Le Roi Giscard

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

  • La Saga des Giscard by Pol Bruno
    Ramsay, 264 pp, May 1980, ISBN 2 85956 185 4

As far back as we can go (at least according to Pol Bruno), the Giscard family seems to have belonged to the bourgeoisie of the Auvergne. In the maternal line they were businessmen, probably of peasant origin, who later became men of law. Edmond Giscard, father of the French President, ‘came up’ to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, attended the semi-serious, semi-fashionable lectures at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques, and then married a Mademoiselle Bardoux. The Bardoux were a typical Third Republic ‘bourgeois dynasty’. The father, Agénor Bardoux, was a minister from 1877 to 1879. Although of very moderate opinions, during the 1870s Agénor had no hesitation in opting for republicanism rather than for the monarchy. The son, Jacques, married into another upper-middle-class French family, the Georges-Picots; in 1920, his journalistic activities brought him into close touch with the heavy industry employers’ association (the Comité des Forges), and with the iron and steel-making lineage of the de Wendels. In 1922, the granddaughter, May Bardoux, married Edmond Giscard, the President’s father. René Giscard, Edmond’s brother, married into another republican dynasty, the Carnot family.

In 1922-23, the Conseil d’Etat rather grudgingly granted Edmond the right to add to his name that of an illustrious though partially extinct noble family, the d’Estaings, with which he had no kinship. This commoner was obviously tormented by the problem of names and nobility, and he produced quite a long apologia on the subject in a work with the strange title of The Inner Monarchy: An Essay on One’s Seigniory over Oneself (1949). Edmond had literary ambitions which, while they produced no very obvious results, at least got him elected to the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. I once met him at that Areopagus, where I had gone to read a paper on quantitative history. The impression Edmond made on me was that of a wily, mistrustful Auvergnat, rather like a Pompidou or a Pierre Laval. He was much more a Giscard than a d’Estaing. ‘So you believe in your figures, do you?’ he asked me, with a kind of suspicious benevolence.

Edmond, in fact, was a remarkable man of business: throughout his life, initially under the auspices of the Bank of Indochina, he presided over a company specialising in transactions with the French colonies of the time. During the 1930s, Edmond Giscard d’Estaing was a member of the ‘Croix-de-Feu’, the political party led by Colonel de La Roque. This right-wing agitator, let me hasten to say, was in no way an Adolf Hitler. Later, under the Vichy regime, Edmond came under the sphere of influence of Marshal Pétain, though he was not without some genuine sympathy for Pierre Mendès-France, then unjustly persecuted. Jacques Bardoux, on the other hand, committed himself explicitly to the Marshal’s cause, and up till September 1942 displayed a discreet, though theoretical reverence for the German Army as an institution. Pol Bruno reproaches the Chief of State somewhat insistently for this Vichyist ancestry, but here he seems to me to be casting his net too wide: good heavens, no one is responsible for his father, and even less for his grandfather. Where should we get if we applied the same criteria to the genealogies of the most diverse of our contemporaries?

In 1944, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, son of Edmond, and at that time a schoolboy of 17, first worked for the Red Cross, and then enlisted in de Lattre de Tassigny’s army. This very honourable act is interpreted by the suspicious Pol Bruno as being already political. No doubt Bruno is trying to insinuate that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was thus preparing in advance the dossier he would need as a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic!

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[*] L’Idéologie Française by Bernard Henry-Lévy. Grasset, 340 pp., 59 frs, January 1981, 2 27 0697 5.