Œuvre journalistique de François Mauriac 1937-1938

France and Freedom

Friday 24 December 1937
The Spectator[][] Publié depuis 1828, The Spectator est un magazine hebdomadaire britannique, politiquement favorable au parti conservateur.

Page 1138

FRANCE AND FREEDOM[1][1] Comme le suggère Keith Goesch, ce texte semblerait être une traduction différente de l’article publié dans The Commonweal le 14 janvier 1938, mais aucune trace n’a été trouvée d’une version originelle livrée par Mauriac à l’un ou l’autre de ces deux journaux. La traduction est très libre, et on n’y perçoit pas sans difficulté la « voix » de Mauriac. Elle reflète pourtant fidèlement la pensée de Mauriac, car on y retrouve des thèmes familiers aux lecteurs de ses articles français à cette époque : la grandeur de la France manifestée par l’importance qu’elle accorde à la liberté d’expression ; la vulnérabilité de la France à cause de cette même liberté, dont ses ennemis intérieurs et extérieurs profitent sans interférence.


[M. Mauriac, of the Académie Française and winner of its Grand Prix in 1926,
is a distinguished novelist, his best-known work being « Le Nœud des [Note: Coquille : il faut lire « de » .] Vipères. » ]

FRANCE is a country in which everyone can freely assert
his opinions, speak out without looking round to
make sure that he is not being spied upon. It is the country
where you say what you feel. You can go ahead whatever
you have to say; no policeman is eavesdropping.

Therein lies our glory and our weakness. Surrounded
by rival nations, States which are « disciplined » (not in
the sense of being « ordered and civilised, » but in the sense
of being « coerced » : States in which the police ensure the
absolute rule of the party in power), France is at such a
disadvantage that the wonder is that, closely embracing this
liberty sneered at by three-quarters of Europe, she is still
able to stand her ground.

Indeed, one may well talk of miracles. On one side of
this frontier, decision and action rests with one man alone;
on the other, confusion of parties, hatred of inimical factions,
irresponsibility, and the admitted right of certain citizens,
because they are free, to play the game of the enemy outside.
A situation so perilous that many have judged it untenable;
and both to the right, on February 6th, 1935, and to the left,
on the morrow of the Popular Front elections, it seemed
that France, resigned to her fate, was already holding out
her wrists for the fetters waiting for them[3][3] Références aux deux événements capitaux illustrant l’opposition en France entre la droite et la gauche : les émeutes fascistes et l’arrivée au pouvoir du Front populaire. La date que ce texte donne pour celles-là est pourtant erronée : elles eurent lieu le 6 février 1934 et non pas en 1935. Le texte du Commonweal ne reproduit pas cette erreur. …. But the
period of trial was short lived. It has not yet been possible
to make any serious attempt with us against the man still
free to think as he pleases, to belong to whatever party he
prefers, and to defend it in speech or writing, unhampered
by any restriction in his expression of love or hate.

All who came to Paris this autumn[4][4] Il s’agit des touristes attirés à Paris par l’Exposition Internationale des « Arts et Techniques dans la Vie moderne » , qui s’y est tenue du 25 mai au 25 novembre 1937. must have found
there the same gay, free-and-easy atmosphere as of old,
that air so sweet to the nostrils of every man who likes to
look those he speaks to full in the face. But all this involves
great risks. Liberty, precious liberty, what a price we have
to pay for thee! I wish our friends could realise how almost
heroic is our fidelity to free institutions, how foolishly heroic
perhaps. The last Europeans to escape dictatorship are,
when confronted with those who have submitted to its
yoke, so conscious of their own weakness that they are tempted
to renounce what they worship. For, after all, what is the
use of remaining free a little longer, if we have to end by
becoming the slaves of slaves? How long shall we remain
faithful to a liberty which may be fatal to us?

It constitutes the most formidable weapon in the hands of
the totalitarian States, since it gives each Frenchman hostile
to democratic institutions the right to fight against them
with every means at his disposal. Not that we are casting
stones at French admirers of rule of force. They are quite
logical in insisting on a freedom they would deny in the
name of their own principles. Yes, good Frenchmen are
entitled to regard as excellent the institutions in existence in
dictator countries; they are free to do their utmost to secure
the benefit of them for us too, whatever be the cost. Realising
the extent of the danger to which the confusion of popular
government exposes us, they have good reason to insist
that it must at once be overthrown, no matter how. The
trouble is that they cannot help loving with their whole

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mind, if not with their whole heart, the adversary threaten-
ing us.

