Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Bastille Day post: Tocqueville on France and Algeria

I somehow neglected this in my springtime frenzy of reading about the French-Algerian War, but its ringing words may be even more relevant in the waning moments of Bastille Day than than they were in April.
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I still don't know why France treated Algeria differently from Tunisia and Morocco, making of it a full-fledged colony while holding the others as protectorates. It couldn't really be because of a fly swatter, could it?

It transpires, though, that some of the impetus for France's decision about how to proceed after its invastion of Algiers came from the guy better known for writing about America:
"Tocqueville himself had sought such an incorporation when, in his 1847 report, he described the goal that would guide France's elusive, destructive, and ultimately failed project in Algeria:

"`We should set out to create not a colony properly speaking in Algeria, but rather the extension of France itself across the Mediterranean.'"
I don't say that makes him a perp, but he is at least a person of interest.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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36 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

It worked with Savoy and Corsica so perhaps Algeria wouldn't have been seen as that different an extension of Metropolitan France.

I wonder what would have happened to Europe if the Foreign Legion coup had come off and France was now considered to be the 60 million people living on the northern portion of the Mediterranean and the 40 million people on the southern portion.

I appreciate that it would have been an insult to their dignity but I think its clear that the Algerians would have been better off as French citizens in the EU than as impoverished inhabitants of Algeria.

But as I say these geographically split countries seldom work out - Pakistan being the classic example here.

July 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Didn't Corsica pass into French possession something like a week before Napoleon was born? (His father was Carlo Maria di Buonaparte. Note the Italian spelling of the last name.) What if he'd been born the week before instead of the week after and retained a burning nostalgia for Corsican independence?

Yeah, I'd say the Corsica thing worked out all right for France.

July 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a thought for Bastille Day: Napoleon was an Italian and Charlemagne was a German.

July 14, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And the greatest twentieth century Frenchman, Camus, was an Algerian.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And the Bastille bustout set free three cutpurses and a beggar, I think.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Camus of course is the greatest philosopher goalkeeper but not that Pope John Paul II has been made a Saint, there's a patron saint of goalkeepers too. A useful thing to know when the next world cup comes around.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was going to say that there may not be a next world, but there will be a next World Cup. But one never knows these days in Brazil, does one?

Camus played in goal because that saved wear on his shoes. Why did JP2 play there?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

yeah i read that about Camus and the shoes. PJP was tall and athletic but not much of a runner - hence goal.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, yeah, the Pole in the goal. I remember much being made of his fondness for skiing.

Pole, as in the way Anthony Powell pronounced his name, you say? Well, my man Bill James wrote a study of Powell. On the one hand, when asked how he thought his work was like Powell's, James said something like" "Not in style, I hope." On the other, he once had a character who was in jail for a long time and needed something long to read take up Powell's magnum opus. The character called it A Dance to the Music of Doing Time, which is no shabby line.

I read the first of the twelve books and thought, huh? For novels that offer vivid portraits of English life, you'd do better to ready John Lawton, who, among other things, is funnier than Powell. On the other hand, I have seen Poussin's painting A Dance to the Music of Time.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that I brought the subject up because I just started Bill James' new novel today. I also just read that Poussin's painting was the inspiration for Powell's novels. Each volume in the edition of which my volume is a part contains a spine illustration of a slice of the painting. Stack them up in order, and you have the whole picture.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I read the first Powell and that was enough. Its like Waugh without the jokes and brevity.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sounds about right. What was the big deal about those books. anyhow?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, as he said himself, Books Do Furnish a Room. As that's the tenth of the volumes, many people may be indebted to him.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Apropos of your posting, does it not seem that all colonialism is (in a strange twist upon the language) a crime beyond borders?

I cannot think now of any experiment in colonialism that has worked out well for the colonizers. Perhaps I am overlooking examples, but none come to mind. (Do Wales and Scotland count as successes? What about Puerto Rico and Hawaii?)

This does not mean that I am one of the post-colonial revisionists ought to demean all colonial powers, but remain fascinated by histories examples of colonizers gone wrong.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops! That is "out" rather than "ought."

July 15, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops (again)! And make that "history's" rather than "histories."

Perhaps I need to stop using keyboards. I cannot get anything wright!

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

What about Canada and Australia, R.T.?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the spines of the complete set do form a nice miniature of Poussin's great picture, an adornment to any shelf.

I found the book I read rather uneventful and small-scale. I wondered why I ought to be interested in these lives.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., that's an interesting question, but is it anachronistic to suggest that states of the past should have conducted themselves according to moral standards of the present? The essential question is what were the colonizing nations thinking, with no mock disbelief implied by the question.

England's American colonies turned out all right, though the Plains Indians might disagree/

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't tried him, but I probably have the first volume lying around somewhere.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Having just waded through Gore Vidal's long tome Creation, it seems that all anybody was doing circa 5th century BC was trying to figure out how to take over their neighbors, so maybe its just par for the course.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I answered R.T.'s question the way you did. Australia has turned out well, though its indigenous peoples might like to add a footnote.

