“France cannot be France without grandeur” Charles De Gaulle declared. Throughout the ups and downs of French history since De Gaulle’s time, this theme is a constant. Never mind that critical theorists such as Michel Foucault were fiercely opposed to such profession of power. Never mind that there have been different notions of what that grandeur looks like, or that at least one President, François Hollande, did not see things this way. This view is in the French DNA. Emmanuel Macron, who has been called “Jupiter,” keeps a copy of De Gaulle’s Memoirson his working desk.
Charles De Gaulle was a Romantic. That is, his ideas were nurtured by the Romantic literary tradition. His favorite author was François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), the founder of French Romanticism, who wrote a powerful defense of the Christian Faith based on beauty. In his Génie du Christianisme he attacked the Enlightenment for its rationalism and defended doctrine and sacraments for their emotional value. De Gaulle agreed, and believed France’s calling was to “light up the universe”.
In a marvelous new book about him Queen Mary University professor Julian Jackson writes about A Certain Idea of France (Allen Lane, 877 pages). It is likely the best biography of De Gaulle available in any language. Jackson touts the General’s extraordinary virtues and his courage. But he is also quite candid about his limitations. Toward the end he began to realize that the French were not up to this high calling. “France is worn out, she is made to be supine, not made to fight,” as De Gaulle explained to one aide. “I keep the theatre going as long as I can and then, after me, have no illusion, things will go back to where they were.”
A theatre! This is where the Bible is prescient about the mortality of the theater of grandeur: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Our Seminary, La Faculté Jean Calvin, in Aix-en-Provence, teaches that true splendor is found in nations and individuals who bow the knee to the Lord God, not in a Romantic idea of human grandeur. Oh that our beloved France would hear that call, not the call of De Gaulle, attractive as that may be, but the call to discipleship under the easy yoke of Jesus Christ.
Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar, President