Monday, May 10, 2021

Charles De Gaulle: The Oddity

When leaders fail, new leaders are projected upward out of the eternal spirit of France: from Charlemagne to Joan of Arc to Napoleon, Poincaré and Clemenceau. Perhaps this time I am one of those thrust into leadership by the failure of others.

Charles De Gaulle


The First World War resulted in a pyrrhic victory for France.  During the course of the war, it lost about one and half million men which equates to roughly one thousand men a day, about ten percent of the male population. Six and half million men were wounded of which over a million were mutliés, i.e. maimed or disfigured. The experience of war had deeply traumatised the  country and and had and had changed its national  temperament, similar in the way the U.S. was affected after Vietnam.  The country's strong sense of militant nationalism gave way to a malaise. Whereas before the war, the military were held in esteem, the experience of war and sense of national grief lead to a loss its prestige and an air of pacifism and hedonism took its place.

The needs of war temporarily put aside the national conflict between left and right, which gradually asserted itself again with the onset of peace. Further complicating matters was the relationship between the religious and the secular, which while still tense, was not as poisonous as in the pre-war years. And even within the French Catholic Church there was a broad division between the traditionalists and the liberals.

With regard to the French Left, and I'm painting in broad strokes here, who were the the lackeys for soviet communism, they worked to co-opt pacifistic trends for their masters advantage. Through economic and industrial sabotage the damaged the french economy, policy and national will.  There loyalty was primarily to a Soviet France and they danced to the tune played by Moscow. Their loyalty to France was conditional on soviet directives. and when the soviets wanted them to support Germany they did.

The Right in France were an all-together different beast. The main right organisation was Action Francaise.  It was pro-monarchy, pro-France, pro-Catholic and anti-Left. Led by Charles Maurras, a brilliant writer and journalist, he had dubious distinction of advocating a Catholic France while being totally contemptuous of religion.  Despite regarding belief with disdain, Maurras regarded it as valuable because of its social utility. He supported Catholicism because it was the historical religion of France, but but to him this was just an accident of history, and if France had had an Islamic tradition, he would have supported it as well.  The fact that the leading advocate of the largest right wing organisation in France was openly contemptuous of religion did bother some  of the religious, but that didn't stop many clergy--some of them at extremely high levels of the French church-- from supporting it and singing its praises.

The picture that I'm trying to paint is of a divided, depressed, hypocritical and wounded society which had deep social, economic, moral and religious problems. Two books which deal with the subject matter well are Eugen Weber's The Hollow Years which tackles the subject from a sociological level, and Yves Simon' brilliant book, The Road to Vichy which tackles it from a moral one. Simon's book is better, in my opinion, in understanding the near utter corruption of France's cultural institutions and population. A good summary of it can be found here.

The bottom line is that the France was a deeply traumatised country which seemed to want to forget the war and enjoy itself, all the while avoiding the menacing reality on its eastern border. What also strikes you, when you read the biographies of De Gaulle, is just how "culturally" different he was both to his contemporaries, and outside the temper of his own times. In many ways he was a throwback to values from before the war--though from the avant-garde* conservative element -- possessing a sense of realism that was lacking in many Frenchmen.  While he was not a "popular" fellow, he had superiors who recognised his intellect and abilities and ensured his progression through the ranks. By the eve of the war in France, he was a brigadier general commanding a tank division, attaining his rank from success in armoured combat. His success in battle earned him a promotion as the government minister. Even in government he was an oddity, because when the French finally capitulated against the Germans he decided to fight on.

The point that I'm trying to emphasise here is that De Gaulle  was an outsider and not someone  cut from the same prevailing cloth that made up the French governing classes of the time. He possessed a different set of values and this is the key to understanding the man and his subsequent actions.

It is very important to understand that the French ruling class of the 1930's--both right and left--was rotten.  De Gaulle was an outsider, and his rise through the ranks was not political but driven by the force of circumstances which highlighted competency in a time of crisis and rendered "political" skills inconsequential . And when I reflect on his rise, it always strikes me as remarkable how this oddity, this man who was different, ended up being in a position where he were he could with legitimacy speak for a France that did not want to capitulate.

