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Elements and Origins of Sovereigntism in France

“Kant's entire morality amounts to saying that each man must ask himself, for each action, whether the maxim of his action can become a general law. In other words, it is, so to speak, the extreme opposite of obedience. Everyone is a legislator. For Kant, no one has the right to obey. » Hannah Arendt,  in the courtyard of her birthplace, in  Hannover-Linden-Mitte, by Patrik Wolters (BeneR1) and Kevin Lasner (Koarts) (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
“Kant's entire morality amounts to saying that each man must ask himself, for each action, whether the maxim of his action can become a general law. In other words, it is, so to speak, the extreme opposite of obedience. Everyone is a legislator. For Kant, no one has the right to obey. » Hannah Arendt, in the courtyard of her birthplace, in Hannover-Linden-Mitte, by Patrik Wolters (BeneR1) and Kevin Lasner (Koarts) (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)

Paul-Marie Coûteaux acted as a ghostwriter for the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Count of Paris, the President of the National Assembly, Philippe Séguin, the Minister of Defense, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, and once fortuitously of Pope John-Paul II. In 2002, he published Le génie de la France, De Gaulle philosophe.

Was de Gaulle a philosopher and an admirer of Bergson and Maurras ?

PMC: In our conversation with Renaud Camus, something I hold dear is the distinction he makes between the writer and the philosopher. He even invokes Fronto, the 2nd-century rhetorician, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, who was the first to give rhetoric its own domain apart from philosophy to the point that he wrote a treatise on dust or things like that. And Camus says, following him, that there is an archetype of the writer who was somewhat a philosopher at times, without taking philosophy as seriously as philosophers sometimes do.

Was de Gaulle a rhetorician or a poet as understood in ancient Greece ?

PMC: That’s what I was going to say, it’s poetry, the other term is poetry. There is a bit of all that in De Gaulle; he is not purely a philosopher, and especially if he quickly became nostalgic for the philosophical function, he never achieved it. It’s something very curious that he says in this book. He tells André Bozel, who was the treasurer of the RPF, in 1947-1948, “You see, Bozel, life is strange. I prepared myself to be a soldier, and I was only that a little,” alluding to the injury of 14-18, and then he did Moncornet, he had two months of campaigning, but he was not a soldier in the sense of the great captains of the classical age. And he says, “I was not a soldier, but instead, I went into politics, and yet with age,” he was 58 when he said this, “I realize that I was not made for either, neither for the military profession nor for politics. I was made to be a philosopher because I have many things to say,” he adds, “to my contemporaries.” He instills, that’s what Camus says, a writer instills, he places philosophical elements, that’s a bit of my case, perhaps a lack of assurance or philosophical work.

Are you a poet or a rhetorician yourself ?

PMC: That’s it; there is the literary dimension. The one who makes a profession of philosophy is what De Gaulle would have wanted to be, and there is the poet. De Gaulle is dramatic from that point of view, and many of us are dramatic from that point of view, never fully accomplished on that side, maybe because it is very difficult and very demanding, and we quickly see its limits, meaning a thought that turns on itself.

You’re talking about philosophy, not poetry ?

PMC: Poetry doesn’t turn on itself; philosophy does because philosophy closes in its domain and takes its domain as the alpha and omega, either out of laziness, ignorance, or lack of time or erudition. De Gaulle tried twice in Colombey, first during the crossing of the desert; he realized, he already knew in the 1930s, he said, “It’s increasingly hard for me to write.” He wrote every morning except Sunday. The afternoons were for correspondence. Both during the crossing of the desert and then in 1969. In 1969, he wanted to write his memoirs explaining what he did as president of the republic, and he said this time to Pierre Louis Blanc, whom I visited and who confirmed it to me, who was his last secretary, that “the essential thing is not to explain what I did but to explain myself, what I believe.” And in the last four or five chapters of the second volume of Memoirs of Hope, he was working on this when he died. He tackled this, which resonates with what he said to Bozel, twenty five years earlier, “I have things to say to my contemporaries.” I think the influence Bergson had on him, a trace of going higher in his reflection, and in that, he is very French. He decided to do something other than what he intended to do. But there is a sadness and an incompleteness, for me, a huge, serious one, in the fact that he never developed what one might simply call his philosophy, his system. So, I say it at the beginning of my first volume, there is a second volume, but it hasn’t been published; I want to do what he didn’t do, it’s not immodest. So, I went looking, with my philosophical background, for what could be referred to, what he said, what he did, what he wanted, the intention, the action, and the word. And on these three levels, I found a pure essentialism.

