Clemenceau

Clemenceau

Clemenceau

Clemenceau

Excerpt

It will be several decades yet before historians find it easy to form a dispassionate estimate of the work of Georges Clemenceau. Possibly he is destined to remain one of those disputed characters, like Louis XI or Robespierre, about whose methods and motives there will always be conflicting schools of opinion. His temper was so arbitrary, the controversies into which he plunged were so critical and so exacerbating, that the ashes of the fires he fanned are still full of hot embers.

Clemenceau had already played a formative role in the political development of the Third French Republic before the First World War raised him to international fame and the fates which presided over the peace negotiations promoted him to be, in a very literal sense, one of the makers of modern Europe. Since then, the resurgence of Germany and the onset of the Second World War have induced a reëxamination of the Versailles settlement, and Clemenceau's fight for guarantees which might safeguard France no longer appears so vindictive or hysterical as some contemporaries considered it. When the history of the nineteenth century is viewed in longer perspective his penetrating comprehension of the forces shaping modern European civilization will be more deeply appreciated. He was a political philosopher as well as a politician, and his writings no less than his parliamentary and diplomatic labors will demand a judicious reappraisal as the picture of his age grows more complete.

For greatness as for genius there is no simple formula and perhaps it would be idle to argue here whether Clemenceau had a tincture of one or both. His outstanding quality was a ruthless realism which made him a touchstone of the genuine amid the shams, the sophists, and the mounte- banks of a hypocritical age. His second noteworthy quality was courage. He dared to proclaim unpleasant truths and to fight for unpopular causes, rare attributes among men and rarer still among democratic statesmen. A third quality, which some might be disposed to deny him, was idealism. It was a crusty, harsh, and practical idealism; it proposed to accept man as he is, and to improve him, if improvement were possible, by sweat and tears. Above all, it proposed to treat him as a creature who could not be helped if he would not help himself. A propensity for myopic optimism, euphemistic promises, and Utopian formulas Clemenceau considered the . . .

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