That is no new thing with us nor, for that matter, with
any other nation. There is no European country whose
history does not furnish evidence of the sentimental influence
acquired by the enemy. France has often played abroad
the rôle of glamorous foe. And she herself has, time and
again, idolised those against whom she fought. From the
Hundred Years’ War to the Wars of Religion, from the
League to the Fronde[5][5] Des épreuves subies par la France dans des périodes antérieures de son histoire : la Guerre des Cent Ans (1337-453) qui l’opposa aux Anglais, les convulsions religieuses qui divisèrent catholiques (regroupés dans la Ligue, 1576-1594) et protestants, et le conflit politique qui marqua la minorité de Louis XIV, appelé la Fronde (1648-1653)., the enemy has always had in France,
in addition to the avowed traitors in his service, with whom
I am not concerned, his blameless admirers. The passion
that many Frenchmen in the eighteenth century had for
the King of Prussia[6][6] Frédéric II le Grand, roi de Prusse de 1740 à 1786, aimé par les Français, comme le dit Mauriac, en dépit des défaites militaires qu’il leur infligea, et donc un modèle en quelque sorte des dictateurs tant admirés par certains Français contemporains., then defeating our armies, is equalled
only by that inspired in some of their descendants by the
modern dictators. It may even be said that the dictators
seize hold of certain layers of French thought with roots
much stronger than those which bound Frederick the Great
to the France of Louis XV. The King of Prussia was the
disciple of Voltaire[7][7] François-Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire (1694-1778), penseur et écrivain français, auteur de Candide (1759), Lettres philosophiques (1734), etc., séjourna trois ans (1750-1753) à la cour de Frédéric le Grand., but only in so far as impiety and prosody
were concerned, whereas the Duce, for instance, has found
among us the essentials of his doctrine[8][8] Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) dit le Duce, premier ministre italien (1922-) et dictateur de 1925 jusqu’à sa mort. Admiré par des Français de droite, notamment Henri Massis. Il est intéressant de noter que Mauriac attribue à la doctrine de Mussolini des sources françaises..

We could only counter his moves effectively by strangling
this liberty, turned against us by those who abhor it, but
who employ it against itself.

Well, France still clings, in spite of everything, to this
sublime principle, so perilous to her safety. The proud
nation accepts humiliation and mortification sooner than take
steps which, by fettering individuals, would enable her to
return blow for blow. She actually goes to the length of
refusing to draw any distinction between liberty and licence,
even when those of her sons who are enemies of democratic
government make one of their own between the institutions
of the country and the country itself, which allows them,
with a clear conscience and in the utmost good faith to fire
red-hot broadsides into the former without, so they maintain,
hurting the latter!

Think what strength this nation, which seems so weak,
requires to withstand the temptation to resort to force!
Her mission today is to safeguard a definite conception of
the free individual, the respect for the human being, the
realisation of what the humblest life is worth. This secular
and rationalistic France stands almost alone in the Europe
of 1937 in her belief in the importance of each single human
soul. And she is paying a heavy price for her attachment
to a creed both humanistic and Christian[9][9] Le Credo humaniste et chrétien de la France : Mauriac tente ici la réconciliation des valeurs d’une France républicaine et laïque avec celle de ses plus anciennes traditions catholiques..

It is not a selfish attachment. It is for the benefit of all
that we desire to profess it, not with our lips, but with our
mind and heart. It costs us more than you could ever believe.
But beware of those who talk of our decadence. You rarely
see at the cinema films of our young men marching past.
But the same training which went to make the heroes of Verdun[10][10] Verdun, théâtre d’une des batailles les plus meurtrières de la Grande Guerre (février-décembre 1916) et symbole de l’héroïsme français, célébré ici par Mauriac mais sans attribuer à son pays une ambition militaire outre mesure.
is, today, shaping the rising generation. Our great colleges
have never, at any time, contained a finer type of man.
Our officers have a kind of self-effacement, a simplicity which
does not attract attention; our poverty-stricken priests

Page 1139 wear themselves out in an arduous ministry, the fruits of
which are magnificent; our students work under very hard
material conditions. But all, even those who seem to be won
over to totalitarian doctrines, value much more than they
think, than they themselves are aware of, their status as free
men. Andre [Note: Coquille : il faut lire « André » .] Gide’s reaction[12][12] Écrivain français (1869-1951), ami et en même temps adversaire de Mauriac, brièvement admirateur de l’Union soviétique mais qui renonça à sa « sympathie communiste » après un séjour dans ce pays, y dénonçant surtout le manque de liberté individuelle (voir son Retour de l’URSS, Gallimard, 1936). , when faced with the type of

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human being born under Bolshevik constraint, would also
be that of many Frenchmen of the extreme Right if they had
to live in Berlin or in Rome. Under the swirl of enemy opinions
this ancient people of France remains faithful to a definite
conception of man, which would perish if we ourselves should

© les héritiers de François Mauriac (pour le texte des articles) et les auteurs (pour les notes)