Norman Finkelstein tells David Samuels: “One of my favorite little books is Julian Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals, which is based in this binary notion that there are two competing sets of values in the world: fame and fortune on the one side, truth and justice on the other side. Benda’s main thesis is, the more vigorously you are committed to truth and justice, the less you’re going to see of fame and fortune. So, I don’t want to become too popular, because then I’m betraying truth and justice.”
* We are to consider those passions termed political, owing to which men rise up against other men, the chief of which are racial passions, class passions and national passions. Those persons who are most determined to believe in the inevitable progress of the human species, especially in its indispensable movement towards more peace and love, cannot deny that during the past century these passions have attained—and day by day increasingly so—in several most important directions, a degree of perfection hitherto unknown in history… Today there is scarcely a mind in Europe which is not affected—or thinks itself affected—by a racial or class or national passion, and most often by all three…. Today political passions have attained a universality never before known. They have also attained coherence. Thanks to the progress of communication and, still more, to the group spirit, it is clear that the holders of the same political hatred now form a compact impassioned mass, every individual of which feels himself in touch with the infinite numbers of others, whereas a century ago such people were comparatively out of touch with each other and hated in a “scattered” way. This is singularly striking with respect to the working classes who, even in the middle of the nineteenth century, felt only a scattered hostility for the opposing class, attempted only dispersed efforts at war (such as striking in one town, or one union), whereas to-day they form a closely-woven fabric of hatred from one end of Europe to the other…
Is it necessary to say that the passion of the individual is strengthened by feeling itself in proximity to these thousands of similar passions? Let me add that the individual bestows a mystic personality on the association of which he feels himself a member, and gives it a religious adoration, which is simply the deification of his own passion, and no small stimulus to its intensity… For the very reason that the holders of the same political passion form a more compact, impassioned group, they also form a more homogeneous, impassioned group, in which individual ways of feeling disappear and the zeal of each member more and more takes on the color of the others… How much more uniformity is shown now than a hundred years ago by the emotions known as anti-semitism, anti-Clericalism and Socialism, in spite of the immense number of varieties in the last-named! And do not those who are subject to these emotions now all tend to say the same thing? Political passions, as passions, seem to have attained the habit of discipline; they seem to obey a word of command even in the manner they are felt. It is easy to see what increase of strength they acquire thereby.
With some of these passions the increase in homogeneousness is accompanied by an increased precision. For instance, we all know that a hundred years ago Socialism was a strong but vague passion with the great mass of its supporters. But today Socialism has more closely defined the object it wishes to attain, has determined the exact point where it means to strike its adversary and the movement it intends to create in order to succeed… And we all know that hatred becomes stronger by becoming more precise.
There is another sort of perfecting of political passions. Throughout history until our own days I see these passions acting intermittently, blazing up and then subsiding. I see that the undoubtedly terrible and numerous explosions of class and race hatred were followed by long periods of calm, or at least of somnolence. Wars between nations lasted for years, but not hatred—even if we may say that it existed. To-day we have only to look every morning at any daily paper and we shall see that political hatreds do not cease for a single day. At best some of them are silent a moment for the benefit of one among them which suddenly claims all the subject’s strength. This is the period of “national unions,” which do not in the very least herald in the reign of love, but merely of a general hatred which for the moment dominates partial hatreds. To-day political passions have acquired continuity, which is so rare a quality in all feelings.
* An apostle of the modern mind clamors for “politics first.” He might have observed that nowadays it is politics everywhere, politics always and nothing but politics.
* the two essential characteristics of passion: The fixed idea, and the need to put it into action. I think it may be said that political passions in all classes to-day have attained a degree of preponderance over all other passions in those affected such as hitherto had been unknown.
* Jewish nationalism. In the past, when the Jews were accused in various countries of forming an inferior race, or at any rate a peculiar people not to be assimilated, they replied by denying their peculiarity, by trying to get rid of all appearance of peculiarity, and by refusing to admit the reality of race. But in the last few years we see some of them laboring to assert this peculiarity, to define its characteristics—or what they think such—taking a pride in it, and condemning every effort at assimilation with their opponents..
