Friday, December 24, 2021

Some Thoughts on George Bailey and the Incarnation

Blogging has been scarce since I've been a bit burned out but I thought I should make an effort for Christmas.

Protestantism gets a bad rap among many on the right and I think some of the traditional criticisms of it are justified. However, as I've mentioned before most analysis of Protestantism lack quite a bit of nuance and I don't think that Protestantism is as much of a bogeyman as some traditionalists make out.  Many Catholic traditionalists tend to draw a straight line from Protestantism to liberalism and while this may be theoretically plausible real world observations are a bit more complicated.

Most of the readers of this blog know that I am a Catholic, so it may surprise many of you when I say that the main reason why the West is imploding in the moment is primarily due to the numerical collapse of "sound" Protestantism, Catholicism largely being irrelevant in the West's fate.  And the reason why I have come to this view is based up my reflections on modernity and how each religion handled it.

Executive Summary: Protestantism was able to tame modernity, Catholicism wasn't able to engage it at all. The "slouch to Gomorrah" happened when sound Protestantism collapsed.

Richard Weaver was famous for advocating that ideas have consequences but he neglected to mention that so do have material circumstances. The problem with most approaches to understanding modernity is in thinking that modernity is primarily an intellectual phenomenon. This ignores the "carnal" dimension of it. Modernity isn't simply the habit of thinking according to certain ideas, it's also the mode of existence that is generated when the practical application of technology transforms life from an agrarian mode of living to that of an industrial one. What destroyed the old world wasn't just "enlightenment ideas" but fertilizer, the electric motor, railways, radio waves, sewerage etc. Modernity is just as much about "things" and services as it is about ideas.

Modernity's ability to provide goods which satisfy human nature are what powers it.  Modernity's ability to deliver carnal goods such as better foods, pharmaceuticals, comfort and transport make pushing back against it a fools errand,  because in the end human nature wins. Even the Amish go to "modern" doctors. The Taliban use AK-47's and mobile/cell phones. No matter how "traditional" there's always the concession to modernity.

The human demand, and reward, for technological advancement which provides benefit to human nature  is limitless and given the more two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution an incredibly vast and complex logistical, economic, academic and legal infrastructure exists to provide the "fruits of modernity" All of this is staffed by  hundreds of millions of highly specialized individuals who need to be trained for their tasks. These people and the institutions they man are the infrastructure of modernity.

The key point here is that modernity can't happen without this infrastructure,  and who controls this infrastructure controls modernity.

When Max Weber wrote his, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism it was well recognised that Protestant led countries were richer and technologically more advanced than the Catholic ones, they were effectively more modern, they still are. Interesting too, was the fact that the flow of immigrants were from Catholic to Protestant lands and not in the other direction.

Weber felt that religious reasons were the main drivers of this divergence in economic performance and I agree. Weber dwelt a lot on the Protestant virtues, I want to dwell a bit on the Catholic vices.

Charles Peguy felt that one of the reasons that the Catholic Church had lost its grip on the modern world is because the clergy "had reversed the operation of the Incarnation". Whereas God wanted to bring himself into the world, the Clergy reversed this operation and was trying to keep God out of it. And I think the Peguy was right. The issue is how each church viewed holiness.

Holiness, particularly in the Catholic Church is strongly tinged with a sense of asceticism, clericalism and monasticism. As Catholics materially understand it, the practice of a deepening of the relationship with God involves a "renunciation" of this world: a turning away from it. More asceticism, more poverty, more prayers and the assumption of holy orders: monasticism and it quasi equivalents. There even a ranking system, with the saints and martyrs on top, clergy in the middle and laity-those involved in the day to day operations of the world--on the bottom.  The conception of holiness, as Peguy correctly sensed, was an operation away from the day to day affairs of the world.

Culturally, this produced a society which was strong in reasoned argument, great art, deep philosophy but with poor roads,  minimal industrial infrastructure, widespread grinding poverty and lessening real world influence.

Contrast this with the Protestant world,  which emphasised the role of the laity and holiness of a honest vocation, be that in plumbing or philosophy. Protestantism where it was honestly practiced, sought to bring a Christian spirit, be it to education, science, engineering or banking. Protestantism christianised the carnal world. It kept alive the operation of the Incarnation, the bringing of God's love into the material being of day to day life. The result was the world that Max Weber noted.

Protestantism ended up being the custodian of  modernity and subjugated it to it's version of Christianity, Catholicism was left in the lurch because its theology made it unable to do so.

Which brings me to the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I've always enjoyed the movie but only recently have seen some of its deeper theological significance. While Catholicism has been a factory of saints, Protestantism has been a factory of George Bailey's. (Casting Jimmy Stewart was perfect) It is true that he is fictional character, but he is also an archetype of the a type of man that we all know, and the type of high minded Protestant man who is slowly disappearing due to the cultural forces that have been unleashed since the sixties. Although the movie is fictional it, unnervingly, is beginning to resemble real life.  Bedford Falls may be a fictional town but I remember the world I grew up in strongly resembling it, the world I live in now is slowly turning to Pottersville. The genius of the movie is the depiction of what world would have looked like without Protestant George Bailey. The irony of it is that is was made by a Catholic.

Now I do have disagreements with Protestantism, but my intention here is to praise one of its strengths. And its strength was to produce thousands of George Bailey's, who in various fields and in their own small way were able to transform the world. Catholicism may have a great theology of the Incarnation but Protestantism, at its best, produced the goods, and bought Christianity to the day to day affairs of men.

Unfortunately, Protestantism, like Catholicism was gutted in the sixties and its drift toward radical liberalism is far more catastrophic since it controlled the infrastructure of modernity, the mantle of leadership has now been past to men who see George Bailey as a quaint anachronism, not someone to emulate. Catholicism is unable to fill the void.

That's why I think the only way out for the West is for Catholicism to protestantise in such a way to incorporate the legitimacy of the archetype of George Baily or for Protestantism to Catholicism i.e gain some central authority to stop its drift to the left and recapture control of modernity. But discussions about this are for another time.

But on this Christmas Eve, the night before the celebration of the Incarnation, I want to celebrate the George Bailey's of the world, who each in their small way transformed the world. They represent what I consider the best in Protestantism and I would like to wish them all, and all men of good will, a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Anti Buddhist

One of the unexpected consequences of revisiting the life of Charles de Gaulle was a deeper appreciation of man who I frequently ran into while delving into the history books but really didn't understand: Charles Peguy.  

De Gaulle had stated on several occasion that Peguy was--after his father--the greatest influence on his life and an author "who mattered to him immensely".  Which is interesting because most English biographies of de Gaulle scarcely mention him. Yet to know Peguy is understand a lot about de Gaulle and Gaullism. Julian Jackson, in his five best books on Charles de Gaulle states:

I think out of all the books I’ve chosen, Péguy is probably the least well known to an English audience. But the first reason I chose him was that on many occasions de Gaulle said it was the book that most influenced him as a young man and Charles Péguy the author that most influenced him.....

....De Gaulle has a phrase in his war memoirs on the first page where he talks about how for him “France is like a princess in a fairy story, Madonna in a fresco”. That could come straight out of Péguy. Péguy is offering this extraordinary, overarching synthesis of the unity of France, that French history is a continuum and a whole.

De Gaulle once remarked that "he thought and felt exactly as I did'. 

Which is odd because the circumstances of both were wildly different and on superficial appearances there was little to suggest a shared affinity. Contrary to De Gaulle's bourgeois upbringing,  Peguy grew up poor. His father died while Peguy was a child, from wounds sustained in the Franco-Prussian war. His mother, a chair-maker, worked long hours to support the poor family.  However Peguy was precocious, and his intellectual ability was recognised by the local schoolmaster, and the republican educational system, recognising his talents, propelled him from provincial Orleans to the to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.  Dropping his childhood Catholicism for Socialism, he became a student activist and soon became embroiled in the Dreyfus affair, literally fighting in the streets of Paris against those who were convinced Dreyfus was guilty. He never graduated from university, instead became an "essayist", earning a meager income from his journal Cahiers de la Quinzane. Rediscovering his Catholicism in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair he railed against modernity and became "mystical", writing several poems which, while earning him acclaim, earned him little money. A reserve army officer, he was killed leading his troops on the eve of the Battle of the Marne.

