Œuvre journalistique de François Mauriac 1937-1938

The Vocation of Liberty

14 January 1938
The Commonweal[][] Journal américain fondé en 1924 et dirigé par des catholiques laïques, correspondant grosso modo à Temps présent.

Page 319

THE VOCATION OF LIBERTY[1][1] Le texte de cet article est essentiellement le même paru le 27 décembre 1937 dans le journal anglais The Spectator.


WE REALIZE full well that present-day
France is a disappointment to her foreign
friends. It is only too easy to hold her
up for censure. After a war in which so many
nations participated, how can the world forgive a
conqueror incapable of imposing lasting peace
and order[2][2] Thème récurrent du journalisme de Mauriac à cette époque : défendre la France contre la perte de prestige qu’elle aurait subie, surtout aux yeux des étrangers.?

If France has seemed to totter under the stag-
gering burden imposed upon her in her rôle of
peace-maker[3][3] Référence au rôle de la France dans l’élaboration du Traité de Versailles (culmination de la Conférence de Paix, 1919-20, qui mit fin à la Première Guerre Mondiale), non seulement en tant que pays-hôte mais aussi par sa contribution, sous la direction de Georges Clemenceau, aux décisions cruciales incorporées dans le Traité. La France sortit de la guerre comme la plus grande puissance d’Europe, ce qui ne rendait que plus désolante sa faiblesse face aux dictatures., it was undoubtedly because she was
over-burdened before she assumed the rôle. But
I look beyond any effort to justify her. I believe
that France has not failed completely and that, in
spite of all appearances to the contrary, my
country has not betrayed the essential part of
her duty.

What is that duty? France has defended and
continues to defend, against all opposition, in a
Europe that is three-fourths hostile, the uncom-
fortable position of protecting political liberty
and personal freedom[4][4] La liberté politique et personnelle représente donc pour Mauriac la première des valeurs que la France est appelée à défendre..

Let us begin with what may be considered a
banal statement, but it is one that I would like my
foreign friends to ponder deeply to the extremi-
ties of its logical consequences. France is a coun-
try of free speech. It is a land where any man
may come forth in support of his opinions without
fear of being spied upon or gagged.

Therein lies our glory and our weakness.
France is surrounded by states that are « policed, »
not in the old sense of the word, but in a new
sense, by official agencies that assure the absolute
domination of the party in power. Situated in her
present precarious position, it is surprising, in-
deed, that France still stands firm, clinging faith-
fully to a conception of liberty that three-fourths
of Europe scorns.

It shows a courage that touches on the miracu-
lous. On one side of the frontier, one man makes
decisions and acts unhampered by any restraint.
On our side, we find party confusion, petty hatreds
among opposing groups, parliamentary irresponsi-
lity and the right accorded to certain citizens,
by virtue of the freedom they enjoy, to advance
the interests of our enemies. The situation is
so perilous that many Frenchmen consider it
untenable[5][5] Mauriac énumère ici les faiblesses de la France, surtout les querelles intestines des partis et groupements politiques, et la liberté des Français jusque dans le soutien d’attitudes contraires aux intérêts du pays, qui sont paradoxalement la preuve, et le prix, de la liberté de pensée fondamentale qu’incarne la nation française..

Whether drifting Rightward, as in the Fas-
cist riots of February 6, 1934, or Leftward as
in the period following the Popular Front elec-
tions of 1936[6][6] Références aux deux événements historiques qui symbolisent la réalité politique de l’opposition de la Droite et de la Gauche dans la France des années 1930 : les émeutes des Ligues antiparlementaires (6 février 1934), et la réaction des partis de gauche, menant à la formation du Front populaire qui devait gouverner la France de mai 1936 jusqu’en avril 1938., France, discouraged and dishonour-
ed [Note: Lecture probable d’un mot difficile à déchiffrer.], seemed to be awaiting the shackles of
dictatorship with outstretched wrists. But both
experiences were [Note: Lecture probable d’un mot difficile à déchiffrer.] abortive. So far no attempts

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have been made against the French citizen’s free-
dom to think as he pleases and his right to belong
to the party of his choice.

Those foreigners who came to Paris last fall[9][9] Les étrangers, c’est-à-dire, 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.
found that France has not lost the happy and
carefree atmosphere so dear to all who like to
express themselves without the lurking fear that
the persons whom they are addressing are secret
government agents. But that atmosphere is not
maintained without danger and risk. Liberty,
dear Liberty, what a price you cost! I only wish
our friends could realize what heroism is required
to make a stand for personal liberty, although it
may well be that our stand represents nothing
more than heroic folly. The last Europeans to
remain free of the iron hand of dictatorship, face
to face with powers militarized and regimented
body and soul, we feel weak and helpless to the
point where we are tempted to betray what we
cherish above all things: liberty. For what is the
good of holding on to our liberty for a while
longer if we shall end by becoming the slaves of
those who are already slaves? How long can we
remain faithful to a liberty that may prove our

Liberty may become the most formidable
weapon of our totalitarian enemies since it allows
every Frenchman who is hostile to democratic
institutions to fight us from within by fair means
or foul. We do not mean to cast aspersions on
French admirers of strong governments, who are
perfectly logical in demanding a liberty that they
would deny others in accordance with their prin-
ciples. Yes, we affirm that good Frenchmen have
the right to admire the political institutions of
dictator nations: they are free to do all in their
power to make us adopt these institutions, what-
ever their costs.

