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offered their good services to their contemporaries,
whether to reorganise the former spiritual city or to



84 FRANCE TO-DAY

build a new. 1 On the other side, the desire and even
the hope of the public conscience that it might find
counsels in perfect harmony with its needs among
eminent thinkers has not been realised.

There has been a chance meeting at the cross-roads,
a greeting and warm hand-shake, a rendezvous
arranged : but on meeting again no mutual under-
standing is found; the preoccupations of the two
parties do not run in the same direction.

Since the eighteenth century and the Encyclopae-
dists, there has been no other philosophy which has
really penetrated the French soul; theirs still inspires
all our political and social life. But the thought of
to-day is ever striving to free itself from their
methods so seductive to the French by reason of
their clear and logical appearance which are, how-
ever, too brief and decidedly too simplistic, too
merely negative.

Unfortunately, those who write believe in the
power and efficacy of books; nor are they perhaps
altogether in the wrong : yet books are far from
having the importance attributed to them when one
is dealing with a naissant religious orientation, im-
pulsive, full of unexpected energies, and entirely dif-
ferent from the intellectual or, as it is called, theo-
logical movement which comes later, when the new
thought, leaving its youth behind, begins to fix itself
in rigid formulas.



1 Think, for instance, of Charles Fourier and the phalanstery,
of Saint-Simonism, of Auguste Comte's Positivism, of Secretan and
his Pbilosophie de la libertt, of Renouvier and Neo-Criticism, of the
indefatigable efforts of M. Pillon in the Critique fbilosophique, and
afterwards in the Annte -pbilosopbique.



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 85

For the last forty years the Latin countries have
had their eminent philosophers; but, apart from
certain men of secondary consequence who have set
themselves to serve a definite and precise cause, not
one is to be found among those who exercise an
influence on thought to-day who has dreamed of
fulfilling what seemed in a way the function of their
predecessors to offer their disciples a complete
religious system.

Far from directing the present religious move-
ment, our most highly esteemed thinkers seem rather
to be spectators and witnesses of it.

Guyau, Bergson, Boutroux and William James
have nothing of the attitude of the creators of a
religious, non-religious, or anti-religious doctrine.
Despite the variety of their views, there is a basic
similarity between them; different as these men are,
their considerations and efforts take the same direc-
tion : they endeavour to grasp religious evolu-
tion, to interpret and, one might almost say, to
serve it.

They feel the present crisis is taking place outside
themselves; they follow and take notes not external
and objective like those of an official report, but sub-
jective and deeply felt. The notion that we can
understand or judge from outside of phenomena,
whereof, willy-nilly, we are the agents, is the basis
of that intellectualist philosophy which has inspired
both our orthodoxies and our anti-orthodoxies. It
Is this which has lost the battle. The whole effort
of present-day philosophy tends to make us lose sight
of the signs for things in order to show us the things
themselves, and to set us before the living reality,
or rather at the very centre of reality. Hence the



86 FRANCE TO-DAY

unique and overwhelming importance which the
religious fact has assumed in the thought of the men
I have just named.

" Place yourself," said James in the fine lecture he
devoted to Bergson and Intellectualism, 1 " at the
centre of a man's philosophic vision and you under-
stand at once all the different things it makes him
write or say. But keep outside, use your post-
mortem method, try to build the philosophy up out
of the single phrases, taking first one and then
another and seeking to make them fit, and of course
you fail. You crawl over the thing like a myopic
ant over a building, tumbling into every microscopic
crack or fissure, finding nothing but inconsistencies,
and never suspecting that a centre exists. I hope
that some of the philosophers in this audience may
occasionally have had something different from this
intellectualist type of criticism applied to their own
works !

" What really exists is not things made but things
in the making. Once made, they are dead, and an
infinite number of alternative conceptual decomposi-
tions can be used in defining them. But put yourself
in the making by a stroke of intuitive sympathy with
the thing, and, the whole range of possible decom-
positions coming at once into your possession, you
are no longer troubled with the question which of
them is the more absolutely true. Reality falls in
passing into conceptual analysis: it mounts in living
its own individual life it buds and burgeons,
changes and creates. Once adopt the movement of

1 In his book A Pluralistic Universe, London, 1909, pp. 263-4.
The French translation is entitled La Phikso-phie de
translated by E. le Brim and M. Paris, p. 253 et seq.



