May 10, 2007 2:30 pm


If you still wonder why I called this blog Deja Vu, do me a favor and read this H-Diplo review of L'Europe nouvelle de Hitler : Une illusion des intellectuels de la France de Vichy by Bernard Bruneteau and think Islamism. Italics are mine.

At a 1936 meeting of a French think-tank, the Center for the Study of Human Problems, one of the conferees outlined the following scenario:

---"Let us imagine the worst in the simplistic, even improbable, form of a single nation conquering all others. Let us imagine Europe conquered by Germany. Well, I suggest that a Germany extended thus over the whole of Europe would no longer be the Germany that we know …. This would be Europe under a different name: a unified Europe. Or rather, it would be neither the Europe of today, nor the Germany of today, but something else; the European confederation of the future."1

Given the realities of Hitler’s New Order, such a prediction seems almost willfully naive. Bernard Bruneteau’s impressive accomplishment is to explain convincingly how a variety of French intellectuals came to hold such views, believing that their country’s defeat in 1940 could serve as the catalyst for establishing European unity. Their illusion, the author contends, was rooted in the vision of a united Europe they had articulated during the interwar years; it framed their initial reactions to the German occupation and allowed them to see potential in it, though some of them did so for longer than others. . . .

Bruneteau does not seek to homogenize this group, but he does identify common influences, networks and recurring themes in interwar ‘Europeanist’ discourse. Aristide Briand, who had sought a rapprochement with Germany during the late 1920s and early 1930s, was a crucial influence. Periodicals such as Notre Temps, L’Europe nouvelle and the Cahiers bleus encouraged the exchange and articulation of pro-European ideas. Greater continental unity was presented as the solution to a variety of problems. Building Europe would facilitate domestic reform, in which government by ‘technicians’ would ensure renovation of the state and social harmony through judicious planning. Just as critically, it would ensure peace with Germany.

Bruneteau emphasizes that the Europeanists did not allow themselves to be deterred by the rise of Hitler or the rapidly deteriorating international climate. Indeed, their desire for integration and peace intensified as the 1930s drew to a close. “Members of a minority, the partisans of a united Europe thus lived their engagement with a growing intensity; it sometimes took on a religious or eschatological character”; they came to hope for “a final deliverance, whatever its form and modalities.” (233)

Given this mindset, Bruneteau argues, it is possible to comprehend how these individuals could regard the collapse of 1940 as inaugurating a new European order. While some conceded the Nazi conquerors were harsh, they argued that in historical terms the Third Reich was performing a function comparable to that of empires in the past, from Rome to Napoleon – paving the way for a new era. The French had to recognize and adapt to the situation, in order to have a presence in the remaking of Europe. Some of these individuals also hoped that the Third Reich would evolve in a more moderate direction, facilitating the process.

Over the course of the occupation the Europeanists outlined their plans for the future. Their visions of economic coordination invariably rejected liberalism in favor of state direction. Africa and Eastern Europe were presented as promising sites for cooperative ‘development’ (exploitation) under Western European guidance. Commentators such as René Château encouraged new approaches to the study of history, in which an emphasis upon transnational trends and particular eras (such as the Carolingian Empire) would forge a common European consciousness. Cultural unity would also be forged in opposition to the negative examples of Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. Here again, Bruneteau highlights continuities with earlier thinking, noting that interwar anti-Americanism and critiques of national history prefigured such conceptions.

As he reconstructs the evolution of Europeanist discourse, Bruneteau stresses that it should not be seen simply as a response to Nazi pressure, even though the propaganda of the Third Reich took on some pan-European tones as the war turned against Germany. Nor were these intellectuals merely opportunists, seeking advantage under changed circumstances; their convictions were genuine and must be taken seriously. . . .

As Bruneteau stresses, there was an air of profound unreality about all of this. The lofty ambitions and communitarian rhetoric of the Europeanists contrasted starkly with the brutal, intensifying exploitation that characterized Nazi rule. While recognizing that some of the Europeanists he studies found aspects of the latter distasteful, Bruneteau surmises that in their devotion to the fantasy of a new, united continent they too often overlooked how it would be constructed. In this respect they were comparable to those who defended Stalinism after 1945. While some aspects of their ideas echoed in postwar discussions of European unity, Bruneteau seems to imply in closing that the wartime Europeanist vision also operated as a negative example, encouraging a more cautious and incremental approach to forging common institutions.

For additional insight see also: French Orientalism: The Mystique of Louis Massignon By David Pryce-Jones in the Covenant. The abstract begins thus:

Abstract: Louis Massignon revitalized for his contemporaries the assumptions that France was a Muslim power and that Jews had to fit into other peoples' conception of them, without right to any identity they might forge for themselves. France's pre-eminent Orientalist in his day, and a professor at the College de France from 1925 onwards, he nonetheless utilized scholarship to promote personal and political prejudices.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Elliott Aron Green - 5/9/2007

This is very interesting. Another French historian, Georges Goriely, has written about French CP support for claims made by Nazis and other German nationalists/revanchistes. French CP rhetoric shed tears for poor Germany victimized by Versailles and supported demands for joining Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, etc.