Maffesoli was a student of Heidegger and you of Ellul. Was he an influence ?

PMC: Ellul ? It’s greater now than it was then. It’s greater because there is this concept of…, he is a Protestant, there is this concept of nature among Christians that I had not really seen, whereas it was supposed to be among the Greeks, and an impious side for a Christian, which is very well seen in François’ encyclical…

Which references Edgar Morin’s complex thought.

PMC: Yes, yes, yes, with great caution about the divinization of nature to be quick. There is immanence; there is no transcendence. But to return to what I was saying about De Gaulle, he is very Greek. The great reference for Ellul is nature; the great reference for De Gaulle, although he hardly developed it, is essence. He is a pure essentialist. I posit that he is, without knowing it or without reading it, in any case, without developing it, a very heir of Plato, of Parmenides.

Is Jacques Ellul your inspiration ?

PMC: No, no, no, that’s false; you’re extrapolating. I had Ellul as a professor; he appreciated me because he proposed my thesis topic at Science Po, “The intelligentsia and the state, the relationship between the intellectual milieu and the state,” which is an old obsession.

Which is a strange term, referring to what?

PMC: It’s a Russian term from the 19th century

Different from nomenklatura, which describes rather the elite.

PMC: Oligarchies should not be confused with elites, it’s not the same thing, in the sense that they serve interests that are not their own, in very contemporary language, they serve the city. The oligarchy serves the interests of the nomenklatura. It can even serve a universal. It is installed in a national ensemble. It has its own role. But to return to Ellul, this topic he gave me and which suited me perfectly, our relations remained there. I don’t see myself as an Ellulian; I have read little Ellul, and I read him afterward, that is to say, very recently, after meeting him, I had read two or three things, I had been part of an association for the defense of the Arcachon Basin. It’s linked to Cap Ferret, to the defense of the Arcachon Basin against Biasini, who was the great planner, who wanted to totally modify it and failed. These are my relations with Ellul, this thesis, his courses,

Land planning is a topic that illustrates Ellul’s thought around Technique.

PMC: The refusal of Technique.

Which reflects Heidegger’s thought.

PMC: Ah, I see the link with Mafessoli.

So, you come from the Heideggerian world.

PMC: A bit, yes, yes, more, consciously more.

Macron cites Heidegger (being-in-the-world, beast of the event). Idiots believe he’s a Satanist but he refers to Heidegger’s Ereignis without going into detail.

PMC: It’s very chic of him.

He is close to trendy Heideggerians: Sloterdijk, a trendy Heideggerians, and Anselm Kiefer, a student of Joseph Beuys, portraeyd in Wim Wenders’s film.

PMC: And that did not pass through…

Ricoeur ? no, although, he asked him about the “Hebraic massif”, he was an an anti-Heideggerian like Bourdieu who wrote a thesis on Heidegger. Eric Zemmour also mentions the “enframing of technology”… 

PMC: That’s me…

That’s what I thought.

PMC: Not to add more, but Eric Zemmour is completely outside the realm of philosophy. He’s so pleased to have understood a few things that he mentions them three or four times on television.

The Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical, talks about the forgetting of Being. An Heideggerian too. In Valeurs Actuelles, you mentionned Heraclitus and Parmenides, as progressives ? You also come from the left.

PMC: I never had an intellectual structure from the left; it’s my deeply archaic upbringing from my Bordeaux grandparents.

Certainly not from your father, who was a modernist.

PMC: He had no intellectual influence on me.

And yet, you resemble him, physically. You inherited his humor. 