There were Frenchmen who wanted to fight but it appears to be that there were none in Government. What further emphasises this point, it that when he put out his appeal for men to join him in England, not one intellectual, politician or senior diplomat wanted to join him.  As Don Cook, in his biography of him wrote:

In those early days, it was not men of experience or leadership, it was not the intellectuals or politicians or administrators or serving officers who were the first Gaullists and rallied to the Cross of Lorraine. They did not come from the châteaus or cathedrals, but from the parish churches and the synagogues, the French of the Paris Métro, the fishing villages, the factories, for whom all was clear and simple.
By and large the French educated and administrative classes were rotten and De Gaulle seemed to be the last vestigal element of what was good in it. I'm not trying to be melodramatic here but the facts speak for themselves. As De Gaulle took off from french soil for England, Churchill's comments were close to the mark.
He carried with him in his small air plane the honor of France

When De Gaulle arrived in England he was looking for an officer or official to serve under. He wrote to various French officials who could of assumed the role but none replied. Then he realised he was on his own. He didn't seek power, it was thrust on him. Realising he was on his own he made the decisive choice:

It was up to me to take responsibility for France
All his subsequent actions can be understood as the application of his principles to the custodianship of France. The reason why he baffled and infuriated his allies is because he was not like them.

*I think a point that doesn't get emphasised enough is just how well read and intelligent De Gaulle was. What really surprised me as I looked into him more deeply, is just how intellectual actually he was and just how influenced he was by the small coterie of French dissident Right thinkers who were repelled by Action Francaise and yet did not drift to the Left.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Julian Jackson's book on Charles De Gaulle

Now, I'll tell you how I felt about de Gaulle. About two years before de Gaulle came back into office I began to tell Dulles, I said, now look, Foster, our only hope in Europe is to get de Gaulle back in. He is the only man that will save that country. Now, let's make no mistake -- this man is not easy to deal with and, I said, as a matter of fact, that I was probably the only American that was welcome in his house. But the thing is, only he can save France, and France is going down the drain.

(Dwight Eisenhower, Interview Transcript)

I haven't been posting for a while thanks to commentator Jason. As a result of his recommendation to read Julian Jackson's biography of Charles De Gaulle, I've ended up falling down a rabbit hole of contemporary french history, European politics, philosophy and theology which I'm still trying to make my way through.

I've always had a great respect for Charles De Gaulle, ever since I read my first biography about him. I have always considered him one of the great statesmen of the 20th C. In light of the new material that I've been acquainted with I have now re-evaluated my opinion of the man and regard him as its greatest. I say that with the full recognition of the other famous leaders and their circumstances. Perhaps his nearest competitors are Konrad Adenauer, Lee Kwan Yew and Theodore Roosevelt but for a variety of reasons I feel that none of them was able to achieve so much with the hand that fortune had dealt them.

But first to Julian Jackson's biography.

A Certain Idea of France has achieved many accolades and I must admit the book is well written. I had actually read bits of pieces of it in the past but had not tackled it in its totality before. Jackson is a great story teller and gives a great account of De Gaulle's tumultuous life. The book is great on detail without getting boring and it does appear that Jackson is trying to give a fair and balanced account of De Gaulle's life. However, it does appear to me that the French critics of the book are to a certain degree right, in that the book gives a very British view of his life. And what I think the French critics are saying is that the British interpret De Gaulle incorrectly and I think that they are right.

The problem with Jackson's book is while he gives a good account of the life of the General but in my impression there's a "spin" to it, either conscious or unconscious, that is really not corroborated by an investigation of the facts which leads me to the conclusion that the author did not really understand his subject matter. He gave a good rendition of his life without understanding the man.

The Anglo-Saxon approach to De Gaulle tends to emphasise the negative experience of his personality as if this was an unavoidable feature of a "man of history." He is described a prickly, petty, cold, aloof, arrogant, ungrateful and spiteful man, especially to the British.  One really gets the impression that De Gaulle was a unnecessary "pain in the arse" and did everything he could to sabotage the latent goodwill of the British and Americans toward him. Furthermore, while Jackson, does acknowledge De Gaulle's patriotism it does appear to me that Jackson suggests that there is calculating Machiavellian component to it that poisons it's sincerity.

The impression that I got from Jackson was the De Gaulle was a disagreeable politician that was scheming for somewhat cynically for French dominance, particularly in Europe. And then while looking a bit deeper into some of the issues involved, I came upon this interesting interview with Dwight Eisenhower which gave me the impression of a totally different man. (It's worth a read)

Something wasn't right.

Part of my trip through the rabbit hole has been trying to work out which of the two versions of De Gaulle is correct. It's my opinion that Eisenhower's assessment is a truer understanding the man.

