THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE FROM LE PROCOPE, PARIS
I am sitting in a small alcove looking out toward the walls at le Procope, which are painted a scarlet red. The paintings on the walls show various literary and revolutionary figures like Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, who actually sat in the same salon to the entrance of the café that was founded in 1636. However, whether Jefferson sat here is of little interest to me. Although the memory those men who frequented le Procope like Danton, Marat and Napoleon, who, as legend has it, left his officer hat here as a pledge to the French Revolution, do interest me. These are memories of great men.
In America, after the presidential elections, we have seen the rage, the anger, and the endless frustration of the American people. And now, on this Sunday, almost in the middle of November, they have taken to the streets. Are they like the French proletariat who took to their feet to the cobbled streets and then to the Bastille during the early days of the Revolution? Or are they like the people of Rome during the early days of fascist Italy or like the German people who fought it out in the streets of Berlin before Hitler became Chancellor and led Germany and its people to destruction, and to its occupation by Soviet forces and their Western allies? We shall see how the modern American experience plays itself out in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
We must ask ourselves whether the American experience will inevitably lead to rancor and hatred in the class divisions of the United States nation-state. The answer is that, since its first birth pangs when European colonists came to the vast shores of North America and when they begin to exploit the land and its original Native Americans who lived there, when the so-called founding fathers of the country began to draw up designs for the world hegemony of Pax America, then the historical dialectical confrontation of class and race, and the objectivity of economic value and the means of production, became a conflagration of endless wars. This is not to say that the American people are an insidious people or a people incapable of understanding the more subtle aspects of humanity and worldliness. Quite the opposite, for when the American people move towards a task with energy, they deliver a high emotion of creativity and political élan, as we have seen during the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But in this era of world history, as many fires of civil war are burning from the Middle East to Africa and civil wars are brewing in Eastern Europe, it remains to be seen if the American people like the Russian people, who did not shrink from their historical responsibility during the era of Lenin or during the Great Patriotic War, are up to the more profound tasks of enlightening the world, or instead bringing the masses down into the fires of a world war.
Here in ‘the old house’, le Procope, I hope not to worry myself about what Voltaire said: “Tours les genres sont bons, hors le genre ennuyeux”… If my essay on the American experience is written with a boorish language, I would hope, that nevertheless, the doors of the Procope will open up to me again and offer me haven to write in peace again.