U.S.-French Crises in Historical Perspective: An Aronian View

February 1, 2005

Raymond Aron was much admired in the United States. Aron’s critical distancing of himself from de Gaulle, probably contributed to his popularity in the United States. But it would be an insult to the Americans to think that their admiration for him was solely because he incarnated a position that could be described, at the risk of oversimplification, as more “Atlanticist”, more pro-American, than that of most French leaders or observers. At a more profound level, Americans of his day appreciated Aron as the most lucid observer of French policy, because he was not only a specialist on France, but a great historian of the 20th century, with all its tragedies and complexity.

I have chosen to describe French-American crises as Aron saw them and on how one should interpret the present crisis, in an attempt to understand what can be considered as permanent and what can be seen as changeable in the present Franco-American misunderstanding or in the tensions between our two countries.

Aron made two enduring observations on French policy that are relevant to Franco-American crises, past and present. The first observation relates to the temperament of France, stemming from its history and place in the world; the second to the ambiguity of French policy that often results from this temperament.