So why is he important.

Well, apart from the political legacy he left through his influence of the politics of de Gaulle, he had an indirect influence on the trajectory of Catholicism in the 20th C. Peguy recognised that modernity was changing the world in a way that it had never experienced before and he also recognised that the Christian religion was in deep trouble. A founding, if not principle member, of the ressourcement movement--he coined the term--he excoriated the clergy whom he felt had corrupted the Christian religion and turned men away from God. A man of fierce integrity, his relationship was the Church was highly irregular as he was married to secular woman who refused to baptise their children (he would not so without her agreement) and was thus denied the sacraments.

Interestingly, the young assistant who worked with him in the store in which he published his journal was Jacques Maritain. Peguy set into motion a series of events which caused Maritain to return to the faith. Maritain, in turn, mentored many who become influential in the Nouvelle theology movement which reshaped Catholicism in the 20th C.

Peguy was a fulcrum upon which a lot moved.

Peguy approached religion as poet and not as a theologian, in that his faith was in his heart and not a product of his head. But it would be wrong to say that he "intuited" this rather he seemed to have "sensed"--I'm being specific about the terminology--it in a profound manner. And what he sensed was that the clerical led faith had become detached from the source of it, and he felt that this was the cause of Christianity's atrophy. But it wasn't just this disconnection between the source of the faith and the practice of religon, Peguy also felt that Christianity, particularly in its Jansenist and ascetic elements, had deformed Christianity. There has been perhaps no other Christian that so emphasised the goodness of the carnal world. His was not a Christian spirituality rather it was a word made flesh.  Peguy was big on the goodness of creation and the body.

So why isn't he well known?

As I see it, there were two major problems with Christianity at the dawn of the 20th C. Firstly, there was the source/theology detachment problem which was recognised by a few, but there was also the problem of the  "buddhisation" of Christianity which is hardly recognised even today. At the dawn of the Nouvelle Theology movement there could be said to be two branches, the "traditionalists" and "Peguy". And since Peguy was problematic and died early, the "traditionalist" i.e. Buddhist branch assumed dominance. Peguy's nouvelle theology was a road not traveled.

As said before, Peguy was a probelmatic Christian. For example,  he was fiercely nationalistic which he said was fueled by his Christian faith.  He loathed pacifism and preferred a just war to an unjust peace. He was not a militarist but saw in the profession of arms a shield against the wickedness of malign powers. For Peguy, Christian soldiers provided the space in which the faith could grow unmolested and there was a holy dimension to their profession provided they acted justly and honorably.

"Blessed are those who died for carnal earth

Provided it was in a just war.

Blessed are those who died for a plot of ground.

Blessed are those who died a solemn death."

He literally street-brawled for justice. He preferred to put the hurt on evil rather than suffer it.  His notion of carnality, meant that identity was not an idea but a something rooted in reality. For example, France was not an "idea" but it was carnal thing and to be French, as opposed to a French citizen, were two separate things. He thought that some of the poor, in their attitude to work had become too "bourgeois." He also felt that Jesus wasn't in competition with our identities. We did not all have to become "mini Jesuses" rather we should be the christian version of ourselves.

His was a loving assertive Christianity, there was no kumbayah in him. And his assertive Christianity put him against the "traditional" ascetic "Buddhist" Christianity which assumed prominence in both the traditional and liberal strains of Christianity. He was a Christian knight who did not find an audience among pacifist monks and therefore he is forgotten. When he is mentioned, he is remembered for his "acceptable" points; his piety, his concern for the poor, his religious poetry. They gloss over the disagreeable stuff.

But the question to ask here is who is the more orthodox Christian, the pacifist monk or Peguy? And here a thought experiment is in order: Joseph Ratzinger is probably the deepest, most orthodox of the Nouvelle Theologians. Now could you imagine, even in his young adulthood, the young Ratzinger making a whip out of cords and chasing the money lenders out of the temple, but anyone given a familiarity of Peguy's life could not only imagine it, but could also see Peguy giving a "few extra" for good measure.

Which one better imitates Christ?

Makes you think.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Friedrich Nietzche: A European Buddhism

“I could be the Buddha of Europe: though admittedly an antipode to the Indian Buddha”

(Friedrich Nietzsche)

I've got to admit that I've never read much of Nietzsche simply because he hasn't really interested me that much.  But perhaps I've been wrong. While rummaging through some journal articles I became aware of the fact that he had a reasonably solid understanding of Buddhism and apparently even spent two years learning Sanskrit. Interestingly, a lot of the "Will to power" and "Ubermesch" stuff was a consequence of his understanding of Buddhism and its application to European culture.

What I also found astounding is that there is a fair amount of literature out there looking at the relationship between Nietzsche's thought and Buddhism, the executive summary being that they are more alike than different. What I find interesting is how he also recognised that the decline of European culture will come with it becoming more Buddhist, particularly Christianity, something this blog has mentioned before.

This is form an excellent journal article which summaries his thoughts on the subject which I would highly recommend:

Nietzsche opened his Genealogy of Morals with a revaluation of Schopenhauer, considered as a cultural event in the history of Europe. Thus, at the moment when Schopenhauer's philosophy was a cause celebre, creating spectacular enthusiasm among intellectual and artistic circles, Nietzsche felt compelled to abandon his most influential mentor in order to dramatize the danger that he believed Schopenhauer's Weltanschauung represented when conceived as a European destiny.

It was precisely here that I saw the great danger to mankind, its sublimest enticement and seduction—but to what? to nothingness?—it was precisely here that I saw the beginning of the end ... the will turning against life . . . I understood the ever spreading morality of pity . . . as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had become sinister, perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to Nihilism?

In this manner, Nietzsche raised the specter of European culture passing into a nihilistic phase, one characterized by a will to nothingness—a will to the absolute relativity of all values and, hence, to the frank realization that life was without any given meaning or goal. Such a cultural destiny, Nietzsche called a new or "European" Buddhism. We should note immediately that Nietzsche took special care to emphasize that a Buddhistic phase in the cultural life of Europe would constitute a new form of Buddhism and, thus, would exhibit qualities both consistent with and profoundly different from classical Buddhism. Some of those differences we have already encountered in Nietzsche's judgment that classical Buddhism arose out of the death throes of an exhausted civilization and marked, therefore, a final cultural form of excessively spiritual men[ED].

Nietzsche saw that the loss of the transcendental values which came about with encroaching atheism would  produce a state of affairs which was similar to what went on in Asia before. Neitzsche's critique of Schopenhauer was about how he approached the "death of God". Nietzsche may have ranted about his pity but what really irked him was his passive acceptance of the fact which he saw as a type of Nihlism.   But its also important to note that excessive spirituality paved the way for the transformation of Christianity.

The Christian era is succeeded by its opposite, a new Buddhism. Such a movement occurs within Christianity as a result of its revaluation of itself. Nietzsche postulated that the "will to truth" was the agency by which Christianity overcomes itself and necessarily eventuates in an honest atheism and a radical cultural nihilism. After almost two thousand years of training in the "will to truth," which eventually got sublimated into cleanliness of intellectual conscience (science), European man is finally ripe for the truth of a new Buddhism and the total revaluation of his most precious venerations. The new Buddhism, therefore, will be the terminal phase of the Christian era.