PMC: There’s that, a way of being, but I never had a philosophical conversation with him.

Wasn’t he influenced by philosophy ?

PMC: No, he tried a bit with theology. The end of A Male Companion is a bit incongruous; he speaks precisely because all French people, all French literati, always have a moment, like Camus, for example, where they want to integrate philosophy. They want the best of both worlds. They want to integrate their poetry, so to speak. And then there’s a moment when we are tempted, as rhetoricians—I place myself in this category—to raise our collars and develop some philosophical ideas. With my father, it was half-hearted, and it was hardly…

And what is he talking about at the end of A male Companion?

PMC: Yes, he completely absorbs philosophy into a kind of theology with Saint Francis de Sales (Editor’s note: the patron saint of writers and journalists).

That too is something he passed on to you.

PMC: It runs in our blood, it stayed with me.

In Valeurs actuelles, you said:

“we must return to the philosophical debate, and to that very ancient dispute that opposed the progressive Heraclitus to Parmenides and Plato. The former asserted that everything being perpetual becoming, nothing is forever what it is nor pertains to any immutable essence (“one never steps into the same river”), each thing lends itself to infinite progress. The latter affirmed, on the contrary, that movement was merely a series of metamorphoses not altering the nature of each thing, its idea, its essence: it is not the same water, but it is always the same river…

True to the thought of Plato and Parmenides, you thus took the initiative and against all odds recommended the reading of Plato, the philosopher of transcendence, to Marine Le Pen against all these Aristotelian immanentists ? People see you as a sovereigntist, a Jacobin, but in reality, you are a Platonist, a metaphysician. And you describe Gaullist thought as poetic, as an immanentism, that of rhetoricians, in the manner of Zemmour and Le Pen.

PMC: They are primarily great demagogues.

But sophistry is poetry. And if you define yourself as a platonician, you cannot be a Nietzschean.

PMC: Unless you take Nietzsche as a poet. He is not Mallarmé. “One always appears small when one flies high.” Again, I am 67 years old, and philosophical categories are not impermeable. Philosophers scare me, because they succumb to the madness of words.

Moreover, Heidegger, who called Plato a sophist, said of Nietzsche, he is the last of the metaphysicians. The reversal of categories you speak of is what Heidegger does.

PMC: It would be good if you met Maffesoli.

You are friends with Renaud Camus who, like Roland Barthes, delved into the question that obsessed the structuralists, namely that of the death of the subject. The former through the death of the author and the latter through replacementism. Are we dealing with existentialist progressives and Heracliteans?

PMC: Rather on the essentialist side. But there is an excess in essentialization, it radicalizes the French essence, it behaves like an integrist. It all depends on where we place metamorphosis, because every eternal thing changes its face. I’m sorry for being a radical socialist.

You are a radical socialist.

PMC: I believe that in this story of Heraclitus, one must be capable of thinking both the water and the river. De Gaulle said to Malraux in ‘The Fallen Oaks,’ I have always registered in duration and compare ideas to trees. I was 20 when i red that book i was close to the CERES, Jean Pïerre `Chevènement and Michel Jobert.

Michel Jobert, who appeared in the last episode of Italics‘ by Marc Gilbert, who half-heartedly called for a vote for him. To go back to philosophy, Alexandre Douguine and Diego Fusaro, who are in this Heideggerian lineage, hence rather anti-essentialist, it’s quite complicated with Heidegger, would you put them in Heraclitus’ camp?  The former describes himself as a national-Bolshevik and the latter as a right-wing Marxist, so are they not doing somewhat like you, breaking the frameworks, putting themselves in progressivism?

PMC:  There is a timeless part and a part of metamorphosis; ultimately, I think Heidegger thought of both.

Are you interested in the question of the ‘Black Notebooks‘?

PMC: No. Someone who marked me much earlier is Hannah Arendt. Whom I knew through Ellul or Finkielkraut. The reading of ‘The Crisis in Culture‘ was decisive, around 1980. I was already at ENA. Ellul must have talked to me about it. Bainville’s history of France, which is pure essentialism, also marked me and for whom the politics of France is immutable from start to finish.

