Continuons

Author: Gary Hart

A friend brought to my attention a new biography of Charles de Gaulle, De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson, yet to reach these shores.  One of the common perceptions of de Gaulle is that he remained always an ardent nationalist.  In a recent review of the book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes a more subtle observation.  De Gaulle was, he claims, much more a republican, which many interpreted as being rigidly conservative, even right-wing and absolutist.

“…de Gaulle always offered a staunch reaffirmation of republican values”,  writes Gopnik.  “His life is proof that unapologetic right-wing politics do not necessarily bend toward absolutism; they can also sometimes stiffen the spine of liberal democracy.”

This, better than anything I have read or written on classic republicanism, summarizes what America needs now.  It is the recovery of the classic republican ideal—performance of citizen duty and protection of the commonwealth—that will restore American democracy, which is devoted to our rights.  We must protect our rights by performance of our duties.

This is dramatically so at an hour when our nation is being redirected from liberal democracy toward a dangerous, racially-based nationalism.  We must close our borders to those who are different, even if they possess talents we need, says our president to his “base”.

Unless his casual indifference toward laws and legal systems trips him up, in two and perhaps even six years this nation will be in danger of losing its historic soul, perhaps permanently, and becoming a totally different nation.  It did not take long in the 1940s for many, perhaps a majority, of Frenchmen to fall in behind the fascist Vichy regime.

Those who acquiesced were corrupted by an illegitimate ideology, fascism, much as European nations are today sliding toward authoritarian nationalism.  As republican theorists from ancient Athens onward, up to and including the Jefferson-Madison republicans, knew, the greatest danger for a republic is corruption—placing personal interests ahead of the common good.

De Gaulle was moved by the experience of Jean Moulin, described as a high-  ranking left-wing prefect whose strength of character and creation of the only credible resistance network inside France “were tied to his impeccable republican attitudes.”

When de Gaulle learned that Moulin had been captured and tortured to death by Klaus Barbie, he “merely said, with the stoicism of a Cornielle hero, ‘Continuons.’ “We’ll go on.”

Trump types, some worse than others, have come and gone in American history.  In each case: Continuons.

We’ll go on.

 

4 Responses to “Continuons”

  1. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Senator, I have no comments at the moment relating directly to your post, except that I reference another right-of-center military hero who stiffened the spine of liberal democracy. I only wanted to express my condolences on the loss of your friend and colleague, Senator John McCain.
    BCM

  2. Michael Says:

    I wish I could be as optimistic about the last line. If the Democrats don’t take the House in November, I fear the republic is over.

  3. JD Kinnick Says:

    Sen. Hart – I thought you might get a kick out of this. My oldest daughter is a high school student who has taken three years of French and we hosted a foreign exchange student from France for a month. I mentioned to our house guest that I admired one of their national heroes, Charles de Gaulle. She gave me a puzzled look and asked me who de Gaulle is? I asked her if she had flown thru Paris on her trip to USA and she said “yes” and I explained that the airport was named after him. I was amazed that a high school student from France had never heard of de Gaulle.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    I’m appalled, JD. I thought it was just American schools and students who were deficient in history and much else. Shame of the French.

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