But how could Christianity give birth to a European form of Buddhism? In Nietzsche's judgment, European Christianity's moral world-view and its in-junctions produced a man already trained in the ways of practical nihilism. In fact, Christians have always been practicing nihilists, and it was this hidden scandal that Nietzsche believed he had uncovered about Christianity. Such a practical nihilism was rooted in the Christian's disposition to invest all of the significance of life in a kingdom beyond this world—indeed, to devalue the earth—including human reason, instincts, and passions. Such a tendency brought about a radical depreciation of the richness of earthly life and the concomitant investment of nothing, and the beyond, with ultimate meaning. By these means, Christianity educated European man toward a yearning for nothingness and created a Buddhistic tendency in man. Viewed in this manner, European Buddhism, whatever specific form it might finally take, would have to be seen as the culmination of a moralistic development within Christian culture itself. Its appearance would symbolize the final collapse of the Christian movement and the onset of a post-Christian era.
There are several really important points here. That excessive spirituality conditions men to a Buddhist worldview. Secondly a detachment from "the world" negates the importance of worldly affairs. Thirdly, an excessively keanotic interpretation of Christianity produces an atmosphere akin to nihlism. What Nietzsche is saying is that traditional asceticism and modern theological developments i.e. Kumbayah Kenotic Christianity will transform Christianity into a Buddhist version of itself.
Strangely, Nietzsche greeted the prospect of a Western form of Buddhism with considerable ambivalence. In Beyond Good and Evil, he spoke of Europe being threatened by a new Buddhism, while in an unpublished note, he characterized the possibility as a "nihilistic catastrophe." Yet in another unpublished note, Nietzsche welcomed a European form of Buddhism as both "the most extreme form of nihilism" and "the most scientific of all possible hypotheses." Such an ambivalence on Nietzsche's part reflected his genuine uncertainty regarding what kind of pessimism (or nihilism) would eventually come to dominate European culture. Nietzsche never doubted that Europe had already entered a nihilistic phase of cultural existence. What he did have serious misgivings about was the specific interpretation that Western man would give to his emerging awareness of a culture-wide crisis of meaning—that the old values which had supported and shaped his life had collapsed and, therefore, could no longer insure a future for him. In other words, how European man would appropriate the new conditions of his life mattered greatly! The issue turned, for Nietzsche, on whether Europe would succumb to a pessimism of weakness, symbolized by Schopenhauer's metaphysics and an opiate Christianity, or whether it would will the courage of a "pessimism of strength" symbolized by Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the Dionysian man. Only under the latter banner would it be possible to create a future beyond the desert of nihilism. Moreover, it was in the latter sense alone that Christianity could become the proper basis for a new European civilization. Should this occur, then the emergence of a European Buddhism could be viewed as the signal for the beginning of a more spiritual age.

If found this last bit quite interesting as Nietszche still saw some possible hope for Christianity, but it had to reverse some of its tendencies. You've got to take Nietzsche with a grain of salt but what I find interesting is his notion that Christianity could successfully tackle society if it could "deascetisise" to a degree and recognise the legitimacy of the the created world, not just in theory but in practice.

*Bonus: Another good blog post on the subject.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

As the debacle of Afghanistan flashes across our TV screens it's important to reflect why a bunch of goat herders were able to successfully defeat the most technologically advanced and copiously equipped military on earth. This all segues well with my current posts on de Gaulle so it's worth a few comments.

If victory is defined as the ability to impose your will on the battlefield, then the fall of Afghanistan--and its rapidity--is a catastrophic defeat for the U.S.  Sure, the US is still capable of affecting much destruction but a desert is not a client state and what's been fascinating to see is that when faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It's not like the U.S. didn't try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women's rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance--most of the time with hardly any fighting at all--showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

No while I reckon he's still a bit of a Buddhist Christian, Rod Dreher appears to be getting red pilled quite rapidly and his post on the subject was quite insightful.  As he points out, America's political a military eggheads discounted the role of religion:

This is on the elites. This is on elites like Carter Malkasian, senior adviser to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015-2019. In this piece from last month in Politico, he admits that it never really occurred to these American geniuses that the Taliban were really motivated by their religion. Excerpt:

The Taliban had an advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. Their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonated with Afghan identity. For Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as “resistance” or “struggle” than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defense against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. Even though Islam preaches unity, justice and peace, the Taliban were able to tie themselves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. It prodded men and women to defend their honor, their religion and their home. It dared young men to fight. It sapped the will of Afghan soldiers and police. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

This explanation has been underappreciated by American leaders and experts, myself included. We believed things were possible in Afghanistan — defeat of the Taliban or enabling the Afghan government to stand on its own — that probably were not.

Gosh, you think? What the hell did these eggheads think that the Taliban were?! It’s like a senior American expert in 1945 writing that it was surprising to discover that the Nazis really cared a lot about race. This is what happens when you have an elite that is wholly secular, and incapable of thinking outside that narrow box. Why did they tap Ghani as president? Because he was the most secularized, technocratic Afghan politician — somebody American experts could understand, but also someone incapable of inspiring loyalty among Afghanis.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what's also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity.  America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America.  There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

Christianity, once, also reinforced identity. De Gaulle's opposition to the U.S. and E.U. hedgemony was rooted in his Christian sense of the identity of France. It wasn't xenophobia as much as his Christianity that pushed him hard in rejecting anything the compromised his sense of French identity. De Gaulle and the Taliban may come from different religious faiths, but both understand the teaching, "what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?

The secular man has no such understanding.

*The mosque in the background of the image is a nice touch.

Friday, August 06, 2021

The Strange Case of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

One of the things that struck me in reading about de Gaulle's life is how Catholic support for the Free French could be predicted by theological position, with "traditionalists" supporting the Vichy regime.

The common perception people have of the Vichy regime is that it was a puppet regime imposed by the Nazis. The thing is that this is not exactly true. It would be more correct to say that it was regime enabled by the French defeat and though it shared a disadvantageous position with respect to Germany, there was much synchronicity between the ideals of it and Nazi Germany. People forget just how respectable Fascism was prior to the Second World. Contemporary history tends to paint the French as "victims" of Nazi conquest yet the reality was that there were many Frenchmen who were supportive of the German conquest of Europe.

People forget that prior to the Second World War, France was deeply divided society, much like the modern U.S., with both Left and Right factions who saw no agreement virtually on anything.  The biggest movement on the Right  was the Action Francaise movement, which advocated a return to French Monarchy, a repudiation of the French revolution, a restoration of the preeminent position of the Catholic Church in French society and a return to "traditional values".  It was anti-Semitic, anti-Protestant, Xenophobic  and collaborated, in some instances, quite enthusiastically with some of the more odious Nazi policies.

What was strange about the movement is that it was led by an avowed atheist who was contemptuous of religion, Charles Maurras. He supported the Catholic Faith because it formed part of the "identity" of France but as said before, he thought the faith a bunch of tosh. He did, however, like Vichy.

Now men of quite of quite rudimentary and simple faith would probably feel that there is something intuitively wrong with a position which supports a religion while at the same time regarding it with contempt.  But I suppose this incompatibility can be overcome with a rigorous philosophical training and deep spirituality. Enter  Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. (RGL)

RGL, who is currently being rehabilitated by certain trad sections in the U.S., was not your ordinary member of clergy.  A brilliant Dominican theologian, author of many theological books, who held high ecclesiastical office, ghost writer--and "influencer"-- of several papal documents, he was doctrinal supervisor to John Paul II. As said, he was an exceptional guy, but in many ways he encapsulates the problem of Right Catholicism in the 20th Century. As Etienne Gilson explains:

Posterity will have more leisure than we have, and the future will see things from a distance that is lacking to us. Those who are curious about doctrinal teratology will enjoy unraveling the intricacies of such an alliance. On the political level no explanation is needed. The French people are born fanatics; rightists or leftists, they are always willing to persecute one another in the name of some sacred principle. ....The really interesting question was to know why a Master in Theology belonging to the Order of Saint Dominic, as well as a highly qualified interpreter of Thomism who enjoyed in the Church an unchallenged doctrinal authority, should then have felt duty bound to teach that Charles Maurras and Saint Thomas Aquinas agreed on the notion of "the best political regime."

