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Imaginary letter from the President of the French Republic to the American writers

 

While the war for the Iraqi oil treasure prepares, the American government asks to all the writers of the country to write praises of the American culture which will be circulated by the American embassies in the whole world. This step constrained the "Élysée" ( The French White house) to specify how the defence and illustration of French literature is integrated in the deterrent force of our foreign policies.
I imagined that the head of the State explains himself on this point in a letter to the American writers in which he exposes his philosophy of literary creation to them, his vision of history, his comprehension of relationships between literature and politics, literature and the idea of justice. This text will be widely diffused in United States.

1 - An unprecedent step
2 - My political duty
3 - American civilization and concept of preventive war
4 - The spirit of our literature
5 - Your literature and the critic of political power
6 - Will you become the instruments of a creeping priesthood ?
7 - The writer is not a servant of culture
8 - Observers and judges of the world politics
9 - The Attestors of universality
10 - Your Vanguard's duty
11 - Your anxious patriotism
12 - Apostles of lucidity
13 - The definition of justice
14 - The Security Council of UN
15 - Appeal to other judges

1 - An unprecedent step

For a President of a State to address the foremost writers of a foreign power, there is no precedent. Such an initiative may enter the prerogatives attached to my function if a political duty imposes it to me, and if my message meets the vocation of universality that belongs to literary genius. However, extremely singular political circumstances compel me to clarify the relationships that your great writers entertained with the spirit of their nation and, through it, with the grandeur of humanity being civilized at school of literature.

2 - My political duty

The political obligation that constrains me to write in the way that is yours, that of fights through writing, arises in the following way : my Foreign Affairs Minister informed me that because of the disastrous portrait of your country which your President in the exercise of his mandate enhances and spreads in the whole world, your State Department has decided to ask each and everyone of you to try to cure by some talented pages the cataclysm which strikes the effigy of your nation on the scale of the whole planet and, for that, you are called upon to write a panegyric of the American culture which would be diffused through the diplomatic channels of your country throughout the five continents, including by the care of your ambassador in Paris. You are called to praise the greatness of your civilization, and to write in the manner of psalms patriotic hymns to the glory that your continent acquired when it was winning fame for its defence of freedom and democracy on the entire planet.

I do not know if you will obey or if you will freely respond to these pressing calls from your State Department to its inspired children; but while your fatherland sustains its intention to destroy the grounds of public Law that several centuries of reflection from most famous lawyers and most well-known for their wisdom government men tried to conceive and write with precision in the words and with clear thinking inspired by their reason, you will understand that it falls under my responsibilities, not to suggest their answers to great writers, therefore to disobedient intelligences, but to explain to you what I see as the nature of French literature, and its relation to thoughts.

3 - American civilization and concept of preventive war

Your people wanted to be a guide of mankind, and the torch of a democracy moving towards a world of justice and truth. Secured by these principles, your State created an alliance between republican virtue and the sovereignty of your God. And now the white House requires of you to legitimate the concept of preventive war against the Demon. From now on, your enemy is called the " axis of evil ", and you fight it in the name of " immutable justice " which you embody. We, who have fought tyranny for more than two centuries, and who have made the fight against despotism, the banner of our foreign policy, we also condemn the Iraqi regime; but we notice that the Iraqi government does not threaten at all the American people, and that he does not bear any responsibility in the misfortune which struck you on September 11, 2001.

Will you crush an innocent population under a carpet of bombs? Will you massacre thousands of men, women and children only for the purpose of laying hands on the black gold which you covet the treasure ? Will you put American literature at the service of such an ambition or will you move back from the profanation of the heart of your nation which is asked to you ?

4 - The spirit of our literature

It is in order to help you to answer this question in your heart and conscience that I obey to my duty of President of the Republic of the rights of reason to speak to you also in my heart and conscience about the spirit of our literature. You know that literature was born only five centuries ago, at the time when we concluded a new alliance between writing and thoughts. It is by leaving the darkness of the Middle Ages that our writers' pen found anew its legitimacy in defending and illustrating the rights of human intelligence. Since then, our nation is unfalteringly attached to the prerogatives of our cerebrum, and to the prerogatives of the critical mind.

All our great authors found themselves philosophers of history and politics; and it is what connects them to the genius of your nation since you entered the arena of thoughts at the end of our century of Enlightment. But remember our common origins : in the XVI th century, the Renaissance was born from an intellectual impulse within Christian religion.

