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Charles de Gaulle

Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle are two of the most polarising figures in French history. In today’s episode, Peter Rose talks to leading historian Peter McPhee about Patrice Gueniffey’s new book on the lasting impact of these two leaders and the French people’s fascination with ‘great men’.


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Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall

December 2020, no. 427

Forty years ago, François Furet outraged the French historical establishment by proclaiming that ‘the French Revolution is over’, launching a blistering critique of the Marxist categories and politics of university historians, many of them still members of the Communist Party he had abandoned in 1959. By the time of the bicentenary in 1989, historians were in bitter dispute over the meaning and legacy of the Revolution. In that year, Patrice Gueniffey completed his doctorate under Furet at the prestigious research school the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He remains at that institution today, Furet’s most famous disciple and a celebrated historian in his own right.

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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 ...

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