Alain Peyrefitte, a former minister and close collaborator of Charles de Gaulle, meticulously maintained notebooks in which he recorded his many meetings with the great French president. The recordings are gathered in his monumental memoirs, C’était de Gaulle (“That Was De Gaulle”), stretching out to over 1800 pages of sayings and discussions.
The work thus presents a massive sample of De Gaulle’s private “table talk” with his closest collaborators. Besides hearing much of the man’s wit and wisdom, we gain great insight into the thinking behind his policy decisions.
I have previously written on the Algerian War and De Gaulle’s reasons for rejecting the partition of Algeria which would have created a majority-European “French Israel” in North Africa, presumably surrounded by hostile Arab states.
On October 20, 1959, De Gaulle spoke with Peyrefitte on the reasons for granting independence to France’s African colonies and why this was more difficult than it had been for the British:
It’s true that the natives are not yet ready to govern themselves. But . . . the world exists around us and has changed. The colonized peoples are less and less able to put up with their colonizers. The day will come when they will no longer be able to put up with themselves. In the meantime, we must take realities into account. The most urgent thing we need to do is transform our colonial empire, by replacing domination with consent [le contrat]. There are great advantages for us in passing the baton to local leaders, before they rip off our hand to take it from us.
We founded our colonization from the beginning on the principle of assimilation. We claimed to be turning the Negroes into good Frenchman. We made them recite: “Our ancestors the Gaulish”A slogan French schoolboys were taught during the Third Republic (1870-1940), emphasizing France’s indigenous Celtic roots, and ignoring her Germanic ones, at a time of bitter tension with Germany.; this was not very clever.
That is why decolonization is so much more difficult for us than for the English. They always recognized differences of race and culture. They organized self-government.In English in the original. They only had to loosen ties for it to work. We on the other hand denied these differences. We wanted to be a Republic of 100 million identical and interchangeable Frenchman. That is why decolonization is heartbreaking for the French. . . .
It’s beautiful, equality, but it is beyond our grasp. To make all of the overseas populations enjoy the same social rights as those of metropolitan France [les métropolitains], at the same standard of living, would mean that ours would be cut in half. Are we ready for this? Well, if we cannot give them equality, better to give them liberty! Bye, bye,In English in the original. you are too expensive for us!Quoted in Alain Peyrefitte, C’était de Gaulle (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), pp. 68-69.
Elsewhere, De Gaulle despairs at the fact that previous French regimes had allowed 1 million European immigrants to settle in Algeria amidst the Arabs. He argues that France’s most enlightened policy was in Morocco, where the king was kept in place as a local ruler. In fact the Moroccan monarchy to this rules over one of the more stable and orderly Arab states.
De Gaulle was skeptical of the idea of France “assimilating” tens of millions of Africans and Muslims both as colonial subjects and as immigrants to France proper.
In 1982, King Hassan II of Morocco expressed similar thoughts to the Jewish journalist Anne Sinclair (then-wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn):
Sinclair: Would you like [Moroccan immigrants] to be integrated in France? Are you for or against the very principle of integration?
Hassan II: I would not even call this integration. I would not at all want them to be the object of an attempt, because they will never be integrated.
Sinclair: You think that they don’t want it or that the French reject them?
Hassan II: Will they express the fact that they can’t do it? It’s possible among Europeans. They have the same basic foundation [la trame est la même]. The movements within European history have been east-west, human movements, religion, many things. But here, we’re talking about another continent. And there’s nothing you can do it about it: they will be bad Frenchmen.
Sinclair: So you are discouraging us from trying to integrate them.
Hassan II: I am discouraging you concerning my people, the Moroccans, from any attempt to turn them away from their nationality [détournement de nationalité] because they will never be 100% French. I can guarantee you that!
 A slogan French schoolboys were taught during the Third Republic (1870-1940), emphasizing France’s indigenous Celtic roots, and ignoring her Germanic ones, at a time of bitter tension with Germany.
 In English in the original.
 In English in the original.
 Quoted in Alain Peyrefitte, C’était de Gaulle (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), pp. 68-69.