Georges Eugène Sorel
2 November 1847
|Died||29 August 1922 74) (aged|
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Georges Eugène Sorel ( // ; French: [sɔʁɛl] ; 2 November 1847 – 29 August 1922) was a French philosopher and theorist of Sorelianism. His notion of the power of myth in people's lives (in particular, national myth) inspired socialists, anarchists, Marxists, and Fascists. It is, together with his defense of violence, the contribution for which he is most often remembered.
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.
Sorelianism is advocacy for or support of the ideology and thinking of French revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel. Sorelians oppose bourgeois democracy, the developments of the 18th century, the secular spirit, and the French Revolution, while supporting classical tradition. A revisionist of Marxism, Sorel believed that the victory of the proletariat in class struggle could be achieved only through the power of myth and a general strike. To Sorel, the aftermath of class conflict would involve rejuvenation of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic or be incorporated into a civil religion. A group of related myths about a nation may be referred to as the national mythos, from μῦθος, the original Greek word for "myth".
Born in Cherbourg as the son of a bankrupted wine merchant, he moved to Paris in 1864 to attend the Collège Rollin, before entering the École Polytechnique a year later.He became chief engineer with the Department of Public Works, stationed briefly in Corsica, and for a longer period in Perpignan. In 1891, he was awarded the Légion d'honneur. He retired in 1892 and moved to Boulogne-sur-Seine, near Paris, where he stayed until his death.
The collège-lycée Jacques-Decour is a school in Paris on the avenue Trudaine.
École Polytechnique is a French public institution of higher education and research in Palaiseau, a suburb located south from Paris. It is one of the leading prestigious French 'Grandes Écoles' in engineering, especially known for its polytechnicien engineering program.
Engineers, as practitioners of engineering, are professionals who invent, design, analyze, build, and test machines, systems, structures and materials to fulfill objectives and requirements while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin words ingeniare and ingenium ("cleverness"). The foundational qualifications of an engineer typically include a four-year bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline, or in some jurisdictions, a master's degree in an engineering discipline plus four to six years of peer-reviewed professional practice and passage of engineering board examinations.
Beginning in the second half of the 1880s, he published articles in various fields (hydrology, architecture, physics, political history, and philosophy) displaying the influence of Aristotle, as well as Hippolyte Taine and Ernest Renan. In 1893, he publicly affirmed his position as a Marxist and a socialist. His social and political philosophy owed much to his reading of Proudhon, Karl Marx, Giambattista Vico, Henri Bergson(whose lectures at the Collège de France he attended), and later William James. Sorel's engagement in the political world was accompanied by a correspondence with Benedetto Croce, and later with Vilfredo Pareto. Sorel worked on the first French Marxist journals, L’Ère nouvelle and Le Devenir social, and then participated at the turn of the century in the revisionist debate and crisis within Marxism. He took the side of Eduard Bernstein against Karl Kautsky. Sorel supported acquittal during the Dreyfus affair, although, like his friend Charles Péguy, he later felt betrayed by what he saw as the opportunism of the Dreyfusards. Through his contributions to Enrico Leone's Il Divenire sociale and Hubert Lagardelle's Mouvement socialiste, he contributed around 1905 to the theoretical elaboration of revolutionary syndicalism. In 1906, his most famous text, Reflections on Violence , appeared in this last journal. It was published in book form in 1908, and was followed the same year by Illusions du Progrès.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.
Hippolyte Adolphe Taine was a French critic and historian. He was the chief theoretical influence of French naturalism, a major proponent of sociological positivism and one of the first practitioners of historicist criticism. Literary historicism as a critical movement has been said to originate with him. Taine is also remembered for his attempts to provide a scientific account of literature.
Joseph Ernest Renan was a French expert of Semitic languages and civilizations (philology), philosopher, biblical scholar and critic, and historian of religion. He is best known for his influential and pioneering historical works on the origins of Early Christianity, and his political theories, especially concerning nationalism and national identity. Renan is credited as being among the first scholars to advance the Khazar theory, which held that Ashkenazi Jews were descendants of the Khazars, Turkic peoples who had adopted Jewish religion and migrated to Western Europe following the collapse of their khanate.
Disappointed by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), Sorel associated himself for a period in 1909-1910 with Charles Maurras’ Action française, while sharing neither its nationalism nor its political program. This collaboration inspired the founders of the Cercle Proudhon, which brought together revolutionary syndicalists and monarchists. Sorel himself, with Jean Variot, founded a journal in 1911 called L'Indépendance, although disagreements, in part over nationalism, soon ended the project.
