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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941

'All Power to Petain!'

page 33

'All Power to Petain!'

The choice to which the modern man will finally be reduced, it has been said, is that of being a Bolshevist, or a Jesuit. In that case (assuming that by Jesuit is meant the ultramundane Catholic) there does not seem to be much room for hesitation. Ultramundane Catholicism does not, like Bolshevism, strike at the root of civilization. In fact, under certain conditions that are already partly in sight, the Catholic Church may perhaps be the only institution left in the Occident that can be counted on to uphold civilized standards.

Irving BabbittDemocracy and Leadership.

One would almost think to read this, that Irving Babbitt had been hung aloft in the skies as a symbol of the new era to be designed for France, the new era of Vichy. Marshal Petain has said: 'Everyone must now make his choice.' And to the inquiring faces of a betrayed people the mocking words of La Revue des Deux Mondes, of Gringoire, Candide, Vendemiaire, Figaro, and La Republique du Sud-Esthave given a blunt answer: 'You must choose the camp of militant Catholicism.' How many people remembered Abyssinia, how many Spain? And how many Frenchmen, perhaps the most politically-educated among workers under an imperialist system, how many were deceived by the old, old cry—'Heaven has sent all these misfortunes to save the soul of France!'

However this may be, France's 'new culture' is being imposed by the Catholic Church, under government protection and patronage. Under the cry that 'spiritual forces must again direct the life of the nation,' the Ecole Normale has been closed, and the schools are under the control of the Jesuit congregations. There is a rabid censorship on all postal communication, on newspapers, and on literature. The government has decided to revise all school books in order to eliminate 'subversive' ideas, to destroy many, and write others to replace them.

But most important and characteristic of all is the revival of mediaeval feudalism. 'We must return to the happy days when under the guidance of the monks . . . .' cries Henri Bordeaux. France is to become a land of agriculture and peasants, and on this pre-Revolutionary economy the new culture is to be based. The Paris-Soir of July 2, 1940, writes thus:

The new true French art of the cinema, imbued with a purified spirit, must produce films taken entirely in natural settings and exalting the return to agricultural life to which France is invoked.

page 34

Paris, the intellectual centre of France, has been lost, but genuine French art, inspired by the new national spirit, will flourish in the 'free' unoccupied zone, says the Figaro. The natural result of such a procedure is this sort of thing—'In the bookshops of Toulouse, Marseilles, Lyons, and other cities, it is impossible to obtain either fiction, scientific works, or schoolbooks.'

This return to the golden age of feudalism, to the de-industrialization of unoccupied France, is, of course, just what Germany desires. But it is no strange growth of the war defeat. Andre Maurois, whose urbane and delightful sketches of the little-existent fiction-book Englishman in the last war were so successful among the bourgeoisie of both England and France, wrote a few years ago in his Nouvelles Litteraires:

I believe that the great statesman is always simple, elementary, courageous .... I believe he must devote himself unreservedly to the nation of which he forms a part. No free individual without a strong state. To recreate in the young French generation the notion of and respect for the State, this seems to me to be for us, writers, one of the most pressing duties. Yet I am far from despairing of the possibility to fulfil this duly and to emerge from this moral crisis. Youth is full of courage and of goodwill. It only waits for a doctrine.

France has forgotten l'affaire Dreyfus and the tradition of Zola with its eclipse of the Revolution. 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,' are equated with 'the happy days when under the guidance of the monks . . , .' What is the significance of this praise of rural life? Hearken to the masters—

James Drennan:The emphasis of both Fascists and Nazis is on the country, the peasant family, on manhood and true womanliness—on all the old values which have become subjects for the epileptic giggling and the idiotic witticisms of the decadent intellectuals of the Megapolis. Adolf Hitler:But for the counterpoise of the German agricultural class, the communistic madness would already have overrun Germany, and thus finally ruined German business. What the whole of business .... owes to the sound commonsense of the agriculturists cannot be repaid .... We must devote our greatest solicitude in the future to pursuing the back-to-the-land policy in Germany.

And the Petit Journal cries in admiration— 'The future is replete with hope!'

On turning to the Free French movement, one expects something better than this sort of trash, but is bitterly disappointed. The Free French monthly, La France Libre, is the most disappointing piece of literature one could find. Here is the organ of a group of exiles, 'fighting for the deliverance of their Fatherland, etc.', and, sandwiched in among a few articles on 'The Economic Exploitation of the Conquered Territories' and 'The So-called Vichy Constitution' one finds such useless academic balderdash as 'Victor Hugo and the Angels' (by the Director of the French Institute of the United Kingdom) and 'a propos des Anticipations,' this being a discourse by H. G. Wells on his Utopian novels. Again, we find a learned article on 'The Philosophy of Pacifism,' another entitled' Notes on a French Lithograph,' and so on. And the mediocrity of these articles is sometimes as amazing as their actual page 35 presence in such a paper. If his aim is to keep French culture alive, and if this is French culture, then de Gaulle might as well walk down the garden path.

Primarily, both in format and in the general tone of the articles, La France Libre is far too academic. It cannot possibly have any contact with the masses upon whom France's future depends. It publishes an appeal by Bernanos (author of Les Grandes Crinetienes sous la lune), one of the Catholic group disgusted by the shameless attempt of its clergy to capitalize on France's misfortunes, an appeal to his countrymen entitled 'Frenchmen, your ancestors were free men,' which is the nearest to a fighting article the whole of the issues have yet contained. But what is the following article?— An academic discussion on whether France was on the eve of a revolution or not.

It is indeed fortunate for France that there are still working, both in the occupied and unoccupied zones, underground organisations which repression cannot completely stamp out. Their activities will gather in effect. As one writer has said—

Most Frenchmen have a good memory, and they have not forgotten that a few years ago the war-cry of the Cagoulards, who have now betrayed France, was 'All power to Petain!'