Bernard Cazeneuve: "Every human being can redeem himself"

Bernard Cazeneuve: “Every human being can redeem himself”

You launched your political movement, the Convention, on June 10 at a public meeting in Créteil. Is your ambition to embody a moderate left?

Even with a spirit of nuance, one must show oneself capable of radicalism, and above all offer radicalism a political outlet so that it does not lead to extremism or violence. The Socialist Party has allied itself today with a political organization (regrouping insubordinate France and the Communist Party) which thinks that Simon Bolivar must inspire the French left. We are far from our bases… I don’t want violence, on the contrary I want hope to be substituted for anger. To make so that the left finds a large party of government, which faces reality in what it has of most thankless to try to transform it, constitutes my project.

Your political conscience has been nourished by the thought of great authors such as François Mauriac. When did you discover it?

I was 9 years old and spent my holidays in my paternal grandmother’s house in Nîmes (Gard). By chance, I came across a little red book in the library, The Viper’s Knot. First of all, I think it’s a book about reptiles. But when I start reading it, I discover something completely different, and find myself faced with a tragic human story. From the outset, I was touched by the darkness of the characters of Mauriac, their depth of soul, their singularity too: although marked by a land, that of the great moors, vineyards and properties of the Gironde, by their narrow bourgeoisie and through their impossibility of getting out of their prison, they experience universal feelings.

The childhood of Mauriac, born in 1885, powerfully irrigated his work…

He is the son of a free-thinker who swallowed a cutlet every Friday, on a lean day, to better materialize the distance he intended to maintain with his wife’s Spanish religion. “Spanish”, this is how the writer qualifies the way in which his mother practices religion: dolorist, superstitious, attached to a traditional conception of the liturgy. His father died when he was 18 months old, so he never knew him. This loss constitutes a deep break in childhood. I share with him a form of heartbreak, of another nature. For me, it is about the uprooting of a land. My parents lived a very happy youth in Algeria until 1962, and then lost their only heritage, the intensity of the sun, the purity of a sky, so well described by Camus in Wedding.

How important is nature to Mauriac?

Like Camus, the writer has a very sensual relationship with her. The wind on his face, the scents of the plants bathed by the river Hure, this sub-tributary of the Garonne, the pines which he considers to be characters from the Bible. In general, trees often symbolize human beings in his work, in very striking allegorical visions. Mauriac was also afraid of the pantheistic trial that could be brought against him. Nature was not first with him. The main thing was the message of Christ.

Your book ends with the word “grace”. What meaning do you give it?

In the novel Thérèse Desqueyroux, the eponymous character is accused of having poisoned her husband. Mauriac considers Thérèse to be guilty but, at the same time, considers that she is not responsible for the confinement she has suffered. The humanity and charity of the writer lead him to try to understand how evil encysts in man. He seeks to determine for his characters the path to a possible grace. The deep conviction that individuals cannot find themselves reduced to their faults brings me closer to Mauriac. This is, moreover, a great battle of civilization. When I talk about grace, I mean this humanist conviction that men must be able to redeem themselves. I don’t give this idea the same meaning as Mauriac for the simple reason that I am an agnostic and he is a believer. I simply wrote a book about a man whose thought I respect. Mentioning the word “grace” is a way for me to dedicate this little book to him.

You write that he was wary of the spirit of the times, of “formed packs”. What would he defy today?

I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that Mauriac would not have liked the way in which public debate moves on social networks which favor short sentences, invective and violent exchanges. He would not have liked these groups which are formed on the mode of excommunication, defined in a social or identity way where one likes to see his thought validated by the other members, where nobody brings you the contradiction. It’s all extraordinarily narcissistic. Mauriac loved above all the otherness and the power of the verb, the force of reasoning to convince others who did not think like him.

Was the feeling of guilt that gripped him a source of literary inspiration?

I would rather speak of a melancholy engendering suffering in him at the same time as it constitutes an inextinguishable source of poetic inspiration. When I discovered Mauriac, I knew nothing about his homosexuality, I was going to understand it later through the intimate biography, written by Jean-Luc Barré, writer and editor. There was undoubtedly a tug of war between the Spanish conception of religion, received from his mother, and the feelings he could experience in a reproachful time.

In Bloc-notes, he often mentions Mendès-France. But his great model is indeed De Gaulle.

The two characters are very important to him but of course, Pierre Mendès-France does not have in his eyes the same heroic, epic, mythical dimension as General de Gaulle. He meets him for the first time in Paris, which has just been liberated. He goes to see the “captain” as he calls him, the one who took France out of the Occupation, who took the risk of being an outcast all his life. The unusual character of the character will considerably feed the imagination of the novelist. When he meets the real character, the mythical hero speaks to him… about the vacant seats at the French Academy. De Gaulle had absolute admiration for the writer François Mauriac. No doubt he thought he would please him and honor him by talking with him about the prestigious institution in which Mauriac sat.

He also has points in common with François Mitterrand…

His relationship with Mitterrand results from the conjunction of two elements. First of all the attachment to a land, that is to say to landscapes, those of Guyenne for one, those of Saintonge (like Guyenne, it is a former province of the South-West, Ed) for the other. The second element is the link to 104 rue de Vaugirard in Paris, the institution of the Marist Brothers. Both stayed there as students. Mauriac had as a classmate the uncle of François Mitterrand.

To tell the truth, don’t you have more tenderness than admiration for Mauriac?

No, I feel a very strong admiration for the writer, but this one is not unconditional. Everything Mauriac has become is the opposite of what his environment dictated to him. The man he has become results from his capacity for emancipation, his propensity for freedom: he needed a lot of courage to free himself from his environment. It takes a lot of courage to go against one’s own when one thinks that there is something more important than philosophical or political atavism: I mean the truth, the irrepressible search for the right position.

Mauriac pitied men whose “hope is only political.” What is your hope?

He meant by this that he felt sorry for all men who had not found faith. It’s a difference between Mauriac and me. I think it’s very difficult to live without spiritual, metaphysical reflection. But one can carry out an intense metaphysical reflection without having encountered faith.

His bio

June 2, 1963: Born in Senlis (Oise).

1987: Join the Socialist Party.

1995-2012: Mayor of Octeville, then of Cherbourg-Octeville.

1997-2012: Member of Parliament for La Manche.

2014-2016: Minister of the Interior (Valls government). He is facing an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks.

December 6, 2016-May 15, 2017: Prime Minister of François Hollande.

2022: In disagreement with the creation of the Nupes, he left the PS.

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