* When the national feeling was practically confined to Kings or their Ministers, it consisted chiefly in attachment to some interest (desire for territorial expansion, search for commercial advantages and profitable alliances), whereas to-day when this national feeling is continually experienced by common minds, it consists chiefly in the exercise of pride. Every one will agree that nationalist passion in the modern citizen is far less founded on a comprehensive knowledge of the national interests (he has an imperfect perception of these interests, he lacks the information necessary and does not try to acquire it, for he is indifferent to questions of foreign policy) than on the pride he feels in his nation, on his will to feel himself one with the nation, to react to the honors and insults he thinks are bestowed on it. No doubt he wants his nation to acquire territories, to be prosperous and to have powerful allies; but he wants all this far less on account of the material results which will accrue to the nation (how much is he conscious of these results?) than on account of the glory, the prestige which the nation will acquire… The susceptibility developed by national sentiment as it has become popular makes the possibility of wars far greater to-day than in the past.
* how many times during the last hundred years has the world almost flamed up in war solely because some nation thought its honor had been wounded?
* It is impossible to over-stress the novelty of this form of patriotism in history. It is obviously bound up with the adoption of this passion by the masses of the populace, and seems to have been inaugurated in 1813 by Germany, who is apparently the real teacher of humanity in the matter of democratic patriotism, if by this word is meant the determination of a nation to oppose others in the name of its most fundamental characteristics. (The France of the Revolution and the Empire never dreamed of setting itself up against other nations in the name of its language or of its literature.) This form of patriotism was so little known to preceding ages that there are countless examples of nations adopting the cultures of other nations, even of those with whom they were at war, and in addition reverencing the culture adopted.
* The notion that political warfare involves a war of cultures is entirely an invention of modern times, and confers upon them a conspicuous place in the moral history of humanity.
* Another strengthening of national passions comes from the determination of the peoples to be conscious of their past, more precisely to be conscious of their ambitions as going back to their ancestors, and to vibrate with “centuries-old” aspirations, with attachments to “historical” rights.
* national passions, owing to the fact that they are now exerted by plebeian minds, assume the character of mysticism, of a religious adoration almost unknown in these passions in the practical minds of the great nobles.
* I shall point out another great increase of power in national sentiment which has occurred in the last half-century. I mean that several very powerful political passions, which were originally independent of nationalist feeling, have now become incorporated with it. These passions are: (a) The movement against the Jews; (b) the movement of the possessing classes against the proletariat; (c) the movement of the champions of authority against the democrats. To-day each one of these passions is identified with national feeling and declares that its adversary implies the negation of nationalism. I may add that when a person is affected by one of these passions he is generally affected by all three; consequently nationalist passion is usually swelled by the addition of all three. Moreover this increase is reciprocal, and it may be said that to-day capitalism, anti-semitism and the
party of authority have all received new strength from their union with nationalism.
* To-day I notice that every political passion is furnished with a whole network of strongly woven doctrines, the sole object of which is to show the supreme value of its action from every point of view, while the result is a redoubling of its strength as a passion… Our age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds.
* Anti-semitism, Pangermanism, French Monarchism, Socialism are not only political manifestations; they defend a particular form of morality, of intelligence, of sensibility, of literature, of philosophy and of artistic conceptions. Our age has introduced two novelties into the theorizing of political passions, by which they have been remarkably intensified. The first is that every one to-day claims that his movement is in line with “the development of evolution” and “the profound unrolling of history.” All these passions of to-day, whether they derive from Marx, from M. Maurras or from Houston Chamberlain, have discovered a “historical law,” according to which their movement is merely carrying out the spirit of history and must therefore necessarily triumph, while the opposing party is running counter to this spirit and can enjoy only a transitory triumph. That is merely the old desire to have Fate on one’s side, but it is put forth in a scientific shape. And this brings us to the second novelty: To-day all political ideologies claim to be founded on science, to be the result of a “precise observation of facts.” We all know what self-assurance, what rigidity, what inhumanity (comparatively new traits in the history of political passions, of which modern French monarchism is a good example) are given to these passions to-day by this claim. To summarize: To-day political passions show a degree of universality, of coherence, of homogeneousness, of precision, of continuity, of preponderance, in relation to other passions, unknown until our times.
