cercas himself discusses in the context of Mena’s pro-Falange writings, “preached the harmony of classes.”

Cercas has to do this, because he is aiming at his main goal, to “prove” that Mena, a vigorous Falangist, was self-deluded, but he couldn’t help it. He was just a kid “intoxicated by pernicious idealism”; all that he believed was merely an “ideological concoction devised by the oligarchy to halt socialist and democratic equality.” “He had lost everything fighting for a cause that was not his but that of others.” No doubt Cercas buys into Marxist delusions like “false consciousness,” though that phrase doesn’t appear here.

And, finally, desperate for an arc to his story that contradicts the story of a young hero who died for his ideals, Cercas constructs a fantasy in which Mena became wholly disillusioned by the war. No doubt, after much direct experience with war, he was disillusioned – only some men, a minority, enjoy war, although for many it is a mixed bag, never all bad or all good.

Cercas builds up to what he thinks is the culmination of his book – an elderly uncle suddenly remembers, although he never told anyone before, was not there, and cannot remember who told him, that in his last visit to the village Mena told someone that the war was hard and that he had done his duty; that he didn’t want to go back to the front, but was going to anyway, because if he didn’t, another uncle would have had to go to war. Cercas responds “Are you saying that Manuel Mena was fed up with the war?” To which the old man replies, “Exactly. Fed up.” This is what is called in law the rankest hearsay, along with leading the witness. It’s meaningless.

But not in the context of Cercas’s project, which seems to be primarily to exonerate himself to his social peers today for the fact that his family was Francoist, and Cercas treats the old man’s words as a revelation comparable to Prometheus bringing fire to Man. Oh, it’s probably true. I bet Manuel Mena was fed up with the war. I bet most soldiers in his position were fed up with the war and would far prefer it be over. This is a commonplace throughout history. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also know that the only way home was to win against the Communists, or that he had changed his mind about what was necessary for Spain to flourish and thrive.

So what does this say about our own political divisions? Less than one might think. In Spain, there were clear and unbridgeable political divisions among the ruling classes, which inevitably led to war. Here, there are no such divisions – our ruling classes, Democrat and Republican, are united in their contempt for the deplorables, many of whom bear a suspicious resemblance to the poor citizenry of Ibahernando. Trump may talk about fighting the ruling classes, and they do hate him because he threatens their cushy position by the chaos he creates and the positions he theoretically espouses, which if unchecked might empower the deplorables, but Jared and Ivanka, and the rest of those who influence and limit Trump, aren’t really opposed to George Soros and Gavin Newsom politically.

All these people are just fighting over the spoils, not fighting about principles with each other. Their collective vision is a continuation of the neoliberal atomized hell with leftist social policies in which we live (which, to be fair, has been very, very good to me, but I am a traitor to my class).

To the extent there are real divisions outside the ruling class, Americans, with their comfortable lifestyles, addiction to safety, and facing the overwhelming power and reach of the government, aren’t going to fight for anything, among themselves or against the government. Claims otherwise, anywhere on the political spectrum, are all LARPing for the social media cameras. People on the Right point to Antifa as a budding locus of violence, but that’s not true in any meaningful way. Antifa is a clown show, performance theater.

They only engage in violence because they are protected by the police and judges in the places they do it; if they showed up any other place but a few friendly urban locales, they would regret it, and quickly. Look at them. They are fat losers. In a real civil war they would run and hide as fast as their tubby little legs could carry them. No, like most people in Ibahernando, the average American just wants to get by, and enjoy life, and isn’t, for better or worse, going to actually fight about politics.

At least they’re not going to fight yet. The Wuhan Plague, and more the government overreaction to it, has turned the ratchet a few more turns. Someday the ruling classes are no longer going to be able to print money and make promises to keep the peasants from becoming restless, and they will be thrust to the side as the political currents of Left and Right rear their heads and assume shape under leaders yet to be named. Or perhaps we will have a tripartite split, with the ruling classes fighting simultaneously against a newly organized, competent, and risk-taking Left and Right. We will then see, in every locale, what Ibahernando did—that no, we can’t all just get along, because one vision of the good must rule, and incompatible visions are, well, incompatible.

