Not so Lost Causes

The Catholic Avant-Garde: French Catholicism Since World War II

edited by Jean-Marie Domenach, edited by Robert de Montvalon
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 245 pp., $5.95

The French Communist Party and the Crisis of International Communism

by François Fejtö
MIT, 225 pp., $10.00

Strategy For Labor: A Radical Proposal

by André Gorz
Beacon, 199 pp., $5.95

One of the surprises awaiting the perfidious Anglo-Saxon who crosses the Channel into Gaul (not to mention the Anglo-American who traverses the Atlantic) is that few people in France can be bothered to discuss political issues in economic terms. Whether it be East-West relations, European union, or the future of their own country, the French display an obstinate tendency to put politics first, and politics in France includes what elsewhere is known as “ideology.” Even in relation to communism—allegedly a doctrine related to Marxian economics—this hereditary predisposition can be seen at work. The disputants do not trouble themselves too much about economic foundations; what engages their attention is the political and ideological superstructure.

It is arguable that this unbalance is the fault of the educational system, a system now greatly modernized in comparison to what it was in 1945, but still a trifle over weighted on the philosophical side. Behind it, however, there lies the weight of a tradition which allots to the state a commanding role in relation to society, not least in the economic sphere. For a variety of reasons, liberalism as a doctrine never conquered France as thoroughly as it did England and America, which is another way of saying that capitalism as an economic system was never accorded that complete acceptance which elsewhere has enabled public men to identify the operation of the market economy with something called “our way of life.”

Even during the best years of the Third Republic, when the liberals had pretty much won control of state and society, an undercurrent of opposition was kept alive by Catholic conservatives and Marxist socialists alike. The debacle of 1940, among other things, also wrote finis to the uncontrolled rule of the bourgeoisie. When in 1945 some of its more eminent representatives called upon General de Gaulle as head of the Provisional Government, to protest against various proposed nationalization measures, they were given the cold shoulder. And when a decade later the General, then in retirement, settled down to write his memoirs, he referred to the subject in terms suggesting that both “the communist system” and “integral liberalism” were doctrinaire extremes to be avoided, and that if communism was to be headed off, the social order would somehow have to be recast (cf. Memoires de Guerre, vol. 3, pp. 92 ff).

AGAINST THIS BACKGROUND, the formation of a radical current within French Catholicism must be seen as a phenomenon sharply set off from the older conservative anti-capitalism which in the minds of old-fashioned rural Catholics, had usually gone together with simple dislike of the modern world. The two attitudes can easily be confused, naively or not, which is why Catholic professions of concern for the welfare of the working class (or “the poor”) were for long treated with skepticism by a Left trained to regard the Church as the principal enemy of the Revolution. It was altogether too easy to rail against the bourgeois Republic, and under cover of such slogans subvert the …

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Letters

State of Mind September 14, 1967