Conrad Black: Charles de Gaulle's Prescient Opposition to United Europe

Roundup: Historians' Take

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at

...Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890, to the family of a monarchist schoolteacher. De Gaulle was a Flaubertesque haut bourgeois, as well as an officer of the French army when it was rivaled only by the German army as the greatest in the world, and was unrivaled as the most storied army of all. He was imbued with the middle-class concept of the value of savings, frugality, pay-as-you-go. To him, greatness and security could never be bought or sustained on the installment plan. And mere politicians, whom he considered a lesser breed swimming in a sticky fondue of moral weakness and opportunism, could never be trusted to resist the temptation to pander, devalue, or seek short-term gain.

De Gaulle’s farsightedness was not confined to national projections of household economics; he also warned of the dangers of Euro-integration. He was the chief architect of the Franco-German friendship treaty of 1963, and — as a veteran of the terrible hecatomb of the Battle of Verdun and a World War I prisoner of war of the Germans, as well as the founder of the Free French in World War II — he knew as well as anyone the horrors of the centuries-long conflict along the Rhine. He also favored a common market and the end of violent ancient rivalries among the many European nationalities. But he always saw a homogenized, centralized Europe as a dangerous fantasy. He believed that a Continental interest, composed of as many as 20 or 25 languages and cultures, would be only an alphabet gruel, blended and stirred by faceless bureaucrats from the little countries, and not representing any real popular interest at all....

He would never have subscribed to the romantic fraud that Europe, with its many nationalities standing on each other’s shoulders, could have resumed its place as the political epicenter of the world that it had forfeited when it trooped deliriously off to war in the summer of 1914. But it is the merest speculation to suppose that even de Gaulle would have foreseen that an over-united Europe would so soon degenerate into a dyspeptic, demographically dwindling, Islam-raddled lumpen mass of welfare addicts. From 1965, when he was reelected president of France, to now, the reproductive rate of native Europeans of traditional stock has declined by about 40 percent, to levels that will lead to an extinction as easily plotted as that of the American carrier pigeon (which darkened the skies in its numbers in Audubon’s time, and passed into posterity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1922). GDP growth in Europe in the first three post-war decades fell by over 50 percent over the last three. As Bret Stephens recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal: “In 1973, Europeans worked 102 hours for every 100 worked by an American. By 2004 they worked just 82 hours for every 100 American ones.”...

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