And, finally, back to my great aunt, who told me that war is a terrible thing. This same sentiment runs throughout this book, although without nuance or understanding, since Cercas has apparently taken no risks in his life, and he cannot escape his ideological prison when viewing the past. He seems to want to think that war can both be brutal and evil, and noble and necessary, but cannot bear to apply that principle to his great uncle.

Cercas would do well to read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, which lays out what war really means for modern men, and explains, aside from politics, why, perhaps, Manuel Mena fought and died. I think that the idea of a kalos thanatos should not be encouraged; it is a pagan ideal, after all, and as the father of three young sons it does not appeal to me. But sacrifice combined with seeking a transcendent goal has a key place in any society that is going anywhere.

What is true for a man is true for a society—there are worse things than war, as terrible as war is. Far worse for Spain, for example, to have been ruled by the Communists, both in terms of the number of dead and in the ruination of the nation. Sometimes, often, we must choose between two unpalatable choices.

My own aunt was not saying that Hungary was wrong to fight in the war; given history and circumstance, it was both necessary and inevitable. Rather, her point was to remember, when and if a man of power, I should count the cost, and not idly or blindly feed the little people into the maw of the machine. This is a universal truth, untied to ideology. But Cercas’s book fails because he views everything through ideology. Lord of All the Dead could have been a fascinating exploration of the Spanish conflict on a local level, but instead, it’s just claptrap.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “A Nationalist Soldier on the Santander Front in a Captured Concrete Dug-Out with ‘Marxist’ Inscriptions – ’Death to Spain!’ and ‘Long Live Russia”, by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, Illustrated London News, 20 Nov. 1937.

The Right-Left Divide: Does It Still Matter?

One of the most debated issues in recent years by European political observers (journalists and political scientists) has been the possibility, or the impossibility, of overcoming the right-left divide. This was particularly the case in the so-called “Latin” European countries of France and Italy, where the “old” dichotomy, established for over a century, seemed to be firmly and lastingly established.

In polls conducted at the end of the year 2000, in these countries, 60–70 percent of citizens stated unequivocally (at least when allowed to do so) that democracy had stopped working properly; that there no longer were substantial differences between right and left governments; and that the divide is no longer really relevant.

I myself contributed to the debate on the permanence or the end of this divide, its transformation or its decline, by publishing Droite/Gauche: pour sortir de l’équivoque. Histoire des idées et des valeurs non conformistes du XIXe au XXIe siècle (Right/Left: Getting Past the Ambiguity. A History of Non-Conformist Ideas and Values from the 19th to the 21st Centuries). What follows is a summary of the important points of this book.

To understand the radical and surprising recent socio-political change happening in European countries (the birth and development of many populist movements in much of the continent, governmental alliance between the League and the 5-Star Movement in Italy; popular rebellions/ insurrections, like the “Red Cap” and the “Yellow Vests” against the self-proclaimed progressive oligarchies or “elites” in France; the emergence of Vox in Spain; Brexit in the United Kingdom, etc.) – it is worth reflecting in depth and more specifically answering a few key questions: What is the Right? What is the Left? What are the arguments for and against the “inevitable” or “accidental” division that articulates the political life of modern representative democracies? Why is the Left-Right dichotomy more and more discredited in public opinion in European countries?

Beyond the multiplicity of definitions of the Right and the Left, two radically different approaches clash one with the other: One is philosophical and the other historical.

The philosophical approach seeks to define the essence, the intimate character of the two phenomena; the historical, empirical and relativistic approach denies that these are isolated absolutes, independent of contingent situations (local and temporal). The first approach leads to strengthening or consolidating of the traditional dichotomy, while the second leads to its criticism, its questioning, or its casting into doubt.