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 87

this life in any given instance, and you know what
Bergson calls the devenir reel by which the thing
evolves and grows. Philosophy should seek this
kind of living understanding of the movement of
reality, not follow science in vainly patching together
fragments of its dead results."

This fine page very clearly shows the direction and
method or rather the inspiration of the new philo-
sophy. The enthusiastic reception which has been
accorded it by the younger generation shows that in
what we call the ruling classes the same crisis is mani-
fested as that to which we have called attention
among the working classes. They are not two
separate movements, but one and the same movement
in different milieus. Here, as there, we are induced
to fix upon the religious as the most potent and most
real fact, that from which all sets forth, and towards
which all converges, and to discard as incomplete the
intellectualist explanations of it which used to be



given.



The simple peasant, seated by the bed on which
the dead body of his eldest son is lying, turns from
the indiscreet comforter who attempts to prove
eternal life in a better world; but he turns with even
more decision from him who, making the contrary
assertion, would have him declare that he sees clearly
in front of him would have him proclaim that all
those who, across the centuries, have sung the victory
of life over death were but fools.

He calls in the priest. " Illogical attitude," say
Orthodoxy and Atheism together. Perhaps; but an
attitude singularly human and true : for the affirma-
tion of the one and the negation of the other were
arguments substituted for reality, a kind of decep-



88 FRANCE TO-DAY

tion drawn as a veil between us and it to intercept
our view.

He calls the priest, because in his mysterious Latin
he will make echo to the great mystery.

Some intellectuals are astounded at the success of
the new ideas. After being astonished, they smile,
are shocked, and find refutations for them from which
mockery is not absent.

Doubtless none of those whom I named just now
has come bringing his intellectual scheme with him,
as architects come to exhibit their plans for some
monument at an international competition. They
have not dreamed of judging the past by some ideal
pattern, nor of imposing it upon the future ; but
that is neither an oversight nor an abstention. It is
simply a homage to the true function of philosophy,
which to-day is rather to observe life and thought
than to create an absolute intellectual system.

In some circles it is loudly repeated that the new
tendencies, incapable of intellectual virility, take
delight in vagaries which may perhaps be good
enough for artists, but will never do for authentic
scholars. It is even insinuated that such and such
a fashionable teacher is more interested in drawing
a crowd about his chair than in teaching how to
reason and think : that certain contradictions are pre-
meditated and designed to satisfy every one, and
even to increase the intellectual and moral disorder
of the country.

We must be grateful to the representatives of a
certain rationalism for the naivete with which they
turn these arguments to account, and for the scarcely
veiled regret they manifest for periods when intellec-



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 89

tual and social order was maintained by the secular
arm.

We will delay no longer over the opposition with
which the new thought meets; still less will we rouse
up again polemics inspired, as it would seem, by a
wounded amour propre.

Among those who carry the question higher is
M. Remy de Gourmont, who recently wrote a page
in the Mercure de France* which is worth citing :

" A-propos of the death of William James, I have
been thinking a little lately about philosophers, and
have discovered that their influence may be summed
up in a few words. I believe that all philosophy
which is not purely scientific (negative, that is, to
metaphysics) comes at the end of the reckoning to
reinforce Christianity under whatever form it domi-
nates the various nations. Most persons who fancy
themselves interested in what they call the great
problems are moved by self-interested, egotistical
anxiety. They think of themselves and of their des-
tiny : they hope to find by rational means a solution
agreeable to their desires, which secretly conform to
the earliest teachings they received. Now, since all
metaphysical movements are very obscure, or at least
difficult of access to most minds, when these move-
ments are confronted with religious beliefs the beliefs
are found to be of the same order but clearer, having
been known in the past. This phenomenon was ex-
hibited at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The deism of J. J. Rousseau, which seemed so remote
from Catholicism, made ready the ground for a reno-
vation of Catholicism. Chateaubriand, thoroughly

