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New Left Review 107, September-October 2017

Thomas Meaney


The feuilletons of Western Europe, pale shades of their former selves, still occasionally allow an argument to pinball around the continent. [1] Wolf Lepenies, Die Macht am Mittelmeer: Französische Träume von einem anderen Europa, Carl Hanser Verlag: Munich 2016, €24.90, hardcover 349 pp, 978 3 446 24732 1 In March 2013, two months after the eu’s Fiscal Compact came into force, Giorgio Agamben published a polemic in La Repubblica under the headline, ‘If a Latin Empire Took Shape in the Heart of Europe’. Seeking a foothold against what he took to be the German economic imposition of a common way of life for all Europeans, Agamben invoked a curio: Alexandre Kojève’s confidential aide-mémoire, perhaps intended for de Gaulle. In ‘The Latin Empire: Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy’, Kojève, four months after the defeat of Nazi Germany, warned of coming German economic resurgence. Hitler had made the anachronistic mistake of basing his empire on national socialism: the usa and the ussr, equipped with extra-national, universalist ideologies, were the future. It was only a matter of time before Germany was enlisted as a proxy by one side or the other. De Gaulle’s boldest course of action, Kojève advised, would be to build a Latin customs bloc, with Italy, Spain and eventually Portugal as junior partners. Only then could there be a true imperial socialism—powered by the fossil fuel of Catholicism—that could avoid the cyclical crashes of the Anglo-American market and the forced stability of the Soviet economy. As a bonus, the ‘contradictions’ between latinité and Islam could be resolved—and they could resume pollinating each other’s cultures—if the Latin Empire were to extend toward the Middle East and embrace its former imperial subjects (‘A giving colonialism’, Kojève would call this in another context). Pooling together French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese colonies would solve the problem of raw materials. If Latin collective bargaining for German coal did not suffice, perhaps the Saarland could be annexed. These reveries, elevated to the idiom of raison d’état, seem to have been crafted to affect de Gaulle—who probably never read the memorandum—like the dream that convinced Emperor Constantine to turn Europe Christian.

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Thomas Meaney, ‘Fancies and Fears of a Latin Europe’, NLR 107: £3

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