This rediscovery of Socratic introspection was based on criticism of Roman orthodoxy, engaged in assuring an unquestioned reign of its severely hierarchical Church: Marot, du Bellay, Rabelais, Montaigne, all our great writers were at the same time observers without compliancy of society ,and defenders of Protestant's freedom of thoughts. Our XVII th century also obeyed to the intellectual vocation that inspires us since Erasmus, but with a tenacity hidden under the same features of Catholicism and Protestantism : Descartes got into trouble with Rome, Pascal illustrated a Protestant form of Catholicism, which we call Jansénism, Molière attacked the devout, La Fontaine left us, in the funny or wild form of its fables, a treaty of politics more detailed and more ferocious than Le Prince written by Machiavel, Racine the pietous turned out to be an observer of human heart that his knowledge of the Court's life placed to a thousand miles from devotions and from his century, and the genius of Corneille is that of a witness of tragedy in History and politics. Then, our XVIII th century took over criticism of the narrow control papal authority exerted over the rights of thoughts : Voltaire, Diderot, and the encyclopedists began again, with a renewed fervour, the war of reason which began during the Renaissance in philology, and that Renan will continue during the XIX th century in his Histoire du Christianisme (History of Christianity) and his famous Vie de Jésus (Life of Jesus) .

5 - Your literature and the critic of political power

Your nation was only ten years old in 1789 when we created modernity by forging at all points the rational States still alive today. This ended definitively the wars of religion that devastated our continent for three centuries. This is why your literature is deeply bound to ours. Your genius has its deepest roots in the critic of the power of the States. You too are wary of politics and temptations of tyranny which it nurturs in its bosom.

But perhaps is it also dangerous to be born in the cradle of the Reformation because there isn't any religion safe from a relapse into orthodoxy. For five centuries, our fight for the conquest of the rights of thoughts has to start over and over. Our adversaries are obstinate and are armed to the teeth ; but they also rise from their ashes in our own walls, where our administrative democracies replaced Roman bureaucracy. Since Kant, the different Protestantisms yielded everywhere to the temptation of making sacred the bodies of the State, as if it were a substitute of ecclesiastical hierarchy, and Prussian Protestantism collaborated with Stasi by natural respect of authority. *

Our kings were always catholic, even under the Édit de Nantes (Edict of Nantes)*, and monarchy had to abolish this Edict, because our Protestants were delivering our strongholds to Anglican England. Since 1905, we understood that nations taking seriously their theology cannot allow themselves to divide the mind of their people between rival confessions while they each claim to offer the single truth. If religious truth did exist, there wouldn't be two of them. This radical contradiction made our democracy unviable during one whole century. Three monarchies and two empires succeeded our Revolution of 1789. Its last avatar was the reign of a catholic State on defeated France from 1940 to 1944.

6 - Will you become the instruments of a creeping priesthood ?

The turbulences of our bicephalous history bring us to observe, informed by a long experience, the interested offer made by your Government to sing its glory and its war feats just when its sceptre is strengthened in the Gulf. Every religion oscillates between evaporation and stiffness. When religions are powerful, they line up on the side of States which support them. The centuries of Roman priesthood were those of Inquisition. Are you sure that an America of psalms does not emerge from the canticles to culture ? Who convinces you that your President does not want transform you into instruments of an insidious priesthood ? Since when is literature at the service of an alliance of war with piety? In France, the authors whose pen delivered the orders of our victorious kings carried the title of historiographers of the Court. In our democracies, patriotic wars gave birth only to painters of death. Les Croix de bois, Le Feu, Le Voyage au bout de la nuit, these are the titles of the works of our painters of war that made a mausoleum from glory of weapons.

7 - The writer is not a servant of culture

In this spirit I would like to say to you what we understand, in France, by the term literature, and how our writers are, if not all philosophers by vocation, at least born to weigh and measure the power of the State, and to meditate on History - this being, in our eyes, the Socratic grounds of the introspective vocation of philosophy. And initially, I feel that the steps taken by your State towards you is an offence to your writer's vocation. How does the State dare presenting you as servants and employees at the defence of culture ?

Literary genius is not a mercenary of culture, because culture is only a small flowered garden, and your mission is to fly over it with great flaps of wings. Literature overlooks History's relations with life and with death. What would your great composers, your great painters, your great poets say if your government asked them to wear the garments of the defenders of what you call culture which is only the cluster of customs and habits of various people of the world ? You are the grave's interlocutors because you were born with tragedy. It was twenty-five centuries ago at the battle of Salamine.

8 - Observers and judges of the world politics

I hold you for advisers and guides for the heads of State, because you are observers and judges of world politics. Our great novelists of the XIX th century were visionaries of History. They pursued the conquests of political lucidity of the three previous centuries : Stendhal observes from afar the social machine of his time. He sees the bourgeoisie substituting the rights of industry to those of the altar. Zola paints the French people with the colours of L'Assommoir and of Germinal. Balzac brought a whole society to a dramaturgy of ambition and money. With Les Misérables, Victor Hugo boosts poverty to an epic of injustice. But didn't you have your painter of mediocrity and of boredom with the author of Babbitt , which symbolizes, in France, Mr. Homais in Mme Bovary ? With Faulkner and Hemingway, didn't you have your visionaries of the throes of death? What would they say if the American government had asked them to leave for a moment their grave so as to defend, at your sides, the day to day way of life which it pompously calls the " American culture ", and that in the name of a State from now on determined to trample the international Law to avenge an insect's sting ?