Charles-Marie-Photius Maurras was a French author, politician, poet, and critic. He was an organizer and principal philosopher of Action Française, a political movement that was monarchist, anti-Semitic, anti-parliamentarist, and counter-revolutionary. Maurras' ideas greatly influenced National Catholicism and "nationalisme intégral". A major tenet of integral nationalism was stated by Maurras as "a true nationalist places his country above everything". He was one of the few eminent and probably the most important of all French ethnic nationalists, being naturally opposed to republican universalism and liberalism, advocating for corporatism, order, hierarchy and an organically decentralised France. A political theorist and a major intellectual influence in early 20th-century Europe, his views influenced several far-right ideologies; it also anticipated some of the ideas of fascism.
Cercle Proudhon was a political group founded in France on December 16, 1911 by Georges Valois and Édouard Berth. The group was inspired by Georges Sorel and a selective reading of Proudhon.
Ferociously opposed to the 1914 Union sacrée, Sorel denounced the war and in 1917 praised the Russian Revolution, which was later printed in an official Soviet Union publication, Russian Soviet Government Bureau, calling Lenin "the greatest theoretician of socialism since Marx and a statesman whose genius recalls that of Peter the Great."He wrote numerous small pieces for Italian newspapers defending the Bolsheviks. Less than one year later in March 1921, Sorel turned his praise towards a rising Fascist leader in Italy, writing that "Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin…"
The union sacrée was a political truce in France in which the left-wing agreed, during World War I, not to oppose the government or call any strikes. Made in the name of patriotism, it stood in opposition to the pledge made by the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) internationalism, and its former leader Jean Jaurès, not to enter any "bourgeois war." Although an important part of the socialist movement joined the Union sacrée, some trade unionists such as Pierre Monatte opposed it.
The Russian Soviet Government Bureau (1919-1921), sometimes known as the "Soviet Bureau," was an unofficial diplomatic organization established by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the United States during the Russian Civil War. The Soviet Bureau primarily functioned as a trade and information agency of the Soviet government. Suspected of engaging in political subversion, the Soviet Bureau was raided by law enforcement authorities at the behest of the Lusk Committee of the New York State legislature in 1919. The Bureau was terminated early in 1921.
The Bolsheviks, also known in English as the Bolshevists, were a faction founded by Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov that split from the Menshevik faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), a revolutionary socialist political party formed in 1898, at its Second Party Congress in 1903.
Sorel was extremely hostile to Gabriele D’Annunzio, the poet who attempted to re-conquer Fiume for Italy, and did not show sympathy for the rise of fascism in Italy, despite Jean Variot's later claims that he placed all his hopes in Benito Mussolini. After the war, Sorel published a collection of his writings entitled Matériaux d’une Théorie du Prolétariat. At the time of his death, in Boulogne sur Seine, he had an ambivalent attitude towards both Fascism and Bolshevism.
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from the fascists' takeover of state power in 1922 until 1943, and Duce from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.
Although his writing touched on many subjects, Sorel's work is best characterized by his original interpretation of Marxism, which was deeply anti-determinist, politically anti-elitist, anti-Jacobin,and built on the direct action of unions, the mobilizing role of myth—especially that of the general strike—and on the disruptive and regenerative role of violence. Whether Sorel is better seen as a left-wing or right-wing thinker is disputed: the Italian Fascists praised him as a forefather, but the dictatorial government they established ran contrary to his beliefs, while he was also an important touchstone for Italy's first Communists, who saw Sorel as a theorist of the proletariat. Such widely divergent interpretations arise from the theory that a moral revival of the country must take place to re-establish itself, saving it from decadence; yet whether this revival must occur by means of the middle and upper classes or of the proletariat is a point in question.
"Sorel began his writing as a marginal Marxist, a critical analyst of Marx's economics and philosophy, and not a pious commentator. He then embraced revisionism, became for several years the 'metaphysician of syndicalism', as Jaurès called him, flirted ardently with royalist circles, and then reverted to his commitment to the proletariat. When the Bolsheviks came to power, he completed his cycle of illusions by saluting Vladimir Leninas the leader who had realized his syndicalist myth."