It is enough to open the Summa Theologiae at the right place to know that this is not true. Yet this theologian was very far from being alone in his error. Laymen of great intelligence and talent did not hesitate to side quite openly with the "party of order". The heart of the problem would be to know how, by what secret channels, Thomism could seem to them to offer a theological justification of the political theory of Charles Maurras. What the royalists hoped to gain from such an alliance is obvious. Saint Thomas is the Common Doctor of the Church. To establish that his political doctrine was the same as that of Charles Maurras amounted to proving that the Political doctrine of Charles Maurras was that of the Church. With this proved, all French Catholics without exception would have been held in conscience to accept the monarchist politics of the Action Francaise. What a haul! Let us resist the temptation to as what peculiar brand of "Thomism" this must have been to feel akin to the positivism of Maurras which, like that of Comte, was deeply interested in Rome but not in Jerusalem.

The Philosopher and Theology

Now RGL wasn't just a supporter of Vichy, he was an enthusiastic one. He was so enthusiastic that he used his doctrinal authority to assert that anyone who supported the Free French was committing a mortal sin. And there is credible evidence that he saw no problem with Vichy's anti-Semitic policies. Now it's one thing when the local village priest comes to a conclusion which is stupid, but when your "best and brightest" is out cheer-leading for an evil government you've got a serious problem.  What's even worse is that RGL enjoyed considerable support and esteem in the Vatican well after the evils of the Nazis' and their collaborators were born to light. Remember this is all before Vatican II and its "corruption" by "liberalism".

Apologists for RGL have stated that his religion clouded his theology.

I doubt that.

RGL primarily saw himself as a religious man and his "faith" was sincere. There is no chance in hell that he didn't measure his political actions by the yardstick of his faith. And this is where the problem really lays: How is it that a man, who is gifted in intelligence, a profound ascetic, devoted to religion and who's had the best education that  Western Civilisation could have thrown at him come to the conclusion that there was no moral problem with his faith and the persecution of an innocent people and the support of a morally vile regime.

After the war, de Gaulle "leaned on" the Vatican and a quarter of the French clerical hierarchy were forced to retire. RGL kept his position.

There is something profoundly wrong here, and I think it is here where we must look to understand one of the reasons why religion collapsed in the 20th C. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Charles De Gaulle and Catholicism

“As the French and as Christians we oppose Hitler and fight the fight”

Andre Malraux, de Gaulle's polymath Minister of Cultural affairs once said of him. "He talks a lot about France, very little about God" and it is in this vein that many of his biographers have approached his life. De Gaulle is primarily thought of as a political person, yet that is to misunderstand the man for de Gaulle was profoundly religious. Catholicism is often thought of a showy, flashy religion yet that was not the case of the de Gaulle who was quite reserved about it, keeping it a very private affair.  The other reason why this dimension of is neglected is because the type of faith he had was out of sync with contemporary notions of religion.

When we think of a religious lay man, we tend to think of someone like Robert Schuman: aescetic, in prayer, "churchy", gentle and seeking "peace". De Gaulle, on the other hand, was combative, rude and fiercely nationalist. Someone we wouldn't necessarily associate with being serious about his faith. A yet this would be to misunderstand the man because he was sincerely religious but  he wasn't a church groupie. And here I think we touch the crux of the matter. Our conceptions of religiousness have been so conditioned by the "monkish aesthetic" that we fail to recognise his religious dimension. Yet perhaps this failure in recognising the "holiness" of De Gaulle, seeing him mainly as a political person, lays more in our mistaken conceptions of holiness rather than the actions of de Gaulle.

Samuel Gregg has written an excellent article on his faith which I would urge you to read. Sam writes:

Until recently, de Gaulle’s Catholicism was an understudied topic. In his influential threevolume biography of de Gaulle published in the 1980s, Jean Lacouture portrayed it as something to which de Gaulle held primarily as a matter of French identity rather than deep faith.

Over the past thirty years, that interpretation has collapsed. Books including Gérard Bardy’s Charles le Catholique: De Gaulle et l’Église (2011), Laurent de Gaulle’s Une Vie Sous le Regard de Dieu: La Foi du Général de Gaulle (2015), and the conference proceedings collected in Charles de Gaulle, chrétien, homme d’État (2011) have illustrated that de Gaulle was a believing Catholic who accepted the Church’s teachings without much fuss. The real question is how this commitment shaped de Gaulle’s thought and action.......

The answer: quite a lot. De Gaulle was a deeply sincere Catholic, but why this is so difficult to recognise is that his Catholicism was peculiar and once you begin to realise the peculiarity of it, a lot of de Gaulle's political actions become quite easy to understand. Roosevelt once mocked de Gaulle saying "he thinks he's Joan of Arc" but here Roosevelt was on the money. Because de Gaulle's Catholicism was of the same nature as that of St Joan, it was, in a sense, medieval and not modern.  His efforts to liberate France need to be understood as personal crusade, with all the medieval religious elements that it entertains.

Lacouture, a biographer,  held that de Gaulle was Catholic because he was French, but that's not how de Gaulle would have seen it. His Catholicism is what amplified his Frenchness and not the other way around. Unlike modern Catholicism which demphasises identity, de Gaulle's emphasised it. His version of Catholicism was pushing against the stream of contemporary christian culture. His Christianity was nationalistic, identitarian and militant.

De Gaulle's peculiar version of  Catholicism meant that his relationship with French Catholicism was sometimes quite difficult.  With the Fall of France, many of the Catholic senior clergy enthusiastically accepted the new Vichy regime and were quite accommodating to their Nazi overlords.

When Pétain restored what Baudrillart would have regarded as the natural order, with Church and state wedded together, he welcomed the Marshall’s rule and offered open support, even though he lived in the occupied zone. In 1941, he went a step further. He publicly supported the French volunteers who joined the Wehrmacht and SS in the campaign against the Soviet Union. In the first two years of the war, the Cardinal could even write that there was no contradiction between Nazism and Christianity.
What I also hadn't appreciated till now was that support for de Gaulle in religious circles could be broadly predicted by theological position. The Nouvelle Theologians lined up behind de Gaulle and the Resistance, the traditionalists behind Vichy. Let me be quite clear about this: Traditionalist Catholicism in France lined up behind the Nazi's.
Yet some in France were resisting the new order from the outset. In the vanguard of the Resistance stood the Jesuits, often in close collaboration with Protestant pastors. These men were theologically far removed from their fellow clergy in Paris, or, indeed, in much of France. As liberals, their thinking was to influence the outcome of the Second Vatican Council profoundly, particularly in the new attitude towards the Jews and their rejection of the close association between Church and state. It was exactly this line of thinking that proved abhorrent to Archbishop Lefebvre* and caused the schism with the SSPX some decades later.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that there is something seriously wrong with a Catholicism that sees itself as compatible with German National Socialism.  Traditional Catholicism in France, as in the rest of Europe, was seriously diseased.

And remember, this was before Vatican Two.

De Gaulle had a healthy contempt of some of the senior French Catholic hierarchy and with the victory of the Allies, made sure some of the worst offending clergy were removed. But in being opposed to the traditionalists it did not mean that de Gaulle was some kind of kumbayah liberal. He realised, like most other sensible people at the time,  that the Church needed to change in order to deal with modernity. During the war, despite all the other issues that beset him, he cultivated religious intellectuals such as Maritain and Bernanos. He followed Church events closely and was influential in some of the French appointments to Vatican II. He hoped for positive changes since he understood that the identity of Europe and Christianity were intertwined, and the decline of religion was sapping Europe's vitality. Yet, as a social conservative,  he deplored many of the changes that resulted from Vatican Two.

De Gaulle, it seems, had a unique take on Catholicism that doesn't fit neatly within the liberal/conservative schema. But it wasn't an idiosyncratic expression of Catholicism rather one which had its roots in a dissident strain of Catholicism that seems to have been pushed aside in battle between the "modernisers" and traditionalists.  Perhaps the greatest exponent of this strain of Catholicism was Charles Peguy, and the more I read about de Gaulle, the more I see the influence of Peguy on him.

