Page 5, 28th May 1937

28th May 1937
Page 5
Page 5, 28th May 1937 — Bernard Wall Looks At France

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Locations: London, Paris, Saint-Denis


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Bernard Wall Looks At France

" Young France Is Looking For A Faith . . . The Dilemma Of France Is The Dilemma Of Europe . Communisn Almost Unthinkable . . .

SINCE the Great War French thought has shown itself to be increasingly divided and doubtful. At the end of the last century, though they were being challenged, rationalism and " freedom of thought " had their home in France even more than in England. The First Republic followed Voltaire and enthroned the Goddess Reason; and the Third Republic, which was founded on the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war, was not only a political way of governing the French people but it had a philosophy of life 'bound up with it—the view that progress and enlightenment would follow almost inevitably if reason were unrestricted.

It was on this theory that the French educational system was built and it was because of the doctrine of progressive reason that the religious orders were turned out of France at the beginning of this century.

The educational ideal in France was in some ways magnificent, but it placed a huge confidence in human reason when it endeavoured to place before its young men and women the rational tools for clear and true judgment with the conviction that if they were not swayed by prejudice they would all reach the same conclusions.

The Ideal But Not the Practice This was the ideal of French education, but of course it was not the practice.

In practice education in modern France is as sectarian as education in other modern countries. The dogma of reason has been used to bolster up an outworn materialism, a bigoted neglect of the deep forces of history and culture, and an ignorant hatred of Catholic spirituality on which, in the past, French life was built.

The old middle-class materialism of the France of thirty years ago was very sure of itself and very conservative, and in spite of its bigotry it had a great respect for facts and scientific exactness.

Today, however, it is attacked with bitterness both from the Left and the Right. The culture of the Third Republic was essentially middle-class. Though it had destroyed the influence of the aristocracy, it built itself on the commercial classes and especially on the professional classes, and these classes which had seized power only believed in equality in a library sense.

France is one of the great capitalist countries of the world. And though the worker was a freer man in the sense that he had no respect for his employer—he had only made a free and equal contract —money could probably buy more privileges in France than in other European countries; which is still the case today. And the middle-classes had the money. This situation is partly responsible for that servile disagreeableness which foreigners often notice amongst officials and which makes them jump to false conclusions about the French. Liberty within one's economic means is a reality in France: but equality and fraternity are fictions, particularly fraternity.

The New Frenchman

Today the younger generations in France are turning on the arm-chair rationalism of the " bourgeois republic " and rending it. They resent the selfishness which was the doctrine of the old masters of rationalism, of Anatole France and the Sorbonne, of positivism and even of liberty.

From the Left they accuse them of being compromises and Kerenskyites, and from the Right of having destroyed the old culture of France and the spiritual patriotism of Joan of Arc. Since the Great War, both Communism and Catholicism have grown powerful, especially amongst writers. Young France, as a commentator recently pointed out, is looking for a faith. The growing creeds are all in revolt against the excessive individualism of the nineteenth century, and no longer accept the individualistic and rationalistic idea of liberty on which the Republic was based.

Comparative Unimportance of Party Strife

For this reason foreigners are often tempted to expect the sudden outbreak of civil war in France, because today the Left and the Right are about equally divided and have reached a standard of acrimony and abuse extraordinary even for France.

But these repeated clashes between Communists and members of the French Popular Party or the French Social Party—two anti-Communist groups led respectively by Jacques Doriot, ex-Communist and mayor of Saint-Denis, and Colonel de la Roque—are not representative of the great mass of French small property owners.

It is because of the latter, who cling to private property with the tenacity and avarice which was described so well by Balzac in his novels, that Communism is, and I think is certain to remain, a minority movement. It is not the big capitalist of the " two hundred families " who is the bitterest enemy of Communism in France, in spite of his power: it is the little man with a muffler and black hat who quarrels over a halfpenny and is so jealous of his rights — the little man you see in every third class railway carriage—who will prevent a Communist regime.

It is the good woman who knows how to make Europe's best soup for deux sofa and who grumbles eternally that la vie est chere. It is the eight million farmzrs out on the land whose voices are little heard, but who would die one by one rather than have their private property taken off them.

France is not Russia where the rights of the person have never really existed. It is a country with fifteen hundred years of Western personalist civilisation behind its inhabitants. And that makes Communism almost unthinkable.

Basic Stability

Foreigners — especially Germans usually underestimate the stamina of French life.

In spite of the extraordinary disorders which take place on the surface, France is basically one of the most stable of European countries, and is certainly more stable than England.

If Frenchmen were not basically united, the factions would have destroyed the country long ago. Though they are on the defensive today they are one of the most nationalist of European peoples, In both Germany and England where industry is more specialised and there is a much smaller population engaged in producing foodstuffs and things of elementary and

permanent value, one first-class crisis such as the French are accustomed to might spell disaster.

A test of French endurance it has been said, is the fact that France is still a great power in spite of at least thirty years of the world's most corrupt and improvident governments. France is likely to occupy a vital position in the world as long as Europe does owing to the natural position of the country—at the crossroads between England. Germany, Spain and Italy—its natural wealth, and the hard work of the French people whose industriousness equals their thrift.

French Awareness But many Frenchmen today are aware of this erosion of the people's life, the sabotage carried on both by rich and poor, and the ever-increasing lack of confidence. And therefore it is -by no means certain that the Republic will last.

One of the most striking movements of recent times is the Popular Party of Jacques Doriot, originally called National Communism, which is both anti-capitalist and anti-Communist.

It aims at a complete renovation of the social order through control of irresponsible capital—which people feel the Republic can never control—a revolution based on patriotism and on its guarantees, private property and family rights. it is a sort of realist distributist movement, with its basis on the solid earthly culture of France.

Doriot, unlike de la Roque, is a workingman, and he was once a friend of Lenin. Like Lenin, he is a realist, though with opposite convictions, and is more interested in food, clothing and rough justice than abstractions such as " democracy "—about which he still has something of Lenin's opinion.

An International Problem Hence the dilemma of France is also the dilemma of Europe. Since the reign of Louis XIV in the seventeenth century, France has been the paramount influence in Europe, not so much in mere power, but owing to the influence of French ideas. The literary golden age of France, the age of Moliere, Corneille, Racine, Lafontaine, Boileau, Pascal and Bossuel helped to make French the predominant language of European culture. Through this vehicle the Encyclopedists, Diderot, D'Alembert, and Voltaire and Rousseau, spread their ideas which become the ideas of Europe with the Napoleonic wars. Even when ideas have not originated in France, it is through France that they have become international. It can scarcely be denied that the French have a peculiar intellectual ability which has made Paris the nerve of Europe.

All cities, even London, seem slightly provincial compared with Paris. No other people has managed to impose so much of its culture on other peoples as the French. There is a well-known saying that everybody has two fatherlands, his own and France. It is questionable today whether America will not impose itself on us all: but as long as Europe possesses the highest civilisation, there is no reason to think that France will cease to be Europe's intellectual counting-house.

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