Saturday, September 8, 2007
What Goes Up...
I was mistaken yesterday when I said that Dominique de Villepin's new book describes Napolean's fall. Instead it describes how Napolean's fall was historically inscribed in his rise. But the truth bears out my point even more effectively. Namely, that Villepin is articulating the theoretical principles around which an opposition to Sarkozy might mature. Here's the historical thesis on which it's based, from his book as quoted by a review in Marianne:
For me, the mechanisms of his fall are at work from the beginning of the Napoleonic gesture, at the Empire's source... If Berezina, Leipzig or the betrayal of Talleyrand punctuate the collapse, to my mind they still only finalize it. Their direct causes are the result of older and more profound factors; they are inscribed in the adventure's genes, marked from the very beginning by the precarity of a power undermined by revolutionary fever.
Villepin's larger point, according to the article's author, is that France is at its core a conservative country. So any ruler whose agenda is too ambitiously revolutionary is bound to fail. This was true of Napoleon at the very zenith of his power. And by dedicating his book to the subject, Villepin the Gaullist is sending Sarkozy the Reformer a message: To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, "Mr. President, I've studied Napoleon Bonaparte, I've written two books on Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. President, you're no Napoleon Bonaparte."
I've gone back and forth, personally speaking, on Sarkozy. There are parts of his agenda that seem necessary, others that seem excessive, and some that are just plain, downright offensive. I've often felt that the fear expressed by his most virulent opponents was a bit out of proportion. And then every now and then I find myself wondering if he isn't capable of the worst.
So it's reassuring to know that should Sarkozy give in to his own worst instincts, Villepin is prepared to play the role of Joseph Welch to Sarkozy's Joe McCarthy. It's a role that's he's already familiar with, having played it to perfection in the run-up to the Iraq War. It'll be fascinating to see if he'll be needed for a reprise.