* the “clerks” have adopted political passions. No one will deny that throughout Europe to-day the immense majority of men of letters and artists, a considerable number of scholars, philosophers, and “ministers” of the divine, share in the chorus of hatreds among races and political factions. Still less will it be denied that they adopt national passions.
* the “clerks” now exercise political passions with all the characteristics of passion—the tendency to action, the thirst for immediate results, the exclusive preoccupation with the desired end, the scorn for argument, the excess, the hatred, the fixed ideas. The modern “clerk” has entirely ceased to let the layman alone descend to the market place. The modern “clerk” is determined to have the soul of a citizen and to make vigorous use of it; he is proud of that soul; his literature is filled with his contempt for the man who shuts himself up with art or science and takes no interest in the passions of the State. 1 He is violently on the side of Michelangelo crying shame upon Leonardo da Vinci for his indifference to the misfortunes of Florence, and against the master of the Last Supper when he replied that indeed the study of beauty occupied his whole heart. The time has long past by since Plato demanded that the philosopher should be bound in chains in order to compel him to take an interest in the State. To have as his function the pursuit of eternal things and yet to believe that he becomes greater by concerning himself with the State—that is the view of the modern “clerk.” It is as natural as it is evident that this adhesion of the “clerks” to the passions of the laymen fortifies these passions in the hearts of the latter. In the first place, it abolishes the suggestive spectacle (which I mentioned above) of a race of men whose interests are set outside the practical world. And then especially, the “clerk” by adopting political passions, brings them the tremendous influence of his sensibility if he is an artist, of his persuasive power if he is a thinker, and in either case his moral prestige.
* I am quite ready to agree that this sort of blind patriotism makes powerful nations, and that the patriotism of Fénelon or of Renan is not the sort which secures empires. It remains to determine whether the function of “clerks” is to secure empires.
* This adhesion of the “clerks” to national passion is particularly remarkable among…the Churchmen. In all European countries during the past fifty years, the immense majority of these men have not only given their adhesion to the national feeling 9 and therefore have ceased to provide the world with the spectacle of hearts solely occupied with God—but they seem to have adopted this feeling with the same passion as that I have pointed out as existing among men of letters, and they too appear to be ready to support their own countries in the most flagrant injustices.
* I shall point out another characteristic of patriotism in the modern “clerk”: xenophobia. The hatred of man for “the man from outside” (the horsain), his rejection of and scorn for everything which is not “from his own home,”…
* The nationalist “clerk” is essentially a German invention. This, moreover, is a theme which will frequently recur in this book, i.e. that most of the moral and political attitudes adopted by the “clerks” of Europe in the past fifty years are of German origin, and that in the world of spiritual things the victory of Germany is now complete.
* All cities,” says Guicciardini, “all States, all Kingdoms, are mortal; everything comes to an end, either by accident or by the course of nature. That is why a citizen who witnesses the end of his country cannot feel so distressed at her misfortune with so much reason as he would lament his own ruin. His country has met the fate which in every way she was bound to meet; the misfortune is wholly for him whose unhappy lot has caused him to be born in a time when such a disaster had to occur.” One wonders whether there is a single modern thinker, attached to his country as the author of that passage was to his, who would dare to form, still less to express, a judgment of her so extraordinarily free in its melancholy. And here we come upon one of the great impieties of the moderns: The refusal to believe that above their nations there exists a development of a superior kind, by which they will be swept away like all other things.
* The second characteristic of the patriotism of the modern “clerks” is a desire to relate the form of their own minds to a form of the national mind, which they naturally brandish against other national forms of mind. We all know how, during the last fifty years, so many men of learning on both banks of the Rhine have asserted their views in the name of French science, of German science. We know how acridly so many of our writers in the same period have vibrated with French sensibility, French intelligence, French philosophy. Some declare that they are the incarnation of Aryan thought, Aryan painting, Aryan music, to which others reply by discovering that a certain master had a Jewish grandmother, and so venerate Semitic genius in him.
* Ernst Renan: “Man belongs neither to his language nor to his race; he belongs only to himself, for he is a free being, that is, a moral being.”
* Plutarch taught: “Man is not a plant created to be immobile and to have his roots fixed in the soil where he was born.”
