Denis de Rougemont

Denis de Rougemont was a writer, journalist and a staunch advocate for European Federalism (cit from Benedikt von Tscharner, Statesmen Diplomats, Political Thinkers, Pregny-Gereva, 2012, p. 307-315). (The editor expresses his gratefulness to the author for the permission to reprint this portrait).

Denis de Rougemont counts among the rare Swiss of whom it can be said that they contributed, via their writings and actions, to the advancement of the reconciliation and unification of Europe. As the engaged intellectual that he was, Denis de Rougemont was never just a Iiterary figure; his numerous books, essays, articles and speeches are witness to his deter­mination to assume his responsibilities and act hic et nunc. A free and independent man who spent several years in France and the United States, Denis de Rougemont never rejected his Swiss upper class Protestant background, a world characterized by its high ethical principles.

To these roots can be attributed his so-called “personalist” view of mankind. At a time – and here we are talking essentially about the interwar years – when intellectuals were supposed to be either on the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, it took a lot of courage for a handful of writers and political thinkers to defend the primacy of man and condemn the voracious appetite of the state to control everything. It was not what could he termed individualism, but, rather, this afore­mentioned Personalism, that he set forth, i.e. the call for holding up mans responsibility within society. For Denis de Rouge­mont, the enemy was the national state of the 20thcentury, which had to be opposed by a decentralized, pluralist vision of the human community; one's responsibility in society inherently also includes deep respect for nature and creation.

As the son of a minister of the Free Church, Denis Guillaume de Rougemont was born in Couvet in the Val-de- Travers region of Neuchâtel. He came from a large family which had already given the Canton – and the ancient Principality of Neuchâtel – a long list of magistrates and clergymen; in 1784 King Frederick II of Prussia confirmed the noble status of the de Rougemont family. Despite his interest in the sciences – his cousin Daniel Bovet would be a Nobel Laureate in medicine in 1957 -, Denis chose to study literature at university. Of his numerous travels while still a student, the most memorable was his year of study in Vienna, where he would meet the founder of the Pan-Europe movement, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. In Geneva in 1925, Robert de Traz, who published the Revue de Genève, would be among the first to commission texts by Denis de Rougemont.

His literature degree in hand, Denis de Rougemont plunged into Parisian intellectual life. First of all, at the behest of another Swiss from Neuchâtel, the Reverend Roland de Pury, he accepted to be literary editor for the Je Sers Editions, a publishing house which specialized in texts by Protestant authors. Rougemont wrote for several literary reviews so typical of this time. As his editor had gone out of business, the young Swiss, who had only recently married a French woman by the name of Simone Vion, had to curtail his living expenses ra­dically, but he increased not only his address book but also his writings manifold. Especially memorable are Penser avec les mains (Thinking with one’s hands), (1936), Journal d’un intellectual au chômage (Diary of all intellectual on the dole) (1937) et L’amour et  l'Occident (Love and the Western World) (1939). Having by now gone to live in the country, he translated the works of the great Basel theologian Karl Barth. In 1938, the Journal d’Allemagne wrote about his visit to Frankfurt. Visitors to the Swiss national Exhibition in 1939, in Zürich, the famous Landi, could applaud the oratorio Nicolas de Flue by the Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, based on a text by Denis de Rougemont.

During his military service at the Home and Army Section, Denis de Rougemont attracted the ire of his superiors for a highly polemical article he wrote on the entry of German troops into Paris, published in the Gazette de Lausanne; it was a breach of the sacrosanct duty of restraint which led to him spending fifteen days under arrest. Alongside personalities such as the historian Gonzague de Reynold, Denis de Rougemont founded the Gotthard-Bund, an association of independent citizens who prepared the resistance against a potential occupation of Switzerland. At this time, the brand new Pro Helvetia Foundation needed a speaker for a round of conferences about Switzerland in the United States, an excellent occasion to keep Denis de Rougemont at some distance from Bern. The entry into the war of the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prevented him from returning immediately; Denis de Rougemont was therefore able to lend his considerable talents to the francophone programs of the Voice of America. He was part of a group of French-speaking intellectuals retained across the Atlantic that included Alexis Léger, Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Max Ernst, Jacques Maritain, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his wife, Consuelo Suncin – whom Denis de Rougemont helped in writing her novel Oppède.

