Paris, July.—The eight million inhabitants of this city are currently about to go on their annual vacation in a fairly relaxed mood. Most of them are entitled to four weeks' statutory paid holiday, a piece of legislation not yet enacted in some countries which fancy themselves more advanced. The others seem to be making their own arrangements for going abroad or staying with country cousins, the net result being an atmosphere curiously remote from last year's near-revolutionary ferment. In part this is plainly due to exhaustion. No volcano erupts twice within a year, and even the French must have a pause before they can resume the national pastime of unmaking governments.
This then is a season for stocktaking. Most students are pleased to have got rid of an elderly ruler who had overstayed his welcome. The middle-aged think back to the 1939 military parade on July 14—the last before the outbreak of war; also the last occasion on which cavalry served a more than purely ornamental purpose. Though as a matter of fact the French army in 1940 had more tanks than the Germans: it just did not know how to use them, having failed to listen to the warnings uttered a few years earlier by a then widely unknown staff officer named Charles de Gaulle.
This officer (one learns from his numerous biographers) was not universally liked by colleagues and superiors. Students of his writings cannot fail to discern at least one good reason why this should have been so: he never hesitated to say and do unpopular things. His early reflections on military leadership—published in 1932 under the promising title Le Fil de l'épée (The Edge of the Sword)—ran clean counter to the then prevailing rhetoric, which was both pacifist and democratic. Their author put forward what might fairly have been called an elitist view of politics, clothed in the sort of intellectual arrogance that comes natural to Frenchmen of all political parties: casual allusions to Tolstoy, Bergson, and Flaubert; sweeping historical judgments; and an undercurrent of late-Roman stoicism, unusual, to say the least, in a practicing Catholic. “Evangelical perfection does not lead to empire.” “The man of action is not conceivable without a good dose of egoism, pride, hardness, and cunning.” No hypocrisy here. A modern-minded technocrat, too, who had read his Spengler:
Nowadays individualism is in retreat. . . . Everywhere there appears the need for association. . . . It is for the Army to take a share in this evolution. . . . Instruction, training, and uniform are in no way contrary to the century of trade unions, highway codes, Taylorism, and great department stores.
How very true. But not exactly what democratic politicians like to be told. And what were the pious to make of this?:
For after all, can one comprehend Greece without Salamis, Rome without the legions, Christianity without the sword, Islam without the scimitar, the Revolution without [the battle of] Valmy, the League of Nations without the victory of France?
Two years later the work that made him famous, l'Armée de Metier (mistranslated as The Army of the Future), terminated with a flourish:
For the sword is the axis of the world, and greatness cannot be shared.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, this will never do. Let us go and hide under the bed. Let us join the Peace Pledge Union. Let us preach “collective security” without rearmament. Let us applaud the Munich surrender. Let us, in short, be good American liberals or British Labourites: spiritual descendants of John Locke who spent a lifetime trying to make people forget what that dreadful man Hobbes had been saying: “And covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” How could anyone say such a thing! John Locke never did. John Locke was a stockholder in the slave-trading Royal Africa Company, but he never in so many words defended the actual practice of the trade: he simply averted his embarrassed gaze from it. He also provided the Whig aristocrats, whose servant and pensioner he was, with a political doctrine suitable to their aims after they had seized power (quite illegally) in 1688. John Locke had many spiritual descendants, including Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill. And Mill begat the Fabians, but he also begat Neville Chamberlain, that earnest Unitarian and municipal reformer of whom Lloyd George said contemptuously in 1917: “He would make a good mayor of Birmingham in a lean year.” But he made a very bad Prime Minister in 1937.
Not that the French were any better off. Their leaders (Clemenceau having died in 1929) were called Daladier, Bonnet, Blum, and Reynaud. Unlike Chamberlain they were intelligent and had few illusions. But they were helpless too. Daladier—War Minister from 1936 to 1940—was the most helpless of the lot. Popularly known as “the bull of Vaucluse,” on account of his frequent but futile rages, he was the man responsible for letting the amiable but feeble Gamelin ruin the French army. The other military leaders were either senile defeatists like Pétain or stoical pessimists like de Gaulle. When in March 1940, two months before the collapse, a group of British parliamentarians called on Brigadier de Gaulle at the headquarters of his armored division, he greeted them with the words: “Gentlemen, you will be seeing an army that is going to be defeated.”
