The End of the French Intellectual
Of all the public figures of twentieth-century Europe, Jean Monnet is one of the most sympathetic and inspiriting. He can justly be called a great man who, in a life guided by a pragmatic idealism, has done his best to heal the deep wounds which Europe has inflicted on itself and to place international relations on a basis of reason and the recognition of a common interest among nations. He has been called the founding father of the European Community, and, if not everything has turned out as he foresaw, that is the normal fate of political innovators.
The publication of M. Monnet's Mémoires is, therefore, something of an event - all the more so in that there is no very easily accessible record of his utterances and opinions. Despite his influence M. Monnet has remained a somewhat shadowy figure, and this book, with its forthcoming translation into English, should do much to make readers in other countries than France - particularly the younger ones - more aware of what he has achieved and how he has achieved it.
Jean Monnet's career has been a long and varied one, taking him from the family brandy business in Cognac - the one French town with a street called after the British nineteenth-century freetrader Cobden - to dealing with the supply of food for the Allies in London during the First World War and the purchase of arms for the British government from the United States in the Second. Between the wars he worked for the League of Nations and as an international banker. After 1945, he became the first Commissioner for the Plan for Modernization and Equipment of France, and founded an organization which he himself had suggested and which was to become an example of what can be done to modernize and strengthen a country's economy. Then came what is rightly called the Monnet Plan for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). After its acceptance by Adenauer and Schuman, M. Monnet became the first President of the High Authority in Luxembourg. Then in early 1955, after the failure of the European Defense Community (EDC), he resigned in order to found the Action Committee for the United States of Europe, whose leader he remained until it was dissolved in 1975.
Thus, in 88 years, M. Monnet has lived much history and met many of the actors in it. But it is an odd feature of these recollections that this side of things hardly seems to interest their author. Famous men are mentioned, but the description of them is perfunctory, and there is little in the way of the striking vignettes usually associated with great memoir-writers. What M. Monnet remembers of those with whom he has dealt is their alignment rather than their characters. Also he has not much to add in the way of facts to what is already known by the historian of contemporary politics. It is curious to find him refusing to join de Gaulle in London on the grounds that the latter should not have formed his Free French committee before General Nogues had made up his mind about the Vichy government. It is interesting to hear his account of exchanges with the British at the time of the Coal and Steel plan. But these are historical crumbs.
On the question of whether or not the shipwreck of the EDC treaty could have been prevented, he writes:
To try to discover what would have happened had things fallen out otherwise is an exercise of which I am incapable. To rewrite history on the bases of hypotheses which have not materialized is not only a fruitless task, but, in my eyes, meaningless.
But precisely for most historians the causes of the failure of EDC - and, therefore, the alternate ways in which things might have developed - are of great interest, an integral part of the formation of a historical judgment on these events. For M. Monnet, on the contrary, such discussion appears to inhibit (or, at any rate, fail to further) future action. His attitude, like that of many convinced reformers, is resolutely anti-historical. This is legitimate enough in itself, but inevitably detracts from the interest of those long sections of the book which are, in effect, history. These memoirs have a curiously public air about them. An autobiography must concern its author in the first place, but it is a pity that the other figures on the stage should be quite so ghostly and that, in the narration of events, so little should be given away.
Of course, M. Monnet himself - his beliefs and aims, his strategy and tactics - is the subject of this book. Throughout it are scattered fascinating and revealing hints about its author's methods of work and ways of exercising influence:
I have never acted in any other way: first have an idea, then look for the man with the power to apply it.
How many times have I succeeded at the last moment in substituting the text which I had patiently prepared for that which an irresolute or indifferent politician had failed to perfect.
. . . in this matter of drafting my only rule is to work as much as is necessary, to return to the drawing board a hundred times if a hundred times are needed for the result to satisfy me.
One could multiply these quotations. M. Monnet's preference for simple language, for working with small teams of handpicked assistants, his efforts to identify in advance the right politician or official before whom a paper should be laid - all this meticulous preparation of documents and reflection as to their probable reception - help us to understand just how formidable a deployer of influence within an official hierarchy he was. Clarity in the expression of ideas and exact timing in their launching were his weapons - tactical arms which are not invariably employed by those who possess a vision of the future and wish to convey it to others. Perhaps it is of some significance that M. Monnet was over 60 when he produced his plan for the Coal and Steel Community. A lifetime's experience of affairs conducted in very diverse milieux showed him what had to be done to get it accepted. A younger man might not have been capable of acting so effectively.
Such passages help to identify the type of influence exercised by M. Monnet. In an interesting page he gives his reasons for not entering French political life after 1945 and, in so doing, provides a key to his own conception of how he might most usefully intervene in public life:
Faced by this dilemma, I understood that I had better things to do than to try to exercise power myself: had not my role for a long time been that of influencing those who possessed it and of taking care that they should use it at the right moment?