With the war over however, this dreamy American phase of his life came to an end and Denis de Rougemont returned to Europe or Ferney-Voltaire more precisely, where an American philanthropist allowed him and his family to lodge in a wing of his chateau. It was the start of the European phase of his career, in the proper and figurative sense. The public expressions of his thoughts garnered a lot of interest; his exposé during the first Rencontres internationals de Genève, in 1946, was a plea for European unity. His speech at the First Congress of European Federalists in Montreux, in 1947, developed the theme of federalism further. Then Denis de Rougemont began to get involved in the preparations for an important Conference on Europe that was to take place at The Hague in May 1948, under the honorary Chair of Winston Churchill. Denis de Rougemont wrote the report on the cultural dimension of European unity. It was he, finally, who read out, at the end of the Conference, the famous Call to Europeans, a text of whom he was also one of the main authors.

Following this, Denis de Rougemont prepared a cultural conference that was to be held in Lausanne at the end of 1949 under the Presidency of Salvador de Madariaga. The following year he created the European Cultural Centre – Centre euro­péen de la culture which he was to run until his death. This institution was based in Geneva and went to make up, alongside the Institute for European Studies, founded in 1964, the focus of his activities. Let us also mention the Congress for Cultural Freedom, of which Denis de Rougemont presided the executive committee between 1952 and 1966, or the European Cultural Foundation, created in 1954; the latter’s headquarters was later transferred from Geneva to Amsterdam. De Rougemont thus made herself the instrument of this reconquering of lost ground that the Americans heartily supported via various “private” foundations to face up to the dangers of a Communist or Leftist takeover of the cultural discourse in Europe in the context of the Cold War.

The impression of deep and intensive activity crystallizes when we add to this list the initiatives such as the putting in place of a European Association of Music Festivals and even the first steps that led to the creation of the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), a laboratory of research in basic physics, also based in Geneva. If it is true that upon his return to Europe, themes revolving around European integration and cultural cooperation dominated Denis de Rougemont's mind, the last few years of his life would however be marked by his commitment to ecological issues; he was one of the leading members of the so-called “Bellerive Group” around Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan. In this phase, he would notably be supported and encouraged by his second wife, Anahite “Nanik” Hemmeler.

What was in fact Denis de Rougemont's message or view­point on Europe? The first thing to note is that he did not get involved in Swiss politics concerning European affairs. His discourse placed him above the daily preoccupations and initia­tives of one particular country. It was more a case of trying to appeal directly to all Europeans in his quest for the right goals and methods of work for advancing towards unity; that is to say, for Denis de Rougemont, the question was more cultural than political and the answer to the challenges of modernity would be arrived at by a federalist approach: “to unite over and above our false sovereignties so that we might retain our true diversity."

Unlike Jean Monnet and the dominant school of thought followed by a majority of his contemporaries in politics, Denis de Rougemont showed little interest in economic affairs and remained very skeptical with regards to preoccupations of an institutional nature. In a speech made in Washington in 1952, Jean Monnet stated, “We do not make coalitions of states, we unite men.” This nice formula in truth corresponds almost exactly to Denis de Rougemont’s agenda, while the work of Jean Monnet would find its expression essentially in the interstate negotiations on predominantly economic issues. Here too, the famous phrase attributed to Jean Monnet (yes, him again) is appropriate: “If I had to do it all over again. I'd start with culture”, is pure de Rougemont. because the latter understood that culture was a real agent of change! As for the words of Jacques Delors, “You don’t fall in love with an internal market!” they also reflected fairly well the thoughts of the Genevan rather than those of the President of the European Commission, whose principal success consisted in having “completed” the development of just that market and launched the process that would lead to monetary union.

Denis de Rougemont for his part liked everything that is complex and that develops organically, everything that is cIose, local, regional; for him, the nation-sate remained the “cold rnonster” that Friedrich Nietzsche denounced. On that point, we should take the opportunity to dispel a rnyth, the notion of talking up SwitzerIand and Swiss federalism as a model for Europe. This vision has often been attributed to Denis de Rougemont; yet even if the historical development of Switzer­land can be interpreted as “organic”, of “bottom-up “, the con­temporary reality of our country is weIl and truly that of a sovereign nation-state. At the same time, the transformation of the European Community with institutional facets sui generis into a federal (state of) Europe does not really enter into the vision that this renowned Genevan ever had of this continent, and it is not, we could mention in passing, the real objective of the European Union of today either.

