Part IV, chapter 5: Fin-de-Siècle
(the format has been edited for internet use)
Not surprisingly, the phrase Fin-de-Siècle was on everyone's lips as the year 1900 approached. Mostly, though its meaning was never very precise, it had reference to the "decadence" of the 1880's and 1890's, and to certain new philosophical and artistic fads, identified by Max Nordau in his book entitled Degeneration (among others, Nordau came down hard on Nietzsche and the Symbolists, as well as the Decadents).(1) But since it had wider connotations, the phrase may be used to designate a new world of thought that was beginning to take shape toward the end of the century.
It is important to understand
that this world did not supersede the two previous worlds we have just
discussed or dominate thought toward and immediately after 1900. The Enlightenment
mode, as we may call it, especially as reinterpreted and reinforced by
Darwinism, continued to represent the mainstream well into the twentieth
century. The placing of a bust of Auguste Comte on the Place de la Sorbonne
in Paris in 1902 is symbolic of this continuity (Plate 27). Four years
earlier the Sorbonne had celebrated Comte's centenary, and was currently
remodeling itself along positivistic lines. Thus, despite the "Revolt against
Positivism" [which occurred beginning in the 1880s], positivism was still
very nearly at flood tide [367/368]
[Bust of Auguste Comte and Place de la Sorbonne]
Plate 27. Bust of Auguste Comte, by Jean-Antoine Injalbert, and
de la Sorbonne, Paris.
(Photo: French Embassy Press and Information Division, New York.)
as an organized movement and was capable of renewing itself, though along more radical lines, in the "logical positivism" of Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein to come. The main body of social scientists and social reformers, as well as a substantial number of humanists, similarly expressed confidence in science or in reason to achieve progress.(2) Speaking at the International Freethinkers Conference in Rome in 1904, Ernst Haeckel, the German Monist and a socialist, spoke of "the wonderful height of culture, which man achieved in the nineteenth century, the astonishing progress of natural science and its practical application in technology, industry, medicine, etc.," which he said had raised hopes for "a mighty, further elevation of culture in the twentieth century."(3) L. T. Hobhouse, holder of the first chair in sociology at London University, said much the same thing in his Mind in Evolution (1901). Hobhouse looked forward to a "regnum bominis," based on the mastery of external nature, made possible by science, and by man himself. In other words, the human mind had reached a new stage of evolution, which put the future under the control of reason. It was this kind of thinking that prompted Sir Norman Angell, on the eve of Sarajevo, to predict the end of war among civilized nations. Angell, like Hobhouse, subscribed to a "Law of Acceleration" of human rationality. War was now an "illusion" because, contrary to what the militarists said, human nature had changed; man had become more rational and civilized in the last one hundred years than in the preceding two thousand.(4) These were not voices left over, like Tylor's "survivals," from an earlier and now outdated stage of culture. They spoke for the, majority, for an Anschauung that was still vigorous even in innermost intellectual circles.
This Anschauung, however, was in serious dispute by the end of the nineteenth century. As indicated, a new world of thought had risen to challenge its most basic assumptions. This world, as yet not sharply defined nor fully conscious of itself, is nor easy to describe. Fin-de-Siècle only imperfectly describes it, for strictly speaking this world represented not so much an end as a beginning. That is, it contained within it the seeds of a new kind of modernity that was very different from scientific rationalistic modernity, which would grow to maturity as the twentieth [369/370] century unfolded. It was an end only in the sense of bringing to a head, and exposing to public gaze, certain trends in thinking that had been forming for decades. It was a world in revolt, not only against positivism but against the whole pattern of bourgeois values and conventions and bourgeois rationalism and conventionality in general. But it was above all a disoriented world (or one trying to stave off disorientation). In Nietzsche's metaphor, Europeans had cast themselves adrift, burning their bridges behind them and putting out to sea in ships. Before them stretched the open sea, mysterious, infinite, and dangerous. If homesickness for solid land should overtake them they were in serious difficulty, for there was no longer such land. Nietzsche, to be sure, was speaking only of a minority of "free spirits." He knew perfectly well that "most people in old Europe" still needed, and still clung to, the supports of religion, metaphysics, or science. Nobody, however, could expect to live for long in comfortable certainty. "Perhaps never before [in history] did such an open sea exist."(5) This unprecedented openness, observed by Nietzsche, was the culmination of a century of critical thought and corrosive doubt, but also, as we shall see, of the Heraclitean aspect of Darwinism. Disorientation, more radical than in any previous epoch, was its inevitable accompaniment: a feeling of not quite knowing where certainty lay, or even if there was a certainty, other than change itself, and of not knowing what the future might bring.
This disorientation could be either an invitation to new "experience" or cause for despair. Nietzsche himself exulted in the new openness despite its hazards, as did Henri Bergson who based his Philosophy of Change on it. All the Life-philosophers, as well as the "spiritualists" and idealists of the Fin-de-Siècle, were, in fact, quite optimistic, though scarcely untroubled. In their own peculiar way, even the Decadents reacted positively to a world in which change and flux appeared to be the only certainty. At least, one could, like Marius the Epicurean, "count upon the present," and fill it to the brim with vivid sensations.(6) Yet the decades of the 1880's and 1890's were also full of footloose, restless, and pessimistic people. The scions of an older generation, the Renans and Burckhardts, were perhaps not so much disoriented as disillusioned, some by knowledge itself, which, they had come to believe, might be incompatible with happiness, and others by the quality of the civilization they saw developing around them. "Les jeunes gens," the subject of essays and novels by leading figures of the French literary [370/371] world such as Paul Boutget and Maurice Barrès, simply felt lost and could think of nothing better, at the moment, than to cultivate the self. Barrès called them "Les Déracinés" (the Uprooted). Of course, there were special reasons why Frenchmen of that particular generation should be pessimistic. They knew the worst, humiliation as well as horror, following the defeat of their country by Prussia in 1871, and the ensuing class warfare and bloodbath of the Paris Commune. But there were deeper reasons for the contemporary malaise, which was by no means restricted to Frenchmen. Frederic Myers, just then straining to find reasons for personal immortality in a godless world, called attention to "the underlying Welt-Schmerz (in 'out civilised societies'), the decline of any real belief in the dignity, the meaning, the endlessness of life"--this in the midst of a world pledged, as he recognized, to the pursuit of sanity, health, intelligence, and morality.(7) Thus, whereas some denizens of the Fin-de-Siècle exulted, others despaired or became world-weary. Some of the latter, it should be noted, eventually found a road back to belief and purpose, chiefly (in France at least) through Roman Catholicism or nationalism.
Translated into ideas, this
disorientation, whether evoking a positive or negative mood, inevitably
fashioned new answers to the perennial questions. Bergson, among others,
postulated a new sort of indeterminate nature that was very different from
"positivist" nature. Human nature simultaneously began to look less rational,
knowledge more subjective and elusive, and history less predictable and
understandable. The overall trend in thinking was toward a more chancy
universe, subject to change without end or ends. It was a trend only, but
it was a trend with a future. To repeat, the Fin-de-Siècle
represented neither a unified nor a dominant mode of thought. It remained
enclosed within the larger world, still potent, of Enlightenment expectation.
Revolt Against Positivism
The new ideas about nature are best considered in connection with the revolt against positivism. This revolt, which began at least as early as the 1860's and culminated in the 1890's, occurred on a very broad front. By the time the French philosopher Alfred Fouillée wrote a book about it in 1896, the revolt against positivism numbered among [371/372] its adherents some of the best intellects of Europe, scientists as well as philosophers, social thinkers as well as creative writers and artists. Paul Bourget made it the subject of a celebrated novel, The Disciple (1889).