"The syndicalist or militant trade union movement, which burst into prominence in France around 1900, inspired Sorel to write his Reflections on Violence . The turmoil engendered by strikes was universally condemned even by parliamentary socialists, who favored negotiation and conciliation. To justify the militancy and to give syndicalism an ideology, Sorel published the series of articles that became, as one of his biographers calls it, 'a famous and infamous book.'"Indeed, it was Sorel's only successful book of about a dozen published, which cemented his legacy by 1912 as "the leading figure amongst the French Syndicalists." This book was published in Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese and English.
Two of its themes have become a part of social science literature: the concept of the social myth and the virtue of violence.[ citation needed ] To Sorel the Syndicalist's general strike, the Marxist's catastrophic revolution, the Christian's church militant, the legends of the French Revolution, and the remembrance of June Days are all myths that move men, quite independent of their historical reality. As one of Sorel's disciples (Benito Mussolini) said, men do not move mountains; it is only necessary to create the illusion that mountains move. Social myths, says Sorel, are not descriptions of things, but "expressions of a determination to act."
Myths enclose all the strongest inclinations of a people, of a party, or of a class, and the general strike is "the myth in which Socialism is wholly comprised."For Sorel the general strike was a catastrophic conception of socialism, the essence of the class struggle, and the only true Marxist means of effecting the revolution. Nowhere does Sorel endorse indiscriminate, brutal violence; only violence "enlightened by the idea of the general strike" is unconditionally defended. Only violence in the Marxist class war, as Sorel conceived it, is fine and heroic and in the service of the "immemorial interest of civilization." In fact, Sorel makes no justification of violence by philosophical argument, but uses long excursions into history and current events to suggest that ethical codes are relative to their time and place. Consistent with his position he could describe the Declaration of the Rights of Man as "only a colorless collection of abstract and confused formulas, without any practical bearing."
Sorel had been politically monarchist and traditionalist before embracing orthodox Marxism in the 1890s. He attempted to fill in what he believed were gaps in Marxist theory, resulting in an extremely heterodox and idiosyncratic view of Marxism. For instance, Sorel saw pessimism and irrationalism at the core of Marxism and rejected Karl Marx's own rationalism and "utopian" tendency. Sorel also saw Marxism as closer in spirit to early Christianity than to the French Revolution. He did not view Marxism as "true" in a scientific sense, as orthodox Marxists did, but believed Marxism's "truth" lay in its promise of a morally redemptive role for the proletariat, within a terminally decadent society.
Sorel's was a voluntarist Marxism: he rejected those Marxists who believed in inevitable and evolutionary change, emphasizing instead the importance of will and preferring direct action. These approaches included general strikes, boycotts, and constant disruption of capitalism with the goal being to achieve worker control over the means of production. Sorel's belief in the need for a deliberately conceived "myth" to sway crowds into concerted action was put into practice by mass fascist movements in the 1920s. The epistemic status of the idea of "myth" is of some importance, and is essentially that of a working hypothesis, with one fundamental peculiarity: it is an hypothesis which we do not judge by its closeness to a "Truth", but by the practical consequences which stem from it. Thus, whether a political myth is of some importance or not must be decided, in Sorel's view, on the basis of its capacity to mobilize human beings into political action;the only possible way for men to ascend to an ethical life filled by the character of the sublime and to achieve deliverance. Sorel believed the "energizing myth" of the general strike would serve to enforce solidarity, class consciousness and revolutionary élan among the working class. The "myth" that the fascists would appeal to, however, was that of the race, nation, or people, as represented by the state. Historian Zeev Sternhell mentions frequently Sorel as one of the men who led the way to the fusion of the left-wing revisionists and of the right-wing ultranationalists into what later became fascism. Sorel's vision of socialism was "a-Marxist, anti-Marxist, eventually post-Marxist revisionist". Sternhell says that "the socialism designed as 'ethical socialism' by Sorel, Robert Michels and Arturo Labriola [...] will play a huge role in the evolution of the socialist nationalist synthesis, in the eve of 1914 and in the Interwar".
In his most famous work Reflections on Violence (1908), Sorel warned about the political trend that conservatives and parliamentary socialists could become allies in the struggle against capitalism.Sorel's view is that the conservatives and parliamentary socialism had common goals, both conceiving of the nation as a centrally controlled, organic unit. Also, the parliamentarian socialism of the left wants economic nationalism, and huge tariff-barriers in order to protect their interior capitalists and this meshes with the cultural nationalism of the conservatives. Sorel warned about the creation of corporatism, where the workers movements and the employers organizations would merge, thus ending the class-struggle; because he felt that parliamentary democracy was moving in that direction at the beginning of the 19th century, Sorel said that the workers should stay away from the socialist parties, and use strikes and violence instead as their primary weapons against the middle and upper classes in parliament. That way, the workers would not only fight harder for their share of the values produced by capitalism, but also avoid the semi-feudal, corporative dystopia and oligarchy that the socialists and the conservatives were, supposedly, working towards.