In the background, there is, of course, the triple divide among the major political parties of radical globalization carried out for over thirty years by the dominant oligarchy (political, economic, financial and cultural), whose positions are sometimes alter-globalists, internationalists and crypto-Marxists (Podemos, Syriza or La France insoumise), sometimes anti-globalists.

The latter dividing in their turn between, on the one hand, the liberal-conservatives who pursue the union or the alliance of the rights (like Marion Maréchal Le Pen in France, or the leaders of Vox in Spain), and, on the other hand, the republican and secular tendency “simultaneously of the right and the left” which embodies a line seeking to synthesize identity and sovereigntist aspirations, ideas of fatherland and social justice (like the National Front of yesteryear with Florian Philippot, or the National Rally of Marine Le Pen today).

How is the Left and the Right to be Defined? The Essentialist Point of View: The Divide is Not Over.

The essentialist view has been defended by many authors for more than half a century. From a right-wing position, we can cite, among others, the French Christian Democrat, René Rémond, the Hungarian-American traditionalist, Thomas Molnar, or the Spanish conservative, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora.

More recently, we can cite in France the former adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson (and his biographer, close collaborator of the philosopher Alain de Benoist, the journalist François Bousquet), the political scientist Guillaume Bernard, or professor of constitutional law, Jean-Louis Harouel. And we include another of the founders of the New Right, the journalist Michel Marmin.

On the Left, we have to mention, among the best known, the Italian Norberto Bobbio, the Englishman Ted Honderich, the Frenchman Jacques Julliard, and the Spaniard, Esperanza Guisán.

The Right, in the most conventional and the most common sense of the term, would be synonymous with stability, authority, hierarchy, conservatism, loyalty to traditions, respect for public order and religious convictions, protection of family and the protection of private property. Conversely, the Left would embody dissatisfaction, demand, movement, a sense of justice, donation and generosity.

Neo-Marxist, neo-social-democratic and sometimes neoliberal propaganda, which claims to be “progressive,” sees in the Right the reaction against the Enlightenment, against Progress, Science, Equality, Humanism (their deities always written in capital letters).

The Right and the Left would, after all, reflect only the eternal conflict between the rich and the poor, the dominant and the dominated, the oppressors and the oppressed. But when the subject is the object of a slightly more serious investigation, we quickly realize that this identification of the political Right with the economic Right, or the Right of conviction with the Right of interest or money (so widespread in the mainstream media) is just one more myth, more ideological smoke, a propaganda lie.

The readers of Vilfredo Pareto, familiar with his famous thesis on the collusion between plutocrats and revolutionaries, know this well. Examples that lend nuance to, or invalidate, the myth abound – from the bourgeois actors and heirs of the French Revolution, to today’s billionaire magnates and financial speculators, like George Soros.

In reality, there has always been in Europe, at least since the end of the 19th-century, an anti-liberal or “illiberal” (as we say today), traditional, social and anti-capitalist Right, which not only affirms its commitment to the national community, but also defends social justice. And there has always been a socialist or socializing Left which defends, at the same time, republicanism, secularism, the fatherland and the nation.

The essentialist point of view always privileges the “idea” over “existence,” reality or facts. It is developed at different, more or less sophisticated, levels of analysis. Let us recall here the oppositions that this view exhibits:

1) First of all, there is the pessimism of the Right against the optimism of the Left. There is the realism and the tragic sense of life against idealism, against sentimentalism, the triumph of good conscience and naïve optimism. According to this premise, there are ultimately two temperaments which always oppose one another. There is always the same antagonism: The reactionaries/conservatives versus the reformist or revolutionary progressives.

2) At a second level of analysis, there are the two metaphysical positions: Transcendence and immanence. On the one hand, there are those who defend God, and on the other, those who deify man.

Here Christian metaphysics and the correct reading of the Gospels are opposed to the great heresies and falsifying utopias of Christianity, to millenarianism, to Gnosticism (the God of evil against the God of good), or even to belief in the religions of politics with their secularized version of apocatastasis. In the background, there is a kind of eternal fight of light against darkness, of good against evil (each one being of course interpreted and defined differently according to whether one belongs to one of the two poles of the Right or Left).

