Abstract: Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is one of the few nineteenth century European writers and intellectuals who, during this very nationalistic epoch, expressed a consistent theory of European political and economic unification. The idea of the United States of Europe is as far-reaching and for most people, as utopian today as it was in his time. Nonetheless, some of Hugo’s ideas have materialized, such as monetary union, and the disappearance of national borders within the Schengen heartland. This paper tries to evaluate the complex interplay, in European integration, between utopia and realpolitik.
Victor Hugo, Europe United, “Mais Non”
January 20, 2018Posted by on
This week on Facebook: Having began the year on the topic of the EU I was attracted to an article published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology (EJOP) — Vol 1, No 4 (2005) with the title ‘The French Vision of Europe from Victor Hugo’s United States of Europe to the No to the Constitution’ from which this week’s extracts have been taken. The EJOP contribution by Michel Viegnes offers an insight into the French psyche and the influence that Victor Hugo continues to have on it.
This EJOP article is rather long, which I have made it more readable by breaking down the paragraphs, some editorial arrangements and adding a number of links. However, despite these modifications, the paper is still intended to represent the views as written by the author. Should you wish to read the published article in EJOP, a link to it is also included below.
Hugo’s vision of a United States of Europe may only exist in the French imaginary and while his influence remains strong amongst the French, in one form or another, this French view is opposed by those British who neither share nor understand it in a French context. Hugo’s influence on the British psyche rarely extends beyond the literary, unlike the enduring memory of Victor Hugo held by the French, possibly contributing to the ambivalence shown by those British to a united Europe:
TO UNDERSTAND the significance of Victor Hugo, one must begin at the end, with his death on May 22, 1885. His funeral attracted more than two million people, one of the largest mass mobilisations ever seen in Paris and more than the city’s total population at the time. [sic] The Enduring Memory Of Victor Hugo — Megan Behrent
England still stands outside Europe. Europe’s voiceless tremors do not reach her. Europe is apart and England is not of her flesh and body. But Europe is solid with herself. France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland, Russia and Romania and Poland, throb together, and their structure and civilisation are essentially one. They flourished together, they have rocked together in a war, which we, in spite of our enormous contributions and sacrifices (like though in a less degree than America), economically stood outside, and they may fall together. In this lies the destructive significance of the Peace of Paris. [sic] The Economic Consequences of The Peace
The French Vision of Europe
from Victor Hugo’s United States of Europe to the NO to the Constitution
Michel Viegnes: Centre de Recherché sur l’Imaginaire Grenoble III
Charles de Gaules said that he always had a certain idea of France. Similarly, we could say that the French always had a certain idea of Europe, that is a French idea, to be more precise. Although it is somewhat caricatural to say this, it is not without reason. As a nation that has already known its hay-days and that has gained a strong mythology of identity, France finds it difficult to accept its decline or, perhaps better to say, its realistic adjustment to the world we live in today. Its relationship with the European idea is complex and within Europe brings about, alternatively, reminiscences of her decline and the hope for the recuperation of her former status. All those that were surprised by the French NO to the referendum on the project of the 2005 constitutional treaty (written under the supervision of a former French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) and comprising a certain number of already traditional preoccupations of France, could understand it in the view of this ambiguous and intricate relationship.
If Victor Hugo were alive, what would he make of this rejection? It is, of course, absurd to want to make the dead speak, although Hugo himself had no problem doing it in his spiritual experiences at Guernsey. However, we take no significant risk in supposing that he would have been terribly disappointed. He never stopped promoting, for more than 30 years, an idea that might have passed as insane at that time — that of the United States of Europe.
Monday — The Peace Congress of Paris, August 1849: This great idea of Europe, Hugo publicly expressed for the first time in the opening discourse at the first Peace Congress, held in Paris, 21st of August 1849. These Peace Congresses were a privileged context for Hugo’s reflection on Europe; he will have the occasion to come back to this theme in his speeches for the Peace Congress of Lausanne (1869) and that of Lugano (1872).
Tuesday — Hugo’s Dream of Unification: We can notice these days, following the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, that Hugo primarily justifies the idea of union of European states by the need to preserve peace, as the ONU Charter did in 1946; Europe should first be a space without war, its genius should imagine nonviolent solutions for unavoidable litigation.
Wednesday — Liberté Égalité Fraternité: For Hugo, the single guarantee of inviolable peace was the normal state of work, that is the exchange, the offer and the demand, the production and the consumption, the vast common effort, the attraction of industries, the circulation of ideas, the human flux and reflux.
Thursday — United States of Europe: It is startling to see that Hugo has a rather singular view on the European issue when compared with great authors and intellectuals of the 19th century. It is not until the next century and primarily not until the great catastrophe in 14/18 war, that one could hear in France important figures giving their opinion on the European idea.
Friday — Mais Non: Finally, the French NO at the referendum, that was a serious drawback for the construction of a real political Europe, if not a lethal strike, has brought together distinct political forces, and even conflicting ones, as they suffered from a common fear : seeing the identity of Europe dissolving in a world that is always growing more and more globalised.
French Newspapers And Ephemera From The 1848 Revolution (pdf): The French Revolution of 1848 sparked off uprisings thought Europe, in Milan, Hanover, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Hungary, Prussia and Poland, and encouraged the Chartist movement in London. It swept away the ‘bourgeois’ King Louis-Philippe, and ushered in a period of political instability in France which led to the rise to power of Louis-Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I.
Ernest Renan, “What is a Nation?” The text of a conference delivered at the Sorbonne on March 11th, 1882, by Ernest Renan, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?, Paris, Presses-Pocket, 1992. (translated by Ethan Rundell)