Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Une certaine idée de la France

It's always annoying to find out how much better Mark Steyn says it than me. Steyn on the French referendum / European constitution vote:

"Commies, Fascists, racists, eco-nutters, union thugs, subsidised farmers, middle-aged "students", Trotskyite professors and welfare spongers win one for the, er, good guys."

Read the whole Daily Telegraph column, here.


Then there is the elevation of the poisonous Dominique de Villepin from foreign minister during the Iraq War to interior minister until yesterday and now prime minister. I have spoken with some kindness on this blog about de Villepin for the sole reason that he quotes the great French poet Rene Char as the title for his latest book, The Shark and the Seagull. However, we have to remember something very important about de Villepin. When he first came on the scene, I thought, a typical left-neo-Gaullist. They come, they go. And anyway, I have a deep admiration for de Gaulle, and I even admire Gaullism for its unabashed assertion of French values and interests.

Villepin is something quite different, however. He is a genuine, dyed in the wool Bonapartist. I don't just mean all the busts and portraits of the Great Man in his office, or even his weird book on Napoleon. Villepin really sees himself as the heir to Bonaparte, his reincarnation, in a way that de Gaulle never would have considered - would have found shocking, in fact, shocking to his une certaine idée de la France. Which is another way of saying that de Gaulle really was a great man - and I take that on board despite his deep anti-Americanism - while Villepin is a popinjay, but a dangerous one in power. Camus wrote in The Rebel about the dangers of the dandy in politics, carrying his romanticism and cult of personality into relations between nations - this is Villepin. Ambitious, ruthless, and a romantic dandy, cultifying Bonaparte in a way that even Julien Sorel would have found odious because he hopes to reincarnate him. For Villepin, the European constitution is an integral part of the Napoleonic project for France - France's neo-imperialism within Europe itself - and hence particularly annoying to be betrayed by the citizens of France in their Sunday vote.

I love to visit the de Gaulle museum in Paris - I took my daughter there last year. Napoleon's tomb, on the other hand, gives me the creeps.

O France, you have your modern day Bonaparte; where is your modern day Mme de Stael?

As I've written before here about Dominique de Villepin, he almost perfectly encapsulates Stendhal's remark about Julien Sorel in the Red and the Black:

"Julien fell asleep, dreaming of honors for himself, and liberties for everyone else."

(Then there is the minor issue that Villepin never owned up to in all those acrimonious Security Council sessions before the Iraq War - that through the oil-for-food program, Saddam seems to have believed that he had bought off France and Russia, and hence he was safe. Saddam and France miscalculated, believing that the US, obedient to the line put out by all those liberal internationalists, would not dare attack Iraq without Security Council approval. The oil for food bribery nearly worked - even as French diplomats dismissed any possiblity of a financial stake for France by saying that they had written off Iraq's debts to French companies long before.)

And if de Villepin can quote Rene Char, so can I, from Char's WWII Resistance journal, Leaves of Hypnos, No. 20 (this translation by Cid Corman):

"I think of that army of cowards with their appetites for dictatorship that will perhaps be seen again in power, in this forgetful contry, by those who survive this time of damned algebra."

(Update, Wednesday, June 1, 2005: Anne Applebaum, in her column today on the Washington Post opinion page, points out as well that France's new prime minister, de Villepin, has never stood for any electoral office, never stood in any democratic election. That was not, of course, true even of de Gaulle - but was true, so far as I remember, of Bonaparte. First Citizen, indeed.)

1 comment:

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