* I am only denouncing this desire of the “clerk” to feel himself determined by his race and to remain fixed to his native soil to the extent that it becomes in him a political attitude, a nationalist provocation.
* “A true German historian,” declares a German master, “should especially tell those facts which conduce to the grandeur of Germany.” The same scholar praises Mommsen (who himself boasted of it) for having written a Roman history “which becomes a history of Germany with Roman names.” Another (Treitschke) prided himself on his lack of “that anemic objectivity which is contrary to the historical sense.” Another (Guisebrecht) teaches that “Science must not soar beyond the frontiers, but be national, be German.”
* But where the “clerks” have most violently broken with their tradition and resolutely played the game of the laymen in their eagerness to place themselves in the real, is by their doctrines, by the scale of values they have set up for the world. Those whose preaching for twenty centuries had been to humiliate the realist passions in favor of something transcendental, have set themselves (with a science and a consciousness which will stupefy history) to the task of making these passions, and the impulses which ensure them, the highest of virtues, while they cannot show too much scorn for the existence which in any respect raises itself beyond the material. I shall now describe the principal aspects of this phenomenon.
A. The “Clerks” Praise Attachment to The Particular and Denounce The Feeling of The Universal
In the first place, the “clerks” have set out to exalt the will of men to feel conscious of themselves as distinct from others, and to proclaim as contemptible every tendency to establish oneself in a universal.
* This glorification of national particularisms, at least with the precision observable to-day, is undoubtedly something new in the history of the Church.
* When the Church in past times did approve of something in patriotism, it was fraternity among fellow-citizens, like love of man for other men, but not his opposition to other men. She approved of patriotism as an extension of human love, and not as a limitation of it.
* B. The “Clerks” Praise Attachment to The Practical, and Denounce Love of The Spiritual
* For twenty centuries the “clerks” preached to the world that the State should be just; now they proclaim that the State should be strong and should care nothing about being just. (Remember the attitude of the chief French teachers during the Dreyfus affair.) Convinced that the strength of the State depends upon authority, they defend autocratic systems, arbitrary government, the reason of State, the religions which teach blind submission to authority, and they cannot sufficiently denounce all institutions based on liberty and discussion.53 This denunciation of liberalism, notably by the vast majority of contemporary men of letters, will be one of the things in this age most astonishing to History, especially on the part of the French. With their eyes fixed on the powerful State, they have praised the State disciplined in the Prussian manner, where every one has his post, and under orders from above, labors for the greatness of the nation, without there being any place left for particular wills.
* This displacement of morality is undoubtedly the most important achievement of the modern “clerks,” and the most deserving of the historian’s attention. It is a great turning-point in the history of man when those who speak in the name of pondered thought come and tell him that his political egotisms are divine, and that everything which labors to relax them is degrading. The results of this teaching were shown by the example of Germany a decade ago.
* The extent to which the modern “clerks” have made innovations may be judged by the fact that up till our own times men had only received two sorts of teaching in what concerns the relations between politics and morality. One was Plato’s, and it said: “Morality decides politics”; the other was Machiavelli’s, and it said: “Politics have nothing to do with morality.” To-day they receive a third. M. Maurras teaches: “Politics decide morality.”
* At the beginning of the last century the Church still taught that war could only be just for one of the two belligerents.64 It is heavy with consequences that she has now abandoned this position and to-day asserts that war may be just on both sides at once, “from the moment when each of the two adversaries, without being certain of its right, considers it as simply probable after having taken the opinion of its counsellors.”65 Here is another serious thing: In the past, war would only be declared just when it was against an adversary who had committed an injury accompanied by a moral intention, whereas to-day it may be declared just if it is directed against a material injury caused without any malice,66 for instance, an accidental violation of frontier. It is certain that to-day Napoleon and Bismarck could find in the teaching of the Church more justification than ever for their incursions.
* (a) The affirmation of the rights of custom, history, the past (to the extent, be it understood, that they support the systems of force) in opposition to the rights of reason.
* I said that the modern “clerks” teach man that his desires are moral insofar as they tend to secure his existence at the expense of an environment which disputes it. In particular they teach him that his species is sacred insofar as it is able to assert its existence at the expense of the surrounding world.81 In other words, the old morality told Man that he is divine to the extent that he becomes one with the universe; the new morality tells him that he is divine to the extent that he is in opposition to it.
