- Political Ecumenism: Catholics, Jews, and Protestants in de Gaulle's Free France, 1940–1945
As every follower of the Muslim head-scarf debate in France knows, the Republic excludes religion from any significant place in the public arena. So it is in the present day, when Canadians are likely to think themselves superior to France on this point because of our commitments to multiculturalism; and so it was during the Second World War, when the collaborationist regime of Vichy publicly promoted its Catholic ties, modelling itself more on Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal than [End Page 387] on the principles of the French Revolution. But as everyone also knows, there is a lot more about religion and public life going on under the surface. For the years of the Second World War, while Vichy's links with the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic issues have been carefully explored by historians and while there have been important inquiries into the religious roots of the Resistance, there has been little exploration of interactions within the religiously and sociologically diverse movement headed by Free French leader Charles de Gaulle. This is what Geoffrey Adams undertakes in his admirable Political Ecumenism, a wide-ranging look at de Gaulle's rassemblement – a bringing together of a diverse range of supporters extending from the most militant republican secularists to the most loyal, fervent Catholics in a common political cause – the defeat of Nazism.
Adams constructs his inquiry through a careful reading and reporting of contemporary accounts and memoir literature. He makes the case that de Gaulle himself – extraordinarily for someone of his traditionalist, conservative Catholic background, religious education, and personal piety – was vigorously republican, fully accepting of non-Catholics of all sorts, and utterly pragmatic in his political leadership. The author's focus is on individuals whose contributions to the Gaullist movement he summarizes with as much reference to their political and religious background as he can find. The major personalities are all here: the general's 'inner circle' of upper-class Christian associates such as Geoffroy de Courcel, René Plevin, or Gaston Palewski; the secular Jewish constitutionalist René Cassin; the fervent Catholic of Jewish background Maurice Schumann, de Gaulle's voice on the BBC; the ecumenical money-manger, cultural critic, and sometimes anti-Semitic Pierre Denis and the 'austere Calvinist' and 'senior mandarin' Maurice Couve de Murville; the 'Huguenot rebel' and media chief Jacques Soustelle; supporters of Léon Blum like the brilliant young Georges Boris and Jewish co-religionists Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, Jean Pierre Bloch, and Jean-Pierre Lévy; the Jewish airman, escaped prisoner of war, and financial architect Pierre Mende's France; the devoted secular republican and courageous resistance leader Jean Moulin; the committed Catholic militant Georges Bidault; Simone Weil, of Jewish origin but mystic and drawn to Catholicism; the Socialist Protestant and leader of the Christian Left André Philip; the skilful Protestant emissary René Massigli; the conservative Jewish supporter of Henri Giraud, René Mayer; and many others.
Adams introduces these personages as he follows a basically chronological narrative, shaped by major themes that group clusters of individuals together. The difficulty with this approach is that it can be heavy going for readers trying to keep all the names and themes straight, and they may miss sustained analysis. This reviewer, [End Page 388] for example, sought in vain some investigation of how Gaullism contended with anti-Semitism or assessed the persecution and murder of European Jews. To follow this and most other themes, the reader must flip back and forth between the index and the text, and even then is likely to emerge somewhat shortchanged. (Themes are difficult to follow even in the index: there are no entries for Catholics or Catholicism, and nothing under Protestants, Jews, or anti-Semitism. Most researchers will eventually find what they want under names, rather than issues.) This is a volume that requires work, therefore.
Adams's argument persuades, and he does not make the mistake of over-idealizing Gaullist political ecumenism. Not...