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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

79. The Franco-German Couple as the Pillars of Peace in Europe

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1Victor Hugo (1802–1885),i French Romantic poet, novelist, dramatist and politician, published his narration of travels through Germany undertaken in 1842. He was to give a second longer version in 1845 with the title of The Rhine, Letters to a Friend. In it, he reflects on the specificities of the Franco-German relationship and its importance for peace in Europe.

2So what is left of all this old world? What is still standing in Europe? Only two nations: France and Germany. Well that could be enough. France and Germany are essentially Europe. Germany is the heart; France is the head. Germany and France are essentially civilisation. Germany feels; France thinks. Feeling and thought make up civilised man. Between the two peoples, there is an intimate connection, an undeniable consanguinity. They were born from the same sources; together they fought against the Romans; they are brothers in the past, brothers in the present, brothers in the future. They were shaped the same way. They are not insular, they are not conquerors; they are the true sons of the European soil. […]

3For the universe to be balanced, there need to be in Europe, like the double keystone of the continent, two great Rhine States, both fertilised and closely bound by this regenerating river; one northern and eastern, Germany, buttressed by the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black sea, with Sweden, Denmark, Greece and the Danube principalities as its girders; the other, southern and western, buttressed by the Mediterranean and the Ocean, with Italy and Spain as its stanchions. […]

4Europe needs to defend itself. The old Europe, which was a complicated assembly, has been demolished; Europe now is of a much simpler shape. It is essentially made up of France and Germany, a double centre from which the group of nations must take strength to the North as to the South. The alliance of France and Germany is Europe’s constitution. Germany backed by France holds Russia in check; France with friendly support from Germany stops England. The disunion of France and Germany is Europe’s dislocation. Germany, turned to France in hostility, opens the door to Russia; France, turned to Germany in hostility, allows England in. […]

5Fortunately, neither France nor Germany is selfish. They are two sincere, selfless and noble peoples, formerly nations of knights, and now nations of thinkers; formerly great by the sword, now great by the mind. Their present will not belie their past; the mind is no less generous than the sword. Here is the solution: abolish any motive for hatred between the two peoples; close the wound made in 1815; remove the traces of a violent reaction; return to France what God gave her, the Rhine’s left bank. […]

6Within a given time, France will have its share of the Rhine and of its natural frontiers.

7This solution will constitute Europe, will save human sociability and found definitive peace. All peoples will profit from this. Spain, for instance, which has remained illustrious, could be powerful once more. England would like Spain to be the market for her products, the fulcrum for her navy; France would like Spain to be the sister of her influence, her politics and her civilisation. It will be up to Spain to choose: to continue going downwards or to start rising once more; to be an annex of Gibraltar, or to be the buttress of France. Spain will choose grandeur. That is, we believe, the inevitable future for the continent, already visible and distinct in the sunset of things to come. Once the motive for hatred has disappeared, Europe needs fear no people. Germany will only need a shake of its mane and a roar to the East; France will just have to open its wings and shake its lightning bolt to the West. The formidable accord between lion and eagle will make the world obey.

8Make no mistake regarding what we believe: at all times, Europe must watch out for revolutions and be strengthened against wars, but we also think that if no incident outside natural previsions were to trouble the nineteenth century’s majestic march, civilisation, already saved from so many storms and reefs, will distance itself every day more from the Charybdis of war and the Scylla of revolution.

9This may be utopian, but do not forget that utopias, when they have the same aim as humanity—that which is good, just and true—are the facts of the next century. Some men say: This will be; and other men say: This is how. The first seek; the others find. Perpetual peace was a dream until the day the dream became a railway and covered the earth in a solid, tenacious and living network. Watt complements the Abbé de Saint-Pierre. […]

10For perpetual peace to be possible and to pass from theory to reality, two things were necessary: a vehicle for the rapid service of interest, and a vehicle for the rapid exchange of ideas; in other terms, uniform, unitary and sovereign transport, and a common language. The universe now possesses these two means which tend to delete the borders of empires and intelligences. The first is the railway; the second is the French language.

11Such, in the nineteenth century, for all peoples on the road to progress, are the two means of communication, that is to say of civilisation, that is to say of peace. You ride in a railway carriage and you speak French. […]

12Let us resume. We believe, if the future brings what we await, that the chances of war and revolution will diminish day by day. We do not think they will ever disappear completely. Universal peace is a hyperbola; the human race follows its asymptote. The law of humanity is to follow this radiant asymptote. During the nineteenth century, all nations are marching that way or soon will, even Russia, even England.

13Victor Hugo, The Rhine (1842–1845).

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