In this elegant and original book, Regis Debray argues that for two hundred years the defeats of the left have stemmed from its failure to understand what it likes to call the ‘national question’, while equally its successes have grown from an unacknowledged liaison with the ‘unreal reality’ of the nation.
According to Debray, Charles DE Gaulle was no narrow nationalist. By grounding his actions in a generous philosophy of the nation he was able to wed boldness to insight: on 14 June 1940 he appointed himself leader of the free French, disregarding the overwhelming parliamentary and legal mandate according to Petain. This intuitive action was to be resoundingly vindicated in the resistance and liberation of France.
This study of De Gaulle is offered as an indictment of the shallowness of contemporary politics in the West. For Debray, De Gaulle is not only the last statesman in the classic mould, he is also the first to anticipate the politics of the twenty-first century. De Gaulle’s aloofness from the media and disdain for the base arts of electioneering have an exemplary quality, Debray believes, reaffirming the vocation of political leadership as something other than adapting to popular preferences or allowing professional communicators and opinion pollsters to set every agenda.