That you and I named former English colonies plays directly into Tocqueville's suggestion that the English made better colonizers than the French. Two tears before Democracy in America. Tocqueville wrote:

"Nearby, on the ocean coast, the English come to settle. Some are sent by the mother country; others are rather fleeing from her. Once they have set foot on American soil, they become foreigners to England, so to speak, just as England appears little preoccupied with governing them. From the start, they have their political assemblies and tribunals, they appoint most of their magistrates, organize their militia, provide for their needs, and make their own municipal regulations [reglements de police] and laws. The metropole gets involved in almost none of their internal affairs; it acts only to protect their commerce and to secure them against attack by foreigners.

"And yet these settlements, left to themselves in this way, costing the mother country neither money, nor concern, nor effort, double their population every twenty-two years and become centers of wealth and enlightenment.
"

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is in contract to France which, in addition to its tendency toward centralization,

"Maritime commerce is but an appendage to her existence; the sea has never excited, nor will it ever excite, those national sympathies and that sort of filial respect that navigating or commercial peoples have for it. Maritime enterprises will never attract attention in France nor gain the help of wealth or talent. In general, the only men one sees engaging in such enterprises are those whose mediocre talents, declining fortunes, or memories of a former life forbid the hope of a promising future in their country. Besides, our national character displays a singular mix of domestic tendencies and passion for adventure, two things that are equally bad for colonization. The Frenchman has a natural taste for quiet pleasures; he loves the domestic hearth, he rejoices at the sight of his native parish, he cares about family joys like no other man in the world. Snug in the modest fortune into which he was born, he feels less tormented than anyone else by the thirst for gold. He is rarely absorbed by love of wealth, and his life plays out comfortably in his birthplace. Uproot him from these quiet habits, strike his imagination with new scenes, transplant him under another sky, and this same man is suddenly possessed by an insatiable need for action, for violent emotions, for vicissitudes and dangers. The most civilized European becomes a passionate lover of the savage life. He prefers savannahs to city streets, hunting to farming; existence holds no worries for him, he lives without a care for the future. `The whites of France;' say the savages of Canada, `are as good hunters as we are; like us, they despise the comforts of life and brave the terrors of death. The Great Spirit created them to make their home in the Indian's cabin and to live in the wilderness!'"

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the popular archaeology and population geneticts books I've been reading (Cunliffe, Oppenheimer, Sykes) note the swing away from invasions as an explanation for almost all cultural change, to trade as the vehicle, back to a medium between the two, with more allowances for combinations of the two. Perhaps Gore Vidal reacts against to old invasion approach.

On the one hand, so ancient a story as the Epic of Gilgamesh includes an invasion of Lebanon (looking for cedar, which was lacking in Iraq). On the other, did such invasions imply settlement and political control?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's your answer to everything, isn't it, that you probably have the first volume lying around somewhere. I know it's my answer to everything.

But take Adrian's advice and read Waugh, or mine and read John Lawton first.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I was wondering about current examples of colonies still under the thumb of the colonizer. I think Australia and Canada have some kind of autonomy. Are there any out there still languishing?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, it is my answer to everything, but it really means that I won't be able to lay hands on it or justify buying a new copy.

In Vidal's view, the different civilizations are also looking for trade routes, but also for the slightest pretext to invade, often at a ruinous price to themselves. He shows China, for instance, or Cathay as he calls it, as a group of little kingdoms often at war with each other, but always hoping that they will somehow seize the "mandate of heaven" for themselves.

RT was asking whether it had ever worked out well for the colonizers. I doubt if its ever worked out that well for the colonized. Even if they sometimes gain in infrastructure and stability.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

British Virgin Islands? Although I guess technically they are a territory.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Do Tibetans consider China a colonizing power?

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

According to Wikipedia, the government in exile does. I don't know about Tibetans who live within its borders.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that what one has these days is not old, established nations or peoples struggling to break colonial bonds, but rather of groups developing a new consciousness of nationhood. I have the Palestinians in mind, of course.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

FYI: Fred Vargas' The Ghost Riders of Ordebec just co-won the CWA Dagger, with Alex by Pierre LeMaitre.

I'm so glad the panel decided Vargas' brilliant book was a winner.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Thanks for !

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, thanks. I had not heard that. That's Number 4 for Vargas and translator Sian Reynolds, both of whom have been interviewed here.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

RT

A blanket howl against colonialism is a bit like Boy George's song: "war war is stupid." Yes. Quite.

Some successful colonies: Canada, Australia, Brazil, NZ, the USA etc. etc. Some successful places that have chosen to remain colonies: Puerto Rico, Tahiti, French Guiana etc.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not known before that Brazil was briefly part of a United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve. I wonder if the coincidence of names denoted an administrative structure more akin to Tocqueville's idea of the British model than to the French way that he criticized.

July 15, 2013  

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