3) Other authors oppose the Right which believes in human nature without change with the Left which believes in infinite perfectibility of man (a man, of course, not soiled by original sin, as Christianity teaches).

There is thus the Right which believes in the natural order, as opposed to the Left which believes in universal reason; the Right which has a holistic vision of society as opposed to the individualist approach of the Left (this radical individualism which appeared with the French Revolution also explains the subsequent collectivist and totalitarian reaction of Marxist socialism).

Therefore, there exists the right-wing organism (that is to say, the society which develops like a tree, with roots and branches, which cannot be changed with impunity, according to everyone’s will) – which would oppose the left-wing mechanism (i.e. the society that operates like a clock, with the possibility of changing and modifying each part, without limits).

4) A fourth difference would be the importance of family and community ethics, defended by the Right, in the face of the obsession of the Left for the liberation from mores and customs.

5) Another frequently cited antinomy is that between, on the one hand, spiritual aristocratism (not to be confused with social or material aristocratism) and the feeling of freedom, typical of the Right, and, on the other hand, the leveling and materialist egalitarianism, characteristic of the Left. In other words, quality versus quantity.

The main idea of the Left, then, becomes the search for equality which in turn becomes its driving force, while the message of the Right becomes the belief in emulation. The Left is thus a kind of slope towards material equality, and the Right a kind of slope towards spiritual aristocracy.

6) Another significant dissimilarity is also of note: The passion for the unity of the Right (with the usual call for the union of the national community) against the spirit or the will to divide the Left (with the reactivation of the class struggle).

7) Two other major principles are often opposed and declared to be irreducible. There is the conflictual or polemological vision of the world, characteristic of the Right, which opposes the dream of the bright future of humanity, the utopia of the “New Man” obsession of the Left.

It is obviously not a question here of the New Man wanted by the Christian God, but of the New Man desired by modern totalitarianisms – in their Marxist-Leninist, National Socialist, and neoliberal, or neo-social-democratic versions, while not forgetting the recent ideological variant of “anthropological justice,” which is itself intensified by bio-ideologies, delusional ideologies, the strangest seeds of which are almost all found in National Socialism, as noted by the Spanish political scientist, Dalmacio Negro Pavón.

8) Last but not least, there is the eternal struggle between the old and the new, the trendy and the old-fashioned, the current and the obsolete, the old and the modern. Some even do not hesitate to see in the defense of language an authentic Right marker. But on this account, the teachers of the public schools of yesteryear (republicans, secularists, socialists, nationalists and other “progressives,” moderates or extremists, reformists or revolutionaries), would only be vulgar reactionaries or rightists who ignored each other.

In short, from the essentialist point of view, there is always a Right and a Left. Some, like Jacques Anisson du Perron, start from the premise or the intangible axiom that “the Right has always existed, since it merged with the political organization of traditional civilizations. In contrast, the Left only appeared in modern times.” Consequently, we would be eternally condemned to live and to know only two opposite conceptions of the world and life, and at a lower level, two morals, two forms of psychology, even two temperaments.

At this point, it is perhaps worth remembering that the Russian mathematician and dissident, Igor Shafarevich said that, from a philosophical point of view, socialism has always existed as a specific tendency of human societies (and that ‘it did not only appear historically in the 19th-century). Nor should we forget that Nicolai Berdyaev said the same thing about nationalism and/or patriotism (which have a lot of common history in their modern forms): Born on the Left, at the beginning of the 19th-century, they moved partially to the Right at the end of the 19th-century.

That said, there is still a key point to emphasize: Most “essentialist” authors insist on the diversity or the plural character of the Right and the Left. They rightly show that there is no Right and Left, but Right and Left, without however reaching a consensus, when it comes to defining or classifying them.

