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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.3 (2000) 87-100

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Reconstructing De Gaulle

Jeffrey Vanke

Over two thousand books and articles make a very good point: Charles de Gaulle based his domestic and foreign policies on a fundamental, unchanging vision of France's geopolitical position in the world. Andrew Moravcsik summarily dismisses this literature for its "tendency to engage in imaginative biographical reconstruction" and argues instead that "the overwhelming preponderance of direct evidence in the published public record about the motivations of de Gaulle and his closest associates with respect to the European Economic Community (EEC) confirms the primacy of commercial concerns." 1 Moravcsik provides a large amount of countervailing evidence to support his conclusions, which he declares to be "unambiguous" (Part 2, p. 54). Unfortunately, Moravcsik's flawed methodology and misrepresentation of the evidence undermine his case. In analyzing Moravcsik's article, my comments will first address the general questions of his methods and his depiction of de Gaulle. I will then take a closer look at each of Moravcsik's cases and point to the evidence for alternative explanations of de Gaulle's decisions and actions.


Three methodological problems and some sporadic faulty logic mar Moravcsik's article. First, Moravcsik asks the reader to consider evidence about the EEC in isolation from de Gaulle's general policy goals. Why should we deliberately ignore reams of relevant evidence? This is tantamount to attempting to understand a person's decision to commute to work each day by [End Page 87] studying only the conditions of the commute. Using this metaphor, we can see de Gaulle's starting point as his vision for France as a world leader. His goal was to leave France with a constitution and practices that would ensure a strong and viable French political system even after his retirement. The "commute" between his vision and its realization encompassed all the details of implementation, including his policy toward the EEC. Published documents provide more than enough contextual evidence for the primacy of geopolitics in de Gaulle's EEC policy, as does the archival record. Specific examples will be noted below.

Second, although a study based only on published documents can be insightful, Moravcsik has not made responsible use of these documents. A good historian must at least acknowledge evidence that supports conflicting interpretations. Moravcsik often fails to do this, and at times he falsely (although probably unintentionally) claims the absence of such evidence. He is thus guilty of his own charge of "selective citation and interpretation" (Part 2, p. 67). Below I will draw on Moravcsik's own sources to provide specific examples of evidence that contradict his arguments. In only a few cases will I supply archival evidence as further proof of my claim that Moravcsik's argument does not square with the facts.

Finally, although Moravcsik criticizes "ex post facto" accounts as unreliable, he frequently and uncritically draws on them when convenient. For example, Moravcsik relies on de Gaulle's 1970 memoirs for an account of a specific meeting in September 1958 (Part 1, p. 27, fn. 69). In another case he accepts the account found in Edmond Jouve's 1967 book to explain de Gaulle's position in 1958 (Part 1, p. 22).

Problems of logic arise as well. In Part 1, pages 20 and 21, Moravcsik offers a list of outcomes that the geopolitical and economic theories are supposed to predict. But he does not provide sufficient analysis to explain why the outcomes must follow as they do. For example, if de Gaulle ascribed some geopolitical significance to the EEC (as Moravcsik acknowledges in Part 1, p. 27), why would French support for the EEC have to weaken with de Gaulle's return to power in 1958? To make such a claim, Moravcsik needs to provide a thorough analysis of the level of support for the EEC under each of the four Fourth Republic governments after the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Explaining de Gaulle

Moravcsik's analysis unfortunately attempts to apply overly simplistic explanations to a complicated figure. It is inaccurate to...