And that's where things get really interesting. In trying to understand De Gaulle you begin realise the greatness of his being and the vision he was trying to implement with the limited means at his disposal, all the time being undermined by "friends" and enemies. In a sort of super-Nietzschean sense, it was not enough for him to will himself to power, he willed France to power, particularly "a certain idea of it". The tragedy of his story is that the French people in 1968--as in 1939--weren't up to the task, and as Michael Houllebecq has demonstrated in his novels, they preferred mediocrity to greatness.

De Gaull's conception of French "greatness" was based up a deep sense of its history and culture. He saw France as a "light to the world" and it was only when the French were fulfilling this role were they truly themselves. At the bottom of this is an identitarian conception of France which saw it as having a unique  role in the world.

Identity is a keen theme in the philosophy of De Gaulle and it's important to understand that he didn't want the world to be "French" as much as he wanted the world to be influenced by France. No where was this line of thinking more evident than his conception of the European Union which he saw as a "Europe of patries" where each nation maintained his identity as opposed to a supranational european state which suppressed them. He would have supported Brexit, not because he hated the British but because, in a certain sort of way and no matter how much it exasperated him, he loved them being British.

De Gaulle’s concern was that political decisions affecting Europe should be made primarily by national leaders attached to national realities as they sought to negotiate outcomes that would first benefit their nations and thereby Europe as a whole. No doubt, this demanded a degree of statesmanship which (de Gaulle would undoubtedly agree!) was probably beyond most national leaders. But to refer to “Europe” as a political entity without more-or-less immediately speaking about European nations risked, from de Gaulle’s standpoint, precipitating a slide into a highly technocratic conception of Europe: one which viewed the differences between European peoples which reflect the rich tapestry of European culture as atavisms that obstructed the realization of perpetual peace and an apolitical empire ruled by largely unaccountable bureaucrats.

Samuel Gregg

Jackson misses the point that much of De Gaulle's intransigence and rudeness--on many occasions completely justified--came about as result of his attempts to reassert both French and European identity against the homogenising influences of Modernity, particularly the Anglo variety.  It's interesting to see that one of his most pointed criticism of Churchill was that he subordinated the British identity and independence to that of the United States. De Gualle never allowed France to follow this course; to his core he believed in the primacy of identity.

Jackson frequently attributes De Gaulle's identitarian impulse as reaction to the "humiliations" of a "dependent France" suffered by the hands of Britain, U.S and Nazi Germany, but here I think he has also missed the mark.

De Gaulle was perhaps one of the most "intellectual" politicians of the 20th C.  He thought deeply about  about the issues of nation and state, politics, religion and history. He read widely and deeply and his identitarian politics were as a result of a deep understanding of the human condition and politics. De Gaulle was no reactionary, he was a positive identitarian.

But what also struck me while digging deeper into his life is just how important religion was to him and just how influenced he was influenced by many of the writers associated with the Nouvelle Theology movement: Bergson, Maritan, Bernanos, Mauriac, but most particularly Charles Peguy. While there is no doubt that he was quite "conservative" and sympathetic to Action Francaise, he was not cut of their cloth. If I have understood De Gaulle at all, then his vision of France was influenced by a new "Right Wing" version of Catholicism which was able to transcend the moribund traditionalism of the past while avoiding the idiocies of its "liberal" opposition.

People who have frequented this blog will know that I think that one of the reasons why Christianity is in decline is because it affected by a heresy akin to Buddhism which has sapped it of its vitality. What surprised me was that what De Gaulle embodied--and attempted to instill politically-- was a spirit of anti-buddhism which he drew from these "nouvelle theological" authors.  He wanted Christianity, France and Europe to live. Unfortunately, he was undermined by other.

The political Right--and I'm not including Conservative Inc. in this group--seems rudderless at the moment. I think there is a lot of profit to be made from studying De Gaulle and the authors that influenced him. His ideas on nation, identity, history and politics bring a different approach to right wing thought. While Julian Jackson's book is a good read and has chronicalled his life well you'll miss the man for the history and hence the book is not a good start.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Happy "Non Judeo-Christian" Day


My children are politically interested but not woke and one of them, in particular, is quite cynical. This morning, over breakfast, he asked me how I would spin the Easter story if I were a Neocon.  I was actually surprised by this question as I'd never thought about this approach before.  Never mind,  the local "conservative" paper, in the form of an editorial on the meaning of Easter came up with the goods. It included this bit which I thought hit the mark perfectly:

Faith is no short-term proposition, as Scott Morrison acknowledged in his Passover message to Australia’s Jewish community last week. “From ancient times to the present day, Jewish people have been blessed with a rich identity, a deep understanding of the past, and a fierce commitment to liberty,” the Prime Minister said. “That identity enriches the lives of those around them.” He quoted the late British rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Freedom is the work of a nation, nations need identity, identity needs memory, and memory is encoded in the stories we tell.” On Sunday, Jewish families will mark the final day of Passover, which ends after nightfall. Passover and Easter have been inextricably linked from the night Christ gathered his disciples in Jerusalem to eat the Passover meal — his Last Supper. There, he instituted the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood and showed a supreme model for fraternal service, washing his disciples’ feet. It was the night before his passion and crucifixion.