What was the revolt about? It was essentially a reaction against the cult of science and the world picture projected by science, which, it was believed, denigrated life and mind. One is reminded of an earlier revolt, and the late nineteenth-century reaction did, indeed, have at times a neo-romantic look, as for instance in Bergson's doctrine of intuition. It was not, however, so much a revolt against science per se as against scientism. More specifically, it centered on science's putative claim to take all knowledge for its province, and on the idea of determinism, or "the tightening grasp of law," which, it was thought, impeded freedom.
"The extension of science to everything which hitherto had been excluded from its domain," Fouillée observed, "was the nub of the positivist movement."(8) It was inevitable that sooner or, later this imperialism should be challenged. James Ward, the English psychologist, challenged it in the famous Gifford Lectures. "But where is science to end!" Ward expostulated, Like Descartes, he compared science to the town. Townlike "in its compactness and formality, in the preeminence of number and measurement, systematic connexion, and constructive plan," science had steadily encroached on other realms of knowledge, in the same way that the town had extended its sway over the country.(9) But now a reverse process had set in, seeking to reclaim some of the lost territory. Ward himself, refusing to subordinate his own discipline to either mechanics or physiology, proclaimed a new subjectivist psychology. Similarly, Ward's countryman the idealist philosopher T. H. Green resisted the temptation, very strong in the Darwinian world, to treat ethics as a branch of biology. Impressive attempts were also made to give history autonomy, and to seek new and less positivistic" guidelines in social thought. Comte, Mill, and Buckle, said Wilhelm Dilthey, mutilated historical reality "in order to adapt to the ideas and methods of the natural sciences." History differed from science, both as to subject matter and method. Like all "human studies," history was concerned with man and the human mind, rather than physical reality, with the individual as such and not merely the type, and with values, from which science was understandably free. Hence, apprehending his- [372/373] tory depended, not so much on perception and abstraction, as on "understanding" (Verstehen), that is, on the ability to relive, to enter sympathetically into, the experience of other men, human beings like ourselves. This distinction between the two cultures was made many times in the late nineteenth century, especially by the neo-idealists. Benedetto Croce thought that history was an art, focusing on knowledge of the individual. In a similar vein, the philosopher Wilhelm Windelband, in a famous address of 1894, labeled history an "ideographic" study, dealing with the individual, whereas science was "nomothetic," in search of general laws. Despite important differences between them, all of these works(10) aimed to confine science within its so-called legitimate field.
But exactly what was that held? The antipositivists, not content to stay on the defensive, carried the fight into science's innermost citadel, the knowledge of nature itself. And here, as it happened, they received unexpected support from some of the scientists. Science was currently re-examining its foundations, partly as the result of new empirical findings, partly also because of the "back to Kant" movement in philosophy. Starting from the Kantian limitation of knowledge to phenomena, a group of philosopher-scientists, most of whom were German, moved to purge science of all metaphysical vestiges, to limit it to sensible experience and ultimately to question whether it could ever be wholly free of subjectivism. This line of thinking, pursued by Ernst Mach, J. B. Stallo, and others, did not at all question the scientific enterprise. it did, however, dispute science's ability to reveal the actual working of nature and the reality of some of its working concepts, such as matter, energy, and mechanical causation. It limited science, to a far greater extent than an earlier positivism, to a more or less instrumentalist function, featuring practical results rather than the exact representation of reality.
Meanwhile, philosophy was coming to similar conclusions. Philosophy, in fact, now took its revenge on science. Charles Renouvier, leader of the neo-critica1 school in France, attacked the presumption of the positivists, not only to cultural superiority (as representatives, so Comte had claimed, of the latest and highest stage of civilization) but also to absolute knowledge that was uncolored by the consciousness or [373/374] "freedom" of the knower. Henri Bergson, the last of a long line of "spiritualist" philosophers going all the way back to Felix Ravaisson and Lachelier in the 1860's and 1870's, pressed this argument further. The scientific intellect, he said, was faultily constructed for acquiring absolute knowledge. It had been produced in the course of evolution as an appendage to the faculty of acting, as a chief aid to the vertebrates, up through man, to adapt themselves to the environment and to manipulate it. Its purpose, in short, was "to think matter," not to comprehend life. "What is the essential object of science? It is to enlarge our influence over things. . . . It is always practical utility that science has in view."(11) That being so, not intellect but "intuition" alone could give man a true knowledge of nature and life. Intuition, which Bergson ,defined as instinct become conscious of itself, entered right into its object, whereas intellect could only walk around it and take snapshots of selected "states" and "instants." "We must break with scientific habits," Bergson concluded, if we are ever to form a clear idea of nature as it really is.(12) Other contemporary "philosophers" like Samuel Butler and Nietzsche, who were more skeptical than Bergson, downgraded scientific truth without compensating for it by any sort of intuitive truth. Butler, who protested the domination of culture by scientists as well as priests, compared science to religion. Neither yielded, or could yield, truth. They were merely conventions, theories on which men could act, varying, therefore, with personal perspective and with the times and new needs. Nietzsche also, though he certainly admired it more than Butler, came to think that science was illusion. It has begun to dawn on a few people, he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, "that physics, too, is only an interpretation of the world and an arrangement of it (to suit ourselves, if I may say so!)-and not an explanation of it."(13) Science, no less than religion, metaphysics, and art, rested on fictions (such as causation and the atom). It could produce power, but not truth.
Behind this debate over science's domain stood the real target of the antipositivists' attack. This was science's idea of nature, which was presumed to be mechanistic. "We reject radical mechanism," said [374/375] Bergson. For Bergson and the other antipositivists, mechanism conjured up a particularly revolting set of images: "the tightening grasp of law," in T. H. Huxley's phrase, the reduction of life to physical categories, thus excluding freedom and value and leading in the end to moral irresponsibility, as Bourget tried to show in The Disciple.(14) But for Bergson, mechanistic explanation erred, above all, in affirming a static nature, which rook no account of time. That is, it regarded future and past as calculable functions of the present. In the astronomer Pierre Laplace's classic formulation, cited by James Ward as well as by Bergson, nothing could be without a cause to produce it. Hence, if for a given instant an intelligence should be acquainted with all the causes, it could include in one formula all the movements of all the bodies, large and small, in the universe; "nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future, like the past, would be present to its eyes." Bergson objected to "finalism," that is, teleology, as well as mechanism, for the same reason. In either case, "all is given"; the forces by which nature is animated are all fixed and prearranged.(15)
Bergson rejected the mechanical theory in favor of a "creative" nature that was characterized by time rather than space. Time was the chief new dimension. Both ancient and modern science degraded time, the former by comparing it unfavorably with timeless and motionless essence, the latter by restricting it to abstract clock time, which, because it was uniform like space, could not produce anything new. Bergson, to the contrary, thought of time as synonymous with novelty. "Time is invention or it is nothing at all. But of time-invention [modern] physics can rake no account, restricted as it is to the cinematographical method,"(16) that is, taking snapshots of a still reality.
Bergson's universe was obviously inspired by Darwinism, but it was Darwin's creative aspect, not its mechanism, that caught and held the philosopher's attention. In Creative Evolution (1907), Bergson's masterpiece, evolution is explained by a vital impetus (élan vital), [375/376] which is the mysterious source and force of life, pushing life to ever higher and more complex forms. Bergson thought of the élan viral as an explosive force, comparable to a shell suddenly bursting into fragments, which, themselves becoming shells, burst in their turn, "and so on for a time incommensurably long." Thus, philosophy, going beyond science, sees nature as it really is, as "a simple flux, a continuity of Bowing, a becoming."(17) With Bergson, being had at last been identified with becoming, which, however, he accounted for by a nonmechanistic principle.
