A review of Reflections on Violence, by Georges Sorel Trans. with an intro. and bibliography, by T. E. Hulme
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558 ] A review of Reflections on Violence, by Georges Sorel Trans. with an intro. and bibliography, by T. E. Hulme London: George Allen & Unwin, 1916. Pp. xvi + 299.1 The Monist, 27 (July 1917) 478-792 Sorel’s book is exceedingly difficult to discuss in a short review. Its substance is a very acute and disillusioned commentary upon nineteenth-century socialism,anduponthepoliticsoftheFrenchdemocracyforthelasttwentyfive years. It contains also two elements which must not be confused, Sorel’s own political propaganda (if he would allow it to be so called) and his philosophy of history formed under the influence of Renan and Bergson.3 And it expresses that violent and bitter reaction against romanticism which is one of the most interesting phenomena of our time. As an historical document ,Sorel’sReflections,gives,morethananyotherbookthatIamacquainted with, an insight into what Henri Ghéon calls “our directions.”4 Doubtless many readers will be disposed to consider the book under its first aspect only. But the study of Sorel’s political observations requires an accurate knowledge of government and parliamentary activities since the Dreyfus trial, and does not in itself make the work of importance to the English and American public.5 What Sorel wants is not a political, but a social form. One must remember that his creed does not spring from the sight of wrongs to be redressed, abuses to be cured, liberties to be seized. He hates the middle classes, he hates middle-class democracy and middleclass socialism: but he does not hate these things as a champion of the rights of the people, he hates them as a middle-class intellectual hates. And the proletarian general strike is merely the instrument with which he hopes to destroy these abominations, not a weapon by which the lower classes are to obtain political or economic advantages. His motive forces are ideas and feelings which never occur to the mind of the proletariat, but which are highly characteristic of the present-day intellectual. At the back of his mind is a scepticism which springs from Renan, but which is much more terrible than Renan’s. For with Renan and Sainte-Beuve scepticism was still a satisfying point of view, almost an esthetic pose.6 And for many of the artists of the eighties and nineties the pessimism of decadence fulfilled [ 559 Review: Reflections on Violence their craving for an attitude. But the scepticism of the present, the scepticism of Sorel, is a torturing vacuity which has developed the craving for belief. And thus Sorel, disgusted with modern civilization, hopes “that a new culture might spring from the struggle of the revolutionary trades unions against the employers and the State” [37]. He sees that new political disturbances will not evoke this culture. He is representative of the present generation , sick with its own knowledge of history, with the dissolving outlines of liberal thought, with humanitarianism. He longs for a narrow, intolerant , creative society with sharp divisions.7 He longs for the pessimistic, classical view.8 And this longing is healthy. But to realize his desire he must betake himself to very devious ways. His Bergsonian “myth” (the proletarian strike) is not a Utopia but “expressions of a determination to act” [32]. The historian knows that man is not rational, that “lofty moral convictions ” do not depend upon reasoning but upon a “state of war in which men voluntarily participate and which finds expression in well-defined myths” [243]. It is not surprising that Sorel has become a Royalist. Mr. Hulme is also a contemporary. The footnotes to his introduction should be read.9 η Notes 1. Réflexions sur la violence (1908) is the basic text of syndicalism, the militant trade union movement that started in France in the 1890s and aimed to transfer the control of the means of production to unions. Sorel argued that the central weapon in this effort should be the General Strike, which he envisioned as a total work stoppage that would bring down capitalism. Hulme first published his translation without the preface (New York, 1914). In 1915, he published the preface as an article in the New Age (Oct), and in 1916, he published the preface and text together in the edition here reviewed. TSE’s signed copy, inscribed “May 1916 / For the ‘Monist,’” contains a note added decades later: “This was my first introduction to the work of Hulme, as well as to that of Sorel”. He had forgotten that he read Sorel at Harvard in 1913 or 1914 and had mentioned...