1 For Nov. i, 1910.



90 FRANCE TO-DAY

impregnated with Rousseau, was the first of this
description. . . . William James, whose religious-
ness is indifferent to religious forms, has, without
knowing it, wrought in the same way for the sects.
M. Bergson's spiral spirituality, with its scientific but
treacherous charm, achieves the same result. The
metaphysical clouds it eloquently stirs dissolve in a
religious rain, and this rain, as it dries, leaves a sort
of manna upon which belief is fed. There are more
priests than intelligent free-thinkers at M. Bergson's
lectures. The manner of postulating free-will in a
Catholic country like France takes on an apologetic
value. The most illustrious of our metaphysicians
must know very well what he is doing."

This last phrase is extremely precious, for it char-
acterises, with real felicity, the antithesis between the
intellectualist philosophy, as it is offered to us, and
the new thought.

By all evidence, neither M. Bergson nor the other
thinkers who inspire the present generation know
what they are doing, at least in the sense in which
M. Remy de Gourmont seems to use that phrase.
This brief call to order, addressed to the pupil Berg-
son, not only sums up the whole page but renders it
useless. The page is only there in order to lead up
to and cover it.

No, indeed ! the new thought does not know what
it is doing, nor does it even wish to know. It goes,
greeting every one on its way, even the very animals
it meets and the soil it treads, wishing them peace
and labour and freedom. And if the foes of yester-
day meet, are reconciled and commune together in
and by it; if, taking with its right the Christian faith



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 91

and with its left the antichristian, it draw them to
look at one another, and each suddenly to see the
other as very different from what he had supposed, it
would not think itself absurd or foolish to reunite the
Yes and the No, drawing them to a unique affirma-
tion not by effacing either the affirmation or the
negation of yesterday, but by surpassing in order to
unify them.

" Thus," M. Bergson has said, 1 " to the eyes of a
philosophy that attempts to reabsorb intellect in
intuition, many difficulties vanish or become light.
But such a doctrine does not only facilitate specula-
tion, it gives us also more power to act and to live.
For, with it, we feel ourselves no longer isolated in
humanity, humanity no longer seems isolated in the
nature that it dominates. As the smallest grain of
dust is bound up with our entire solar system, drawn
along with it in that undivided movement of descent
which is materiality itself, so all organised beings,
from the humblest to the highest, from the first
origins of life to the time in which we are, and in all
places as in all times, do but evidence a single impul-
sion, the inverse of the movement of matter, and in
itself indivisible. All the living hold together, and
all yield to the same tremendous push. The animal
takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality,
and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one
immense army galloping beside and before and
behind each of us in an overwhelming charge
able to beat down every resistance and clear
the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even
death."

1 Creative Evolution, translated by Arthur Mitchell, Ph.D.
London, 1911, pp. 285-6.



92 FRANCE TO-DAY

In this, as in other pages of the illustrious thinker,
it would be hard indeed not to see that tendency
which we have already so often pointed out in the
work of the conscience of to-day, the tendency to
assimilate the age-long effort of Catholic thought.
The superb oratorical flights of Lacordaire are to be
found again in Bergson, with, perhaps, even finer
language. We would say that they are there secular-
ised, if the word had not rather too narrow a mean-
ing. We will simply say they are there triumphant,
no longer as a kind of future vision, but as a state-
ment of the supreme scientific reality.

This philosophy, which does not make its appear-
ance armed against error, nor resolve itself into a
vigorous hatred of evil, naturally looks very danger-
ous to the partisans of all the old systems.