Creative Evolution, made famous by Bergson's lectures and books, picked up a considerable following, chiefly among the young. It was, however, only one of many vitalistic philosophies of nature (life philosophies), which abounded in the Fin-de-Siècle. Despite some difference of opinion about teleology, all the "spiritualist" philosophers of France emphasized nature's essential contingency, spontaneity, and creativity. Jean Marie Guyau, for instance, who was Fouillée's stepson and collaborator, actually anticipated Bergson's élan vital with his own "expansion of life" philosophy, which admitted no prévision, only nouveauté in the universe. No wonder Nietzsche found in Guyau, whose books he read and annotated, a kindred soul. Years before Bergson, Samuel Butler similarly tried to work our a theory of evolution based on life or "cunning," as opposed to "luck." Preferring Lamarck (or what he understood to be Lamarck's views) to Darwin,(18) Butler hitched evolutionary change to the volitional activity of a life force. Organisms, instead of merely reacting automatically to changes in the environment, willed to reshape their bodies, and thus to improve themselves. In the course of geologic time, this desire became "unconscious memory" and was passed on through heredity. It was essentially this Butlerian philosophy that Shaw began to expound in Man and Superman (1903). Following Butler, bur also going beyond him, Shaw (or Don Juan in the play) thought of Life as a raw force making innumerable experiments in organizing itself, as initially evolving bodily organs such as the eye, bur as now evolving further "a mind's eye that shall see, nor the physical world, but the purpose of Life,"(19) [376/377] and thus produce higher and higher individuals. Shaw's "vitality with a direction" was obviously more teleological than Bergson's or even Butler's version of evolution. Nevertheless, the resemblance between the life philosophies of the three is striking. All three thought dualistically, of life or will as acting creatively on matter and bending it to its purposes. Meanwhile, vitalism was making something of a comeback within science itself. Discredited earlier, it now found new champions in biologists such as Hans Driesch and Jacob Johann Uexküll. Driesch, for example, experimenting on sea urchins and discovering the marvelous restorative qualities of injured cells, concluded that organisms were fundamentally different from machines and hence could nor be explained by mechanistic causality. There must be at work, in the life and formation of the organism, some sort of nonmechanical agency, which Driesch called successively a "soul,"(20) "psychoid," and "entelechy." He, too, thought in dualistic terms. The entelechy, itself nonspatial, "acted so to speak into space"; itself supersensible (though not outside nature), it used physico-chemical forces to achieve the life of the organism as a whole, and as an individual.
Thus, the Revolt against Positivism struck a blow against determinism and reductionism in nature. Perhaps it was partially based on a misunderstanding. Science, at least in theory, eschewed metaphysics. Moreover, as previously noted, a new breed of scientist-philosopher tended to think of mechanism, no longer as truth bur simply as a tool of thought. This latter trend received added support with the appearance of Hans Vaihinger's The Philosophy of 'As-If' (published in 1911, but submitted as a dissertation in 1877) which asserted, among other things, that most scientific concepts were fictions, consciously adopted by scientists "as if" they were true in order to further scientific research. Of course, there were many others who, like the physiologist Jacques Loeb, continued to think of mechanism as truth, and, indeed, carried this view to extremes. Loeb, who was born in the same year as Bergson (1859), founded a science of animal tropisms and looked forward to the rime when life itself, and psychic phenomena such as "free will," would be explained physicochemically. It was against this sort of extreme statement of the mechanistic thesis, articulated in books such as Loeb's The Mechanistic Conception of Life (1912), that the antipositivists rebelled. The novelist Thomas Hardy is an example of a man who found the "positivistic" view (for him this meant Darwinian evolution, understood mechanistically) repellent but true. Like the [377/378] poet James Thomson in City of Dreadful Night, Hardy found "alone Necessity supreme" in an impersonal and meaningless universe. "The more we know of the laws and nature of the Universe," he wrote to a friend in 1902, "the more ghastly [and senseless] a business one perceives it all to be,"(21) but, unfortunately, there was nothing to be done about it. Butler, on the other hand, was one of those who found the new view repellent bur untrue. It is hard to say what Butler ultimately believed, or whether he thought it possible to resolve any philosophical inquiry. But, Darwinism to the contrary, and even though it might involve contradiction, Butler clearly wanted to keep the door open to "free-will, cunning, spontaneity, individuality" in the universe. Otherwise, man as well as nature would be delivered up to "necessity, luck, fate," and surely this could not be true.(22) It was this accent on freedom and free will that made Bergson's lectures at the College de France so popular and uplifting. In the-words of Raïssa Maritain, who as a student heard him lecture, "Bergson dissipated the anti-metaphysical prejudices of a pseudo-scientific positivism and recalled the mind to its real function, to its essential liberty."(23)
Actually, however, the major new emphasis was on human irrationality rather than freedom, though in some instances, in the case of Bergson, for example, the two went together. The evidence is quite conclusive on this point. The Fin-de-Siècle was a time of general unmasking, of trying to get behind man's rational facade, or, as some preferred to say, of exploring the unconscious self, which might or might not lead to more freedom. This exploration was undertaken simultaneously by scores of philosophers, psychologists, and artists, and the results, by no means all Bartering to human dignity, left rational man rocking on his pedestal.
This revolt against reason, as it may be called, ran parallel to the [378/379] revolt against positivism, which, indeed, partly explains the new philosophic emphasis on intuition, as well as the opening up of a whole new subjective world by the symbolists and expressionists. August Strindberg, who epitomizes these new artistic trends, wrote in his autobiography that though as a young man he had become conversant with the natural sciences and thought himself a Darwinian, since then he had "come to recognize the deficiencies of a scientific method that recognizes the machine-like structure of the universe without admitting the existence of a machinist."(24) Henceforth, Strindberg, like so many of his artist contemporaries, began to ransack the unconscious and to write "dream plays," which could presumably tell so much more about life and human nature than the naturalistic drama, in which he, like Henrik Ibsen, had hitherto excelled. Bur this sort of neo-romanticism does not explain other manifestations of the revolt. In a penetrating brief essay on "Freud in his Historical Setting," Carl Jung links Freud and Nietzsche together as coming at the end of the Victorian era, which had a tendency "to see everything in a rosy light and yet to describe everything sub rosa." It was Freud's and Nietzsche's function to unmask this bourgeois hypocrisy and expose "the possible dark side of the human psyche."(25) Though in this particular essay Jung chose to emphasize Freud's destructive function, there is truth in what he says. Darwinism was another influence in the same direction, as Freud himself recognized later in his life. By calling attention to animal origins, Darwinism, as noted in the last section, stimulated study of the primitive and instinctual in man. To some extent, contemporary political events did the same thing. Social theorists as well as politicians could scarcely fail to take note of, and to conjure with, man's irrational behavior in the mass, in an age of increased social unrest and international conflict.
Obviously, however, the irrational meant different things to different people, and could inspire either optimism or pessimism. Bergson, often paired off against Descartes in French philosophy, was one of those who rejoiced in its promise. Intuition was the way to truth and could liberate and integrate the human personality. In his early work, Berg- [379/380] son posited the existence of two selves, the surface or everyday self revealed by rational analysis, and the self of depth, or the unconscious self. The latter could be reached only by deep introspection, "which leads us to grasp our inner states as living things, constantly becoming, as stares not amenable to measure." When this happens, which is all too seldom, we become free, capable of deciding and acting with the whole self, with the self that is not fashioned by society or reason. Bergson spoke of "the darkness of the night in which the intellect leaves us," which he compared with the light thrown by intuition on "the place we occupy in the whole of nature, on our origin and perhaps also on our destiny.(26) Bergson's nearest kin in this optimistic line of thinking were the "spiritualist" philosophers, who similarly thought intuition superior to intellect as a guide to certain kinds of knowledge and action. There is not only similarity but also some filiation, at this point with the thought of earlier romantics such as Maine de Biran.
