Alain Peyrefitte obituary

Publié le par The Guardian by Douglas Johson

Alain Peyrefitte obituary

Alain Peyrefitte, who has died aged 74, was the confidant and chronicler of President De Gaulle. He was also a minister in later Gaullist governments, and a distinguished writer and journalist in France.

Alain Peyrefitte obituary

The son of schoolteachers in the Aveyron department, he gained a place at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, and then at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration. As a civil servant at the foreign ministry he served on the United States desk, at the French embassies in Bonn and Poland, and with the Council of Europe.

With the collapse of the fourth republic and the coming to power of General de Gaulle in 1958, Peyrefitte decided to enter politics. He was elected deputy for Provins, south-east of Paris, standing for the Gaullist party of that time, the Union for the New Republic (UNR), and reinforced his position in 1965 by becoming mayor of Provins, positions he held for more than 30 years.

Peyrefitte first became a minister in April 1962, in the information service, overseeing the reception of French settlers who had left Algeria after the former colony's independence. In December that year, he became minister for information, a post he held until January 1966. He had made the acquaintance of the general in 1959. As a new deputy, he was called to the Elysee palace and questioned about public opinion in his constituency, and then asked to write a pamphlet explaining de Gaulle's ideas on Europe. Though this work never saw the light of day, possibly through its mention of "federalism", Peyrefitte was soon accepted in de Gaulle's circle, and invited to attend social occasions. He took note of all his conversations with the general - at some 300 meetings - and of all de Gaulle's cabinet pronouncements. It was these records that he started to publish as C'etait de Gaulle, after keeping them private for some 30 years. Two volumes appeared in 1994 and 1997, and a third should be published shortly.

During the Algerian negotiations, de Gaulle suggested to Peyrefitte that he write a short book on whether the country should be partitioned. The work attracted criticism from other ministers; he sent a copy to de Gaulle, who responded with a note of thanks - but made no mention of the fact that the book had been written at his request.

As minister for information, Peyrefitte was described as the general's eyes and ears. But other ministers suspected that they did not always figure favourably in Peyrefitte's accounts of events. There was satisfaction in some quarters at what appeared to be Peyrefitte's downfall in 1968. As minister for education, he appeared to have been taken totally by surprise by the student revolt of May 1968. Like other ministers, he was overwhelmed by the intensity and size of the movement - but the responsibility was held to be his. It was said that, having surrounded himself with university rectors and deans, it had been easier to avoid fundamental reforms. De Gaulle seems to have agreed, and he accepted Peyrefitte's resignation on May 28 1968.

Peyrefitte remained in politics, taking on a number of party responsibilities and ministerial posts under Pompidou and Giscard d'Estaing, when he became minister for justice, 1977-81. He remained unpopular, refusing to follow Jacques Chirac in his opposition to Giscard d'Estaing, and appearing to be a hard minister, who maintained the death penalty and favoured heavy prison sentences.

Ironically, Peyrefitte's reputation as a writer grew during this period. He wrote an important article on China in Le Monde, and followed this with the highly successful book Quand la Chine s'eveillera, le monde tremblera (When China Wakes Up, The World Will Tremble, 1973), which ran to several editions and was followed by other books on China. In 1976, he published Le Mal Francais (in its English translation, The Trouble With France), an essay on the sickness of French politics, society and attitudes. He was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1977. Francois Mitterrand's election victory in 1981 ended Peyrefitte's political career. Two years later he became president of the editorial committee of Le Figaro, and his articles and books on French politics continued to receive serious attention.

He is survived by his wife Monique, a son and four daughters.

Alain Peyrefitte, politician and writer, born August 26 1925; died November 27 1999

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