TRIBUNE – The philosopher Paul Thibaud* analyzes the speech of homage to the victims of the roundup of the Vél' d'Hiv' delivered on July 16 by the President of the Republic. He wonders about the choice made to respond to the odiousness of the crime with a moralism of accusation and a rhetoric that sweeps away the historiographical “subtleties”.
The reaction ofEmmanuel Macron on the words of General de Villiers shows that he cares deeply about the authority he exercises. But at the Vél' d'Hiv' he showed himself much less concerned with the very foundations of this authority, repeating, in the Chiraco-Dutch line, that "France" is responsible for the roundup of July 16 and 17, 1942. “Responsible France”. This formula is only used in the context of our contemporary and even very contemporary history. No one says that "France" is responsible for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, it is attributed to the king. With the entry into representative democracy, we could have started to impute to the nation the errors and misdeeds of the power it designated. It has not happened. We don't even talk about the responsibility of "France", collectively, as a people, for the Munich agreements, signed by a very legitimate President of the Council and approved at the time by the majority of the opinion.
If it is different about this roundup, it is because of the reflex to respond to the odiousness of the crime by going to extremes in denunciation. This leads to opposing virtue and truth, as Emmanuel Macron does, sweeping away the historiographical “subtleties” that one could oppose to the agreed rhetoric that he takes up. The consequence is however vicious which leads from the odious nature of the crime to the duty to react to it by as broad an imputation as possible. We believe we are showing moral rigor when we are in a logic of exculpation, we protect ourselves by establishing ourselves as accusers without weakness and without scruple. Here, on the contrary, we allow ourselves to oppose to this peremptory virtue a few “subtleties”.
A global formula
Macron is not very logical when, after incriminating "France", he adds that there were two at the time. Why then use an all-encompassing expression? How do we go from plural to singular? "Vichy's contribution to the Holocaust is part of the history of France" would be more exact but would then force us to "subtle", to compare the representativeness of London and that of Vichy at the time of the events.
To consider the representativeness of Vichy as an indisputable fact, Macron must assume that Pétain's government, resulting from the vote, on July 10, 1940, of the great majority of the elected representatives of the previous Republic had inherited their legitimacy. This government, he adds, was obeyed by the administration, in particular by the police. This is to forget that the northern zone was under occupation, therefore that the administrative power there was shared with the representatives of Germany, a sharing of which the Bousquet-Oberg agreements, at the direct origin of the roundup, were a bet implemented. The roundup of July 1942 originated in a German decision for the execution of which the representative of Vichy offered the services of his police, which moreover did not always obey orders.
The other argument (Vichy recognized as their government by the French) is no less debatable. The surrender of the Republic on July 10, 1940 was an internalization of military defeat. “They feed on defeat,” de Gaulle would say in a definitive formula. The defect of legitimacy burdening this "governance" was denounced in October 1940 in the declaration of Brazzaville, the first legal act of Free France: "There is no longer a properly French government." Of this text, which, genealogically, founds the power he exercises, what can Emmanuel Macron think? Can he oppose to these political theses the concrete realities that the historian describes, namely the duality of powers, which he mentions while wrapping it in a globalizing formula? But, in the summer of 1942, in the duel of legitimacy, Vichy lost. We can say that in 1940-41 there was a legitimacy of Vichy, claiming to conduct, under Darlan, a policy in which participated corporatist inclinations, technocratic ambitions, an anti-Semitism of exclusion and marginalization, the "defense of the 'empire' against rallying to Free France, the 'relief' of prisoners by volunteers for Germany, the whole being underpinned by the fantasy of a France withdrawn from the war, materially spared and appearing to the end in a favorable position, in front of the exhausted ex-belligerents.
That dream of going on a furlough from history under the umbrella of aged glory seemed like a believable moment to many. But the best historians of opinion under Vichy, in particular Pierre Laborie, have shown that by the end of 1941 this choice of reasonable cowardice had lost all meaning, not only because of the globalization of the war but following internal changes to the regime: the replacement of Darlan by Laval in the government, Xavier Vallat on Jewish issues by Darquier de Pellepoix, the Compulsory Labor Service, the failure of the Riom trial... In public opinion, a new state of spirit crystallizes as manifested in the spring of 1942 by the hostility to the yellow star imposed in the northern zone by the occupier. What is at stake, think the French, is no longer to stay on the sidelines, but to participate in Hitler's war, as Laval, Doriot or Philippe Henriot want. This, the vast majority refuses. The Vichy which, in July 1942, participated in the implementation of the Holocaust is an authority which, challenged from the start, is now in disarray.
A fusional Europeanism
One can be astonished in these conditions that persists among the politicians, and first of all the presidents, an artful rhetoric on the participation of "France" in the Holocaust. We are struck in this regard by a generational difference, even a rupture. None of those who at the time had the political “age of reason” uttered the accusation that has been worn out for twenty years. That, Macron sees it and explains it badly. In order for them to spontaneously endorse the currently dominant opinion, recent generations had to be immersed in an unprecedented context. We can evoke in this regard a certain fusional Europeanism which suggests bringing together, declaring equivalent, the political trajectories of France and Germany. But there are broader reasons, the increasingly negative character of the dominant political culture, the preponderance of guilt over hope. The men of power, experiencing the difficulty, even the impossibility, of governing, are tempted by a moralism of accusation aimed at the past. Failing to do better, they believe to rise by denouncing what they come from, about the Second World War as well as colonization. This purifying vision is consistent with the economic imperative that weighs on society, forcing it to disavow itself by detaching itself from its past.
All this is known and even established. There remains the surprise of seeing Emmanuel Macron subscribe to a Franco-pessimism, a Franco-guiltiness whose boldness of his approach showed him distant. How can he so easily take over from presidents he doesn't esteem? It is a question, he says, for the Republic of "looking its whole past in the face", a past which in fact does not pass, because it is always the same thing: Vichy existed before Vichy in mentalities and it don't think he's gone. It was not a parenthesis. Unfortunately, this constant call for lucidity about the past and vigilance in the present seems to blind us to history. In front of the Vél' d'Hiv', we talk about Dreyfusism as if it had changed nothing in France, we talk as if the defeat had not taken place which brought to power very minority and submissive right-wing currents the country under German constraint. Only indigenous anti-Semitism matters – and it is constant. Darquier and Bousquet are castigated, but neither Oberg nor Dannecker appear. In this ahistorical framework, the Resistance and Free France (which were essentially a desire and a duty of history) have hardly any place and for the present, the remedies evoked remain abstract: "bringing democracy to life", condemning the "comments abject”, nothing that evokes a historical task. President Macron does not escape an essential trait of his personality, the inability to identify with a collective subject, the oscillation between egocentrism and preaching. This is why the attractive and often relevant projects which attract a certain support for it lack foundation and are directly exposed to the fluctuations of opinion.
*Former editor of the journal Mind , Paul Thibaud was president of the Judeo-Christian Friendship.
Source: © Le Figaro Premium – "Macron's speech on the Vél' d'Hiv roundup: virtue against truth?"
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