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London: George Allen & Unwin, 1916. Pp. xvi+ 299. 1

The Monist, 27 (July 1917) 478-79 2

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, and upon the politics of the French democracy for the last twentyfive 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 As an historical document, Sorel’s Reflections, gives, more than any other book that I am acquainted with, an insight into what Henri Ghéon calls “our directions.” 4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 socialform. 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 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, creativesociety 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


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