What could one do with a man of this sort? Especially when he insisted on going on with the war after his military and civilian superiors had surrendered, thereby at one stroke becoming a hero and making all the others look foolish? Ever since those days when de Gaulle wrenched himself loose from the military caste into which he had been born, its senior members have hated him with a deep hatred. He had had the effrontery to be right about the use of armor before 1940, and now he had put himself at the head of a motley volunteer army largely composed—as he once remarked in a cynical aside—of “Jews, Negroes, and Communists.” In addition to which he publicy identified himself with France, even allowing it to be understood that a distant ancestor had fought and bled under Jeanne d' Arc's banner. Churchill, a Tory romantic, half understood him, and on occasion made a feeble attempt to shield him from Roosevelt's petty spite and the solemn idiocy of Cordell Hull, but for the most part de Gaulle had to rely on bluff. Only in 1943, when the underground resistance movement in France went over to him, did the American and British governments reluctantly renounce their fatuous plans for putting the bovine Giraud in his place.
Ever since those stirring days les Anglo-Saxons have been in the General's bad books; but there was more to it than resentment. De Gaulle's idiosyncratic personality hid a popular undercurrent—vaguely describable as Bonapartism—with which the French are familiar, but which they find difficult to explain to foreigners. The syndrome is made up of nationalism, Catholicism, a certain amount of Jacobin republicanism (the Marseillaise, the Tricolor), military romanticism, contempt for parliamentarians (“a lot of windbags”), faith in popular sovereignty (la nation), belief in an abstraction called “France,” and lofty disdain for fifty million actually existing Frenchmen. Dislike of foreigners comes into it, too, but no particular resentment against the Germans. Anyway the Reich was gone, and the Bonn government was all for working with France. When de Gaulle returned to power in 1958 he could have it both ways: be friends with Adenauer, and still run the Continental show. He could also preach disengagement in Central Europe and an end to the cold war, until the Russians marched their battalions into Prague and thus brought to nought his plans for circumventing the NATO alliance.
For the economic infrastructure of the European movement—the Common Market of the Six—de Gaulle was in no way responsible. On the contrary, he had been against it, and on taking office once more in 1958 he accepted it reluctantly as part of a package deal with the Socialists and Christian-Democrats. Their leaders had come running to Colombey when the army in Algeria threatened to get out of hand, and in due course President Coty invited “the most illustrious of Frenchmen” (as he termed him in an address to the National Assembly) to form a new government.
But although de Gaulle towered above his ministers, the party system was then still intact, and the majority had staked its all on the Common Market, Franco-German amity, and keeping the British out of Continental affairs until they were ready to be “good Europeans.” De Gaulle inherited this orientation and, for all the differences in style, did not really introduce any basic change, except that he gradually became friendlier to the Russians and less friendly to the Americans. He was quite willing to make the most of the Paris-Bonn axis, but he rarely troubled to hide his belief that Germany would and should stay divided. And he publicly went out of his way to proclaim that France recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the new frontier between Germany and Poland. This was something the parliamentarians of the Fourth Republic had never dared to do, just as they had never dared to cut the Gordian knot in Algeria by giving the country its independence. To that extent the Fifth Republic did represent something new. It had become a Presidential regime. The President since 1965 was elected by the people, and once installed he could do more or less what he liked.
Across the Rhine the political landscape had altered too. When the Allies in 1945 abolished Prussia as a political entity, turned its eastern regions over to Russia and Poland, and allowed the remainder, plus Saxony, to become a Soviet satellite, they created a new balance of forces within West German society. The ancient love hate relationship with France went on in the breast of each individual German, but the pro-French tendency within the political elite now had the upper hand. In the days of the Weimar Republic it had always been in a minority. Only the Social Democrats and the left wing of the Catholic Center party really favored reconciliation, and they lacked real power. The Communists had their new spiritual homeland in Russia; the Right dreamed of a war of revenge, and the Right controlled the army. Conservative opinion in Prussia for over a century had seen France as the hereditary enemy, the Erbfeind, and the traditional Conservatives, by way of the Lutheran Church, possessed a secure hold over masses of people in town and country whom the liberal intellectuals (mostly Jews anyway) could not reach. All this changed after 1945. The Bonn government now had a predominantly Roman Catholic base, and even a conservative Bavarian like Strauss preferred France to other potential allies—Britain included.