The politician's inevitable egotism and the heterogeneous character of the tasks with which a minister is faced were equally alien to M. Monnet. For him it was essential to concentrate on one thing at a time, and his preference was for working in the background, if by self-effacement he could be more effective. The modesty was tactical, for it is clear from these memoirs that once he had made up his mind, it was almost impossible to change it.
Such a mode of action was one suited to the habit of mind of a high civil servant, and, though M. Monnet did not spend most of his career in official bureaucracies, it was in such an environment that his major victories were won. Comparisons have often been made between his life and that of de Gaulle - no doubt by would-be Plutarchs in search of a striking contrast. But there is perhaps a more interesting parallel to be drawn between his career and that of John Maynard Keynes who was also concerned to spread ideas, first within the official world of his own country, and then throughout the whole network of those concerned with the management of international finance and trade. Just as European institutions bear witness to M. Monnet's work, so the postwar economic order was a monument to Keynes - albeit, from his point of view, an imperfect one. Of course, the comparison must not be stretched too far. Keynes, with a crushing intellectual superiority over his adversaries, was, perhaps for that very reason, less successful than M. Monnet in placing his ideas where they could bear fruit. He lacked the visible crisis brought about by the Second World War to reinforce his arguments and gain a receptive audience. Both, however, were men who chose to work through the machinery, and within the bounds, of a given political and bureaucratic system.
M. Monnet's style - the manner in which he advanced his cause - emerges clearly from his memoirs. The objectives which he tried to achieve also permeate the book, though they do not receive the systematic treatment they deserve. Since, however, they must be regarded as its main theme, it is worth trying to summarize them here, oversimplified as such a summary must be.
M. Monnet's ultimate objective (and in this he does not differ much from other Europeans who have lived through two wars) is peace and understanding among men:
The best contribution that can be made to civilization is to cause men to flower in freely constructed communities.
The same thought recurs in a different form in the first draft of the Coal and Steel Community plan:
this proposal will create the first solid foundations of a European federation which is indispensable for the preservation of peace.
The problem is to bring this about in a Europe torn by conflicting nationalisms and the hatreds inherited from murderous wars. M. Monnet's answer - and it is here his originality resides rather than in the aspiration itself - is to unite men and nations by proposing to them some common task in which they see their own interest and forget their differences. Thus traditional rivalries will gradually be transcended and a community of interest created by the experience of work in common which can be extended to other sectors of activity as time goes on. It was in this spirit that M. Monnet and his associates felt that the establishment of a European Atomic Authority should follow the success of the Coal and Steel Community.
Such common tasks must be embodied in institutions both because rules are the only way of avoiding perpetual conflicts of interest and because institutional arrangements are necessary to give permanence to any human undertaking:
The life of institutions is longer than that of men, and thus institutions, if they are soundly built, can accumulate and pass on the wisdom of succeeding generations.
Once nation-states and their leaders find themselves bound by rules, infringement of which will destroy common policies that are to their own advantage, these institutional bonds will serve not only to inhibit the occurrence of conflict, but also to mediate it if it does occur. Little by little this method of conducting policy in common will spread to all sectors of interstate relations until the members of the Community no longer deal with each other on a bilateral basis. At this point they will have become a federation just as the provinces of France were assembled in a national state at a moment favorable to this change in their status.
In a note of August 22, 1966, M. Monnet wrote:
The power of adaptation which compelled the French provinces to construct France continues.
Only, in the twentieth century, it is not so much the different geographical portions of a future federation that are joined as it is the different functions of states that are gradually abandoned to common decision-making. The nature of that decision-making will itself have changed from dealing with purely functional matters, under license from the member-states of the Community, to having a political content when decisions are taken on a federal basis (e.g., by majority vote). Then a federal government will be in existence for all practical purposes and, as such, will require to be controlled by appropriate democratic institutions.
This is the way in which M. Monnet envisages the advent of that "wider and deeper" Community to which the preamble of the Coal and Steel Community treaty refers. The reference to the slow creation of France is far from irrelevant, since the process described is analogous to that by which the citizens of a nation are subjected to common laws and institutions. Moreover, the idea of the development of a common interest around which a community can coalesce is that which has often in the past been seen as presiding at the birth of civil society. In Hume's Essay on the Independency of Parliament the business of the legislator was already defined as so to arrange the laws that men, guided by their interests, would "cooperate to the public good." The idea of finding a common framework for individual interests so that they may band together to sustain a general interest is a familiar one in the history of European states and European jurisprudence. It was M. Monnet's originality to apply it to relations between states and to do so in such a way as would build solid functional links between them. The difference is that, in the course of the construction of nation-states, there was never any assumption of equality between the central core and the outlying portions of national territory added to it. In the case of the European Community a legal equality is assumed between the component parts which also possess a right of veto on how far the process of fusion shall go.