And this is where I find de Gaulle really interesting. De Gaulle's political actions with respect to France have as their basis a specifically Christian vision of the nation, people and state. De Gaulle's strident French nationalism, for instance, was based on a Christian nationalism, something that is foreign to modern Christianity. His Christian realism led him to reject pacifism something modern Christianity has nearly completely succumbed to. De Gaulle's battles with the British, Americans and EU take on a different dimension when one starts thinking of him as a Christian/Catholic statesman instead of being simply a good french politician.

What I haven't really appreciated until now is that a political approach to de Gaulle is the wrong one, and one has to really look at him as a Christian engaging modernity in the field of politics. The reason why we don't take this approach I imagine is because our contemporary notions of Christianity are so foreign to what de Gaulle stood for, is that we are blind to the Christianity in de Gaulle's action.

And perhaps de Gaulle's Christianity was the right one and ours is wrong.

*Bonus:Lefebvre thought de Gaulle "a snake".

Friday, July 09, 2021

Robert Schuman: A European Buddhism

Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal 

(GK Chesterton)


Yet another interesting figure that pops up in relation to the life of De Gaulle is Robert Schuman.  Jackson's biography only mentions Schuman very briefly which is a shame because when you begin to understand what de Gaulle is all about he deserves far more prominence. He is also a great example of how an "orthodox" Christianity can be self-defeating.

It would quite easy to forget, especially with the modern EU's furthering of the globohomo agenda, that it was founded by men men with a deep Christian faith. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the political landscape of most of Western Europe was dominated by conservative--i.e. center right--Christian political parties. Adenauer, de Gaspari and even de Gaulle, for example, were all profound believers and the political climate of the time was strongly influenced Christian social theory.

Monnet was not Christian, but his supra-nationalist ideas "synched" closely with the opinion "mainstream" Christian politicians and senior public servants. One such politician was Robert Schuman and it was his political patronage which put the Monnet plan in action. Essentially he was the midwife of the EU.

By all accounts Schuman was a very pious man. As one politician said of him, "What can you do with such a man who prays all the time." Religious from an early age, devotional and a man committed  to seeking peace among the European peoples, he embodied what one considers the ideals of a holy "layman": Prayer, asceticism, regular mass, daily rosary, etc. were all parts of his life and at one point he considered being a priest. While being pursued by the Gestapo during the war, his most prized possession was his missal. He was seriously religious.

Schuman was also a Thomistic scholar and lawyer. His political position was strongly influenced by Papal documents and a political reading of St Thomas, among other authors. It was his Christianity which impelled him to bring about a lasting peace in Europe.  This, of course is a laudable aim. What he was trying to do is bring into being  a Christian political vision. But here is where it's starts to get interesting: de Gaulle was also profoundly religious, but not a "churchy" type of way. De Gaulle's faith was deep but he wasn't a wannabe monk, and his politics reflected his own Christianity. De Gaulle was a Christian nationalist, Schuman a Christian internationalist.

Schuman felt that many of Europe's problems were as a direct consequence of nationalism. Now, his studies of Thomism meant that Schuman could not get rid of national identity entirely, but he wanted to subordinate it to the notion of "Europeaness."  He felt that the best way to do this was by breaking down borders as much as possible; through economic integration, the free movement of goods and people and the management of the continent by supra-nationalist bodies governed by technocrats (no local favoritism) . These supranationalist bodies, run on majority rule (of the member states), would have binding powers on those who disagree. The aim was to break down the borders, both materially and cognitively.  But the essential idea is that national identity in any meaningful sense was an evil.  The solution to the evil of nationhood was the incorporation of the sense of self into a greater being.  This is Christian Buddhism 101, and the political application of Christian theology of kenosis.

De Gaulle's view was totally different.

He realised the need for a united Europe but the idea that France could be France when governed by a supranationalist Dutch, or German was insane to him. In order to preserve French identity France, like German, Italy, etc had to act independently and in a way which furthered their own interests.  From him, Europe was a collection of states, each with its own identity, but which shared a common culture.  If Europe was to unite, it should do so through co-operation and not incorporation, as this preserved the individual identities of the states. De Gaulle's conception of identity was rooted in a Christianity similar to that of Chesterton's and Charles Peguy (one of de Gaulle's formative influences) it emphasised identity and was anti-keanotic. Once again to quote Chesterton:

This is what makes Christendom at once so much more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire; just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
De Gaulle tried to maintain this tradition. What you begin to see when you contemplate the Christianity of de Gaulle and Schuman is that they were two different Christianities: One emphasised identity and one de-emphasised it, and the question is which was the truly Christian? My own understanding of Christianity--which delights in the particular-- would lead me to the conclusion that Schuman was the heretic.......but he said a lot of prayers and went to church a lot and that counts you see.

As the EU thunders against Orban for pushing back against it's LGBT agenda, one wonders what Schuman must be thinking now. As for the Catholic Church, it regards de Gaulle as a politician and has beatified Schuman.

And they wonder why the faith is dying.

As I say, we're in the midst of a heresy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Jean Monnet

One of the intellectual digressions that occupied me after reading Jackson's book on De Gaulle was the character of Jean Monnet.  I haven't fully delved into his life but he is a character that deserves much study by the dissident right, if only to understand what forces are currently working against it.  Monnet needs to be thought of a sort of anti de-Gaulle and what's extraordinary about his life is how much influence he was able to wield in world events despite never being elected to office. 

His own biography is quite amazing, rapidly moving from a cognac salesman to a mover and shaker in the upper echelons of the French government. Prior to World War two, he was sent to buy airplanes for the French, only to join the British with the Fall of France, working as their representative the Roosevelt administration. Their working with the upper echelon's of the New Deal bureaucracy he was able to exert an outsized influence on American military production--Keynes thought he had shortened the war by a year--and post war economic planning for Europe.

Interesting fact: the term "Arsenal of democracy" was coined by Monet and appropriated by Roosevelt.

Monnet also hated de Gaulle, seeing him as a the antithesis of all he stood for.  I have no doubt that he used his position of influence in the US Government to undermine de Gaulle.

Monnet's big idea was that nationalism was the fundamental cause of Europe's troubles and his task was to eliminate it.  The broad outline of his strategy was as follows:

There are three characteristics, which are worth special attention: Sectoral integration, elitism, and supra-nationality in institutions. The idea of sectoral integration originated from the focus of the French modernization plan on the coal and steel sectors as well as from Monnet’s dirigist believes that these were the core economic areas. Elitism and the idea of engaging core groups resulted from Monnet’s desire to reach the maximum independence from national governments and to create direct pressure for integration within each member state.[ED] The desire for supra-nationality is probably the most distinctive feature of the Monnet plan and merits a deeper analysis. Monnet’s understanding of supra-nationality, resulting out of his previous leadership experience, was based on a strong institutionalism backed up by a technocratic elite. Moreover, it was important for Monnet, since these two features were the basis for creating a supra-national power house with the capacity to challenge national governments in creating an irreversible integration process.

The plan was put into practice with the Schumann declaration on the 9th of May 1950, which more or less outlined the mayor ideas of Monnet. Although some scholars argue that Monnet overstated his importance and influence on the event, it nevertheless marked the point at which the implementation of his ideas started. The ambitions of the main actors Monnet and Schumann were clear in stating that the purpose of the outlined ideas was to “lay the first concrete foundation for a European federation which is so indispensable to the preservation of peace”. Along the lines of Monnet’s ideas, the initial stage of integration was to be achieved through the integration of the steel and coal sectors: “the supply of coal and steel on equal terms […]; and the equalization as well as the improvements in the living standards”.

Monnet realised was that commercial integration was the way to destroy national boundaries.  Note also, that he did not work through the usual "democratic" channels to achieve his aims, rather, his method of attack was to organise senior business people and senior public servants to formulate public policy which they would present to idiot politicians who would then try to implement them.  He was a deep state organiser.  Founder of the Action Committee For the United States of Europe, it worked tirelessly for the goal of a "unified" Europe governed by supranational organisations, which controlled by his cronies, would undermine national sovereignty.  The United States strongly supported him in this endeavor.