When in 1966 the Christian Democrats felt obliged to take the SPD into partnership, the pro-French orientation was reinforced, even though the Social Democrats did not have much use for de Gaulle. The extreme Right, such as it was, kept quiet. Its leaders grudgingly conceded that there was no alternative to the French alliance. Some of them developed a discreet admiration for the General. The others thought it best to await his departure. They did not care for his pro-Soviet orientation, and they were bitter when he publicly recognized Polish sovereignty over the lost provinces, but in public at least they said nothing. In the old days they would have raged and foamed. This was not just a matter of political prudence. Something had changed in the depths of the national psyche.
Viewed from Whitehall this Francophilia was a trifle alarming. Churchill had favored it. His successors were less happy about it, especially when in the 1960's Britain's international standing was slowly eroded. Europeanism was all very well, but a Europe run jointly by the French and the Germans might become too powerful for comfort. If these Continentals could no longer be manipulated, the Foreign Office's chief occupation was gone. The Common Market had come into being despite persistent British obstruction. When the Macmillan government, urged on by the Kennedy administration, finally sought entry in 1962, de Gaulle slammed the door and the Germans did nothing to help. Nor was the Wilson government any more fortunate with its application. In any case Britain's financial troubles made it doubtful whether membership in the EEC might not prove the kind of “cure” that kills the patient.
The Tories meanwhile had begun to turn away from their ancient concern with an Empire that had become a Commonwealth of unruly—and mostly colored—republics. The anonymous London wit who remarked “Once the Union Jack has been hauled down, I don't care if the natives start eating each other” spoke for many. Europeanism began to make converts. So did crypto-Gaullism. The most nationalist Tory of them all, Enoch Powell, was also the brainiest, and his public pronouncements were distinctly modeled on Gaullism. He had no use for the Empire, or for the Americans and their war in Vietnam. He wanted the troops brought back from Singapore and sent to the Rhine. He did not want colored immigrants—in fact he wanted Britain to be both independent and European; and he was reputedly willing to share nuclear secrets with France. It was all very disconcerting: the Foreign Office could no longer control the Tory party. It could not even control the Times which under its new Roman Catholic editor had become pro-Europe and pro-Biafra, and on both grounds critical of the Whitehall Mandarinate. The weekly Spectator, for long the organ of Conservative intellectualism, had gone Gaullist too. It raged against the arming of Nigeria, sneered at the Foreign Office for mismanaging relations with France, and snarled at the Treasury for wrecking the country's finances. The Mandarins were no longer sacred! It was as though the Osservatore Romano had told the College of Cardinals to go and jump into the Tiber.
The General's abrupt return to Colombey superimposed itself upon this situation and brought the latent crisis to the boil. Strauss came to London in May and invited the British to join a federal Europe, whereupon Whitehall promptly discovered that it did not really like political union: all it wanted was entry into the Common Market. But the European federalists were now once more in the saddle, and Strauss added to the embarrassment by blandly urging the British to pool their nuclear armaments with the French. As for himself, he wanted no part of any nuclear arsenal (he said). Here was a new sort of Gaullism, this time coming from the Germans. It signified that Bonn expected the Tories to return to office and to cut loose from their American protectors.
There was trouble on the home front too. Various eminent public figures (including a former newspaper tycoon with Liberal-Labour sympathies) publicly announced that the country was not being effectively governed. They even hinted that Mr. Wilson might be something of a joke. The Times urged him to resign. The Economist protested that it was undignified for Britain to be so deeply in hock as to incur supervision from the International Monetary Fund. There was, one newspaper declared editorially, “a smell of Weimar in the air.”
There was no smell of Weimar when the present writer passed through West Germany in May on his way to Paris. Nor is there any such smell in the Paris air, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding. It is true that France currently gives the impression of having reverted a short distance back to Fourth Republic politics, but this is a pause the country can afford. It has recently accomplished two-thirds of a social mutation and can permit itself the luxury of looking a bit trite after years of Cornelian grandeur. Why and how this has happened is our next subject.
