The Decline of Europe
The diversity of countries and cultures, against the will of diplomats and governments, has elevated to the rank of supreme value the force of a specifically human creative spirit. Today they are attacking your unity and diversity, your flesh and your soul. Europe, wake up!
-- Robert Aron and Arnaud Dandieu, 1931
French intellectuals entered the postwar period with grave doubts about the future of their civilization. As early as 1919, Paul Valéry spoke of the "fragility" of the European way of life. In a widely quoted passage, he pointed to the central dilemma which was to occupy the thoughts of European intellectuals between the wars. "Will Europe remain preeminent in every field? Will she remain what she appears to be, that is, the precious part of the earthly universe, the pearl of the sphere, the brain of a vast body; or will Europe become what she is in reality: that is, the tip of the Asiatic continent?"1 The spiritual crisis had its counterpart in the realm of matter. European political hegemony in the world had been eroded. "Everyone agrees," remarked Albert Demangeon, "that at the end of the nineteenth century, Europe ruled the world; now she is losing her supremacy to other countries; we are witnessing a shift in the world's center of gravity away from Europe; we see her fortune passing into the hands of the peoples of America and Asia."2
Just as the preeminence of European culture was being challenged around the world, French intellectuals found their values threatened by the development of new institutions at home. In fact, the two