Thus, for example, the liberal René Rémond distinguished three Rights: Traditionalist, liberal and nationalist, and three Lefts: Libertarian, authoritarian and Marxist. But after him other authors (such as the Israeli socialist, Zeev Sternhell) distinguished two Rights: Radical/revolutionary and conservative, and two Lefts: Progressive and revolutionary. Still others (like the conservative, Stéphane Rials) see a single traditional Right and four Lefts: Authoritarian-nationalist, liberal-bourgeois, anarcho-libertarian and social-Marxist.

More recently, authors like, Marc Crapez (specialist in the nationalist Left or “reactionary”) have pointed out the existence of a good dozen tendencies of the Right and the Left and have discredited or withdrawn a lot of value and interest from educational and university classifications.

Criticism of the Left/Right Divide. The Historico-Relativist Point of View

Historically, the Right/Left divide is barely a century, perhaps a century-and-a-half, old. This is the prosaic reality. After the French Revolution and for decades, division or opposition was limited to a question of parliamentary language (the partisans of power occupied the seats on the right and the opposition those on the left). As the Spanish philosopher, Gustavo Bueno, said very well: “In the Cortes of Cadiz [the Constituent Assembly sitting from 1810 to 1814 during the war of independence against France], there was no Right and Left.” The mythical divide is indeed much more recent.

In common opinion, the birth of this divide hardly dates back to the 1870s and 1900s and perhaps even later, to the 1930s. Consequently, the great cyclical conflict between the eternal Right and the immortal Left has hardly been around for a century. In addition, as Julien Freund rightly noted in 1986, it is a divide “essentially European and even localized in the Latin countries, although it was taken up some time ago by the Anglo-Saxon countries.”

For the historian of political ideas, it is relatively easy to show that the values of the Right and the Left are not immutable, that the crossovers or the exchanges of ideas have been and remain constant. The Rights are diverse and plural like the Left, which explains their divides and permanent conflicts.

The Right and the Left are universalists or particularists; internationalists/globalists and supporters of free trade, or patriotic and anti-capitalist; centralists and Jacobins or regionalists, federalists and separatists; Atlanticists, Westernists and Europeanists (supporters of a federal Europe), or nationalists, Europeanists (defenders of a Europe of nations) and/or non-third-worldists; they may or may not be individualists, rationalists, positivists, organicists, mechanists, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, theists or Christians.

There is no timeless definition of the Right or the Left that applies everywhere and at any time. The Right and the Left can only be defined historically, in relation to the periods and problems that arise at a given moment.

It is easy to show that the main political issues are constantly shifting from left to right and vice versa. I think I showed this in detail in my book, Droite/Gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque, to which I refer the interested reader. This is the case with imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Masonism, anti-Christianity, anti-Catholicism, of anti-parliamentarianism, of the criticism of the demo-liberal model, of technocratism and anti-technocratism, of Malthusianism and of Antimalthusianism, of federalism, of centralism, of anti-statism, of regionalism, of separatism, of ecology, human rights criticism and the right to interfere (let us remember the harsh criticisms of the Italian anti-fascist liberal, Benedetto Croce, the socialist Harold Laski or the nationalist Mahatma Gandhi against human rights).

And such is also the case with the denunciation of the Enlightenment, anti-capitalism, the defense of the sovereignty and identity of peoples, immigrationism and anti-immigrationism, national preference, islamophilia and islamophobia, arabophilia and arabophobia, patriotism, nationalism, sovereignism, europhilia and europhobia, russophilia and russophobia, the alliance with the third world, anti-Americanism or American anti-imperialism, etc. All, absolutely all these questions escape the obsessive debate between the Right and the Left.

Many continue to oppose and divide not only between parties, but also within parties. We can therefore better understand why unions or alliances on the Right or on the Left are, and have always been, fragile, volatile, ephemeral or temporary. Added to this is, of course, the weight of the generally oversized ego of political leaders, but also their conflicting interests and career plans, which are poorly masked by the alleged differences on the political lines or the programs to be adopted.

