Archive for September 2021


Plus ça change

Here’s the FT:

When it first appeared in an obscure military blog last month, a ringing call to arms by retired French generals that came close to calling for a coup d’état made it sound as though France was on the verge of civil war. 

“France is in peril,” read the declaration that went on to be signed by hundreds of army pensioners and at least 18 active military personnel. It condemned “laxism”, Islamism and “the hordes” on the outskirts of the nation’s towns and cities, which every French reader understands to mean immigrants. 

Republished in the rightwing magazine Valeurs Actuelles on the 60th anniversary of the failed generals’ putsch against President Charles de Gaulle in 1961, the statement was initially dismissed by the army command as the nostalgic ramblings of elderly reactionaries.

But a public endorsement from far-right leader Marine Le Pen — who said it was the duty of French patriots “to rise up” to save the country — triggered condemnations from politicians and the defence ministry and a promise to punish the serving soldiers who signed the declaration. . . .

According to an opinion poll carried out after the controversy erupted, 58 per cent of French voters — including many on the left — supported the military officers who signed the declaration. An extraordinary 74 per cent thought French society was collapsing and no less than 45 per cent agreed France “will soon have a civil war”. 

Jean-Daniel Lévy, managing director of Harris Interactive, which conducted the poll, said: “Overall, the French have the same views as those that were expressed by the generals.” 

And this is from volume 3 of In Search of Lost Time:

Certainly we must put a stop to anti-militarist intrigues, but neither can we tolerate a brawl encouraged by those elements on the Right who instead of serving the patriotic ideal themselves are hoping to make it serve them. Heaven be praised, France is not a South American replica . . .

Yes, but for how much longer?

PS. For those who desire a break from politics (i.e. those with more sense than I have), this gem is from volume 2 of ISOLT:

But the characteristic feature of the ridiculous age I was going through—awkward indeed but by no means infertile—is that we do not consult our intelligence and that the most trivial attributes of other people seem to us to form an inseparable part of their personality. In a world thronged with monsters and with gods, we know little peace of mind. There is hardly a single action we perform in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything.

My edition has a blurb from Walter Benjamin:

There has never been anyone else with Proust’s ability to show us things; Proust’s pointing finger is unequaled.

Dreams are never false

I’ve refrained from commenting on recent events in Afghanistan as people like Matt Yglesias have done so much more effectively. Here is some excellent commentary from Ross Douthat:

All these arguments are connected to a set of moods that flourished after 9/11: a mix of cable-news-encouraged overconfidence in American military capacities, naïve World War II nostalgia and crusading humanitarianism in its liberal and neoconservative forms. Like most Americans, I shared in those moods once; after so many years of failure, I cannot imagine indulging in them now. But it’s clear from the past few weeks that they retain an intense subterranean appeal in the American elite, waiting only for the right circumstances to resurface.

Thus you have generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years. And you have Republicans who postured as cold-eyed realists in the Trump presidency suddenly turning back into eager crusaders, excited to own the Biden Democrats and relive the brief post-9/11 period when the mainstream media treated their party with deference rather than contempt.

To the foreign policy elite, it wasn’t the dream of turning Afghanistan into Switzerland that was flawed, it was the people who implemented the policy that failed us. (Their next target will be China—good luck with that.)

I also ran across an article by Matthew Spellberg:

Historically, traditions of great intellectual subtlety have developed to interpret dreams, and to consider what interpreting a dream actually means. In the Palestinian Talmud, for instance, it’s made quite clear that when it comes to prophetic dreams, what causes the fulfillment of a prophecy is not the dream itself (or its originator, God), but rather the interpretation of the dream. If a rabbi interprets a dream as foretelling the death of the dreamer and then the dreamer dies, then it’s the rabbi’s fault that he’s died.3 Similarly, Cicero writes that the dream-obsessed people of Telmessos blamed the interpreters, and not the dreamer, if a dream prediction turned out to be false; it wasn’t the dream itself that was wrong—such a phrase would have made no sense to the dreamers of Telmessos—it was the interpretation that had failed.