On the basis of the perils to which democracy
subjects us, they maintain that we must dismantle
the popular state regardless of the means. The
misfortune is that, in spite of themselves, many
Frenchmen admire with their heart and soul the
enemy that threatens us.

This phenomenon is new neither to France, nor
to any other nation. There is no European coun-
try whose history does not bear traces of a senti-
mental influence exercised by the enemy. France
herself has often played abroad a similar part,
but she has also been friendly to those whom she
fought in the field. From the Hundred Years’
War to the Civil and Religious Wars of the
seventeenth century, from the Catholic League to
the Fronde[10][10] Des épreuves subies par la France dans des périodes antérieures de son histoire : la Guerre des Cent Ans (1337-1453) 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 its inno-

Page 320 cent admirers among us, not to mention actual

The love that many eighteenth-century French-
men had for Frederick the Great, King of Prus-
sia[11][11] 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., whose armies were at the time defeating
us, is rivaled only by that of some of their de-
scendants for modern dictators. One might even
say that the present-day dictatorships are bound
to the French spirit by ties much stronger than
those which linked Fredrick II with the France
of Louis XV. The King of Prussia was a disciple
of Voltaire[12][12] François-Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire (1694-1778), penseur et écrivain français, auteur de Candide, Lettres philosophiques, etc. Séjourna trois ans (1750-1753) à la cour de Frédéric le Grand., but only to the extent of his impiety
and prosody, while Mussolini, for example, has
found in our philosophers some of the essential
features of his doctrine[13][13] 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. Mauriac le rencontra en janvier 1935, lors d’un voyage à Rome, accompagné de Pierre Laval, et décrivit, dans une lettre à Jeanne Mauriac, l’effet qu’il tira de son « admirable prunelle » (LV, p. 213)..

And we cannot match our methods with his
except by stifling the liberty that is turned against
us by those who abominate it and use it for the
purpose of doing away with it.

But, whatever the price, whatever the danger,
France remains loyal to the sublime principle of
liberty, so dangerous to her security. This proud
nation endures insults and suffers a loss of pres-
tige rather than put its citizens in military and
political bondage so that it might stand on an
equal footing with efficient dictator nations. It
even goes so far as to refuse to make any distinc-
tion between liberty and license. But some of its
own citizens, enemies of democracy, do establish a
dichotomy between the legal state and the real
state[14][14] La distinction vient de Charles Maurras. Le pays réel serait celui qui travaille et qui vit ; le pays légal étant celui des partis et des corps intermédiaires., which permits them, conscientiously and in
good faith, to fire on one without wounding the
other — or so they believe.

This nation must seem pitifully weak to you.
Yet think how much strength is required to resist
the temptation of resorting to force? Her mis-
sion today, in a world blighted by dictatorships,
is to preserve a certain concept of the free indi-
vidual, respect for his potentialities and the ac-
knowledgment of what even a humble life is
worth. In the Europe of 1937, irreligious and
rationalist France is unique in attaching so much
value to the individual human soul. She is
paying an almost impossible price for her attach-
ment to a Credo which is at once humanist
and Christian[15][15] Le Crédo 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 by no means an egotistical attachment.
We are preaching a universal doctrine, not by
word of mouth alone, but with the spirit and with
the heart. We are paying more dearly for it
than you can know. Beware, however, of those
who herald our decadence. You will not see our
youth parading past in motion picture newsreels.
But the same democratic discipline that produced
the heroes of Verdun[16][16] 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 still inspiring new genera-
tions. Never have our institutions of learning
harbored leaders of greater intellectual promise.
Our army officers do not draw attention by clink-
ing spurs and brusqueness; they are self-effacing
and have about them a simplicity that does not

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attract attention. The life of our priests, im-
poverished though they might be, is inspired by a
keen sense of moral duty. Our students work
under severe material handicaps. But all, even
those who appear to have become enamored of
totalitarian doctrines, cling more strongly than
they themselves realize to their dignity as free

The repulsion that André Gide[17][17] 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)., a former
Communist sympathizer, experienced at the sight
of Bolshevist automatons would be felt similarly
by an extreme Right-wing Frenchman had he to
live under an autocratic ruling. We, the people
of France, in spite of outside propaganda, remain
faithful to the ideal of the free man. This ideal
will perish only after we ourselves have perished.

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