Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Individualism and Collaboration in France

            In earlier notes I traced the history of France from political anarchy to artistic anarchy to rebellion against "the establishment," which Roger Shattuck called "Individualism", followed by a less than half-hearted willingness to defend France against Germany.  Let's now consider the result:
            On page 12 of Beevor and Cooper's Paris, After the Liberation, 1944-1949, we read, ". . . the 'path of collaboration' on which he [Petain] had embarked with the occupying power offered up exactly what Hitler wanted: a country promising to police itself in the Nazi interest.
            "All of the self-deception of Petainism was revealed in a New Year message addressed to 'Messieurs et tres chers collaborateurs' from the Bishop of Arras, Mgr Henri-Edouard Dutoit.  This cleric's pseudo-Cartesian formulation only drew further attention to the false basis of his reasoning.  'I collaborate: therefore I am no longer the slave who is forbidden to speak and act, and only good to obey orders.  I collaborate: therefore I have the right to contribute my own thought and individual effort to the common cause.'
            "This imaginary autonomy described by the Bishop of Arras was so important to the Vichy regime that until 1942 the Germans needed little more than 30,000 men -- less than twice the size of the Paris police force -- to keep the whole of France in order.  Vichy bent over backwards to help the occupier -- a policy that was taken to appalling lengths when assisting with the deportation of Jews to Germany."
            COMMENT:  Shattuck admired the artistic "development" that emanated from the political anarchy that preceded it.  Words like "responsibility" and "irresponsibility" do not occur to Shattuck.  Yet the era he called "the Banquet Years" were the height of irresponsibility.  The intellectuals of that time engaged in what was very like adolescent misbehavior.  They didn't torch cars like France's modern adolescents but they smashed France's compass.  France which has a deep-seated inclination to defy authority, born, perhaps from its rebellion against the Monarchy, was easily led in the aftermath of these Banquet Years to "rebel against the establishment."  The "individuals" that Shattuck praised could hardly have selected a worse time in French history to set their new rebellion in motion.  In the "last banquet" described by Shattuck, in 1925, the "individuals" were shouting "death to France."  They seem to have gotten their wish, for France died -- as much as any modern European nation can die.              Someone reading my notes might object: isn't what you prescribe when you call for "cooperation" very like collaboration?  Yes, I will admit, it is.  By cooperating with the important aspects of one's nation, one could, if one's heart isn't in it refer to it as "collaboration," but that isn't a normal thing to do.  Throughout our history as a species we have engaged in cooperation as a means of self-preservation.  We cooperated on hunts during our hunter-gatherer years.  Later we cooperated in the building of villages and towns.  Still later we cooperated in the building of cities.  And we have always (until recently) cooperated in defending our unit whether it be tribe, village, city or nation.  We have never been a suicidal species like the lemming (until recently).  A non-intellectual inclined more toward "common sense" than  "reasoning" will readily understand that by cooperating with one's nation early on, one may be eliminating the need to collaborate with one's conqueror later. 
            Beevor and Cooper refer to the Bishop of Arras' "pseudo-Cartesian formulation."  Did he really believe what he was saying?  A footnote suggests that he did: "When the Bishop of Arras was arrested after the Liberation, the British Embassy in Paris reported that 'much surprise was expressed [by the Vatican] at the accusations against the Bishop of Arras since he has had the reputation at the Vatican of holding extreme democratic views."
            And on page 331 of Verdict on Vichy, Power and prejudice in the Vichy France regime by Michael Curtis wrote, "Mgr Dutoit was one of those in the Church who regarded resisters as bandits, and Allied bombing raids as acts of terrorism.  In the new atmosphere of Europe he called for rapprochement with Germany and reconciliation of the peoples of the two countries."   
            Could Dutoit have been a lover of France with such a philosophy?  A critic might point out that had Hitler not been defeated, Dutoit might today be considered a great hero, someone who facilitated the transition from Vichy collaboration to whatever France was to become as time went on.  But Hitler and Fascism were defeated and Dutoit was sent to prison.  Victor's justice?  Of course, but of far more interest to me is the development in France that moved popular opinion from Anarchy to Collaboration.  We in Britain and America imagine that France must be grateful that we liberated them in 1944.  Some Frenchmen were, to be sure, but I wonder if that was the majority opinion.  We can read, if we are interested, about many French people who resented British-American "liberation," referring to it as a "new occupation" indistinguishable from the German one that preceded it.

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