Welcome to the world of modern global capitalism.

The other thing about Monet was that he was a man with a long term vision. If he lost one battle he would regroup and attack from a different direction. He played the long game. He also didn't seek the limelight, preferring to work with influential people in the background, letting others take the praise. it was a way of avoiding scrutiny and public debate.

De Gaulle called Monnet an "apatride" meaning a stateless person.  De Gaulle saw the game he was playing at and attempted to neutralise him and his organisation. But de Gaulle was ultimately undermined by a democracy and culture that would sell it's identity for peace and prosperity. The great lesson of de Gaulle's life is that unless the culture supports the politics, the politics will wither over the long run.  Politicians may be able to mobilise their countries towards greatness, but if the people want to be mediocre that's where they'll eventually end up.

In the early days Monnet got a lot of pushback by governments for what he was trying to do. But his first big break with the realisation of his European plan came with the assistance of a pious Christian politician. Ascetic, devout, and a student of Thomas Aquinas:

Robert Schumann.

Friday, June 25, 2021

De Gaulle and the Idenity of Europe

One of the reasons why I'm currently writing about Charles de Gaulle is because I feel that he has been unfairly maligned in the Anglosphere. Seen as an "Anglophobe" it's quite easy to dismiss the man as just another arrogant and notable Frenchman who happened to achieve his mark in history and leave it there. But what's apparent when you study his life and influences in a bit more depth, is that what the man was trying to do was realise a certain vision, primarily with respect to France and--Europe--that philosophically opposed to many of the currents of modernity. Quite simply, de Gaulle was deep.... really deep.  I really didn't realise how deep he was, and what he was putting forward, until I started drilling down into some of his philosophical influences and ideas.  I think the dissident Right needs to give him another look. Particularly the Christian Right.

In another post, I want to talk about the philosophical underpinnings of De Gaulle's weltanschauung but what I would to put forward to my readers is the notion of de Gaulle as a "Christian anti-Buddhist".  De Gaulle strongly believed in the notion of identity and the sense of needing to protect it. What he saw with the modernisation of the world was the homogenisation of society with the concurrent loss of identity that accompanied it. Paradoxically, with the growing "official" multiculturalism he recognised that the world was becoming less diverse.

The economic forces of modernity were particularly potent in this regard. While he was oppositional to the British in many instances, he realised that they were less of a threat than the Americans who were far more "modern". Note, it's very important to separate the notion of the U.S. and modernity. The U.S. is not "intrinsically" modern but incidentally so. In his arguments with the British he recognised that Britain was acting for her own interests in a fairly straightforward way and while this may have been a threat for the French in terms of territorial integrity it did not attack the notion of French identity. The US on the other hand was pushing for a modernity--particularly in the post war period-- which would destroy the French identity and its own.

De Gaulle was not a Luddite or a traditionalist, who felt that "turning the clock back" would restore the world to some kind of imagined idyllic existence. He realised that modernity had its benefits but it had to be "tamed" in order to preserve identity. For de Gaulle, the primary means of achieving this came about by encouraging a protected "French" industry and culture even when it did not make "economic sense". De Gaulle accepted the trade-off.

De Gaulle was also awed by the economic power of the U.S. which came with all the associated political ramifications. He recognised  that France could not compete with it by going alone and would be subsumed by it.  Rather it would have to combine with other European nations, in common purpose, to promote a alternative version of modern society.  Only by combining could they form an economic power which could resist the "americanisation" of the their countries.  This is why he ceaselessly pushed for a notion of a Europe des Patries, as it was an economic model which balanced economic necessity with the preservation of national identity, hence his Fouchet Plan.

Or as de Gaulle said himself:

I do not believe that Europe can have any living reality if it does not include France and her Frenchmen, Germany and its Germans, Italy and its Italians, and so forth. Dante, Goethe, Chateaubriand belong to all Europe to the very extent that they were respectively and eminently Italian, German, and French. They would not have served Europe very well if they had been stateless, or if they had thought and written in some type of integrated Esperanto or Volapük.

What's really interesting here is that De Gaulle reached this position through a sense of Christian nationalism. Something that is unheard of today, except in places like Poland or in Orban's sense of Hungary. This Christian nationalism was anti-keanotic in the sense that the nation had a right to live, defend itself, and define how it wishes to exist but it also respected the rights of other nations to do the same. This type of nation did not wish to emulate the suffering Christ but His triumphant transformation. Once again, Chesterton is probably the best English exponent of what de Gaulle was on about.

...It [Christianity] hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty grey....

If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the [EU] Pagan empire would have said, “You shall all be European Union Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift.” But the instinct of Christian Europe says, “Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.”

De Gaulle is important because he embodied a philosophy of identity which he tried to politically realise. Some of his opposition to the English, and lot of his opposition to the Benelux countries, was primarily to stop the new European Union from becoming anti-identitarian. As a side note, de Gaulle recognised that any supranational tendency of the European Union would be fought by the English people if not their government. He admired the English for that.

What de Gaulle was trying to advocate was that strangest of beasts, a Christian Nationalism. Nationalism gets a bad rap in modern culture and its malignant versions are certainly to be deplored but the version advocated by de Gaulle was based on the deep love on his own nation and the deep love of the others. His was a true multiculturalism.

Ultimately, though, he was defeated.

The causes of his defeat were multifactoral but can be broadly divided into four categories:

Politically: The reality of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union meant that political policy was directed towards the military unification of Europe under a supranational command. NATO was not just a alliance but a supranational coordinating body. This military unification came with all sorts of economic, cultural and economic homogenising forces. Particularly when driven by the U.S.

Culturally: The barbarity and slaughter of the Second World war reawakened a profound pacifist movement within the European peoples, which saw the origin of the Second World War laying primarily in malignant nationalism. Movements which weakened the sense of identity came to cultural prominence. Incidentally, these movements fed and nurtured pacifistic strands of Christianity which worked to transform Christianity and undermine the notion of identity in it as well. Furthermore, their was a rejection of their own sense of identity by the European youth, particularly in the sixties and an idealisation of the Americanization of life. De Gaulle literally  had the cultural rug pulled underneath him.

Economically: The expansion of big business post war, partially facilitated by the formation of the EU, was an effort to increase the material standard of living in Europe. Europe's historical habits of protecting its own national interests meant that its market was very inefficient. This led to the dismantling of many of the protectionist barriers that was a characteristic of pre-War Europe.  The problem is, however, that an "efficient" market is a culturally homogeneous market.   When "wealth" is the primary metric of well being, sovereignty passes from the cultural elite to the economic. And as we've all seen, globalist millionaires don't care much for national sovereignty.

Deliberately: The destruction of the European national identities was not a consequence of chance misfortune, but the result of the deliberate co-option of the European Economic Community from the outset by "grey men", senior public servants,  who thought it a way to wealth and peace.  Their aim was to economically integrate the European markets to such an extent that national interests became subordinate to economic ones, thereby destroying European nationalism.  What's really interesting is that many of the men who pushed for this state of affairs have remained relatively unknown and assumed very quiet lives, outside the spotlight despite the profound effect that their policies have cause. Perhaps the "greatest" of the these men, someone who should be considered as a type of "anti-de Gaulle" and yet was perhaps of the greatest influence in the destruction of the modern nation state:

Jean Monnet.

Monday, June 14, 2021

De Gaulle, England and the EU

 Back to regular programming.

One of the reasons why I've been harping on about De Gaulle recently is because, after re-examining his life, I'm of the conclusion that his "philosophy" may offer a way forward for the "right". But the man needs to be heard, and that's difficult in Anglo-Saxon culture because he has been the victim of much calumny. One of the reasons why I have put up the last few posts is to show that a lot of the charges against him are false.  I wish to "rehabilitate" him with regard to the Anglosphere, if only so that people will start to engage his ideas. So I thought I'd tackle the last great misconception of him, and that was his treatment of the English with regard to their entry into the EU.