Nietzsche's irrationalism was less purely optimistic and less concerned with knowledge than action. In his ruthless laying bare of human motives Nietzsche resembled Dostoevski. That man does not behave the way the Benthamites said he did, always in pursuit of pleasure or his own advantage; that far from behaving rationally at all times, he often chooses chaos and destruction; that he lies about himself and to himself. all these things had been said in Dostoevski's Notes from the Underground (1864) and were said again by Nietzsche. "The largest part of conscious thinking," Nietzsche wrote,"must be considered an instinctual activity, even in the case of philosophical thinking."(27) Behind logic stood value judgments, which, in turn, masked "the basic desires of man" for power, salvation, or revenge. But in Nietzsche's anthropology, cynicism about man as he is (or what "reason" tells him he is) was compensated for by optimism about man as he could be, if only he exercised fully the will to power. The will to power was basic to all men and all cultures. But in the present sad state of latter-day Christian culture it was applicable only to the few, nor certainly to "the herd," who were content as always to conform to the will of others and to live in mediocrity. Thus, the will to power was an essentially aristocratic conception. Nietzsche defined it variously as the instinct of freedom, of self-overcoming, or of aspiring to a higher stare of being. It was nor identical with the "free will" discussed endlessly by bourgeois philosophers and by Christians. It was a more basic will, underlying and using [380/381] both reason and passion to achieve its ends. What ends? The point is that for Nietzsche there were no fixed ends, nor was there any fixed human nature. Historicism entered into his thinking on the matter. All philosophers, he wrote, share the common error of thinking of 'man' as an eternal verity, as something abiding in the whirlpool, as a sure measure of things. Everything that the philosopher says about man, however, is at bottom no more than a testimony about the man of a very limited period. Lack of a historical sense is the original error of all philosophers.(28)
In the end, however, Nietzsche's conception was more existentialist than historicist. He was not only saying that human nature changed with the times. More deeply, he was saying that man had the power to make himself and the world over. Zarathustra calls man "a bridge and not an end," an "arrow of longing" for the further shore. Even more than Bergson, Nietzsche stands out as the philosopher of becoming. "Your will and your valuations you have placed on the river of becoming," Zarathustra told his companions,(29) and the river would never cease to flow and change into something different.
Sigmund Freud, also a great unmasker, leaned more toward the pessimistic end of the spectrum. He was not, of course, a philosopher, but a scientist, who, moreover, started out in the mechanist camp and tried to reduce psychology to neurophysiology. He soon discovered, however, that physiological psychology could not take him into the mysterious reaches of the mind he wanted to investigate. Freud was soon to say categorically, in a very different vein, that the unconscious, not in the least measurable or even directly observable, was "the true psychic reality." In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), his first big independent work, Freud proposed "a return from the overestimation," by philosophers and psychologists alike, "of the property of consciousness" in the course of psychic events. "We are probably much too inclined to overestimate the conscious character even of intellectual and artistic production," he wrote. In fact, consciousness, that is, rationality as traditionally understood, functioned only as "a sense-organ for the perception of psychic qualities."(30) Anybody who took the trouble to [381/382] analyze dreams, or observe the psychic life of a neurotic, could see that the most complicated operations of thought went on at a deeper level, both by day and night, often without arousing consciousness at all. For Freud this was a somewhat pessimistic conclusion, because it was tied to his newly worked out theory of repression, which implied mental conflict and the individual's refusal to recognize reality.
Throughout these early years Freud's reputation did not stand particularly high among his peers, no doubt because, as he said, he "disturbed the world's sleep" with his theories of sex repression and neurosis. The isolation Freud felt should nor, however, blind us to the fact that the contemporary mental climate also gave him some much needed support. Indeed, without that support much of his work might not have been possible. As Lancelot Whyte says, the general conception of unconscious mental processes had become "fashionable," and even "a European commonplace," by the decade of the 1870's. Freud himself, though convinced that he had discovered a great new world, paid tribute to some of those who had helped him, such as Josef Breuer and Jean Charcot, and, what is more, came to recognize the parallel between certain psychoanalytical investigations and "the insights intuitively won by the philosophers."(31) All this is pretty well known and need not be elaborated on here: the new models of the mind, such as Max Dessoir's double ego and Pierre Janet's dual personality, each positing a layer of mind that escapes the control of "reason"; the new sexual pathology of Freud's contemporary and compatriot Baron Richard von Krafft-Ebing; and the speculations of certain philosophers, notably Eduard von Hartmann, whose Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869) ran to many editions and won for its author a considerable notoriety. Hartmann's unconscious, however, was really more of a throwback to earlier romantic metaphysical notions, particularly to Schelling's idea of an unconscious idea behind nature, which advances toward consciousness.
Equally significant, but not so well known, are the parallels in the literary and art worlds. One thinks in this connection of Arthur Schnitzler, like Freud a Viennese and with a medical background, and of Barres and Marcel Proust, all of them explorers, albeit men of letters, of the hidden depths of the psyche. It was Proust who said, in the overture to his masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past (composed before the Great War and having obvious affinities with late [382/383] nineteenth-century Symbolism) that the individual's past lay hidden "beyond the reach of intellect," and could be recalled only by involuntary memory, set in motion by chance sensations. Proust also said that the world of sleep and dreams was the great reservoir of experience and that in it one nor only recaptured past years and forgotten feelings but returned "to the most elemental kingdoms of nature (for it is said that we often see animals in a dream, bur one forgets that in it we are ourselves animals, deprived of that reason which projects on things the clear light of certainty). . . ."(32) Proust talked Bergson's language and was much influenced by him, but he was also much more pessimistic about human nature. Many of the themes introduced by Proust and other symbolists would soon become prominent in literature: the profound difference between the "appearance" men present to each other and the "reality" or truth about them, hence the difficulty and even impossibility of ever getting to know or to love anybody, and the multiple and ever changing facets of the human personality.
This dark side of irrational man was made visual in Fin-de-Siècle painting, by, for example, Odilon Redon, symbolist painter of dreams and apparitions reminiscent of Goya, and especially by the new breed of expressionists, who, turning away from the outer world of objects, sought to depict inner stares, man's "origins," as Redon would say, man stripped down to his most basic emotions. A lithograph of 1885 by Redon entitled The Swamp Flower, A Sad and Human Face (Plate 28) and paintings by respectively, James Ensor of Ostend (Masks Confronting Death, 1888; Plate 29) and Edvard Munch (The Scream, 1893; Plate 30) give some idea of the disconcerting material that frequently appears in works by these artists. In The Scream, the human figure is made to merge with the landscape, and one can almost hear the shriek of total anxiety, which the painter thought was endemic to human nature. Like his friend Strindberg, with whom he migrated to Paris in 1889, Munch sensed the fearfulness, loneliness, and wild passions that were located in the depths of the psyche.
As previously mentioned,
there was also increasing awareness of the irrational behavior of crowds,
as well as of individuals. A cluster of important works on social psychology
appeared almost simultaneously with Freud's early studies: Gabriel Tarde's
of Imitation (1890), Scipio Sighele's La coppia criminale (1893),
Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd (1895), and, a little later,
to Social Psychology (1908) by William McDougall, the Oxford psychologist,
who later [383/384]
[The Swamp Flower, a Sad and Human Face]
Plate 28. The Swamp Flower, a Sad and Human Face, by Odilon Redon
Plate II from Hommage à Goya. Lithograph, printed in
black. 10 13/16" x 8". Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New
York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Purchase Fund. (Photo: Geoffre Clements.)