Now, I must admit that I thought that emphasising of the Jewish component of Easter sort of missed the mark, not because there isn't a historical link between the Passover and the Crucifixion but because the "tone" of the article tends to paint an equivalence between the two. This, I felt, is disingenuous in that the relationship between Judaism and Easter is not so much "linked" as in opposition. I don't think that I'm being unjust to Judaism in stating that their "take" on Christ is in total opposition to the Christian.  Now it's quite true that there is a common historical origin of the two faiths--as there is with Islam as well--but the difference in the understanding of the role of Christ who is the central figure of the Christian faith, and his relationship to God, makes the idea of a Judeo-Christian "tradition" after the crucifixion ridiculous. Yes there is a tradition, but as I said before, it's a tradition of opposition. In fact, it would be closer to the mark that to say that there is a Judeo-Islamic "tradition" of denying the claims that Christ made of himself.

I can see the anti-Semitic radars firing up and I want to stress that this is not what I'm intending in this piece, rather I wish to point out that if you take Judaism and Christianity seriously you will see that the interpretations of the life of Christ are completely different.  The concept of Judeo-Christianity dishonors both traditions. When I see the term used approvingly by an author it's usually a sure sign that they're not intellectually serious.

The other day I was reading of how St Thomas remarked that there were other ways--beside the crucifixion-- by which Christ could have saved men but that God chose the most "fitting". And while it's true that the lion's share of the work of salvation was done on Good Friday what better way to prove your divinity to mortal men than by rising yourself from the dead.

It's a hard act to beat.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Modern Christian Dilemma

Apologies for not posting for a while but as I've mentioned in the comments section of a previous post, I'm currently down follow intellectual rabbit holes which came about from reading a biography of Charles De Gaulle and I'll hopefully be posting properly soon.

However commentator MK gave me a heads up with regards to an interview of Rod Dreher by Aaron Renn and wanted to know my thoughts about it. In my opinion the pivotal moment of the interview occurs when Renn quotes Dreher a passage of his own writing. From Retribalising America:

Eventually, the provocations of Social Justice Warriors, especially when they are race-based, is going to empower the militant whites, especially those drawn to pagan masculinity, and they are going to do what the rest of us would not do: Fight. This, because the best — that is, those who want peace, civility, and tolerance — lack all conviction to defend the conditions under which we can have those things against their enemies.
Renn then asks Dreher "Why cant we [Ed: Christians] fight?"

Dreher: "How can we do that? I'm not trying to be provocative, I'm really trying to figure this out."

Here is the YouTube link to the interview segment.

I don't think Dreher was trying to avoid the question here rather the Christianity that Dreher espouses inhibits any type of fighting back.  I don't think that it's an issue of "conviction" as much as it is a perversion of Christianity which sees any type of righteous assertion as immoral. The "suffering" Jesus is seen as a moral example, the Jesus who chased the money lenders from the temple is ignored.

I really want to go back to one of my favourite quotes from Chesterton's, Orthodoxy:
So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It IS true that the Church told some men to fight [ED] and others not to fight; and it IS true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be SOME good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be SOME good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks. The Quakers became a club instead of becoming a sect. Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans are not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it. The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is--Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.
Chesterton recognised that "sound" Christianity was able to incorporate the gentleness of the lamb with the fierceness of the lion. How it did so is for a later time. But was happened over the last century or so is that Christianity has deligitimised the lion's nature and told it to be more lamb like.  In fact, what Christianity has done, through a Kenotic interpretation of itself, is told the lion to treat the lamb as a type of Buddha and incorporate himself within it, resulting in both a destruction of it's identity and nature. Chesterton saw that the pacifistic trend in Christianity had strong tendencies with Buddhism.

