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It’s all about l’ambiance: French Cultural Action in the US

June 11, 2015

In the conclusion of his study of French cultural diplomacy in the United States between the First World War Alain Dubosclard (2003) asks what this effort was intended to do and what it achieved.

In setting out to answer this question he turns to the views of the historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle (Renouvin and Duroselle 1968) who points to the importance of ‘l’ambiance’ within which national leaders operate. The English version of Introduction to the History of International Relations translates this as the ‘climate of opinion’. For Duroselle this indicates the environment within which the leader operates – this is partly to do with their own experiences and beliefs but also to do with their relationships and sources of information – this comes out very clearly in his discussion of Mussolini’s decision for war in 1940, he couldn’t turn to the press for information because it was controlled instead he depended on advisors who wanted to keep him happy.

To put it in a different language this kind of high politics is a matter of elite networks and the beliefs and affective attachments that exist within them.

In a later work Duroselle argues that

“contrary to what one might believe in looking at the torn world in which we live. persuasion plays a huge role in international relations even in the most important affairs. It is not a collective persuasion, a propaganda, a psychological war, but a quasi-personal persuasion, leader to leader, or, better yet, small group to small group” (Duroselle Tout Empire Périra cited in Dubosclard 2003, p. 341, my translation)

‘cultural action contributes to influencing policy-makers in shaping a favourable environment…to create, maintain a climate of confidence’ (Dubosclard 2003, 341)

Dubosclard A (2003) L’action artistique de la France aux Etats-Unis : 1915-1969. Paris: CNRS.

Renouvin P and Duroselle J-B (1968) Introduction to the History of International Relations. London: Pall Mall.

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