A Certain Idea of France: The life of Charles de Gaulle
Allen Lane, $69.99 hb, 928 pp, 9781846143519
There is a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail outside a castle, brimming with French men-at-arms, who taunt King Arthur and his knights remorselessly, while the Britons are convinced that the Holy Grail lies behind the drawbridge. The Grail was, of course, membership of the Common Market, to which President Charles de Gaulle had denied Britain entry for a decade. It was the Gallic ‘Non’ of 1963 that merely continued the thousand-year war between France and England. But it was not the first time de Gaulle had had ‘trouble with Anglo-Saxons’.
De Gaulle dominated French politics for almost thirty years, from the fall of France in 1940 to (barely) surviving the post-1945 political wilderness, multiple assassination attempts, and the 1968 student revolution. He is inseparable from France’s modern political history. But was he a liberator, an imperialist, or a fascist? Perhaps all three. Historian Réne Rémond regarded Gaullism as forms of Bonapartism and Boulangisme. Franklin Roosevelt detested de Gaulle’s ‘fascism’. De Gaulle himself was influenced by Charles Maurras’s Catholic integralism, while Maurras, an ardent monarchist, praised de Gaulle early in the war. The best-known contemporary admirer of Maurras’s philosophy is Steve Bannon, the architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.