* Moreover, the modern “clerks” extol Christianity insofar as it is supposed to have been preeminently a school of practical, creative virtues, adjusted to the support of the great human institutions.
* Let me observe that I am not reproaching the Christian preacher for giving their due to glory and other earthly passions, I am only reproaching him for trying to pretend that he is in harmony with his institution when he does so. We do not ask that the Christian shall not violate the Christian law; we only ask him to know that he is breaking it when he does break it. This seems to me admirably brought out by the remark of Cardinal Lavigerie who was asked: “What would you do, Eminence, if some one slapped your right cheek?” and who replied, “I know what I ought to do, but I do not know what I should do.” I know what I ought to do, and therefore what I ought to teach. A man who speaks in that way may give way to every species of violence, and yet maintain Christian morality. Here actions are nothing; the judgment on the actions is everything.
* This extolling of harshness seems to me to have borne more fruit than any other preaching by the modern “clerks.” It is a commonplace that among the great majority of the (so-called) thinking young men, in France for instance, harshness is to-day an object of respect, while human love in all its forms is considered a rather laughable thing. These young men have a cult for doctrines which respect nothing but force, pay no attention to the lamentations of suffering and proclaim the inevitability of war and slavery, while they despise those who are revolted by such prospects and desire to alter them. I should like these cults to be compared with the literary esthetics of these young men, their veneration for certain contemporary novelists and poets in whom the absence of human sympathy reaches a rare pitch of perfection, and whom they plainly venerate, especially for that characteristic.
* One of the principal causes is that the modern world has made the “clerk” into a citizen, subject to all the responsibilities of a citizen, and consequently to despise lay passions is far more difficult for him than for his predecessors. If he is reproached for not looking upon national quarrels with the noble serenity of Descartes and Goethe, the “clerk” may well retort that his nation claps a soldier’s pack on his back if she is insulted, and crushes him with taxes even if she is victorious. If shame is cried upon him because he does not rise superior to social hatreds, he will point out that the day of enlightened patronage is over, that to-day he has to earn his living, and that it is not his fault if he is eager to support the class which takes a pleasure in his productions.
* The practice of the life of the spirit seems to me to lead inevitably to universalism, to the feeling of the eternal, to a lack of vigor in the belief in worldly conventions.
* I see the interests of their careers. It is an obvious fact that during the past two centuries most of the men of letters who have attained wide fame in France assumed a political attitude—for instance, Voltaire, Diderot, Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Anatole France, Barrès. With some of them, real fame dates from the moment when they assumed that attitude. This law has not escaped the attention of their descendants, and it may be said to-day that every French writer who desires wide fame (which means every writer endowed with the real temperament of a man of letters) also desires inevitably to play a political part.
* the practical writer’s desire to please the bourgeoisie, who are the creators of fame and the source of honors… he is not only in the service of a bourgeoisie which is in a state of anxiety, but that he himself has become more and more of a bourgeois, endowed with all the social position and respect which belong to that caste.
* Let me point out another and remarkable form of this extolling of particularism by the “clerks”: the extolling of particular systems of morality and the scorn for universal morality. During the past half century a whole school, not only of men of action but of serious philosophers, has taught that a people should form a conception of its rights and duties from a study of its particular genius, its history, its geographical position, the particular circumstances in which it happens to be, and not from the commands of a so-called conscience of man in all times and places. Moreover, this same school teaches that a class should construct a scale of good and evil, determined by an inquiry into its particular needs, its particular aims, the particular conditions surrounding it, and should cease to encumber itself with such sensibilities as “justice in itself,” “humanity in itself” and other “rags and tatters” of general morality. To-day with Barrès, Maurras, Sorel, even Durckheim45 we are witnessing the complete bankruptcy among the “clerks” of that form of soul which, from Plato to Kant, looked for the notion of good in the heart of eternal and disinterested man. The example of Germany in 1914 shows the results of this teaching which exhorts a group of men to set themselves up as the sole judges of the morality of their actions, shows what deification of their appetites it leads to, what codification of their violence, what tranquillity in carrying out their plans.