In his Reflections on Violence, Sorel says that parliamentary socialism, and its middle-class of bureaucrats and newspaper-intellectuals does not understand social science, economics, or any other matter important for good rule as well as the traditional liberal and capitalist elite that ruled before the mediocre middle-class became a powerful force in parliament. "How did these mediocre and silly people become so powerful?" Sorel asks.[ citation needed ] His theory on this is that the mediocre middle-class became powerful when the working-classes, people without property, were given the right to vote at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Thus, the working classes now created a problem for themselves by creating a political elite that is more stupid and less competent than the people who had a monopoly of power before them. He proposed that this problem could be fixed only by a collective withdrawal and boycott of the parliamentary system by the workers. Thus, the workers must return to strikes and violence as their main political tool, so Sorel says. This gives the workers a sense of unity, a return to dignity, and weakens the dangerous and mediocre middle-class in their struggle for power, and their attack on capitalism.[ citation needed ]
Sorel rejected political elitismbecause the middle-classes tend to co-opt all organizational hierarchies, and turn them into gentlemen's clubs for people who like to talk theory and write long newspaper articles. This point was made by Sorel in Reflections on Violence, and was later developed further by Robert Michels and his Iron Law of Oligarchy.
Isaiah Berlin identifies three anti-scientific currents in Sorel's work,but Sorel's attack on science is neither general nor piecemeal. Rather than "attacks", as is clear from the quotations below, Sorel explains how we should view "science" in relation to what he called "the real thing".
He dismissed science as "a system of idealised entities: atoms, electric charges, mass, energy and the like – fictions compounded out of observed uniformities... deliberately adapted to mathematical treatment that enable men to identify some of the furniture of the universe, and to predict and... control parts of it." [1; 301] He regarded science more as "an achievement of the creative imagination, not an accurate reproduction of the structure of reality, not a map, still less a picture, of what there was. Outside of this set of formulas, of imaginary entities and mathematical relationships in terms of which the system was constructed, there was ‘natural’ nature – the real thing…" [1; 302] He regarded such a view as "an odious insult to human dignity, a mockery of the proper ends of men", [1; 300] and ultimately constructed by "fanatical pedants", [1; 303] out of "abstractions into which men escape to avoid facing the chaos of reality." [1; 302]
As far as Sorel was concerned, "nature is not a perfect machine, nor an exquisite organism, nor a rational system." [1; 302] He rejected the view that "the methods of natural science can explain and explain away ideas and values…or explain human conduct in mechanistic or biological terms, as the…blinkered adherents of la petite science believe." [1; 310] He also maintained that the categories we impose upon the world, "alter what we call reality…they do not establish timeless truths as the positivists maintained", [1; 302] and to "confuse our own constructions with eternal laws or divine decrees is one of the most fatal delusions of men." [1; 303] It is "ideological patter... bureaucracy, la petite science... the Tree of Knowledge has killed the Tree of Life... human life [has been reduced] to rules that seem to be based on objective truths." [1; 303] Such to Sorel, is the appalling arrogance of science, a vast deceit of the imagination, a view that conspires to "stifle the sense of common humanity and destroy human dignity." [1; 304]
Science, he maintained, "is not a ‘mill’ into which you can drop any problem facing you, and which yields solutions", [1; 311] that are automatically true and authentic. Yet, he claimed, this is precisely how too many people seem to regard it.
To Sorel, that is way "too much of a conceptual, ideological construction", [1; 312] smothering our perception of truth through the "stifling oppression of remorselessly tidy rational organisation." [1; 321] For Sorel, the inevitable "consequence of the modern scientific movement and the application of scientific categories and methods to the behaviour of men", [1; 323] is an outburst of interest in irrational forces, religions, social unrest, criminality and deviance – resulting directly from an overzealous and monistic obsession with scientific rationalism.
And what science confers, "a moral grandeur, bureaucratic organisation of human lives in the light of…la petite science, positivist application of quasi-scientific rules to society – all this Sorel despised and hated", [1; 328] as so much self-delusion and nonsense that generates no good and nothing of lasting value.
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