[Masks Confronting Death]
Plate 29. Masks Confronting Death (Masques devant la mort), by
James Ensor (1888). [385/386]
Plate 30. The
Scream, by Edvard Munch (1893). [386/387]
taught at Harvard. All of these works save the last drew on current theories of pathological susceptibility and hypnotism, and all were openly in conflict with the rationalistic assumptions of Benthamite psychology. "The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age," Le Bon wrote. He compared the individual merging with a crowd to a "hypnotised subject" whose rational faculties had been destroyed and who, in consequence, was induced to commit acts that were contrary to his own best interests and those of civilization. In a crowd even a cultivated man became a barbarian, acting by instinct and exhibiting all the spontaneity, violence, and ferocity of "primitive beings."(33) McDougall would certainly not have assented to this pessimistic conclusion -- he, in fact, thought rather well of the "group mind," a concept he fancied and of its possibly beneficent effects on individual behavior -- nor would Georges Sorel (of whom more in the next section), who understood very well the central importance of irrational myths in mass movements. But all would have agreed with Le Bon's general principle, namely that the part played by reason in collective human action was minor, compared to that of instinct and the unconscious. Graham Wallas, who helped to plan the new London School of Economics and Political Science, applied this insight to politics. In his pioneering Human Nature in Politics (1908), Wallas called for a new political science that was based on the realities of human nature, as revealed by Darwin and the new crowd psychologists, rather than on the concepts of Bcntham or even of Lord Bryce. It was wrong and dangerous to assume that men always acted from rational motives and could therefore conceivably create an intelligent, disinterested democracy. The truth was that men were still partly animals and formed their political opinions, at least in the present stage of evolution, largely by instinct or by "unconscious or half-conscious inference fixed by habit."
It remains to show how this growing psychologism,(34) along with historicism and skepticism in general, affected the theory of knowledge. [387/388] Attention was called earlier to the critique of scientific reason among the antipositivists. It is not sufficiently realized that this critique extended to rational cognition in general, and that it was pressed by rationalists as well as by irrationalists. It is still too early to speak of epistemological despair (except perhaps in the case of Nietzsche, and Nietzsche did not despair, except about epistemology). There is no question, however, that epistemology was becoming a major problem again, even for rationalist philosophers. How and to what extent could the intellect rise above subjective and cultural perspectives, and attain universally valid truths? Unless this problem could be resolved satisfactorily, a real crisis in knowledge was in prospect.
Again, it was the Germans, some of whom have already been mentioned, who met the epistemological problem head on. In general, they compromised, continuing to believe in the possibility of rational and objective cognition, yet obviously bothered by relativist implications. The neo-Kantians, including Heinrich Rickert of Baden, were the most confident in this respect; Dilthey, and, a bit later, Ernst Troeltsch, and especially Max Weber, less so. Rickert has been called "the father of historical relativism." Nevertheless, he seems to have clung to a belief in "unconditionally and universally valid values," and to a belief in the power of the human mind to discover what they were. Dilthey was not so sure. The scholar could indeed study, know, and classify the value systems of different ages of history; but he had no way of testing their validity, unless it was by comparing what they had in common. In other words, cognition was limited, by man's position in history as well as by his individuality, which always sees things in a unique way. Dilthey saw the need for "universally valid cognition," but did not think that man could probably achieve it. What impressed him, above all else, was the flux of things: "the finitude of every historical phenomenon, whether it be a religion, an ideal, or a philosophic system, hence the relativity of every sort of human conception about the connectedness of things." Where were the means for overcoming this "anarchy of convictions"?(35) The young Edmund Husserl, later to become famous as the founder of philosophical phenomenology, tried to refute this "skeptical relativism" in lectures delivered at Göttingen in 1896. He singled out for special attack the psychologism of Christoph Sigwart, Wilhelm Wundt, pioneer of the new laboratory psychology "without a soul" at Leipzig, B. Erdmann, and others, which reduced [388/389] logic and truth to psychology, that is, to changing "mental constitutions" and groups of facts. Husserl, who had himself started out as a psychologistic philosopher, thought that this was nonsense, but his lectures testify to the spread of relativistic ideas among contemporary philosophers.
An artistic parallel to philosophical
relativism may be found in late impressionistic painting. Claude Monet
exhibits this new perspectivism or relativism in art in his famous studies,
begun in the 1890's, of haystacks, water lilies, the Thames River, and
especially Rouen Cathedral, whose facade he painted many times in different
lights and at different times of the day (Plates 31 and 32). Despite his
continuing naturalism, Monet now perceived, much more clearly than before,
that nature presented many modes of appearance and was always changing.
"Nature," he wrote from his new home at Giverny in 1894, "is changing so
rapidly at the moment, it is agonizing. With that, I dare not touch the
cathedrals." He was also accused, as well as praised, by contemporaries
for having destroyed the illusion of distance, and merging, in Seitz's
words, "subject, sensation, and pictorial object." That is, Monet was now
painting sensations as well as appearances. One has only to look at still
later works of Monet, done when he was half-blind, to see the direction
in which he was going. In, for instance, the sequence of Japanese footbridge
canvases, of sometimes wild and hallucinated landscapes, Monet had obviously
gone over "from impressionism to an art in which nature was re-formed according
to distorted vision and anguish."(36) The
tide of relativism had risen in the Fin-de-Siècle, and would rise
still higher in the twentieth century.
Illusions of Progress
The title and substance of
a book by Georges Sorel point to a major change that had also come over
historical and social thinking in the late nineteenth century. In The
Illusions of Progress (1908), actually a loose collection of articles
written originally for a socialist journal, Sorel denounced the idea of
progress, not merely as bourgeois dogma but as "illusion," as philosophically
false, as conveying a completely false view of the historical process.
To keep the right perspective on Sorel's polemic, it is well to recall
again that belief in progress continued strong all through the period in
question. In the very same year that [389/390]
[Rouen Cathedral, Early Morning]
Plate 31. Rouen Cathedral, Early Morning, by Claude Monet.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Tomkins Collection. [390/391]
Plate 32. Rouen
Cathedral, Sunset, by Claude Monet.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Julia Cheney Edwards Collection;
bequest of Hannah Marcy Edwards in memory of her mother. [391/392]
Sorel's book appeared, a former prime minister of England was telling a Cambridge audience that, despite perils, he could detect, thus far, "no symptoms either of pause or of regression in the onward movement which for more than a thousand years [had] been characteristic of Western civilization."(37) Balfour's optimism, reserved for "communities of the European type," was based, predictably, on the modern alliance between pure science and industry. But, as Sorel's and many other books testify, the air was, by then, rife with doubt. There was, first of all, much doubt that was not easily dismissed, about the quality of modern life and civilization. Sorel, for one, was always talking about "decadence" and trying to find the remedy for it. Second, there was the more deep-seated doubt that history observed any law whatsoever, or followed any prescribed course. At this point the new historical outlook can be seen to parallel some of the new ideas about nature and man. According to Sorel, a disciple of Bergson and Nietzsche, history was free, not determined; was the result, to a degree unsuspected by scientific historians, of human willing, whether conscious or unconscious. This was not necessarily a pessimistic view. It did, however, make the historical world seem less dependable, less amenable to rational calculation and control, and less predictable. On Sorel's assumption, history could go either way depending on what men chose to do, or not to do: toward greater progress, or even grandeur (though only for brief spells),or toward inertia or decadence.
