Winston Churchill once observed that nations which go down fighting have the capacity to be reborn. Those that surrender tamely, he thought, might never rise again to their former glory.
Such was the case with the French Third Republic. After the country was invaded by Germany in May of 1940, French forces rapidly lost the will to fight and the French government pursued the course of armistice with National Socialist Germany.
Rather than sign the nation away himself, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned. The leadership of France fell to the aging Marshal Philippe Pétain, who thereafter signed an agreement with Hitler that effectively dissolved the Third Republic. Pétain’s government was evacuated from Paris to the resort town of Vichy where it remained nominally responsible for the civil administration of France.
Pétain was granted dictatorial powers by a collaborative National Assembly and established an authoritarian regime that reversed genuinely liberal policies and began to closely regulate the French economy. Paris lost its avant-garde status in European culture; meanwhile, a tightly controlled French media promoted the anti-Semitic narrative of Hitler’s regime.
“Vichy France,” the common name given to the French State headed by Pétain, became a quasi-independent ally of National Socialist Germany until late 1942 when Berlin took full control. France was forced to reduce its military defences and pay a heavy tribute in gold, food, and supplies to Germany. Vichy police were ordered to round up “undesirables” and more than 70,000 were eventually executed.
French patriots were forced underground. They faced the thankless task of resisting foreign occupation while their own establishment collaborated with the enemy.
France’s freedom was only restored when the combined forces of Canadian, American, British, and Allied troops landed in Normandy in June of 1944. The liberators fought their way through the hedge groves and towns of continental Europe and finally secured the unconditional surrender of the Nazi regime.
Socialist Ideology Survived to Plague the Free World
In what might now be considered an unfortunate accident of history, the tyrannous pre-war pact between National Socialist Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which invaded Poland and sought to share control of Europe, came to a premature end in June 1941. Adolf Hitler betrayed his ideological cousin, Joseph Stalin, and invaded the Soviet Union.
Western progressives, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were delighted to bring “Uncle Joe” over to our side. Progressive intellectuals and politicians had been singing the praises—and ignoring the atrocities—of the USSR since the early years of the Russian Revolution, and they were fatuously in sync with the Comintern’s utopian plans for a new world order.
A clear victory for liberty would have included the defeat of the Soviet Union. It might have set back the threat of international socialism, in all its communist, fascist, and Maoist forms, for generations to come. But such a happy outcome for Canada, the USA, Great Britain, and freedom-loving people throughout the world was not to be.
So as a result of the West’s alliance of convenience between 1941 and 1945, the tyrannous forces of international socialism survived the war and have gone on to plague the free world to this very day.
Lessons of History
Historical analogies are seldom perfect, but can be useful to help us understand present circumstances. It has often been said that those who ignore the errors of the past are doomed to repeat them.
In the annals of modern history, a “Vichy” regime came to be known as one that preferred collaboration with the enemy over national resistance and genuine independence.
Over the past 60 years, free nations like Canada, the United States, and Great Britain have been retreating before a slow-rolling invasion of the same corpus of socialist thought and tyrannous ambition that invaded Poland in 1939 and kicked off some of the bloodiest episodes in human history.
Western progressives saw the best way forward as the path of “convergence” between eastern communism and western social democracy.
But communist military regimes like the former USSR and the presently ascendent Peoples’ Republic of China viewed convergence from a less reciprocal frame of mind. For Marxist regimes, it meant the steady acquisition of socialist client states and the diminishing of Western influence throughout the world.
From the 1980s onward, a neo-conservative movement looked forward to a “new world order” based on the principles of unrestricted trade and the emergence of a global free-market economy. It imagined an “end of history” that would turn the prediction of the Marxist dialectic on its head and usher in the triumph of democracy and capitalism throughout the world.
Despite our fondest hopes, we never got there. Instead, we have become accustomed to a virtual “Vichyfication” of the West. Progressive elites in politics, big tech, finance, academia, journalism, public service, education, entertainment, and the arts have moved Anglo-American nations further and further away from their foundational origins in natural rights, classical liberalism, constitutional governance, legal equality, religious practice, and moral custom.
Regaining the Destiny of the West
In 2020, unresolved questions around the origin of the COVID-19 virus and other aggressive measures taken by the Beijing regime became troubling harbingers for the future. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party continues to present a clear and present danger for the West.
As the American scholar R.R. Reno recently pointed out in the pages of First Things magazine, “Chinese power today arises from the great extent of its Westernization.” Our fear of Chinese dominance, he said, “is not a fear of being under the thumb of an alien Confucian civilization.” Chinese communism is just another pernicious version of western Marxism. It promises its people well-being and security only in return for their submission to a totalitarian state.
All of us have been manipulated in one way or another by the secular utopianism to which Marx gave expression. We are often overwhelmed and demoralized by accounts of past sins that regard anything short of our perfection as intolerable.
In many ways, the greatest threat to the West still resides in the West itself. Presently, we lack a vocabulary and a will to express the heroic potential of our God-given freedoms. We have all but rejected the inheritance of a vital, productive civilization.
Above all, we desperately need to discover and retain confident leaders with an emotional investment in restoring the vitality of free nations. Without strong leadership, we will continue to develop internal power vacuums which enemy regimes will seek to infiltrate and exploit.
Unlike the case of Vichy France, there will be no armies of liberation coming to our rescue. Either we find the courage to restore our rightful destiny or we will remain the sterile custodians of declining managerial states in the shadow of Beijing. The choice is ours!
William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.