Former prime ministers of France are a teeming species, of which Dominique de Villepin is a member. He occupied the office, 2005-7, during the presidency of Jacques Chirac. His new book, Memories of Peace for a Time of War, is the background to an interview with Vincent Tremolet de Villers in Le Figaro, published on 13th November, and entitled French diplomacy has met an impasse. Here, in extracts from the interview, are some of de Villepin’s insights into the First World ideology that depends for its continued existence, precariously, on the integrity of all the ❛End of❜ theories relentlessly piled up by the prophets. Neoliberalism.
French Diplomacy Has Met an Impasse
Le Figaro: Is politics no longer playing its role?
De Villepin: The abandonment of politics is the central blunder of our democracies. In effect, the international elites have lived for twenty-five years under the illusion of the end of politics. ❛Economism❜ [the widespread conceit that all social phenomena are of economic origin] would have us believe that the economy stood beyond the political. ❛Legalism❜ would have us place the rule of law above the State. Finally, militarism — because it divides the good from the bad, because it presents a moral challenge — has served only to hide this dilution of the political. More than ever, our democracies must practise politics, they must return to the use of the political weapon if they want to settle the world’s problems. The temptation these last years, in every crisis, has been to fall back after every failure of ❛soft power❜ [doux commerce], as Montesquieu says, onto the military weapon. Barack Obama has understood that the United States must leave behind its solitary exercise of power in favour of power-sharing. The problem is that he has not replaced the troops with a vigorous diplomacy. The election of Donald Trump appears to be a new stage in this metamorphosis, with what outcome remains to be seen.
The goal of neoliberalism is to reduce the role of States…?
One of the great dramas of the contemporary world is the enfeeblement of States. The opening of fissures in the nation-state always ends up in a ❛brutalization❜, an ❛uncivilizing❜ of the world. You can see the tragic consequences of this in the Middle East (Iraq) and in Africa (Somalia, Libya). These failed states have collapsed, and the consequences are dizzying. If we do nothing, we shall see a generalized savagery developing in these parts of the world; a durable, rooted presence of terrorism in the lawless regions.
But there is an urgent need to restore the State in our democracies also. There’s been open season on the State, as an archaic and oppressive form of social organization, to the benefit of everything liberal. This happened on the fall of the Soviet Union and the dazzling triumph of liberal democracy. We thought that was the end of History and that the extension of the domain of economics would be unlimited. The financial crisis sent us the invoice for this illusion. Its aftershocks were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
What do you think of French diplomacy?
We don’t speak to the world any more. When François Hollande took to the microphone after the election of Donald Trump, he didn’t address himself to the American people or their president, but related the event to internal issues. The absence of vitality in our diplomacy is very worrying. Our diplomats state their positions. We send out communiqués: we congratulate, we regret, we condemn, we commiserate, and then? True diplomacy puts in the effort, manœuvres, proposes.
Why such apathy?
Ignorance of history and geography play a role. We don’t know these countries, their history, the people who govern. We hide this ignorance behind moral judgement. This is yet another cause behind the systematic use of military force. There’s an absence of stature in politics. ❝In those days, there was altitude❞, said the poet Paul Celan. We’ve lost that altitude. We suffer from having lost our pride, our history, our civilization.