An Explanation of De Gaulle
by Robert Aron
Harper & Row, 210 pp., $4.95
by François Mauriac, translated by Richard Howard
Doubleday, 229 pp., $4.50
by Jean-François Revel, translated by Paula Spurlin
Braziller, 128 pp., $4.00
De Gaulle Implacable Ally
edited by Roy C. Macridis, Foreward by Maurice Duverger
Harper & Row, 248 pp., $6.00
The French like to name their streets after significant historical days: 10 August, 11 November, 4 September, and so on. There ought to be many streets of 18 June, and perhaps there are. For on 18 June 1940 De Gaulle came into existence as a political phenomenon. Before that day, Brigadier General de Gaulle was a professional soldier with reasonably enlightened ideas about armored warfare—ideas which in fact proved to have little relevance to World War II. On 18 June De Gaulle decided to become France. Few people took notice of him, the French least of all. The asylums are full of people who imagine that they are the Emperor of China. De Gaulle persisted in his identification undeterred and, against all expectation, it appeared to come true. From 1944 to 1946 and again since 1958 De Gaulle and France have been interchangeable terms.
This is far from saying that De Gaulle has ever had the general, let alone the unanimous, support of the French people. It is very unlikely that most Frenchmen supported the Resistance, though no doubt they were glad to run for cover when the Vichy system collapsed. Again, they were no doubt glad that someone should cope with the rebellious French army in Algeria. But when they were at last given an opportunity to express their opinion in a free vote, only 40 per cent supported De Gaulle, and by no means all these were convinced Gaullists. Observers, including some of the present authors, assume that De Gaulle’s position has been shaken by the demonstration that only a minority support him. This is a total misconception. De Gaulle continues to believe and to assert that he is France, an abstract idea which has nothing to do with the French people. Those who fail to recognize this claim are dismissed as “separatists” or “sectaries.” De Gaulle is a secular Pope. He is inspired, infallible, unique. So far as he is concerned, critics and opponents simply do not exist. They are non-persons.
OF COURSE DE GAULLE is by no means the first to identify himself with the state or nation. Many absolute monarchs of the old school did it. Madame de Pompadour addressed Louis XV as “France” even when they were in bed together. When Divine Right lost its force, popular sovereignty was supposed to provide a substitute, and dictators justified themselves by relying on universal suffrage. This is really only top-dressing. The inspired dictator rests on his own inspiration. Hitler was sure that he was “Germany” long before the National Socialists were a mass movement. Churchill was sure that he was England, and most of English history as well, when he had only two supporters in the House of Commons. President Roosevelt, a true democratic statesman, was quite right to hold that De Gaulle did not belong to his class. De Gaulle is a dictator by principle and instinct. Yet he is also different from all the other dictators who have cursed our century, so …