* If a man exhorts his compatriots to recognize only a personal morality and to reject all universal morality, he is showing himself a master of the art of encouraging them to want to be distinct from all other men, i.e. of the art of perfecting national passion in them…
* The cult for the particular and the scorn for the universal is a reversal of values quite generally characteristic of the teaching of the modern “clerks”…
* I should like to point out another form, not the least remarkable, which this preaching of particularism assumes among the “clerks.” I mean their exhortations to consider everything only as it exists in time, that is as it constitutes a succession of particular states, a “becoming,” a “history,” and never as it presents a state of permanence beyond time under this succession of distinct cases. I mean especially their assertion that this view of things in their historical aspect is the only serious and philosophical view, and that the need to look at them in their eternal aspect is a form of the child’s taste for ghosts, and should be merely smiled at. Need I point out that this conception inspires the whole of modern thought? It exists among a whole group of literary critics, who, on their own showing, inquire far less whether a work is beautiful than whether it expresses “the present” aspirations of “the contemporary soul.
* there are innumerable people who think they are demonstrating their aristocratic morality by declaring their systematic esteem for all who “succeed” and their scorn for all who fail.
* If I look at contemporary humanity from the point of view of its moral state as revealed by its political life, I see (a) A mass in whom realist passions in its two chief forms—class passion, national passion—has attained a degree of consciousness and organization hitherto unknown; (b) A body of men who used to be in opposition to the realism of the masses, but who now, not only do not oppose it, but adopt it, proclaim its grandeur and morality; in short, a humanity which has abandoned itself to realism with a unanimity, an absence of reserve, a sanctification of its passion unexampled in history.
This remark may be put in another form. Imagine an observer of the twelfth century taking a bird’s-eye view of the Europe of his time. He would see men groping in the obscurity of their minds and striving to form themselves into nations (to mention only the most striking aspect of the realist will); he would see them beginning to succeed; he would see groups of men attaining consistency, determined to seize a portion of the earth and tending to feel conscious of themselves as distinct from the groups surrounding them. But at the same time he would see a whole class of men, regarded with the greatest reverence, laboring to thwart this movement. He would see men of learning, artists and philosophers, displaying to the world a spirit which cared nothing for nations, using a universal language among themselves. He would see those who gave Europe its moral values preaching the cult of the human, or at least of the Christian, and not of the national, he would see them striving to found, in opposition to the nations, a great universal empire on spiritual foundations. And so he might say to himself: “Which of these two currents will triumph? Will humanity be national or spiritual? Will it depend on the will of the laymen or of the “clerks”? And for long ages the realist cause will not be completely victorious; the spiritual body will remain faithful to itself long enough to our observer to be uncertain of the result. To-day the game is over. Humanity is national. The layman has won. But his triumph has gone beyond anything he could have expected. The “clerk” is not only conquered, he is assimilated. The man of science, the artist, the philosopher are attached to their nations as much as the day-laborer and the merchant. Those who make the world’s values, make them for a nation; the Ministers of Jesus defend the national. All humanity including the “clerks,” have become laymen. All Europe, including Erasmus, has followed Luther.
* Indeed, if we ask ourselves what will happen to a humanity where every group is striving more eagerly than ever to feel conscious of its own particular interests, and makes its moralists tell it that it is sublime to the extent that it knows no law but this interest—a child can give the answer. This humanity is heading for the greatest and most perfect war ever seen in the world, whether it is a war of nations, or a war of classes. A race of which one group exalts one of its masters (Barrès) to the skies because he teaches: “We must defend the essential part of ourselves as sectarians,” while a neighboring group acclaims a leader because, when he attacks a defenseless small nation, he says, “Necessity knows no law”—such a race is ripe for the zolögical wars Renan talks about, which, he said, would be like the life and death wars which occur among rodents and among the carnivora. As regards the nation, think of Italy; as regards class, think of Russia; and you will see the hitherto unknown point of perfection attained by the spirit of hatred against what is “different” among a group of men, consciously realist and at last liberated from all non-practical morality. And my predictions are not rendered less probable by the fact that these two nations are hailed as models throughout the world by those who desire either the grandeur of their nation or the triumph of their class.
* Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind.1 In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing. And moreover these tribunals leave untouched the economic war between the nations and the class wars.