" If the speech of metaphysicians," says M. le
Dantec, 1 " like that of creative artists, is addressed to
a restricted public composed solely of their personal
* resonators,' it possesses yet another property which
for a certain public renders it superior (but, in my
opinion, inferior) to the eminently impersonal lan-
guage of mathematicians. This remarkable property
is that those who perceive it, those who vibrate in
harmony with the metaphysician or the artist, are not
ordinarily in accord upon what they understand : they
are agreeably affected, and this is their only common
ground; but that does not prevent their keeping their
first attitude as to other matters, and notably towards
religious and social questions. A Catholic and an
anarchist who at the same time hear the Symphony
in C minor, feel at the same time emotions probably

1 In an article in La Grande revue, July 10, 1910, entitled
Reflexions (Pun pbilistin sur la Metapbysique.



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 93

different, and remain the one an anarchist, the other
a Catholic, as before. I imagine they do not fancy
that in his work Beethoven expressed precisely their
religious or social belief; while, when they commune
together in Bergson or in James, each of them recog-
nises the expression of his own thought in the work
of these subtle artists; and both draw from the read-
ing of metaphysical productions new reasons for their
being the one more an anarchist, the other more a
Catholic than in the past."

At the bottom of M. le Dantec's criticism there is
the finest statement that could be made in honour of
the new philosophy that it is in no wise a negative
doctrine. That in itself is much, but there is more :
it is like the whiff of mountain air which gives new
hope to the traveller. " But he is ill," cries a
contradictory voice, " and in giving new strength to
him you do but give it to his disease." That is quite
possible, but above all we do give the strength to
him, and furnish him with the sole really efficacious
means of fighting against the disease germs, and
gradually eliminating them.

From each contact with the new philosophy, the
anti-modern Catholic and anti-social anarchist come
forth fortified in their whole being, and also and
especially fortified in the reasons that each of them
may have for attachment to the ideas he professes.
We, indeed, cannot perceive those reasons, but they
are there. And if we do not perceive them, it is
often enough because we do not choose to look at
them : because we are afraid of seeing them because,
for the sake of peace and quiet, and that we may not
have to make changes in our doctrinal ego, we require
not to see them.



94 FRANCE TO-DAY

The new philosophy brings the Catholic, as much
as the anarchist, into the presence of those reasons
generally very noble and pure for which he made
his choice of a path; and by bringing his faith back
to its source gives it the opportunity of purifying
itself, of seeing and correcting its errors.

We spoke at the beginning of this book of the
desire for international reconciliation which is so
powerfully manifested in our country : hands, and
hearts too, are seeking one another. The same
movement is manifested in the more restricted circle
of national life.

One must be blind not to see that it is because the
new philosophy vibrates with sympathetic enthusiasm
to this movement of affirmation, love and unity,
that it is attaining such a hold on the coming
generation.



Its success is made the more striking by the failure
of a philosophy which a few years ago seemed
to be on the eve of silencing every other in our
country.

It was a time when many excellent people who had
read nothing of Nietzsche asserted that his thought,
which had scarcely yet arrived, was already triumph-
ant : that France, vanquished materially, accepted
the conqueror's philosophy; that this, indeed, was the
system suited to a civilisation in which success-
ful self-seeking (arrivisme) proves itself not only
a conqueror, but an honoured and respected
one.

The pessimists seemed to be so much less in the
wrong as Nietzsche's pages were an inexhaustible



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 95

arsenal : every violence, infallibility, passion, or mad-
ness could go to him for literary halo and intellectual
justification.

Is there, then, something analogous in him to what
we have just noted in Bergson? The similarity is
there, but it is entirely superficial. The latter, by
fortifying his readers and giving them tone,. prepares
them for a life which is association, understand-
ing and love : the former makes his disciples
powerful not because they are strong, but be-
cause they are formidable, which is quite another
matter.

We need hardly say it is not our business to make
an exact and scientific analysis of the celebrated
German philosopher's * thought, but solely to state
the idea conceived by the French public of him and
of his teaching ^-for it is this idea, I was going to
say this legend, true or false, which has been at work
on this side the Rhine and to ascertain what influ-
ence he has exercised not merely on the thought,
but, above all, on the social life of our country.
This influence has been as superficial as it was
ephemeral.

A recent investigation' shows that the younger
generation almost completely ignores him. 2 M. Jean
Viollis, who organised the inquiry, sums it up as
follows :

" The best service that the Nietzschians can

1 This task has been well fulfilled by H. Lichtenberger : La
Pkilosophie de Nietzsche, 3rd ed., Paris, 1899 : Friedrich Nietzsche,
Aphorismes et fragments choisis, Paris, 1899.