At the peak of last year's general strike, with ten million workers in occupation of the factories, an exhausted police force on the point of nervous collapse, and a governmental machine in full disarray, there was a moment when de Gaulle toyed with the idea of resigning. Had he done so, the electoral battle would in all probability have been won by the parties of the Left, and their candidate would have been installed in the Elysee. On one condition: the Communists would have had to back a moderate Socialist for the Presidency of the Republic. They were in fact committed (on paper) to voting for Mitterand, who had polled 45 per cent of the popular vote against de Gaulle in 1965. But there was a snag: Mitterand had announced his intention to make Mendès-France Prime Minister, and the CP did not want Mendès-France. Hence it ended the general strike, thus enabling de Gaulle to stay in power for another year. In the process it destroyed its credibility with the revolutionary minority among the workers and students, but that was a small price to pay.
For the benefit of domestic and foreign critics, Waldeck Rochet & Co. employed a more respectable argument: there was (they said solemnly) a danger of civil war which the working class could not hope to win. The threadbareness of this excuse became evident when it transpired that the army never had the slightest intention of using force against the workers, though it was ready enough to crush an armed insurrection (which no one had proposed). The whole point about the general strike was that it made possible a peaceful takeover by the democratic Left. This was precisely what the Communists were determined to prevent. If they could not seize power—and they knew it was impossible—then it was best to let the strike fizzle out. Otherwise they might have ended up supporting a government committed to democratic socialism, and that would never do.
Twelve months later the problem returned to plague them. De Gaulle having bowed out after his defeat in the April referendum, the Left might have closed ranks behind someone whom the ordinary voter could trust. Mitterand was no longer in the running. Doubly discredited by his unconstitutional behavior in May 1968 and by his refusal to break with the Communists after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, he stood revealed as the unprincipled demagogue he had always been. The Socialists having nominated the eminently respectable but rather dull Defferre, the CP put forward its own candidate: the former pastry-cook Jacques Duclos, a jovial veteran of seventy-two, famed for his gargantuan appetite and his unflinching loyalty to the party line. There was no question (Georges Marchais, on behalf of the Politbureau, declared over the airwaves on May 7) of the Communists backing Mendès-France for the Presidency: “In the name of what party, what political force? Are we to have Mendès-France presented to us all over again as a miracle-man who can solve all problems?” They were confident that Duclos would pull out the entire Communist vote (over 20 per cent of the total) thus coming third in the race: as indeed on June 1 he did.
On May 13 Mendès-France broke a long silence by coming out for Defferre, thereby disappointing his few remaining admirers. Both men knew well enough that they stood no chance, but they felt that the time had come to put the CP in its place. As Mendès-France explained in a long interview with the left-wing Nouvel Observateur the following week, it was a matter of bringing democratic socialism back to life. There was a potential mass following for a candidate of the democratic Left on the next occasion anyway, but the bulk of this electoral army would not support a coalition dominated by the CP.
It is an established fact (confirmed by opinion polls taken before de Gaulle's departure) that whereas 60 per cent of the voters vaguely favor some kind of “socialism,” only 5 per cent want “Soviet socialism.” Even three-quarters of the Communist electorate don't want it! The CP, for all its solid organization and its millions of voters, is a colossus with clay feet. It has long ceased to be a revolutionary force in the traditional sense and it lacks credibility as a reformist one. Its leadership is mired in stale Muscovite slogans and loyalties. It has been outflanked on its Left by the dissident Socialist PSU, and since the invasion of Prague it has once more come to look pestiferous to ordinary democrats who in 1965-67 had hesitantly moved toward a Popular Front. It is losing some of the younger workers to Trotskyist and Maoist splinter groups who, for all their sectarian rigidity, have inherited the ancient syndicalist “direct action” tradition. Its intellectuals are fed up with the East European police state which has for so long been presented to them as the incarnation of socialism. Why then waste time on aged stoneheads like Waldeck Rochet and Duclos? Why go into partnership with a lot of crapulous Stalinists whom the ordinary voter does not trust, whom the New Left denounces as traitors to the revolution, and whom the Old Right regards as traitors to the nation? The Socialists have to think of the future, and the young technocrats of Rocard's Parti Socialiste Unifié are even less inclined to take the Communists seriously. They are looking to a day when socialism will no longer be identified with Moscow. When that time comes, it will be the end for the CP, as well as for its Trotskyist and Maoist offshoots: all of them mouthing a language that is fifty years out of date.