What remains of Denis de Rougemont’s impetus? Both a great deal and virtually nothing at all... The European Cultural Centre could finally be launched, thanks notably to some financial help from within Switzerland; this centre was among the great ideas of Denis de Rougemont, one that was taken up by the Congress of The Hague. The founder doubtlessly suc­ceeded in giving it some impact, one that extended weIl beyond national boundaries; but it is not there, in the pretty Villa Moynier on the shores of Lake Geneva, that contemporary Europe has found its crib. Of course, the Europe of Brussels has never denied that its grand projects need a soul and that this soul must grow out of European culture in all its diversity, including that of the small societal and political entities. Yet all this is not done merely through a modest institute, a few con­gresses or conferences among intellectuals, or publications. That said, the impetus given by Denis de Rougemont has the merit of demonstrating that the path of deeper questioning on what Europe is of could still be does effectively exist, and can be explored again.

Selected writings by Denis de Rougemont:

Le paysan du Danube, illustrated, Payot, Lausanne, 1932; re-edition followed by Suite neuchâteloise, L’Àge d’Hornme, Lausanne, 1982 ; Penser avec les mains, Albin Michel, Paris. 1936; La Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 1945; added content edition: 1972 ; Journal d’un intellectuel en chômage, Albin Michel, Paris, 1937; La Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 1946; German: Tagebuch eines arbeitslosen Intellektuellen, translated by R.J.HUMM, Büchergilde Gutenberg, Zürich, 1939 ; L’amour et l’Occident, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1939; added content edition 1956; definitive edition with added preface: 1972; German: Die Liebe und das Abendland, translated by von Friedrich STOLZ, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne, 1966; Taschenbuch: Diogenes Verlag, Zürich. 1987; Mission ou demission de la Suisse, La Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 1940; German: Aufgabe oder Selbstaufgabe der Schweiz; translated by Martha AMREIN-WIDMER and Hans MARKUN, Rascher Verlag, Zürich. 1941; L’aventure occidentale de l’homme, Albin Michel, Paris, 1957; German: Das Wagnis Abendland, translated by Walter LENZ, Albert Langen/Georg Müller, Munich, 1957; Vingt-huit siècles d’Europe, Payot, Paris, 1961; German: Europa: vom Mythos zur Wirklichkeit, translated by Hjalmar PEHRSSON and Renate BIEBER, Prestel- Verlag, Munich, 1962; La Suisse ou /’histoire d’un peuple heureux, Hachette, Paris, 1965; German: Die Schweiz, Modell Europas, translated by S. EISLER, Fritz Molden Verlag, Vienna, 1965;  Lettre ouverte aux Europeens, Albin Michel, Paris, 1970 ; L’avenir est notre affaire, Stock Editions, Paris 1977; German: Die Zukunft ist unsere Sache, translated by Klaus SCHOMBURG and Sylvia M. SCHOMBURG-SCHERFF, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 1980/Deutscher Taschenbuch- Verlag dtv 1987;

Books about Denis de Rougemont:

André RESZLER and Henri SCHWAMM (eds.), Denis de Rougemont, l’ecrivain, l’Européen, studies and accounts published for the 70th anniversary of Denis de Rougemont, Editions La Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 1976; Alfred A. HÄSLER, Ein großer Europäer. Denis de Rougemont, in: Außenseiter, Innenseiter. Porträts aus der Schweiz; Verlag Huber, Frauenfeld, 1983 (pp. 13 -28);  Denis de Rougemont, texts by Alexandre MARC, Dusan SIDJANSKI, Ferdinand KINSKI, Jean STAROBINSKI, Bruno ACKERMANN et Fabrizio FRIGERIO, Cadmos, Quarterly Journals of (he European Cultural Centre, Geneva, 1986; Du personnalisme au fédéralisme européen. En hommage à Denis de Rougemont, collected texts, introduction by Gérard de PUYMÈGE and Claude HAEGI, European Cultural Centre Editions, Geneva, 1989; Mary Jo DELRING, Combats acharnés: Denis de Rougemont et les fondements de l’unité européenne, Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe/Centre of European Research, Lausanne, 1991; François SAINT-OUEN, Denis de Rougemont et l’Europe des regions, preface by Claude HAEGI, German translation: Béatrice AKLIN; English translation: Edward BIZUB, Geneva, Denis de Rougernont Foundation, 1993 ; Bruno ACKERMANN, Denis de Rougemont. Une biographie intellectuelle, 2 volumes, Labor et Fides, Geneva, 1996; Frances STONOR SAUNDERS, Who paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta Publications, London, 1999; Christian CAMPICHE, Denis de Rougemont. Le séducteur de l’Occident, Georg Editeur, Geneva, 1999; Bruno ACKERMANN, Denis de Rougemont: de la personne à l'Europe, L’ Àge d’Homme, Lausanne, 2000 ; Christian CAMPICHE, Le Nègre de la Rose. De Rougemont, Consuelo, Saint-Exupéry, Editions de l’Hèbre, Grolley, 2004.