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No Europe Please

Writing in the 1950s, the Swiss-born European federalist Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) deplored what he saw as a lack of interest in Europe and “Europeanism” in intellectual circles, particularly, but not exclusively, in France. This was by way of contrast with the situation in the earlier part of the century, when reviews like Ortega y Gasset’s La Revista de Occidente in Madrid, Eliot’s Criterion in London, André Gide’s Nouvelle Revue Française in Paris and Thomas Mann’s Die Neue Rundschau in Frankfurt were “European” not just in their cultural perspective but in their editorial practices, incorporating translations, debates and dialogues on an international level and exchanges of articles between reviews and introducing their readers to new literary talents and new schools of thought across national boundaries.



In the intellectual atmosphere of postwar France, dominated by “progressivism”, a belief that if the Soviet Union was not quite the only beacon of hope for the world’s toiling masses it wasn’t really that far off it, “Europeanism” was a suspect and “diversionary” ideology, possibly promoted by US imperialism (this suspicion may not have been entirely off the mark). Communism was of course an internationalist philosophy but that didn’t mean it could not make use of nationalist sentiment. Louis Aragon, the leading cultural figure of the French communist party, asserted that the nation was “the very compost of which we are the leaves and in which culture plants its roots and derives its force and its life”, a sentiment which would not have sounded odd on the lips of the intellectuals of France's pre-war far right.

De Rougemont had been published before the war by the “personalist” review Esprit, but it too took a progressivist turn in the postwar years and no longer wished to hear of Europeanism. Luckily for de Rougemont, a new outlet appeared in 1951, the left-liberal Preuves, edited by François Bondy, a trilingual Swiss anti-fascist with connections to most of the leading figures of the non-communist left, including Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone. The review’s title (Preuves = Proofs) indicated its editorial orientation: it wished not only to engage in polemic with the communists or fellow travellers then dominating French intellectual life but also to closely examine the politics of the Soviet Union and the “people’s democracies” to demonstrate that they were in fact very different societies from what they claimed to be. Preuves, not Preuvda, said de Rougemont.

Preuves was to find it difficult initially to establish itself, but that began to change after 1956 when Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes and the revolts in Hungary and Poland shook many people’s faith in communism, leaving many young intellectuals searching for a home somewhere else on the left. Denis de Rougemont was very much at ease with the review and with its sister journals in other European countries, with which it frequently exchanged articles, writing in all fifty-four articles for Preuves, half of them on the federalist theme.

It has been known since at least the 1960s that Preuves, like its counterparts Encounter in Britain, Der Monat in Germany, Tempo Presente in Italy and others elsewhere, was indirectly funded by the CIA. The subject is thoroughly aired in Frances Stonor Saunders’s Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (1999), though it must be said that while there is no doubt as to who paid for these and other left-liberal anti-communist journals (as well, it seems, as promoting abstract expressionism in art) there is a large question over to what extent they called the tune. Perhaps it can fairly be said that the tune which European liberals, social democrats and ex-communists turned anti-communists were disposed to sing anyway was on the whole music to American ears.

If the various journals affiliated to the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom were often happy to exchange articles and to a considerable degree shared a political identity, they nevertheless had their own individual characteristics and it was to emerge that something that went down well in one country would not necessarily fit in another. De Rougemont, as we have seen, published a vast number of texts in Preuves on his abiding passion, European integration. He was to publish four pieces in the British equivalent, Encounter, none of them on this subject. When, in 1953, he offered it an account of a Council of Europe-organised conference attended by among others Robert Schuman and Alcide de Gasperi, he received the following reply from the joint editor, Irving Kristol (an American):

The current version isn’t ... suitable for our public. For Preuves, yes. For Encounter, we’re afraid not ... The article is written by a European, for Europeans, on a European problem. Unfortunately, our readership is very largely non-European. The English, when they talk about Europe, don’t say us but them; and this is even more true of the Indians, the Australians etc. The average reaction of an Englishman or of a member of the Commonwealth to the question of European federation is no different from that of an American: he certainly wishes that Europe would federate, in the hope that it will become less of a nuisance. He doesn’t need to be persuaded of the virtues of a European federation, to which your article devotes a considerable space. He is quite simply for it – that is, for them.

23/2/2016

Above: Denis de Rougemont. The letter from Irving Kristol is quoted in Denis de Rougemont: Les Intellectuels et l'Europe au XXe  Siècle and is here translated back from the French.