It will also be the end for that section of the Right which for decades has kept going by casting itself in the role of the Archangel Michael battling the demons of hell. De Gaulle, who never took the Communists seriously, for years made a habit of warning his television audiences of the awful fate in store for them if Satan's legions were to invade the heavenly citadel. He knew as well as anyone that few Frenchmen were intent on being governed by a bunch of Stalinist liars and murderers, but it suited him to pretend otherwise. Gaullism defined itself in nationalist terms, and Malraux never tired of proclaiming that Frenchmen must choose between the nation and its enemies. When the General stepped down, men like Debré stood ready to repeat the same tune (while privately telling the Russians not to worry: French foreign policy would remain unchanged). But something unexpected happened: the Right having lost its Man of Destiny, and the Left having committed harakiri, the voters plumped for Pompidou.
The French people put up with de Gaulle for a decade because they were tired of the parliamentary circus and because the General appealed to the romantic streak in them. They knew him too well to think of him as a dictator, and they greatly enjoyed his rudeness to foreigners. Unlike the more imaginative foreign correspondents stationed in Paris, they did not see him as a threat to their liberties. The boredom of state-controlled television apart (and one could always tune in to foreign stations), the Fifth Republic was not particularly oppressive. The gendarmerie behaved no worse than it had done under the Fourth. Every conceivable party and sect went on flourishing, and the entire press—including Trotskyist and Anarchist journals—drew concealed state subsidies in the form of lowered cable and telephone rates. The universities were full of old Marxists, and the film studios overrun by young Anarchists. When a few left-wing organizations were “dissolved” (on paper) after the general strike, they moved next door and gave themselves a new name. Wages were low, but they finally went up after the strike. The only real sufferers were the mainstay of Gaullism—the country folk in general and the small holders in particlar.
For these were the years when France at last became a modern country, and the Gaullist technocracy had no use for the peasant. It wanted him to leave his village for the nearest town, and it did its level best to speed his departure. Millions did leave, thereby worsening an already grave housing shortage and swelling the number of opposition voters. The regime in fact sawed off the branch on which it was sitting. Its electoral clientele was overwhelmingly made up of peasants, shopkeepers, housewives, pensioners, and elderly veterans of two world wars. It systematically discriminated against them in favor of industry, large-scale mechanized farming, supermarkets, motor cars, and nuclear arms designed to replace the traditional infantry. The trick worked for a decade because the country was enamored of Charles de Gaulle. While he held the stage it was possible to overlook the fact that his ministers were bankers or planners who had no use for the old traditional France of the peasant farm and the corner grocery.
The general strike in May 1968 briefly terrified the peasantry and the lower-middle-class into voting for the Gaullists, but by April of the following year the General's magic had begun to pall. The referendum campaign was lost because a section of the conservative electorate stayed home on polling day. Peasants and shopkeepers had been angered by a further tightening of the tax screw, and their faith in the General was on the wane. “They know they're condemned by the modern world and they're at their wits' end,” a Senatorial friend of Poher remarked with engaging candor after the referendum results were announced. “All they ask for is a little understanding—just enough to give them time to adapt themselves to the situation.” It was this section of Old France which briefly looked to Poher. He seemed sympathetic to their needs—the other candidates less so.
Gaullism had always meant two different things: the General and his party. The former drew 80 per cent of the popular vote in his first referendum of October 1958, when a new Constitution was adopted after the parliamentary regime had collapsed. He held the loyalty of 60 to 80 per cent of the voters during the years of the Algerian drama, when the country was poised on the edge of civil war. He got his new Constitution amended by over 60 per cent in 1962, with the Presidency for the first time thrown open to popular vote. Three years later he was forced into a run-off under the very electoral law he had driven through. Yet all the time his party never approached a majority. It polled no more than 20 per cent of the vote against his own 80 in 1958, and barely 47 per cent ten years later, after the failure of the general strike. These same 47 per cent turned out once more in the April referendum. It was not enough. The magic had began to wear off. Too many angry shopkeepers stayed at home. Too many workers, politicized by the general strike, followed the lead of their unions and voted “no.” Too many young people, for whom talk of 1940 and the Resistance meant nothing, demonstrated against what they called a “police state” (they had never seen a real one). Too many pro-Americans, pro-Europeans, or pro-Israelis concluded that it was time for the Old Man to go. He had traded on their fear of chaos, but that fear was diminishing. In June 1968 the French had discovered Pompidou. In April 1969 some of them discovered a hitherto unknown Senator called Poher. If it was a matter of exchanging Don Quixote for Sancho Panza these voters knew where to turn.