The question which faces the reader of these memoirs is to what extent Monnet's serene confidence that European integration will forge ahead as he has imagined is justified. At the time of the signature of the Rome treaty in 1957 enthusiastic Europeans, if they reflected on the evolution of the institutions of the European Economic Community (EEC), saw the Council of Ministers losing power and the European Commission (supported by the European Parliament) gaining it. The moment at which political power tilted decisively toward the supranational institutions played something of the same role in their thinking as the withering away of the state does in that of Marxists. But this has not happened, and, with regular meetings of a European Council composed of heads of state and government, the shadow of the member-states looms larger over the Commission than it did in the early 1960s. M. Monnet may be right in pointing to the crucial importance of institutions, but it is the hardest thing in the world to overcome the force of inertia they generate. One institutional choice must exclude another, and, once a wrong turning has been taken, it is impossible to go back. Institutions like human beings suffer from sclerosis and degeneration, and no very sure recipe has been discovered for their restoration to vigor. It is not easy to imagine any known modern bureaucracy, in M. Monnet's words, accumulating the wisdom of succeeding generations. In general, such organizations content themselves with surviving and dealing more or less capably with the crisis of the day. Thus M. Monnet, who is rightly conscious of the fallibility of the individual human being, may have underestimated that of organizations.
In any case, the "engrenage" through which the machinery of European institutions was itself supposed to produce an ever-widening circle of integrated policies has not worked well of recent years - partly because, as Roy Jenkins has pointed out, a disparity of economic power has divided a community of equals into those who give and those who take. Can it, therefore, be expected that the great leap forward from the functional to the political will take place simply as the result of a process already under way? No doubt, some more direct expression of political will is required from the peoples concerned, and this will hardly become manifest without some strong and visible impulsion. Historically speaking, the concept of a European Community was the product of the fears left behind by the Second World War, of a determination that this at least should not happen again. In the mid-1950s, Suez and Budapest seem to have provided a powerful stimulus for the negotiations preceding the Treaty of Rome. In the early 1970s, however, the threat of the energy crisis excited no such reaction, though doubtless there are still plenty of salutary shocks ahead to try European reflexes.
The view of politics taken in these memoirs is rational and melioristic. In the dependence which it suggests of the political on the economic factors in society there is also something of Marxism. But it is questionable whether, in fact, political activity can be analyzed in purely rational terms. The power of common fears, the lure of common myths, the strength of common hatreds - all these tumultuous elements play a part in human affairs that is certainly not predictable in advance nor easily controllable when it manifests itself. M. Monnet's account of society neglects some of the most powerful integrative forces that go to bind together historical communities. He recognizes the existence of the dark instinctive side of political life, but he may underestimate its strength and also its advantages. Nationalism, for instance, can reasonably be regarded as a negative force; but what has yet replaced it as a motivation for the behavior of the citizen within society? What social catalyst has been discovered as drastic in its effect as war or a new religion?
To ask such questions is probably unfair. M. Monnet has been concerned to act and not to disinter the roots of political behavior. As far as he has been able, he has endeavored to improve the political climate of his time, and his reflections on politics are in fact a technique of action. A native idealism and a practicality which owed something to his experience as an international businessman dictated an approach to world affairs very similar to that of the high American officials he had known so well in Washington. They, too, saw a better world stemming from practical cooperation for economic reconstruction that would bring in its wake reconciliation as well as peace. No wonder that M. Monnet always found such understanding in the United States. No wonder, too, that American Administrations sometimes overestimated his influence in his own country, thereby adding one more to a long series of misunderstandings.
In the closing passage of his memoirs M. Monnet draws a distinction between those who wish to do something and those who wish to be something. He would put himself into the first category, and certainly he has done great things. But his has also been an exemplary role in Europe. It would be absurd to use the word guru of so rational a being, but he has been an effective teacher and has had disciples who remember working for him as the formative experience of their lives. His view of Europe and its problems has deeply affected a whole generation of statesmen and altered history for the better. Now it will be the business of those who have listened to him to reflect on what he has said and build on what he has done. For a time has come when the process of European integration requires rethinking if it is to continue. Unless Jean Monnet's achievement - its extent and its limitations - receives genuinely critical attention and the lessons of failure as well as those of success are learned, his work will hardly go forward. To omit such a critical examination is to fail to take him seriously or to understand the last 25 years of European history.