From The American Conservative’s weekly Realism and Restraint column, comes a comparison of Donald Trump to France’s Charles De Gaulle by Leon Hadar. In his piece, Hadar reminds readers De Gaulle’s leadership philosophy did not rely on intelligence alone, but also heavily upon instinct. That instinct is, as Hadar continues, the connection between De Gaulle’s leadership style President Trump’s. Hadar writes (abridged):
Renowned French philosopher Henry Bergson was a leading Western thinker who challenged the notion that all occurrences can be explained by rationalism, scientific determinism, a priori reasoning, or “frozen doctrines.” He stressed instead the importance of intuition and instincts in the shaping of our reality.
According to Julian Jackson’s majestic biography of Charles de Gaulle, A Certain Idea of France, the legendary French leader was a fan of Bergson, and explained once to an American journalist that when it comes to producing great statesman, intelligence alone was not sufficient.
“The intelligent man does not automatically become a man of action,” de Gaulle stipulated. “Instinct is also important.” He then explained that the reason French President Henri Poincaré was overshadowed by Prime Minister George Clemenceau during the Great War was that the former was “a man of texts, a mechanically organized intelligence” who believed in “texts, messages, proclamations” and interacted only with ministers and diplomats, while the latter adhered to the “ferocious law of the species” when it came to issues of war and peace.
To put it in contemporary terms, if Paris had been filled with think tanks in 1940, and French leaders were to ask the advice of their best and the brightest, it would have been more likely than not that based on rational and cost-benefit analysis, most of what constituted the “Blob” of that time would have advised the French leadership to seek a ceasefire with the Germans, negotiate a deal with Adolph Hitler, and make the best out of it. Propelled by his instinct and impulse, De Gaulle begged to differ with France’s decision makers, and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Trumpism may not be Gaullism, it still makes much more sense than the numerous doctrines and grand strategies that have guided America since the end of the Cold War. Those presidents were men “of texts, a mechanically organized intelligence,” but that didn’t mean their foreign policies turned out to be successful.
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