The general knew it too. His departure was in character. The man who had reproached Napoleon with having “muffed his exit” was determined to choose his own manner of going. There was to be no Waterloo, rather a dignified retreat from an untenable position. If the nation rejected him, he would retire to his country estate like a true Roman. But why gamble on the outcome of yet another popular referendum, when the proposed reform legislation could have been rammed through the National Assembly by the compact Gaullist majority? Quite possibly he thought he could win. The terrain had been carefully chosen. Decentralization of government was popular, and under normal circumstances would have swung the small-town conservative vote. The reform of the Senate was copied—down to details—from Mendès-France's very similar proposals in his book La République moderne (1962). There was nothing wrong with the broad strategy of the appeal. The tactical mistake lay in underrating the resentment of a provincial middle class which had been paying for the country's modernization. These people traditionally took their lead from the local notables: the half-million town councillors and other worthies who administer France's 30,000 urban and rural communes. In the past they had underpinned the parliamentary Republic. Then for a decade most of them had supported or tolerated de Gaulle from fear of revolution. In May-June 1968 they discovered to their amazement that the Communist party was a paper tiger. Thereafter they began to think in terms of “après de Gaulle.”
Class analysis led to similar results. The grande bourgeoisie of bankers and industrialists was mostly for Pompidou: a great organizer and a man to be trusted. The managerial stratum was split: a section of it favored Mendès-France. Younger technicians, professional men, and white-collar workers looked into the mirror and what they saw bore some resemblance to Michel Rocard: a Socialist but a youthful technocrat too, no friend of revolution and other lost causes that might appeal to students besotted by the bearded image of Che Guevara. Christian Democrats and most Social Democrats would eventually vote for Poher, thus swelling his popular following. Was that enough to elect him? And, if elected, would he take the country back to parliamentary rule? In any case, he represented those elements of Old France who urged that the tempo of modernization be slowed down.
The rest was standard stuff, including the poisonous remark about “Jewish gold,” attributed to France's official delegate at the United Nations, and promptly denied in Paris when the inevitable protests rolled in. Mudslinging is part of the game, and the French have traditionally excelled in it. Old-timers in Paris can recall the days when elections were lost or won by accusing one's opponents of being in the pay of foreigners. “This is going to be the dirtiest campaign ever,” some of these veterans said with relish in early May. It wasn't—television saw to that. The medium does not lend itself to the sort of character assassination that is promoted by underhand whispering campaigns impugning a candidate's personal honor. A certain amount of filth was duly put into circulation, but it was tedious stuff, hardly worth the bother. Mme. Pompidou was said to have attended Parisian orgies also frequented by other fashionable people vaguely involved in the squalid Marcovic murder case. Mme. Poher was said to have gone mad and to have been shipped off to South America by her husband: this came as a surprise to the neighbors who saw her shopping as usual. By the standards of the Fourth Republic—not to mention the Third—it was a poor performance, and a lot of it boomeranged on the organizers. The France of 1969 had outgrown Clochemerle. It had at long last become a modern country, and as such it chose Pompidou.
The real issues had been blurred by the General's idiosyncratic style, his personal charisma, and the ceremonial aspect of Gaullism as a system of government. Both Poher and Pompidou were obliged to repudiate this part of the heritage, and Poher at least managed to sound like a Fourth Republic politician. The small-town electorate liked his modesty. The managerial stratum was less enthusiastic. A section of it had been seduced by the technocratic aspect of Gaullism while the others hankered after socialism. With Poher one would have republican democracy, but was that enough?
