Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"European Man" to the Rescue

Did Jacques Chirac “hear the message” of the French “no” vote, as he suggested in his televised statement the night of the referendum? If one is to judge by his choice for new Prime Minister, the answer is (another) resounding “no”. Chirac could hardly have chosen a more unreservedly Europeist Prime Minister than Dominique de Villepin. In the run-up to the referendum, de Villepin shilled for a “yes” vote by publishing a collection of reflections on Europe with fellow Euro-maniac Jorge Semprun under the title L’Homme Européen: “The European Man” or, more clumsily but gender-neutral, “The European Human”. The title is itself a program and precisely the sort of program that Europe would probably be better off without. It is hard not to hear in it echoes of formulas employed by earlier frankly totalitarian, both fascist and communist, political ideologies that claimed to found superior societies upon the superior qualities of their members and not rather - taking human beings as they generally are and leaving them that way - upon the quality of their institutions: the “new Soviet man” or even indeed “Der Deutsche Mensch” – “The German Man” – so dear to Nazi ideologues, including Hitler. It is not only its racist overtones that De Villepin’s exaltation of the “European man” shares with the Nazi exaltation of the specifically “German man”. Unfortunately, it would seem that his “European man” might even be, like the latter was supposed to have been, a bit of a “Herrenmensch”: destined for world domination – or rather, as they say nowadays, “global governance”. Thus, last April 17, when asked on the radio station France 1 [link in French] “The European man – who is that?”, de Villepin responded:
This European man is a man who shares the same values and is unique on the planet. There is nowhere else in the world where we share the same common ideas and where we wish continually to draw the lessons from our history. It is a man who is at once very humble and very ambitious for humanity.
What exactly Mr. de Villepin meant by the “European man” being ambitious “for humanity” – rather than just “for himself” as in the more usual form of ambition – he did not explain.

Americans will remember Mr. de Villepin, above all, as the French Foreign Minister who rallied the opposition to American calls for a UN Security Council resolution mandating the use of force in Iraq. Indeed, it has been rumored that the US was led to seek such a resolution in the first place by Mr. de Villepin’s informal assurances that France would support it in the event of Iraqi non-compliance with the conditions laid down in the prior SC Resolution 1441. Instead, Mr. de Villepin used the occasion to grandstand, posing the rhetorical question: “Why should we proceed by force, when we can succeed by peace?” Capitalizing on the fame that this incoherent turn-of-phrase - Mr. de Villepin has pretensions to being a poet and it shows - would earn him among the "antis" worldwide, de Villepin would later publish a volume of (likewise) quasi-literary reflections on international affairs under the title The Shark and the Seagull. On Mr. de Villepin's account, the violent way of the shark is apparently supposed to be that of the US; and the pacific manner of the seagull - as in J. Livingston, I suppose - of course, that of France. I'm not sure why it should be flattering to be compared to a scavenger. But be that as it me, for a useful review by Martin Walker in The National Interest, see here [hat tip Eric at No Pasarán].

(Note for French readers: Paul Landau, whose excellent book on Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim Brotherhood I recently reviewed on Trans-Int, has started a new blog. For Paul's take on de Villepin's "European man", see here.)