Sorel and many of his contemporaries thought that they lived in a time of decadence. "It was a sad epoch," Maurice Barrès wrote in his Cahiers, "in which we accepted being representatives of decadence."(38) Barrès was thinking primarily of France, of course, and of his own generation, which had grown up in the wake of the disaster of 1871. But the idea of decadence, understood as a state of mind into which moden Europe had drifted, was by no means the property of a single country (even though, as Nietzsche observed, Schopenhauerian pessimism was far stronger in France than elsewhere), or to a particular generation, class, party, or literary movement. If cultural despair, as it is also sometimes called, was conspicuous among consrrvntives, as well as self-styled literary epigoni such as Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, and the like, it [392/393] also entered profoundly into the thought of socialists such as Sorel, anarchist sympathizers such as Paul Claudel (at the time he wrote his play on La Ville, 1890), Voltaireans such as Anatole France (also a socialist), social scientists such as Emile Durkheim and Le Bon (to be sure, also a political conservative), philosophers such as Renouvier and Nietzsche, and even German "mandarins" or members of the academic establishment. All of these thought that civilization, French, German, or European, was in a parlous state, if not actually sick, and that progress in the bourgeois sense was a not unmixed blessing, or else a figment.
Decadence was attributed variously to bourgeois corruption, a declining sense of community and loss of spiritual values, the growth of state power and mass culture, and even the growth of knowledge. Oddly, not too much was said about irrational man in this connection, though one does begin to hear more now about evil in history. The historian Jacob Burckhardt, perhaps because he was brought up in a Christian minister's household, saw clearly the fallen side of human nature and believed it to be a permanent barrier to progress. "Evil on earth," he declared in a lecture of 1871, "is assuredly a part of the great economy of world history." But his analysis of "the present crisis" was, in the main, political and cultural. Comparing nineteenth-century Europe with the declining years of Greece and Rome, Burckhardt observed with mounting trepidation the irresistible march of the Leviathan state (deploring Prussianism, he turned down Ranke's chair at the University of Berlin), and industrialism. Both spelled death to the higher culture of Europe, the former because it threatened individual liberty and individualism, the latter because it spawned philistinism and a radicalism that not only loosened the bonds of discipline but made people think everything was possible ("insane optimism"). The heart of the great historian's argument, developed at length in his lectures and letters between 1868 and his death in 1889,(39) was that the social basis that had made European "culture" possible was fast disappearing. Some of the points made by Burckhardt are somewhat reminiscent of Nietzsche, who, indeed, much admired the older man, and was his academic colleague at Basel for a time. Nietzsche, too, attacked the materialism of the age, the state (which, like Burckhardt, he thought was antagonistic to culture), and egalitarian democracy. But Nietzsche's main point was somewhat different. He equated decadence, a word he [393/340] used often, essentially with a "general decrease in vitality," which stemmed from a certain kind of "virtue," the "old ladies' morality" of Christianity and the bourgeoisie, emphasizing pity, neighbor-love, and self-solicitude, and lacking self-assurance. Mainly for this reason, modern Europe seemed to Nietzsche a "weak age," nor to be compared in vitality, or in its ability to produce a higher culture, with the Renaissance, "the last great age" of history.(40)
The two great French moralists Sorel and Emile Durkheim made rather different diagnoses. Of the two, Sorel more nearly approximated Nietzsche's ideas and may even have been influenced by him in his emphasis on the heroic virtues. As befitted an anarcho-socialist, however, Sorel's critique centered more exclusively on the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, "conquérante" in 1848 (for Sorel, the great dividing line of nineteenth-century history), soon became "fainéante," corrupt, excessively individualistic, overintellectualized, living by illusions such as parliamentary democracy and the idea of progress. Sorel saw parallels between this bourgeois decadence and "the ruin of the ancient world" (the title of one of his books; he also wrote a book on the trial of Socrates). Antiquity had been undermined by intellectuals such as Socrates who deflated the civic and imperial myths that were its strength. Like Greece and Rome in decline, bourgeois Europe -- in particular, France under the Third Republic -- lacked great social myths, which enable men to defy fate and take heroic action. In the end, Sorel managed to sound more like Bergson than Nietzsche.
At first glance, Durkheim seems at completely opposite poles from Sorel. No Bergsonian, far from it, Durkheim was one of France's first academic sociologists, first at the University of Bordeaux and later at the Sorbonne, where, however, since there was still a prejudice against sociology, he was named professor of ethics and the philosophy of education. He was a social scientist in the positivist tradition, and politically a democrat, anxious to shore up the Third Republic, rather than to destroy it. Yet his diagnosis, though admittedly arrived at by a different method, bore a striking resemblance to Sorel's in certain respects. Societies, Durkheim observed, had always had collective myths to live by, and that was precisely what Europeans in the late nineteenth century no longer had or were in the process of losing. That was why there were so many more suicides, why modern societies were sick, if not actually decadent. "Our illness is not, then, as has often been believed, [394/395] of an intellectual sort," he wrote in his doctoral thesis; "it has more profound causes." As a social scientist, Durkheim understood the supreme importance for society of common beliefs and bonds, such as had been traditionally embodied in religion, the family, and local and vocational loyalties. In a time of rapid economic and social change, Europe suffered from anomie,(41) which is to say from a general collapse of the "collective conscience" (conscience collective). According to Durkheim, anomie was the inevitable result of the division of labor, which stimulated mobility and specialization, and thus not only separated people from each other but made them critical of traditional norms. In "anomic" (normless) or "egoistic," as opposed to "altruistic," societies, the individual is without discipline and finds no direction or meaning to life.
In his conception of anomie, Durkheim put his finger on the factor that seemed, to many, to explain the contemporary decadence better than anything else. That was the spiritual crisis, or the decline of old beliefs, which had left a religious and metaphysical vacuum. The literature of the Fin-de-Siècle was full of such phrases as "the critical attrition of revered traditions"; "the spirit of negation" among contemporary youth, caused, Paul Bourget said, by a collapse of belief and morals; "the underlying Welt-Schnerz," related by Frederic Myers, it will be recalled, to the decline of belief in the meaning of life, and the like. "Never, perhaps, did man's spiritual satisfaction bear a smaller proportion to his needs." Myers saw a close parallel in the Alexandrian decadence and Byzantine despair, which, he said, "found utterance in many an epigram which might have been written to-day."(42) Byzantinism or its equivalent, it may be noted in passing, was a major theme in contemporary literature and art.
The theme of disillusionment
was prominent in all the literature dealing with the spiritual crisis and
decadence. Thomas Hardy aptly characterized the age as one of the "disillusive
centuries" of history (in The Return of the Native, 1877). The aging
Renan and his disciple Anatole France worried this theme endlessly. Renan,
for years a firm believer in the progress of science, grew progressively
disillusioned, not, to be sure, with science itself (which he thought prevented
man from being duped), but with the fruits of science. Could it be, he
pondered [395/396] in a new preface written for an old book, "that the
real abasement of the morality of humanity will date from the day it has
seen the reality of things."(43) Could
man live without illusions! But already this was an academic question for
Renan. "We live by the shadow of a shadow," he had written in the Philosophical
Dialogues, "by what will they live after us?" Pursuing this theme,
Anatole France, becoming one of his nation's most popular writers, questioned
whether too much knowledge was compatible with life itself, or with happiness.