We don't have a Church that "told some men to fight" as it did in the Ages of the Faith. This could either be as a result of a doctrinal development or as a result of heresy. But as the Master says: "you judge a tree by it's fruit" and contemporary Christianity, especially in the West has been bleeding. The empirical evidence leads points to the latter.

The thing about heresies is that none of the heretics think that they are wrong and it just might be that we're in another one of those ages, like during the Arian controversy, when the laity were right and the senior clergy wrong.  Note, this trend in Christianity--especially Catholic Christianity--has been gaining traction over the last century, so this isn't a post Vatican two effect.

As for "fighting" I think our primary purpose at the moment should be to drive out the kenotic heresy from our Churches.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Paragraphs to Ponder

As Rod Dreher wails, I was struck by this passage in Eugen Weber's, The Hollow Years. In many ways, France in the 1930's was much like the U.S. is today.

Then came defeat--not quite, as Maurras put it, a divine surprise, but as in 1871, explained as providential. "France's calamities," opined the rector of Questembert, "provided a providential occasion to re-forge Christendom" where it had gone to pot. Conveniently for the soldiers who now ran the show; priests everywhere clamored that the 'War had been lost by godless schoolteachers, or else by the stupidity of universal suffrage, or else by failures in Church discipline. A major cause of the country's punishment, Canon Chaplain of Lambezellec informed the diocesan school inspector, was the profanation of Sunday. Chastisement was well deserved. Re-sanctify the Lord's Day and all would change for the better. French sins justified divine punishment, wrote Monsignor Salige, archbishop of Toulouse, who would become a cardinal at the Liberation for his Resistance activities. Given how the victory of 1918 had been wasted, what would the French have done had they been granted victory in 1940? Better penitence. The annual pilgrimage of Rocamadour at the end of June would in 1940 be "penitential": dedicated to accepting the country's harsh ordeal "in a spirit of reparation."

The progressive Cardinal Lienart became an ardent supporter of Philippe Petain, perhaps because of the subsidies that Vichy now provided to Catholic schools. So did Alfred Cardinal Baudrillart, who shortly before had found in Hitler "our only sheet anchor against Bolsheviks and Communists." Most of the episcopate took similar positions, declaring their "veneration" for Petain and calling on the faithful to support his endeavors. They were hardly exceptional. Most of the French supported Petain, at first with hope and then with resignation. Why should their Church be different? 

 The intra-Catholic war meanwhile continued. Aube and Esprit were prohibited; Mounier, who wanted "to arm French souls against Nazi contamination," was imprisoned. Traditional Catholics continued to denounce progressive heretics like him, his friends, and those of Aube, Christian Democracy, resistant to reaction, bred resistants to the order that reaction introduced: Edmond Michelet in Correze, Charles d'Aragon in the Tarn, Maurice Bye and Etienne Borne in the Haute Garonne, and those still better known, like Maurice Schumann and Georges Bidault. Some of the most visible collaborators--Henriot, Brasillach, Darnand--were also visible Catholics. Numerous members of Darnand's militia died crying, “Long Live Christ the King," at their execution. But Catholics who fought Vichy and the Germans were even more visible; 216 priests were killed or executed, 118 members of the Catholic student association, too. The role they and their fellows played to the Resistance defused what hostility to the Church there was. As one Catholic wrote to the bishop of Marseilles. without their courage to disobey their pastors and follow their, consciences "neither you nor most of your fellow bishops would sit in your seats today.

It's a real bother, said God. When the French won't be around any more, there are things that I do, there won't be anyone to understand them." But Charles Peguy, who wrote these words, never thought, though well he might have done, that the French, who understood so well the things God did, fathomed them in a variety of ways. Catholics did not agree among themselves, sometimes within themselves. Would Peguy, the Christian patriot, have been in London with de Gaulle or in Vichy with Petain? Both claimed him for their own, as they claimed God. And God could have been on the Right with either.

I have absolutely no doubt that Peguy would have sided with De Gaulle. He, like De Gaulle, shared "a certain idea about France."

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas

 Wishing all my readers the a Merry Christmas.

Here's some Christian civilisation for you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Possible Developments in the Pell Case

How it began:

From The Guardian,

How it's going.

From The Daily Mail:

The Australian newspaper has more details (behind paywall) but apparently the money was transferred across in forty thousand transactions.

That's 2.3 Billion dollars. Serious money.

Sky News has a good segment on the subject.

From what I've read on the subject, it appears that the Vatican bank was a personal fiefdom of several corrupt cardinals and they were laundering money. 

And I don't think Francis or the other Popes were aware of this.

That's a huge problem.