Most contemporary accounts of this episode in De Gaulle's life paint his refusal as being the product of spite and an attempt at revenge for the humiliation he suffered as dependent ally of the British.  Indeed, Jackson's account of the saga is totally devoid of the context in which his decisions were made and furthers the "mainstream" narrative. The reality is, of course, far more complex and far more interesting. 

I would recommend to those who can be bothered, this excellent lecture on the subject by Professor Vernon Bogdanor of Gresham College. The .pdf of the lecture can be found here. For those who can't be interested  here's a brief executive summary:

1) At the time of the formation of the Common Market, the UK was invited to join. It thought the thing a bit of a joke and refused.

2) Once the Common Market was formed it's economic and political success surprised the UK. Suddenly, the Common market was becoming the dominant power in Europe and by failing to join it, the UK was unable to influence it.

3) Charles de Gaulle becomes President of France.

4) England then reverted back to it's traditional policy of opposing the dominant power in Europe. It primarily aimed to do this by forming the European Free Trade Association. The aim of this organisation was to "dilute" the EU and thereby weaken it. The UK actually threatened the Common Market with sanctions if it did not trade with it.

5) When this failed, the UK then applied for membership, but it did not want to join under the same criteria of membership as the other states. It wanted a special membership which would privilege it in the EU.

6) De Gaulle--and the other nations-- said No. Firstly, because membership rules were the same for everyone, no exceptions. Secondly, the real sticking point was the Common Agricultural Policy. Britain's economy was incompatible with it. Britain's economy had to change but it was impossible for it to do so at the time. De Gaulle, said that when the economy changed it would be welcome to come in.

7) The Empty Chair Crisis happens. This was huge event which set the formation of the modern "supranational" EU. De Gaulle recognised that it was both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat of the concept of a "Europe des Patries".

8) Britain applies again to join the EU. Its economy hasn't changed but the political climate of the other EU countries has. They--with the exception of Gaullist France--become keen on the notion of a "supranational" EU.  De Gaulle objects in an attempt to stop the change in the EU character.

9) De Gaulle in an attempt to stop the subversion from within the EU, invites the British to secret exploratory talks with regard to entering the EU under "looser" terms. The British use the oportunity to exploit this offer by announcing this confidential request to the rest of the EU.

10) Charles de Gaulle dies.

This clip from the series, Yes Minister is very close to the truth of things.

The bottom line is that De Gaulle's objection to the British membership of the EU was not based on personal animus but on a realistic understanding of the incompatibility between the UK and the EU.

He received a lot of abuse for his position, especially by the English and the Americans, but history has proven him right:

While de Gaulle might today feel warranted in his skepticism with regards to the British vote, he might also find himself sympathizing with the nationalist sentiments that have gained ground following the referendum. While de Gaulle questioned the UK’s passion for European integration, his idea of a united Europe did not exactly match some of the motivations that have been driving the EU’s integration process. For de Gaulle, a united Europe should be a Europe des patries—a Europe of states—in which each member retained its fundamental sovereignty. If that were today’s EU, perhaps Brexit would never have caught on.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Intermission: Some Developments in the Catholic Church

Most people might not be aware that the Catholic Church has just updated its code of Canon Law. In itself it's not really a big deal but the reasons for doing so are very interesting. As I see it, it represents a  development in the thinking of some members of the hierarchy. Francis writes (via Google Translate):

In the past, the lack of perception of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the recourse - where circumstances and justice so require - to sanctioning discipline has caused much damage. [ED: Understatement of the year!] This way of thinking - experience teaches - risks leading to living with behaviors contrary to the discipline of morals, whose remedy is not only exhortations or suggestions. This situation often carries with it the danger that with the passage of time, such behaviors become consolidated to the point of making it more difficult to correct and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful. This is why the application of penalties becomes necessary on the part of Pastors and Superiors.The negligence of a Pastor in having recourse to the penal system makes it clear that he does not fulfill his function correctly and faithfully, as I have expressly warned in recent documents, including the Apostolic Letters given in the form of a "Motu Proprio" 

Executive Summary: The Church emphasised Mercy to the criminal at the expense of Justice to the victims, with the predictable, to anyone with half a brain, consequences. This is the "theology" behind the sexual abuse saga in the Church.

Some of the commentary about the changes is also interesting. As one of the Vatican spokesmen said with regard to previous version of the code:

In many places, punishments were mentioned only as a possibility, and the whole text gave the impression that it was almost merciless to apply punishments.
John Paul II used to talk about the "contraceptive mentality" when dealing with his opponents on matters of sexual morals but here we have a clear example of the "kenotic mentality" when being applied matters of Justice and Mercy.  While the new changes are a welcome development, the problem is that this mentality is still strongly entrenched throughout all layers of the Catholic hierarchy and it is part of the "operating culture" of the institution. Francis himself, while to be applauded for this move, has internalised much of the spirit, especially with his attempts at  delegitimising the death penalty.  It's also an attitude also prevails in many other Christian denominations.

Justice and Mercy are fundamentally opposed concepts because mercy means sparing the criminal some of his just deserts, and the victim something that is owed to him.  The Church seems to have forgotten that Justice is always obligatory, while Mercy, discretionary, and only to be applied in the context of a greater good. 

Now what needs to be understood is that what produced this change in the Church's hierarchy was not "deep reflection, prayer and spiritual retreats", but a hostile secular world exposing plain the hypocrisy between belief and practice in the clergy. i.e. the Clergy had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this realisation. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

De Gaulle and the Americans: II

French-US relations took a dive after the Second World War and it needs to be understood as not a particularly "de Gaulle thing".  The French and American approaches world views were fundamentally different,  of which de Gaulle represented one pole.  I've edited this excellent article by Bernard Fall, which appeared in the New York Times in the '60's. It goes over some of the issues which chafed and is written by an American with an intimate insight into the French perspective.


IN December, 1942, a few weeks after the liberation of North Africa, the late Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, arrived in Algiers. One of the problems he had to deal with concerned the Free French minister for finance. “About this man,” said Morgenthau to Ambassador Robert Murphy, “I think, we should get rid of him.”Murphy, who knew the man's services to the Allied cause and his pro-American sentiments, eloquently objected, but Morgenthau was adamant and the Free French were told that one of their key civil servants was “unacceptable.” He was summarily dismissed.

Today, that official, Maurice Couve de Murville, is Foreign Minister of France and a key figure in French American relations.

In July, 1945, a French lieutenant-colonel.was parachuted into Japanese held North Vietnam as the new governor‐designate. Captured by Communist Vietminh guerrillas, he was beaten and tortured, and his aide was murdered by poison. American liaison officers with the Vietminh refused to help, arguing that the Potsdam Agreement did not provide for the return of French control to Indochina.

Today, that French officer, Pierre Messmer, is Minister of Defense, and a key figure in France's disagreements with the United States over NATO and the Multilateral Nuclear Force (M.L.F.). At least two other members of President de Gaulle's cabinet were also imprisoned in Hanoi while American military missions were there.

AND then, there were the wartime relations between the Free French leaders and the United States. “I am sorry,” Roosevelt confided to Winston Churchill on May 8, 1943, “but it seems to me the conduct of the Bride continues to be more and more aggravated. His course and attitude is well‐nigh in- tolerable. ... de Gaulle may be an honest fellow but he has the messianic complex. Further, he has the idea that the people of France itself are strongly behind him personally. This I doubt.

On the other hand, America's relations with the Nazi's French puppets at Vichy were discouragingly “normal” until late in the war. The United States maintained an embassy there until almost one year after Pearl Harbor—in fact, until Pierre Laval (later executed for treason) expelled the American mission after the North African landings. When the Free French liberated two tiny Vichy‐held islands near Newfoundland, Washington indignantly demanded their return to Vichy; and in North Africa, Americans at first insisted on dealing with Vichy officials who were universally despised.