The questioning of the permanent validity of the Left/Right dichotomy is at the same time historical, philosophical and moral. It is by no means the monopoly of an author, an intellectual movement, or a political party. On the contrary, the political sensitivities and opinions of the authors who criticize the Left/Right divide are very diverse.

It is the liberal José Ortega y Gasset who said: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be a fool; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia “(La Révolte de masses, Preface for the French Reader, 1930).

It is the liberal Raymond Aron who declared: “We will bring some clarity, in the confrontation of French quarrels, only by rejecting these ambiguous concepts [of Right and Left].”

It is the liberal-conservative Julien Freund who wrote: “The distinction between Left and Right is in the order of a and local; it does not determine essential political categories… Philosophical correctness requires that one exceeds this circumstantial classification… The rivalry between the Right and the Left is not based on a judgment of morality, but it is one of the current forms of the fight for the power.”

It is the national-syndicalist José Antonio Primo de Rivera who invited the rejection of the annealed hatred of the Right and the Left, and who affirms: “To be on the right or to be on the left is always to exclude from the soul the half which it needs to feel. Sometimes, this means the exclusion of everything and to replace that with a caricature of the half” (Ha fenecido el segundo bienio, January 9, 1936).

It is the Marxologist, Costanzo Preve, a representative figure of Italian communism, who stated: “The Right/Left dichotomy is nothing other than an incapacitating residue, or an artificial prosthesis, perpetuated by the ruling class.”

It is the ex-militant soixante-huitard and leftist, Jean Baudrillard, who noted: “If one day political imagination, political requirement and political will may a chance to rebound, it can only be on the basis of the radical abolition of this fossil distinction which has been canceled and fully disowned over the decades, and which no longer holds except by complicity in corruption.”

It is the Greek libertarian socialist, Cornelius Castoriadis, who recognized this: “It has been a long time now that the Left-Right divide, in France as elsewhere, no longer corresponds either to the great problems of our time or to radically opposed political choices.”

In reality, countless authors with very diverse convictions, follow the “skeptical” or critical tradition of the Left/Right divide. Over the years, they have become legion. The names of the traditionalist Donoso Cortés, the liberals José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno, the heterodox socialist-Marxist Gustavo Bueno can be cited here as an example.

Among the French, there are Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Maurice Barrès, Charles Péguy, Simone Weil, Daniel-Rops, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Claude Michéa, Christophe Guilluy, Vincent Coussedière, Alain De Benoist, Marcel Gauchet.

Among Americans, there are Christopher Lasch, Paul Piccone and Paul Gottfried.

Among Italians, Costanzo Preve, Augusto del Noce, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Tarchi, Marco Revelli and many others.

The majority of political scientists and journalists agree that the neo-social-democrat Left (with its far-left allies) has stopped proclaiming its will to resolve the social question and to bring about social revolution (with the hope for the liberation of the proletariat), and has assumed the principles of the free market and now prefers to invoke societal and anthropological “values” (defense of the “world citizen,” integration of “victimized” minorities, such as, homosexuals, transsexuals, feminists, immigrants, genderism and multiculturalism).

As for the neoliberal Right (which rejects alliances with the traditional and radical Rights), it has abandoned the defense of the nation, morals, religion and family, to deal exclusively and cynically with the economy.

But what can it mean to be simultaneously of the Right and the Left? For Marxists, neo-social-democrat, Social Liberals and Conservative Liberals, denouncing the Right/Left opposition can only be an extremist and cynical attitude. Among them, many are the commentators who see in this criticism of the traditional dichotomy only the resurgence of fascism, if not to say of National Socialism or Nazism. But in reality, this view is invalidated by historical facts.

Fundamentally, to define oneself simultaneously of the Right and the Left is to express the conviction that a political community needs both justice and freedom, progress and conservation, patriotism and internationalism, personalism and solidarity, order and freedom, economic initiative and social guarantees, respect for human rights and the affirmation of the duties of men, equality and merit, fraternity and competitiveness, nothing more and nothing less.

