Lost Statesman: The Strange Story of Pierre Mendès-France

Lost Statesman: The Strange Story of Pierre Mendès-France

Lost Statesman: The Strange Story of Pierre Mendès-France

Lost Statesman: The Strange Story of Pierre Mendès-France

Excerpt

When Pierre Mendès-France resigned in May, 1956, over the Algerian issue, after four agonizing months as Minister of State without portfolio--and without any say--in that Republican Front Government which he himself had done so much to create, Guy Mollet, the Socialist premier, used this strange and suggestive phrase: 'Don't throw stones at him; he is a sincere and tortured man.' Was not Mollet, in saying so, betraying at least a slight feeling of guilt towards the man whom he himself had done so much to 'torture'? This, then, is the story of a 'sincere and tortured man'; it is also the story of the man whom Claude Bourdet once described as 'our most serious and lonely statesman'. Lonely--Mendès-France has been lonely nearly all his life. No other leading public figure in France has been in such a chronic state of eclipse as he. This, in a sense, is the story of his three--or one might even say, four--eclipses, of which the last one--of May, 1956--may perhaps continue for a very long time. Mendès-France had often had stones thrown at him. Was it because he was too unadaptable? Was it because he despised his fellowmen, and especially his fellow-politicians too much? Was it because he saw problems much more clearly than most, but, in trying to solve them, never quite made enough allowances for human weaknesses, traditions and habits, and wanted to impose cut-and-dried solutions on a nation that has been notorious, especially since 1945, for its procrastination? Was it not also because he was not making enough allowances for the irrational element in human and national conduct? Was it finally, because Mendès-France, though admitted even by his enemies to be one of the best political minds in France, was himself not only vaguely, but sometimes acutely, conscious of being an 'outsider'--of never quite belonging to French political life and to that Radical Party to which, for over 25 years, he had stuck through thick and thin, even though, temperamentally, there are few milieux in France where Mendès-France could feel less at home than in that easy-going party, so rich in amiable muddlers, fumblers, compromisers, 19th century optimists and colonialist racketeers? A party which, in the words of Philip Williams, 'exists for the specific purpose of protecting its clientele from painful sacrifices and clear-cut choices'.

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