Oldest Allies, Guarded Friends: The United States and France since 1940

By Charles G. Cogan | Go to book overview
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9
Epilogue: By Default of Enemies?

The French people seem to have a two-thousand-year advance on the rest of the human species . . . this sensitive and proud people is truly born for glory and for virtue. . . . O sublime people! Receive the sacrifice of my entire being; happy is he who is born in the midst of you! Happier still is he who can die for your happiness!

Maximilien-Marie Isidore de Robespierre1

It is small wonder that, with such a degree of national exaltation present in the strands of the French conscience, any attempts to denigrate or deny France's role in the world are met with fierce resistance.


THE UNIQUENESS OF FRENCH NATIONALISM

Unlike in America, where the universalist experiment was coincident with the founding of the nation, in France the nation long preceded the Revolution and its message to the world. In the nineteenth century Jules Michelet gave voice to this spirit of the French nation, transcendent and mystical, hovering somewhere apart from mere Frenchmen: "Frenchmen, whatever your condition, whatever your class, and whatever your party, keep one thing in mind: you have only one sure friend on this earth, and that is France." 2

This personification of the nation--expression of the general will and those who deem themselves destined to represent it--was carried on into modern times by Maurice Barrès, Charles Péguy, and others, and it heavily influenced the actions of Charles de Gaulle.

In France the respect for the state runs very deep. Because the nation is the

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