The General did nothing to make things easier for the faithful. His departure for County Kerry looked like a gesture of disdain, but it could also be interpreted as a silent disavowal of his heir-apparent. Had de Gaulle lost faith in Pompidou? At any rate he did not help him much by vacating the scene in this manner. It was one thing to return to Colombey. It was another matter to leave the country without a word of encouragement for his former Prime Minister, now battling for his political life. In May 1968 de Gaulle had looked like Canute trying to hold back the tide. A year later he seemed intent on playing Lear or Timon. It suited his temper to signify that the French were unworthy of him, but it did not help Gaullism as a movement capable of surviving its founder. Nor did it advance the cause of “participation” (for practical purposes meaning profit-sharing in industry). This had been an ancient hobby-horse of socially-minded Catholics. The employers did not care for it, and neither did the unions. But if “participation” went down the drain, what was left of Gaullism? And if Gaullism was a lost cause, then the choice narrowed down to Pompidou's technocratic “pragmatism” (blessed word), and the small-town respectability of Poher, “the French Harry Truman.”
How genuine was the choice anyway? Pompidou—born in the mountain village of Montboudif in the Auvergne (a source of endless hilarity to his countrymen)—was the son of a Socialist schoolteacher and the grandson of a peasant. Himself a professor of Greek before becoming a civil servant, then a banker, finally de Gaulle's Prime Minister, he could be said to represent both the old France and the new. Win or lose, his cause would go marching on. And what was that cause if not the transformation of France into a modern industrial country? And Europe? But the Europe of Poher and his friends was not easy to distinguish from that of Pompidou. The Gaullists indeed had always opposed federalism: the creation of a supra-national European government. But if the Christian Democrats were closer to Bonn on this issue, the Gaullists might discover a certain fondness for the Britain of Toryism and Enoch Powell: a politician who seemed marked out for the cause of Anglo-French reconciliation in the 1970's. Such a reconciliation would mean the sharing of Britain's nuclear arsenal with that of France, but once the Big Two had come to terms, there would be no difficulty about that. If Washington and Moscow were willing to cooperate, then why should Europe not concentrate on its own affairs? And if Europe included Britain, then why should a British government not pool its nuclear forces with those of the Continent? Pour quoi faire? Mais mon Dieu, pour ne rien faire! A federalized Europe would be a neutral Europe. Did anyone suppose that West Europeans would volunteer to serve in a war against China? They had not even sent a battalion to Vietnam!
Every age has its own cant. Ours is that of “pragmatism,” a phrase designed to conceal the fact that the old conservative-liberal ideologies are dying and nothing else has yet taken their place. Technocracy? But how can one glamorize it? Call it “socialism” or what you will, but don't go about proclaiming that henceforth the world is going to be run by astronauts and such-like characters, not to mention nuclear physicists or prophets like Herman Kahn. Technocracy is a state of affairs, and pragmatism is a state of mind. Neither represents a system of beliefs. and people have to believe in something: France, Europe, America, the Soviet Union, the Cultural Revolution, Black Power, or what-you-will. Technocracy fills the vacuum left by the disappearance of liberal democracy in its 19th-century form, but it is not something that anyone is going to shed blood for. This was the hard core of sense in de Gaulle's sneers about the “stateless bureaucrats” in charge of the Common Market. Europe? A splendid ideal, but not at the expense of France if you please. France has been there for a thousand years and men have died for it. This is how nations are born. It is still true. If Biafra ever becomes a nation, it will have been at the cost of blood. Not to mention Israel . . . (“Of course they are admirable people,” the General blandly remarked to protesting Gaullists the day after he had imposed the arms embargo . . . ) Are the Europeans ready to die for Europe? One doubts it.
At Colombey the old soldier now has time to complete his memoirs, while his successors divide his heritage. For the rest one may be sure he will carry on as usual: thinking of France and despising the French. “They will return to their vomit,” he said contemptuously some years ago, when asked what would happen to the country after his departure. They have in fact decided to go forward so as to become part of the modern world, and while the process is not quite complete, it is far enough advanced to make it improbable that anyone can reverse it. Now that the archaic armature of Gaullism has been removed, the lineaments of a new society are becoming discernible. Strange to relate, it is a society not greatly different from the new Germany across the Rhine. When the historians get down to the writing of this chapter, they are likely to conclude that Charles de Gaulle presided over a transformation that spelled the death of everything in which he believed.