What’s funny is that you talk about the concept of essence like Plato, but the concept itself has evolved. And you never talk about that. Essence can be substance; with Heidegger, it’s not like that anymore. Are we talking about essence in relation to rooting? ‘Wesen’ in Heidegger is more the habitat of being, so for you, is essence rather about rooting or becoming?

PMC: Becoming what one is, Nietzsche said. Which aligns with the idea of not categorizing.

Yes, but fundamentally, this choice not to categorize aligns you with that viewpoint. Let’s say it clearly, you are not fundamentally a racist, you do not believe in a superior race, in biology. Like Heidegger, who spiritualized his concept of essence to escape racial dogma.

PMC: Reading races is not postulating superiority of one over the other, which is an imposture, what racism is indeed in the common sense. But there is another meaning, which is that of nationalism. There are two conceptions of racism and two of nationalism. The second conception of nationalism, which is imperialism, consists of devouring others. So the same word says two completely opposite things. And similarly on race. We can say that racism in the modern sense postulates that one race is superior to another, and we can also say that racism consists of reading the differences of the world through rigidities.

So do you lean more towards Pierre Boutang‘s thought, where the origin is the secret? The first title of his book, ‘Ontology of the Secret,’ was supposed to be ‘Ontology of the Origin.’

PMC: I have never read it, but I met Boutang with Colossimo. We were all three drunk.

Yes, he was quite the alcoholic.

PMC: Yes me too and Colossimo no less.

And he spent his life with Matzneff, Camus, and Schérer, his three favorite sons.

PMC: I don’t remember that, although I was at his funeral in 2003, at the church of Saint-Germain.

But you see, Boutang is also a Heideggerian. This redefinition of the origin in the philosophical sense, not as a race, not as subject to biology, but as secret.

PMC: Yes, the secret, an idea that echoes Plato’s idea that all truth is at the beginning.

And when Hannah Arendt speaks of the secret king to talk about Heidegger, it is in this sense. And not to speak of the secret king of secret Germany. And when Heidegger speaks of the secret of the Jewish prophets, he is not talking about the Jewish conspiracy, but about a thought that does not yet think. Boutang therefore falls into fervent Zionism, which is not your case.

PMC: For me, the beginning is my post at the French embassy in Cairo. It was the follow-up to the Camp David Accords, the obsessive question was, is there a chance for peace and is there a political solution? I have entirely remained on the French solution, which is the political solution, essentially the two-state solution, and I have never deviated from this ridge. On both sides, I have been accused of being on the opposite side.

In what context are you accused of being a Zionist?

PMC: Since my rallying to Zemmour, Maréchal, and Poisson.

Your connection to Michel Jobert ?

PMC: Exactly. I met Yitzhak Rabin, I loved Rabin. I was with Boutros Ghali in September 1992, and Rabin announced to him that he was starting the process that would lead to Oslo. I found Rabin beautiful, magnificent, and it was good. It was peace in the Middle East, and it was peace for Europe. It was amazing what was happening. I am very angry with Netanyahu, the re-founder of Israel who is now creating a completely different Israel, which is essentially ‘Jabotinsky’s revenge.’

I get the reference.

PMC: Who wanted to essentially create Greater Israel including Transjordan and whose messianism is crazy even if it’s a bit less narrow…

Than that of Hamas and the Iranians

PMC: Of the Muslim Brotherhood, to summarize. But Netanyahu said this madness that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had inspired the Holocaust to Hitler.

Ben Gurion called Jabotinsky Vladimir Hitler.

PMC: Well, I am completely on Ben Gurion’s side.

Your father, André Couteaux, was a friend of Pierre de Varga and Patrick de Ribemont, defended by Raymond de Geouffre de la Pradelle, accused in the assassination of Prince Jean de Broglie. Was he personally aligned with De Gaulle ?

PMC: He welcomed De Gaulle at Orly early in the morning after the president returned from Québec. This is what Béatrice, his wife, told me. In a way, he was a sovereigntist himself long before i did.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.