Having failed to Impose them as leaders on the Free French (it is amusing, with the benefit of hindsight, to  see wartime American diplomats refer to de Gaulle as a “British puppet”), Washington became the last of the Allied nations to treat the de Gaulle administration as the legal government of France. This happened five months after France was liberated—and only after America had failed to impose an Allied Military Government, which would have issued uncontrolled amounts of “liberation currency”—something not even the Nazis had done.

From then on, French‐American relations went downhill. Only the openness of disagreement changed from time to time. Washington would tend to “go easy” on France whenever French acquiescence was required; and conversely, Paris would rein in its temper whenever it needed American economic and military support. But neither side was ever really fooled by the other.

As seen by France, the United States was first of all (but to a lesser extent than Britain) “guilty” of allowing Nazi Germany to become a military Frankenstein. The “Anglo‐Saxons,” for the sake of “peace,” had leaned heavily on France in 1936 when Hitler's troops entered the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. France again yielded to Anglo‐American pressure when she stopped helping the Spanish Republic against the Fascists, and when “peace for 20 years”, was bought at Munich by selling out Czechoslovakia. And France was left almost alone to face the onslaught of the Nazi Wehrmacht in 1940.

In 10 months of “Phony War,” Britain contributed five infantry divisions (as against 103 French) and hardly more than an armored brigade (as against France's three divisions). The The Germans fielded 126 divisions (including 10 armored) and the result was the bloody débâcle of Dunkirk.

Dunkirk, a name which stands almost as a victory for “Anglo‐Saxons” since more than a quarter‐million Britons were saved, is still a synonym for betrayal to the French. To this day, everybody remembers the gallant Britishs ships at Dunkirk; the fact that 10 French destroyers were sunk defending the evacuation (as against six British) is usually forgotten. Echoes of the fear of another “Anglo‐Saxon” Dunkirk may well be heard in de Gaulle's speeches about a French national nuclear striking force.

Senator J. W. Fulbright, in his “Old Myths and New Realities.” assures France that a “third World War could not possibly follow the pattern of 1914 and 1939, in which France was attacked while the United States remained temporarily unscathed . . .” To de Gaulle and millions of his countrymen, however, it did happen—twice in their lifetimes—and the tragic consequences of American lateness are writ large on French tombstones. In war dead, France lost 1,357,800 men in 1914-1918, compared with Britain's 908,371 and America's 126,000. From 1939-1945, the totals of dead and missing were 580,000; 412,000 and 325,000 respectively.

The collapse of France in June, 1940, however, revealed the fragility of her military edifice and political fabric. From then on, despite sympathy for the plight of the French people and admiration for the gallantry of the Free French, the United States never took France quite seriously again. After the war, France was regarded as a sort of king‐sized “banana republic” whose continual changes of government and chaotic finances inspired a stream of books and articles written in the vein of bedroom farce.

France then was fairly easy for American and British statesmen to handle. If the reigning Government coalition balked at a given policy, they could be fairly sure that another one would be along, like the proverbial street car, that would probably accept it. Whether it was over the Indochina War (the French were ready to negotiate in 1952 but were told to keep fighting to ease the pressure in Korea), or the ill‐fated Suez expedition, the French were in no position to uphold their views even in matters affecting them vitally. De Gaulle—with grating effect—dubbed this the period of “American hegemony.” It ended with the birth of the Fifth Republic.

Today, the really important question is: Do American and French interests really collide throughout the world — from NATO to Vietnam, Peking, Latin America and the United Nations—or is there merely a conflict in “styles?”

HERE again, there is a clue in the wartime relations between France and the U. S. Both de Gaulle and Washington agreed that France's fall in 1940 was due as much to moral decay as to military defeat. Hence, in de Gaulle's view, the rebuilding of a French mystique was an immensely important factor in putting France back into the war on a large scale. Roosevelt, too, was interested in getting the French back into the war, but merely as soldiers —not with a French Government (and, above all, not with a mystique).His representative in Algiers expressed that point of view to de Gaulle in these terms: “The United States Government and people are not thinking politically about France, but are thinking solely in terms of getting on with the war and defeating Hitler.”

This difference in attitude is essentially what is wrong with American‐French relations today. The Americans, practical and pragmatic as ever, are constantly “getting on with the war,” whether against poverty at home or the Vietcong in South Vietnam. The French, on the other hand, want to see Europe united and Communism contained on a more lasting political basis than a precarious balance of military power. The difference, therefore, is not so much in the aims of policy as in the range of policy.

THE French feel that alliances .constructed under enemy pressure tend to disintegrate when the immediate threat recedes. This is what happened to the anti‐German alliances of 1914-18 and of 1939-45—and it may well be the fate of NATO unless it is given meaningful political underpinnings.

The United States, however, feels that Europeans are too steeped in their “petty quarrels of the past” and, at the same time, “unrealistic” when they call the American‐Cuban dispute, for example, a “petty quarrel.” De Gaulle's lack of tact in expressing his differences, which are more apparent than real, is particularly wounding because tactlessness seems such an “un‐French” attribute.

Washington hardly needs a reminder from Paris, for example, that its attitude toward China is somewhat rigid; that the war in Vietnam is not going according to plan; that the collapse of Castro is not imminent, or that the Congo, four years and $400 million dollars later, is at best exactly where it was. American reactions to French doubts or advice, however, were typified by President Kennedy in a television interview after de Gaulle's first resounding statement on Vietnam:

“[France] doesn’t have any forces there or any program of economic assistance, so while these expressions are welcome, the burden is carried, as it usually is, by the United States and the people there...we are glad to get counsel, but we should like a little more assistance, real assistance....”

De GAULLE must have read that statement with a sardonic smile (if he read it at all), for it embodied precisely the same kind of reproach as the French have often addressed to their American ally : If you can’t help me, at least don’t bother me. In fact, the French aid program to South Vietnam is still larger than that of all other nations combined (except for the United States). Worldwide French foreign aid—thanks to France's own réhabilitation through the Marshall Plan—is today second only to America's in dollar value and, as a percentage of gross national product, far greater—2.2 per cent as against 0.9 per cent for the United States.

Yet there is no disguising the fact that today the United States and France are out of step. Many Americans seem to believe that the divergence began with de Gaulle and will finally be burled with him, but that will prove as much an illusion as the hope that aggressive Communism would be buried with Stalin, who never challenged the United States as directly as Khrushchev did with his missiles in Cuba.

It was not de Gaulle who began building the French nuclear arsenal, but the French Socialist Premier Guy Mollet. It was not de Gaulle who excluded Britain from the Common Market as much as the accumulated rancor built up by Britain's attitude toward the Common Market in its early days under the Fourth Republic. And it was not de Gaulle who turned down the idea of an‐integrated European army but the French Parliament under Prime Minister Mendès France.

Yet again, conflicts of “style” have counted for much. French leaders were deliberately (and often humiliatingly) excluded from conferences at Casablanca, Cairo, Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. President Kennedy called British Prime Minister Macmillan to Nassau first,and then made a joint offer to de Gaulle of an inter-allied nuclear force. Coming from an American leader, who, like F.D.R., could rightfully take pride in his “style,” this smacked of deliberate insult. Even to have attempted to make the strategic control of nuclear weapons the subject of a unilateral Anglo‐American decision vitiated the whole idea for the French, regardless of the intrinsic merits of the project.

It is precisely because the Franco‐American rift is not a “Gaullist challenge”—as Senator Fulbright describes it—but a deep‐seated crisis of mutual confidence that restoring the entente cordiale between the United States and her oldest ally will require a great deal of give and take on both sides.

DISAGREEMENTS with the United States over the Common Market or the Multilateral Force are symptoms of a need for what the French like to call “mutual respect.” It merely confirmed their belief, for example, that Britain's potential role in the Common Market was as an American “Trojan Horse” when de Gaulle's veto on Britain's entry was greeted with louder howls of indignation in Washington than in London. Or, when after being told at least once a week that the United States treats all her allies “equally,” France is confronted with what she fancies to be further evidence of a “special relationship” between Washington and London — as in the Nassau agreement on nuclear arms. France is not content to be treated on a footing of equality with Luxembourg, Iceland and the former enemy states.