9 - The Attestors of universality

You are not only the witnesses of the genius of your nation : you are the attestors of universality in the New World; and it is for this reason that you have to cast the same critical glance over your nation that our writers didn't cease to cast over France for more than five centuries. All great literature is at school of anger. Where are your "Grapes of wrath " ? From Faulkner to Henry Miller, from Dos Passos to Sinclair Lewis, they are everywhere, the fires of your creators' rage. It is Paris that carried them to the light, in translation, because you were not yet ready to recognize the genius to its pace and to the metal of its voice. But since your literature is a child that our century of the Enlightment saw arising beyond the seas, and since we entered together the era of democracies of reason, you share duties with us - and initially the duty to light up the people when their leaders abuse of their ignorance, of their naivety and of their credulity.

10 - Your Vanguard's duty

I hear that, on your soil, many citizens of goodwill have the feeling that Iraq threatens America in a mysterious way , and that your President cannot explain his reasons to the people; and that, consequently, your fellow-citizens must trust your President, who is obeying secret reasons : great dangers are threatening the safety of your nation.

Ignorance, credulity and naivety of the people, we have known this for three thousand years. We know that these only change of clothes according to the times and places. But it was even more difficult to fight stupidity when it adorned with the prestige of the heavens or the furies of hell. It was even more difficult when recently it would propose a concrete proletarian paradise. Our great writers grappled with the folly of ignorance since we left the darkness of the Middle Ages.

In your turn, will you learn how to fight ignorance, credulity and naivety at the school of the great literature of all times and all nations? Will you explain to the American people that, among a large number of nations, alas, having frightening weapons, but not your bomb of Hiroshima, Iraq is the only one which seems to be a honeycomb ? Why does this country attract troubadours of virtue, knights of the Golden Fleece, crusaders of Holy Sepulchre, the ones thirsting for the well of truth, and the lovers of the beautiful Dulcinée of Toboso, all who sits in your Government ? It is that the Golden Fleece, the Holy Sepulchre, the wells of truth, and tutti quanti of moderns is called oil. Isn't that easier to explain to American people than the evil spells of witches, the danger of heresies, the eternal tortures of the damned and the nuclear lightning which used to appear as a mean of major excommunication ?

Yet, your anthropologists know so little of the human cerebrum's secrets that they did not succeed in refuting Marxist's redemption. Thus your images ridiculed your senator Mccarthy, and this suffice to refute the belief in the world's salvation through the advent of Soviet paradise on heart. From Cervantes to Rabelais, from Swift to Kafka, writers are visionaries of the insanity of nations. The literary genius has the eyes of Ezechiel : they are wide open to the Hercules of madness.

11 - Your anxious patriotism

I have been told that your compatriots are all at once anxious and devoted patriots. We tried this terrible mixture ; like today's Americans, our ancestors felt at the same time pious and anguished to see their Church juggling with the Gospels and the States. At that time, our writers purified Arethuse's fountain water, that of the word of Christ. For the faithfulls, they remembered the anguish of a god nailed to the gallows. You too are self-murderers of spirit. Don't you think that our former theologians, now converted to the lights of reason, still have lessons from the gallows to give to your Protestant writers ? For we all are at once sons of Voltaire, and connaisseurs of the torment when anguish marries fidelity. Your martyrdom is to drink the hemlock of reason on the Way of the cross of the unjust war dreamt by your Picrochole . Will you submissively climb the steps of this scaffold ? Will you let the blade of your State cut your neck, you who are, like all the writers of the world, the sons of Tolstoï's Guerre et paix (War and peace) and Dostoïevski's L'Idiot (The Idiot) ? You are the anxious ones and the faithful ones among the nations - but it is on Ixion's wheel of History that you are nailed.

Today, it is on your soil that you have a rendez-vous with the law of the World : for the first time, your turn has come to fight the eternal alliance of States with injustice. By the new ecclesiocraty of thoughtlessness and superficiality which your quarrelsome press represents, tell your nation: " Think by yourselves, open your ears, speak freely". One of our writers, Boetius, wrote four centuries ago a Traité de la servitude volontaire (Treaty of the voluntary servitude). Remember that the worst kind of servitude is involuntary, and that it arises with political naivety of people.