All these concerns can be summed up in a few words: It is about the political will to defend spiritual, religious, patriotic or national values and, simultaneously, to pursue the common good, or to affirm the need for collective solidarity and social justice. This attempt at synthesis is found in the programs of many intellectual movements, which were born and developed in Europe, from the end of the 19th-century to the present day – movements that are radical, revolutionary and extremist, or moderate and reformist, depending on the place and time.

In my book, I refer to the twenty models or examples that are social-traditionalism (and according to the Italian economist Stefano Solari – Donoso Cortés is even the inventor of the Third Way).

These are:

The Left/Right divide was also often questioned by politicians from the center, by representatives of social liberalism, neo-social democracy and neoliberalism.

This is particularly the case with President Emmanuel Macron, or Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and various other political and intellectual figures. Paradoxically, they are also proven representatives of the globalist oligarchy who, as adept connoisseurs of the magic of words, presented – for electoral purposes – a centrist, watered-down and diluted version of the criticism of the Right/Left divide.

They know that this traditional divide is today widely discredited in public opinion and take this into account, at least verbally, to seduce their constituents.

But the policies of these leaders are nevertheless in line with those of social democratic or Christian democrat politicians, who distinguished themselves several decades ago, like Tony Blair, Schroeder or Clinton. The latter then called themselves the “Third Way,” as theorized by the Englishman Anthony Giddens and the North American Amitai Etzioni.

In Spain, Albert Rivera and his party Ciudadanos, who have embarked on the same path, have obtained significant support from the former French Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

We can summarize the success of this strategy and its positive result electorally (although not definitely, as demonstrated by the considerable difficulties faced by President Macron and his government) – by recalling the famous words of young Tancredi, a character in The Leopard: “If we want that everything stays as it is, everything has to change.”

So, what remains of the Left/Right divide and what is the new divide that seeks to replace it? The criticism of the Left/Right dichotomy consists above all in showing that there are neither “eternal values” on the Right, nor “immortal principles” on the Left. In other words, the Right and the Left are the result of certain opinions about facts and ideas, which do not come from an ideal model, an archetype, or an idea in the Platonic sense of the term.

It is not a question of denying that historically the Right/Left divide explains a large part of the political phenomena of the past, but only of denying that it explains them all. It is a question of showing that the allegedly immutable political debate, which opposes two “essentialized” categories (the eternal Right and the immortal Left) has become an artificial prosthesis that only serves to perpetuate the situation of the dominant oligarchy.

The Right/Left divide seems to be nothing more than a mask, which serves to hide another division, now much more decisive: That which opposes rooted peoples to the self-proclaimed elites, who are the very vectors of uprooting; that which opposes the defenders of sovereignty, identity and national cohesion with the partisans of “world governance.” And that which opposes the excluded from globalization and cast into the peripheral areas of the country (people or citizens who obviously have – or will have – their own leaders under the “iron law of the oligarchy”) with the privileged of the system, to the dominant oligarchy, to the globalized or hyperclass ruling class, which lives in the beautiful districts of the big cities, the most developed zones of the country and which, moreover, rubs shoulders, preferably or exclusively, with the privileged elite of globalism in other countries.

Today, there is clearly a new dualism which replaces the old Right/Left opposition (even the essentialist authors, who reject the possibility of an extinction or disappearance of the dichotomy, recognize that it has undergone profound alteration or modification). Populism versus oligarchy, roots against globalization, community and solidarity culture against liberal and progressive culture – reflect the new dividing line. Whatever the self-proclaimed “experts” and other “specialists” in the media say, these are two entirely new ways of interpreting the confronting reality, two rational but irreconcilable ways of viewing where the greatest danger comes from, of choosing our future and our commitment.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows, “Fillette de Concarneau à la miche de pain (Girl from Concarneau with a Loaf of Bread”), by Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy, painted in 1886.