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 staggering 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 uncomfortable 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 extremities of its logical consequences. France is a country 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, indeed, that France still stands firm, clinging faithfully to a conception of liberty that three-fourths of Europe scorns.

It shows a courage that touches on the miraculous. 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 irresponsility 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 Fascist riots of February 6, 1934, or Leftward as in the period following the Popular Front elections 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 dishonoured [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 have been made against the French citizen’s freedom 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 death-blow?

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 principles. 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, whatever 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 country whose history does not bear traces of a sentimental 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 traitors.

The love that many eighteenth-century Frenchmen had for Frederick the Great, King of Prussia[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 descendants 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 prestige 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 distinction 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 mission today, in a world blighted by dictatorships, is to preserve a certain concept of the free individual, respect for his potentialities and the acknowledgment 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 attachment 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 generations. Never have our institutions of learning harbored leaders of greater intellectual promise. Our army officers do not draw attention by clinking spurs and brusqueness; they are self-effacing and have about them a simplicity that does not attract attention. The life of our priests, impoverished 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 men.

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)