12 - Apostles of lucidity

You are apostles and missionaries of political lucidity, not since the Renaissance, but since Thucydide and Tacite. All my life, I made oracles out of you, because in my modest place, I am only a navigator to which the helm of History is unceasingly torn off from his hands. Confronted with the violent madness which seized your nation, do you believe that it is with my consent that the principle of preventive war was introduced to the UN? The ancients used to say that gods turn mad those they want to ruin. I tried to constrain by all means possible your unbridled Ajax. Help me to tie him with a strait jacket until the day that your nation will have rekindled its spirits, and will give us again lessons of courage, wisdom and freedom.

13 - The definition of justice

Today, I need you for the essential, and the essential relates to the definition of justice. Know that politics is so much the hostage of force that it unceasingly proclaims that justice is on the side of power. Thus, your State called upon all the resources of your theology of power ; and, in this spirit, you maintained that it does not belong to the omniscient God who you are to yourselves to reveal the sins to the creature, but to the creature to confess them until the last one, in order to try, by a meticulous and complete penance, to possibly become worthy of being spared by your wrath.

I managed to disarm for a time your theology of war. I said to your President that his role of head of the American skies is badly perceived in Europe , and that if you refuse to say to the UN's inspectors where the sins of Iraq are hiding, we would judge that you only are sly casuists, and that you refuse to peace its chances, in order to start a deluge of fire. Our European remarks were heard, and you had to give up the political pitfalls of your God.

But we are trapped by forces specific to politics, forces that enables it to baptize power in the baptism water of justice; for the UN admitted that it was fair to condemn only one nation to destroy its weapons for only one end : to allow your army to seize its oil. And now, if the Security Council decided, by a majority of its members, that your enemy did not entirely disarm itself, the expression of justice would supposedly come from the lips of this built majority.

14 - The Security Council of UN

The UN Security Council which is supposed to decide between peace or war, and which France will chair from the 1st January onwards, counts a majority of microscopic States over whom your government made itself complete Master, and that your government bound to his power by treaties which forbid these Lilliputians to oppose your foreign policies. It is a great paradox to make Justice reign by the voice of your servants when their dependence toward you deprives them of their sovereignty. What a parody to have puppets pronounce oracles of international ethics while you pull these puppets' strings. What a masquerade to witness History being subjected under our eyes to such force. France, Russia and China, permanent members of the Council, gave up in advance their right of veto. A certain sum of money from you was sufficient to buy Colombia, Romania, Singapore or Mauritius.

It has been a long time since History ceased offering to the whole planet the scene of such a caricature of justice ; it had been a long time since force had not presented, in the play of its madness, a more burlesque law-court than the court for which your government is asking you to change the verdicts of absurdity into decrees of international law. Will France be an accomplice of the God who will speak by the voice of your servants ? Will we back the States that you will have bribed ? Pygmies to your account, and that you will have disguised into secondary actors in the background of democracy, will they drive Europe to kneel in front of their aureole?

15 - Appeal to other judges

France appeals to other judges. Since five centuries, our writers are judges of the idea of justice. The greatest among you had the justice of God himself appear before their court of justice. From Eschyle to Shakespeare, from Sophocle to Cervantès, they lent their pen to the Isaiah dormant within them. Are there greater sovereigns than those who look at nations with the eyes of prophets, and who tell you that the God of America nails you on the gallows to make you pay the tribute of your salvation ? They know that the God of America is still the idol who furnished the necessary winds for the Greek fleet to depart for Troy. Your Iphigénie is called literature. It is literature that your State asks you to sacrifice to your idol in order to ensure a profitable crossing to your ships.

Here is what I would like to hear from your lips as great writers of a free America. Your God will give you all the gold of Priam if you sacrifice justice on the altar of war. But see how the heads of State are of little weight at your side. Only you have the power to give a voice to the literary genius, of which you are the guardians, but on the condition that you be its heroic victims. You are beckoned to drink the hemlock of sacrifice to the spirit that makes resuscitative the heart of literature. Tomorrow, the tocsin will ring the hour of carnages. Before the charge, it is to you that I appeal. You are the visionaries of the madness of nations. For centuries, your failures are those of thoughts. You are patriots, but your fatherland is a vessel, that of intelligence in storms of History. Help your literature to hold the rudder of reason before your civilization and ours sink in the shipwreck of international law.

As President of the Republic, I will not betray the ideals of my country. The world awaits France's response to the question of knowing if force dictates the law, failing that justice has force for itself.

1 - The Stasi : is an abbreviation of Staatssicherheitdienst; i.e the political Police of RDA from 1950 to 1989 .

2 - The Edict of Nantes is a treaty signed by Henri IV in Nantes on April 13 th 1598 that had established the rights of Protestants in France , ending the War of Religion between Catholics and Protestants.

translated by Marilyse Devoyault

4 janvier 2003