The Magazine

Righteous Frenchmen

Yes, there are a few pro-Americans in France.

Mar 31, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 28 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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This is precisely the attitude rejected by the philosopher André Glucksmann, a former leftist whose anti-communism had a wide influence in intellectual circles in the 1980s. With two comrades-in-arms, the writer Pascal Bruckner and the filmmaker Romain Goupil, Glucksmann signed an op-ed in Le Monde on March 10. It recalls that in 1991 the three called for European military intervention in the former Yugoslavia and were met with derision. "The pacifists claimed intervention would bring on a world war. Yet eight years and 200,000 victims later, it was indeed armed intervention by NATO that saved Kosovo and brought Milosevic to trial at The Hague."

Glucksmann and company note that "antiwar" marchers in Europe demonize George Bush but forget that Saddam is a disciple of Stalin and the murderer of his own people. In this regard, as Rigoulot writes, the "pro-Americans" are the true progressives since they say the moral obligation to rescue the Iraqi people trumps the claim by Chirac and others that national sovereignty must be respected no matter how it is exercised.

A student of the sorry record of French intellectuals vis à vis the Nazi and Communist movements of the past century, Rigoulot--who happens also to be an authority on Korea and takes a dim view of the North--believes that his contemporaries could be making another monumental error in their assessment of the latest totalitarian threat to liberal democracy.

Less pessimistic, the essayist and news commentator Michel Gurfinkiel believes Lellouche has far more support among right-wing members of parliament than meets the eye. Even on the left, he notes, there are those, like former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who are appalled by the unconditional backing Chirac is receiving from the Socialists and the smaller left-wing parties. Another popular figure of the moderate left, Bernard Kouchner, founder of Doctors Without Borders and a former U.N. commissioner in Kosovo, supports intervention in Iraq to remove Saddam, but he is working at Harvard this year and thus is not a full participant in the intra-French debate.

But positions and principles are worth little if they aren't publicly espoused and made to enter the shared consciousness. This too is an old French story.

In 1777 a very young man sailed across the Atlantic, determined to place himself at the service of the great fight for freedom that George Washington--soon to become his mentor and best friend--was leading. This young man was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the marquis de Lafayette.

It is worth remembering that, except during the brief period of constitutional monarchy from 1789 to 1791, Lafayette was a prophet without honor in his own country. He opposed Napoleon's despotism, and, despite his contributions to the feeble progress toward democracy in France during the 1830s, he is today a mostly forgotten figure. This comes as a surprise and a disappointment to Americans, who are familiar with the mutual admiration of Washington and Lafayette. They should appreciate the more his political descendants, who are staying on the job under difficult circumstances.

Roger Kaplan is the author of "Conservative Socialism," about contemporary France, recently published by Transaction.