19 JULY 1940, Page 12

The End of the Tunnel



WHEN a speculator acquires the home of a great faddy and turns it into a block of flats, he does not, unfor- tunately, change its name ; for corresponding reasons, France under Hitler and Petain is still called France. But even a speculator does not take to himself a nobleman's motto with the house he usurps, and we may regard as a cause of gladness the Petain Government's repudiation of " Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite." The three words are now officially released from captivity and become once more what they should be : the motto of free Frenchmen. They have transformed Europe once and will again. It is to be hoped that the tricolour and the Marseillaise ' may by a like indiscretion be put at the disposal of the alternative Government that will rule one day over a liberated France.

The Petain Government's choice of a new motto—" Work, Family, Fatherland "—is interesting for two reasons: first, that it must seem, to a superficial and materialistic observer, to re- present France ; second, that it omits precisely those things that distinguish the French from all other peoples. On the surface, it is admirable. One can easily imagine the working of the industrious German brain that produced " Work, Family, Fatherland." The French, said the owner of this brain to him- self, are at root a peasant and agricultural peopletherefore- " Work." The French, he added, have an aln;ost obsessed family solidarity, and a habit of talking with embarrassing fre- quency about their patrie; therefore—" Family " and " Father- land.' But the industrious German forgot, or was incapable of understanding, that, though the new motto does, in a pedes- trian way, describe important characteristics of the French, it describes only those qualities that are " not for export," and so, because the essence and meaning of France is to communicate, to impregnate the world with ideas, the enclosed domesticity of " Work, Family, Fatherland " is, for the French, dead and spiritless. For the Germans it would serve well, if " family " were understood to mean the promiscuous breeding of troops, but it will never serve the French, for it omits the French paradox.

The paradox of the French—and on this we rely for a revival of France—is that though, in certain material respects, they are intensely self-regarding and close-fisted, they are also givers-out, not of money, but of ideas. If I say that, in the same sense, we are not, the saying will be hotly contested. Did we not, for example, give the parliamentary idea to the world? It would be more accurate to say that we gave parliamentary practice. Even in our own country, we have never proceeded by the method of flinging an idea to heaven and then taking wings that we might bring it to earth—which was the brilliant and hazardous method of the French Revolution. Our revolu- tions have been a long series of tentative experiments, climbings up, retreats, compromises: the firmer, it may be, for that reason, but different from the French. Our attainments—for example our Rule of Law, our free Dominions—have often outrun our original imaginings. The French attainments have often fallen short of theirs. "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite " has never come completely true in France or anywhere else, and never will ; but it was an idea flung heavenward for all the world to see—and now to see again. It is probably true that every Frenchman, to whatever group he adheres, recognises that the Third Republic: had fallen into decay. It will never be revived ; there will be no more Messieurs Lebrun ; even if the Germans had not accomplished it, a revolution was necessary and inevitable. The first and most urgent need is that the Free Fiench should fling to heaven a new idea, an alternative to both the Pktain 'time and to the Third Republic. If the idea seems to be at present impracticable, no matter ; all ideas are impracticable except by faith and genius. To an Englishman it would appear that what is needed is, first, the development of a French Government, making, outside the reach of Ger- many, a full claim to be the Government of France. What form this Government should take is not for an English- man to suggest, but it may assist English understanding of a French choice—whatever that choice may be—to indicate by what changed circumstances it is conditioned. Because the Third Republic is dead, the political animosities that sprang from it may now be considered as meaningless. For example, if it were the wish of General de Gaulle—but not otherwise-- it would now be possible to proclaim as King of France a legitimate claimant who, because the Republic is dead, has ceased to be the head of a party opposed to a freely- elected Government of France; and for the same reason —namely, that he no longer considered himself as head of a party—for the King of France (a man who has, in fact, long been respected as a liberal prince by Frenchmen well to the Left of the Left Centre) to do now what no Royalist claimant has been able to do while the Republic existed: to be reconciled with the great Revolution, to accept the tricolour, to stand in trust for France and not for the Action Francaise, to become in truth the people's king who, when the people are freed, will, at the command of their plebiscite, abdicate or be crowned in confirmation of their freedom. To such a course there may he many obstacles and to government in such a form many objec- tions to which Frenchmen alone can ascribe a strength and value. That such a course is conceivable is an indication of the liberty and range of the French choice. Already a considerable fighting strength is gathered behind General de Gaulle. Its greatest value is as a nucleus of that secret strength of undefeated Frenchmen now in captivity. They must be linked, and what will link them is the infection of an idea that no censorship and no prison-walls can exclude. Of this idea, a king is only one of many possible expressions. The idea itself, which will revitalise France, is a determination to re-establish her, not as a defensive and static nation ruled by men primarily interested in clinging to what they possess, but as the spring of a new European order. Except in the eyes of marshals bent upon surrender, guns and children are not all. There will always be guns where there is strategical intelligence and always children where there is a future to be desired more than it is feared. The French in England are committing only one error : they are too silent. Where are their great writers? not all in prison. Where is their newspaper, published in London, distributed by air in France?—not a propagandist pamphlet, but a newspaper, however small, which by a pro- fessional propagandist would be called too " high-brow " and would deliberately cultivate those things that the Germans abhor : the creative and the critical mind, the idea, the essence, the imagination of France.

The idea of France is pre-eminently the idea of Europe. Paul Valery expressed it clearly soon after the last war. The idea of culture and intelligence, he said, has long been related in our minds with the idea of Europe. Other parts of the world have produced great civilisations, but none has possessed " cette singuliere propriete physique : le plus intense pouvoir emissif uni au plus intense pouvoir absorbant. Tout est venu a l'Europe et tout en est mut. Ou presque tout." For the word Europe " read " France," and we are at the core of Valery's truth. Everything has come to France and everything has issued from her—or almost everything. This is her dis- tinction from modern Germany, whose whole doctrine is to be self-contained, to give nothing to others, to receive nothing from them—to be a conquering, a predatory but never a seminal people. The outstanding question, Valery continued, writing over twenty years ago, is whether Europe will become what she really is—a little cape of the Asiatic Continent—or whether she will remain what she appears to be, that is to say: " la partie precieuse de l'univers terrestre, la perle de la sphere, le cerveau d'un vaste corps." Again, for Europe read " France." Neither we nor the free French should concern ourselves with the reasons for her present material abasement. Who has betrayed whom has already ceased to be important. There should be no recrimination, not because to recriminate is im- polite or impolitic, but because the idea of France transcends the detail of her tragedy. And it will be observed that the Germans are already fumbling there. It is to their inteLest to appease France, at least while war continues,' not to sow in her the seed of her irresistible revolutions, and yet they impose upon her Work, Family and Fatherland, as if she also were a non-seminal nation, as if it were not as certain as the tides that spiritually France can never be self-contained.. In abandoning to the unimprisoned the three words, of the, old motto, the gaolers have given to their captives the impress "of a key. It 'has only to be 'forged.