"Ignorance," he wrote in one of the skeptical essays that made up Le
Jardin d'Epicure (1895):
is the condition necessary,
I do not say for happiness, but for existence itself. If we
knew all, we could not endure life for an hour. The feelings which make it either sweet,
or at least tolerable, are born of a lie and are nourished on illusions.(44)
But in the nineteenth century, Europeans had eaten of the tree of science, and now saw more clearly than in any previous time the way things were: man, kindred to animals, lost on a grain of sand in an immense and indifferent universe, his sense of his own identity and infinity suppressed, feeling, now that he had lost his innocence, "the tragic absurdity of living." Hardy said similar things more somberly (France was cynical and ironic, rather than somber). Hardy wrote often, especially in the novels, of man's having to face up to things as they really are, of his growing disillusionment as he learned the truth, thanks to the Higher Criticism and Darwinism, about God and nature. For Hardy, more so than for Anatole France, the fatal flaw was in the universe, not in human nature. Man's tragedy was that he lived in the wrong kind of universe, a universe in which "nothing was made for man," to whose ceaseless flux he found it impossible to adjust, in which no "fixed star" shone to light his way toward goal or haven. "The time seems near," he wrote, again in The Return of the Native, "if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods of the more thinking among mankind." Hardly the stuff of which to build higher cultures, this brooding melancholy, this new outburst of Schopenhauerian pessimism.(45) [396/397]
Baudelaire wrote in 1855 that Europeans lived in an arrogant century, "which thinks itself above the misadventures of Greece and Rome." Nobody believed that any longer, at least not in the Fin-deSiècle ambience. All the same, extreme pessimists such as Hardy were always in the minority, even in that world. The majority were still reasonably hopeful that Europe might yet, in Max Nordau's medical phrase, recover from the present derangement of its nervous system.
Admittedly, this was not Burckhardt's view -- he thought he lived over an abyss -- nor was it Hardy's (for who could cure the universe, in which man had to live out his days?), nor was it that of many of the neo-romantics. Arthur Rimbaud, for example, carrying out the resolution announced in his famous poem Une Sairon en Enfer (1873), forsook the "hell" of Europe for Africa and the East, in search of a more primitive and vigorous civilization. Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, like his hero in Axel (1890), went inside to escape from the external world, now so universally unpleasing to the poetic imagination. As has often been pointed out, the neo-romantics of the late nineteenth century were apolitical and asocial by comparison with the old romantics. Feeling isolated in a world given over to materialism, they simply withdrew from it.
Others, however, more numerous, as has been said, prescribed cures for the sick patient. These cures naturally differed according to the social position or persuasion of the prescriber, and also according to his metaphysical hopes. Bur they were all in fundamental agreement that what Europeans needed above all else in their deranged stare was something to live for and by, whether it was religion, nation, class, a new "lay morality," or the will to power.
Frederic Myers was one of those who was hopeful of some sort of religious revival, though not in the ordinary sense. He had had his "gradual disillusion" with the faith of his youth, and had seen how it affected society at large, causing, as he said, an Alerandrine decadence. Bur just as Christianity had rescued the ancient world from the doldrums, so there might again be a fresh incursion of the spiritual world to save modern Europe. Myers, like so many eminent men of his [397/398] generation, had discovered spiritualism (he, in fact, helped to organize the new Society for Psychical Research in 1882), and hoped that this might be the means of gaining valid (scientifically verifiable) knowledge of the unseen world and of reassuring people about the afterlife. In this way Europe might regain its youth. What the age needed was not an abandonment, but an increase, of effort. The time was ripe, he wrote, "for a study of unseen things as strenuous and sincere as that which Science has made familiar for the problems of earth."(46)
The panaceas of Barrès and Sorel were more representative and may stand as examples of efforts made by the political right and left to cure the decadence. Barrès' intellectual profile, which was very typical, shows an initial disillusionment with traditional religious beliefs, followed by the formation of a "culte du moi" (the title of his celebrated trilogy of novels, 1888-1891, and signifying the centrality of the self, or "moi," as the only certainty on which to build a life), and then, discovering the inadequacy of self alone, by a belief in "national egotism." In the end, Barrès found certainty in his Lorraine subconscious, symbolized by the young maiden Bérénice, who is a figure of spontaneity and wholeness in Le Jardin de Bérénice. Henceforth, Barrès preached a philosophy of "national energy" (L'Energie Nationale), featuring a new cult of the land and the dead, which included a revived Catholicism as the embodiment of French culture. The roles of the individual and national egos had been reversed, the latter absorbing the former and giving direction to it, though never intentionally stifling it. Barrès became one of the chief advocates of the new "integral nationalism" that was then sweeping Europe.
For Sorel, combatting bourgeois decadence depended on creating class rather than national myths. Educated at the Ecole Polytechnique, and for twenty-five years a practicing engineer in the employ of the French government, Sorel nevertheless thought in very unengineerlike terms, more like a social visionary than a social planner, more like Barrès than Marx. Taking his cue from Bergson, and to a lesser extent from von Hartmann, Sorel made myth (as distinguished from utopia) the moving force of history and the means of overthrowing the bourgeois order. In this respect he differed markedly from the other French Marxists, whether orthodox like Jules Guesde, or revisionist like Jean Jaurès. Myth, not an intellectual product like utopia, was a set of images capable of moving masses of men to revolutionary action. It [398/399] was not a spatial concept that was resolvable into stages, a model to be taken to pieces, a blueprint of the future. Myths "are not descriptions of things but expressions of wills," the big dreams of peoples and groups. Examples of great myths in history were early Christianity, the Reformation, and modern nationalism. The particular myth that Sorel was pushing at the time he wrote Reflections on Violence (1908) was the myth of the general strike, which was to be the means of stirring the working class out of its moral lethargy, of uniting it and giving it a worthy goal to achieve, of restoring heroism to a jaded and frivolous society. But despite his belief (at the time) in moral regeneration, Sorel always saw history within a more or less Vico-like framework. When great myths took hold, men could and did strive for a better world. But decadence was the more "natural" stare, and when men wearied of the struggle, as they always did sooner or later, regression inevitably set in. Thus, Sorel was less Bergsonian than he appears at first glance. For though believing in a free and open-ended history, he was a pessimist about "natural nature" (as opposed to the "artificial nature" created by man), which he found chaotic and ever threatening to man's noblest enterprises.
To turn from Barrès and Sorel to Durkheim is to turn from the new irrational world of the Fin-de-Siècle back to the sober world of reason and science. Durkheim more properly belongs in the former world only in the sense that he saw the decadence and sought ways to cure it. He visualized no restoration of the collective conscience by which earlier societies had been ruled, no return to religion, not even the Religion of Humanity of Comte, and no reversal of the division of labor that characterized modern industrial society. But to offset anomie, which was the cause of social sickness, it was necessary to forge a new moral solidarity. To do this, Durkheim advocated a new lay ethic and a new type of institution. The ethic, to be taught in the schools, would emphasize the dualism of human nature (the subject of a famous paper by Durkheim): on the one hand, man's individuality and the dignity of the human person; but on the other, the social side of his nature and the degree to which society affects him, even in the way he thinks and hence the debt he owes to it. The institution that Durkheim advocated was the industrial syndicate, which, uniting management, labor, and consumer in a new social unit, would act as an antidote to the class warfare that threatened to destroy modern society. Thus might the Third Republic become whole again, though like Sorel, Durkheim recognized no permanently healthy state in society. "What exists in [399/400] reality," he wrote, in opposition to Cornte's law of progress, "are particular societies . . . which are born and die, progress and regress, each in its own manner, pursuing divergent goals."(47)
These proscriptions for recovery,
based on a belief in the freedom of history as of nature, help to explain
the partial evaporation of the pessimistic mood during the "Edwardian"
period. Progress, however, had now been unmasked, and it was apparent to
an increasing number that there war nothing automatic or certain about
1. Nordau was an Austrian doctor of medicine and journalist who lived in Paris. Degeneration (Entartung), published in 1892, was one of several books by Nordau on the ills of European civilization. It lists some of the ways the term "Fin-de-Siècle" was used at the time.