2 " Nietzsche et la jeunesse d'aujourd'hui." Grand Revue,
Jan. 10 and 25, 1911.



96 FRANCE TO-DAY

render Nietzsche is to leave him in peace. It is not
to their advantage or to his, that his thought should
be too closely pressed. Even as a denier, Nietzsche
lacks original force. Others have pressed harder
upon the track of our prejudices and false truths :
less flourish, more deadly shafts.

" Certain minds, more resonant than reasonable,
require crashes and flashes to awaken in them certain
vibrations. To them Nietzsche brings, with his pro-
phetic uproar, some true glimpses which a less
barbarous vision might readily find elsewhere. He
will remain a philosopher for those who are not. For
others he will appear to be the greatest poet of
romanticism. Rich in words, poor in ideas. . . . He
equals the verbal sumptuousness of Hugo, and his
feebleness of thought. What gives him splendid
advantage is that he did truly suffer deeply. His
calls and cries come from the depths of his flesh.
He suffered vehemently, sincerely."

After the noisy welcome afforded him, to what can
we attribute the abrupt eclipse of Nietzsche's influ-
ence? Evidently to the fact that, while flattering
certain perhaps superficial and exaggerated tendencies
at the moment when his books appeared, he did not
answer to the need which present-day France mani-
fests in every quarter and direction to see the living
reality; the need to follow that, to live in and for
that, to avoid the proud and deceptive teachings
which make the individual regard himself as solitary
and isolated, with no debt due to the past, nor
responsibility toward the future.

His teaching conspires with certain exaggerated
egotistical passions; it does not answer to the real, the



CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY 97

better, the deeper needs which our country feels for
an in tenser and more devoted common life. 1

1 It is, perhaps, due to similar lack of contact with the most
widespread social preoccupations that a philosophical essay of
quite another kind, that of Sully Prudhomme, remained, about
the same time, almost without an echo.



CHAPTER VII

THE PHILOSOPHICO-RELIGIOUS VIEWS OF J. M.
GUYAU AND EMILE BOUTROUX

Guyau : his Irreligion of the Future Growing importance of this
work Guyau's ideas as to a new conception of the love of
God, of prayer and of doubt, and as to what is eternal in the
world's religions Boutroux goes yet further in the direction
of realism, the comprehension of living truth and the love
of institutions Without asserting the absolute perfection of
the Churches, he sees their endeavour towards the ideal, and
manifests towards all a disinterested and effective sympathy
very new among philosophers His definition of religion
The philosophy of contingency : historical significance of its
success Boutroux's teaching as to the postulates implied by
all self-conscious life ; as to the results of religious evolution ;
as to rites and the religious future.

IT will certainly be understood that we have no
intention of giving here a sort of summary of con-
temporary philosophical doctrines : we are simply
trying to find out how and why some of them are in
harmony with the intellectual tendencies, moral
desires and religious aspirations of our time. It may
happen that as we proceed we shall bring together
names whose holders would be surprised at the
relationship we seem to be pointing out. Yet they
will be willing to forgive us. It is life, and no mere
writer's fancy, that brings them together.

When the diligence sticks fast, the general and
perhaps even the bishop get down from the box seats,



GUYAU AND BOUTROUX 99

the middle-class folk from the inside, and the
labourers off the top, all trying to help with the
same goodwill. Sharing in a common effort, they
think no more of that which ordinarily separates
them. It is somewhat thus to-day in the religious
orientation. Reality draws together ways of thinking
which ignored one another and were, in appearance at
least, opposed to one another.

It cannot be too often repeated : the originality
and power of the effort we are studying lie in the
fact that it is not an intellectual movement, the result
of the enthusiasm greater or less with which some
school of thought may have adopted the system of
some teacher to explain the great metaphysical enig-
mas, but proceeds from an impulse of life springing
from the humblest social circles.

And this is why other peoples are so deeply
interested in the spiritual crisis through which our
country is going. Hodie mihi eras tibi : "It is my
turn to-day, it will be thine to-morrow," say the old


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