2. On the continuing belief in progress, see W. Warren Wagar, Good Tidings, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1972, Part Two.
3. Ernst Haeckel, "Der Monistenbund: Thesen zur Organisation des Monismus," Das freie Wort, Vol. IV, p. 489.
4. The Great Illusion, a famous book, appeared in 1910. Angell was an economist and journalist.
5. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), Sects. 124, 343, 347, 377.
6. The reference is to Walter Pater's novel Marius the Epicurean (1885). See especially Chap. IX on "The New Cyrenicism."
7. Frederic W. H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), Longmans, Green, & Co., London, 1915, Vol. II, p. 279. Myers (1843-1901), poet and essayist, was a founder of the society for Psychical Research.
8. Alfred Fouillée, Le mouvement idéaliste et la réaction contre la science positive, Germer Bailliére & Cie., Paris, 1896, pp. x-xi.
9. James Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, A & C., Black, London, 1899, Vol. I, p. 5. The Gifford Lectures were delivered in 1896-1898.
10. They were all published within a few years of each other: Dilthey's Introduction to the Human Studies (Einleitung in die Geistenwissenshaften, 1883), Croce's History subsumed under the Concept of Art (La Storia ridotta sotto il concetto generale dell'Arte, 1893), and Windelband's History and Science (Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft, 1894).
11. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, Arthur Mitchell (trans.), Random House (Modern Library), New York, 1944, p.358.
12. Bergson, it should be added, intended no denial of science, but only, like some of the romantics, a denial of mechanistic science as a complete explanation of nature.
13. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886), no. 14. (Translation by Arthur C. Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher, Macmillan, New York, 1968, p.87).
14. In Le Disciple Paul Bourget confronted the problem of science versus morality. Adrien Sixte, "an intellectual hermit," and a positivist educated in the doctrines of Hippolyte Taine, the positivist philosopher Maximilien Littré, and Darwin, devotes his life to the dissection of human emotion and behavior. His books, bearing titles such as Psychologie de Dieu, Anatomie de la volonté, and Théorie des passions, reduce religion and psychology to physical laws and teach a "Mohammedan fatalism." In the actions of his young disciple, Robert Greslou, accused of seduction and murder, Sixte's dehumanized teaching is shown to have the worst possible moral consequences.
15. Henri Bergson, op. cit. (See note 11), pp. 43-45.
16. Ibid., p. 371.
17. Ibid., p. 401.
18. The whole subject of Lamarckism needs further investigation. A student of mine, Clark Dougan, is presently doing a study of "The Evolutionary Alternative," that is, of Lamarck and Lamarckism in late nineteenth-century French and English thought. Spencer was a Lamarckian (see p. 392, note 48), as also were after a fashion, Freud and Engels, Bergson and Shaw, though all for rather different reasons.
19. G. B. Shaw, Man and Superman, Act III, Don Juan in Hell.
20. See Driesch's Die Seele als elementarer Naturfaktor (1903).
21. Quoted in William R. Rutland, Thomas Hardy, Russell & Russell, New York, 1962, p. 64.
22. Butler was always arguing with himself about free will and necessity. See, for example, this section in The Note-Books, Jonathan Cape, London, 1926, pp. 322-326.
23. Raïssa Maritain, Souvenirs, quoted in Phyllis Stock, "Students versus The University in Pre-World War Paris," French Historical Studies, Vol. VII, No. 1 (Spring, 1971), p. 98. Raïssa Maritain was the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain's wife.
24. August Strindberg, Inferno, Alone and Other Writings, Evert Sprinchorn (ed.), Doubleday Anchor Books, Garden City, N.Y., 1968, p. 143. Strindberg is recalling (in Inferno, 1897) "the great event of the Paris season" of 1895, when the literary critic Ferdinand Brunetière announced, in a famous essay, the bankruptcy of science. By that time Strindberg had acquired a considerable reputation as an amateur chemist.
25. See C. G. Jung, The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature, Pantheon Books, New York, 1966, pp. 35, 38-39.
26. Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will (Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, 1889, Conclusion). See also Creative Evolution (see note 11), p. 292.
27. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, no. 3.
28. Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human (1878), no. 2 (Walter Kaufman's translation).
29. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1884), speech "On Self-Overcoming."
30. See the concluding section of The Interpretation of Dreams, entitled "The Conscious and Unconscious Reality."
31. Among the philosophers, he singled out Schopenhauer and Nietzsche whom however, he says he consulted only later, after he had formulated his own theory of repression. Still later he chose Empedocles as his favorite philosopher.
32. Marcel Proust, A l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, Part III.
33. Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd (La psychologie de foules), Macmillan, New York, 1930, pp. 5, 9-10, 33-36. Le Bon was a physician and political conservative as well as a social psychologist. No doubt growing apprehension of mass movements and revolutions, from 1789 to the early days of the French Third Republic, had much to do with the sort of observation to be found in his, and similar contemporary, works.
34. Psychologism was also the name for a contemporary school of philosophy, opposed to idealism, which posits an objective reality, and to "logicism," which similarly taught that there were "laws" in reality, as well as merely in the mind.
35. From a speech by Dilthey to students and friends on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (1903). Quoted in George G. Iggers, The German Conception of History, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Conn., 1968, pp. 143-144.
36. See on Monet, and for the quotations, William B. Seitz, Claude Monet, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1960, pp. 31-32, 50.
37. Arthur James Balfour, Decadence (Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1908, p. 59. Balfour, prime minister of England from 1902 to 1905, was also known for his philosophical writings.
38. Maurice Barrès, Mes Cahiers, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1935, Vol. IX, p. 27. The entry is dated 1911, but Barrès was referring back to the period of his youth when Paul Verlaine was widely read and discussed.
39. See especially his lectures at the University of Basel entitled Introduction to the Study of History, and the many letters to his friend Von Preen. The quotation in the text is from the lecture On Fortune and Misfortune in History.
40. See especially Twilight of the Idols (1888), no. 37, "Whether we have become more moral."
41. Durkheim developed his theory of anomie at length in Le suicide (1897). See also his thesis, De la division du travail social (1893).
42. Frederic W. H. Meyers, op. cit. (see note 7), Vol. II, pp. 279-280. See also, on pessimism and the spiritual crisis, Bourget's Essais de psychologie contemporaine (1883-1886).
43. The book was L'Avenir de science, which was written in 1848, but not published until 1890 when Renan wrote the preface.
44. Anatole France, Oeuvres complètes, Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1927, Vol. IX, p. 409.
45. Like so many of his contemporaries, Hardy had read Schopenhauer, though perhaps not before writing The Return of the Native. Shaw spoke of a cult of Schopenhauer . Few, including Hardy, followed Schopenhauer to the letter. But he did become a symbol, as A. Baillot says (L'Influence de la philosophie de Schopenhauer en France, 1860-1900, Librairie Pholosophique, J. Vrin, Paris, 1927, p. 10) "dans l'Europe troublée, du grand principe de resignation." In Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), Hardy says of his hero, Angel Clare, that he became wonderfully free from "the chronic melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief in a beneficent power," a theme to which he returned many times, in, for example, poems such as "A Plaint to Man" and "God's Funeral."
46. Frederic W. H. Meyers, op. cit. (see note 7), Vol. II, p. 280.
47. From "La sociologie" (1915) in Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917, Kurt Wolff (ed.), Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 1960, p. 378. Durkheim's essay on "Le dualisme de la nature humaine et ses conditions sociales" (1914) is reprinted in the same volume.