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Selected Works
Georges Palante
Table of Contents
​Esprit de Corps 2
​Respect 13
​Anarchism and Individualism 15
​The Secular Priestly Spirit 27
​Notes 38
​Individualism 40
​The Future of Pessimism and Individualism 42
​The Relationship Between Pessimism and
Individualism 43
​Misanthropic Pessimism 48
​Historical Pessimism 52
Esprit de Corps
Source: Combat pour l’individu. Paris, Alcan, 1904;
originally appeared as an article in La Revue
Philosophique in 1899;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
“Esprit de corps” is one of the most interesting of
phenomena for any observer of contemporary life. In the
midst of the disintegration of so many moral and social

influences it has maintained a certain hold on people’s
consciousness and manifests itself in important ways. We
thought it useful to study esprit de corps in some of its
principal manifestations. This small psychological inquiry
will then lead us to a few considerations on the moral
value of esprit de corps.
For greater precision it would be appropriate to
distinguish two meanings of this expression, “esprit de
corps”: a broad and a narrow sense. In a narrow sense
esprit de corps is a spirit of solidarity animating all
members of a same professional group. In a broader sense
the expression esprit de corps designates the spirit of
solidarity in general, not only in the professional group,
but in all those social circles, whatever they might be
(class, caste, sect, etc.), in which the individual feels
himself to be more or less subordinated to the interests of
the collectivity. It is in this sense that there exists a class
spirit; for example, the bourgeois spirit which though
difficult to precisely define nevertheless exists and shows
itself to be no less combative whenever it’s a matter of
defeating anti-bourgeois doctrines and tendencies. It is
also in this sense that Schopenhauer was able to speak of
women’s esprit de corps or the esprit de corps of married
people, about which he made such interesting remarks in
his “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life.” In this broad
sense we could also speak of the esprit de corps among
the inhabitants of a city, who in certain cases find

themselves more or less the associates in a same
commercial enterprise. Ibsen showed this esprit de corps
in a masterly way in the small city in which he placed the
scene in his “An Enemy of the People” where we see all
the inhabitants agreeing to remain silent about a secret (the
contamination of the waters) which if divulged would ruin
the city’s bathing establishments. The broad sense of the
expression esprit de corps is manifestly nothing but the
extension of the narrow or purely professional sense.
Professional solidarity is one of the most powerful
social ties. But its action is most energetic in the so-called
liberal professions (clergy, army, magistracy, the bar,
various administrations). Workers belonging to the same
trade, for example mechanics, carpenters, or foundry
workers, do not manifest an esprit de corps as developed
as that of the officer, the priest, or the functionaries in the
various government offices. This is not to say that these
workers are lacking in all corporate solidarity, since we
know that in some countries the workers of a same craft
are capable of uniting in trade unions and joining together
to vigorously defend their interests against the bosses. But
among workers this solidarity remains purely economic. It
limits itself to defending the material interests of the trade
union. Once this goal is achieved its action ceases: it isn’t
transformed into a coherent and systematic moral or social
discipline that dominates and invades individual
consciousnesses. Or if it acts in this sense it is solely in

What are the principal characteristics of esprit de corps? . an administrator and a functionary are all different. It is clear that the more organized and hierarchical a social group the more narrow and energetic is the moral and social discipline it imposes on its members. an officer. the bourgeois or capitalist class. This energy particular to esprit de corps in the liberal professions can perhaps be explained in part by the fact that the priest. and the functionary are generally subject to a powerful hierarchical organization whose effect is to singularly strengthen esprit de corps. Properly speaking. in a more or less conscious fashion. an intellectual and moral conformism and marks them with an indelible stamp. feeling. The ways of thinking. the magistrate. the soldier. Here the corporation imposes on and inculcates in its members. This stamp is well defined and varies from one group to another. instead it is class spirit. this is not esprit de corps in the narrow sense of that expression. Here esprit de corps arrogates to itself a moral sway over individual consciousness. and acting proper to a priest.order to develop in the worker his consciousness of his rights as a “proletarian” in opposition to the antagonistic class. Here each body has its self-conscious interests. But in the liberal professions things are different. its defined and precise slogans that are imposed on the members of these groups.

its own will to life and which seeks to defend itself against all exterior or interior causes of its destruction or diminution. a combativeness that individual passions can only give a faint idea of. A corps pursues these advantages by striving to suggest to those who are not part of this corps a high idea of its social utility and superiority. and since it isn’t unaware of the power of the imagination over man’s credulity it willingly envelops itself in the decorum most likely to increase its respectability in the spirit of the crowd.). economic lies.A ‘corps’ is a defined social group with its own interests. If we were to ask ourselves what are the goods for which a corps fights we would see that they are moral advantages: the good name of the corps. consideration.” studied the lies that the various organized social groups knowingly and deliberately maintain and that they consider among their conditions for existence (religious lies. If need be it doesn’t fear to exaggerate this value and importance. Nordau could have added to these . Mr. But the corps treats them as ends in themselves and in order to conquer and defend them deploys an energy. influence. Max Nordau. political. aristocratic. etc. a fierceness. in his book “The Conventional Lies of our Civilization. credit. These moral advantages are doubtless nothing but the means for ensuring the material prosperity of the corps and its members.

In order to maintain this attitude the corps demands that all its members “conduct themselves properly. He . It wants to maintain its respectability intact and not fall from its rank in the greater organism that the various corps form in uniting. Woe on he who.” This rivalry forces the corps to jealously watch over its caste honor and to exercise strict control over the conduct of its members. which are often nothing but a combination and a synthesis of others.” It wants its members to be irreproachable externally and to decently play their role in the social theatre. Competition is the great law that dominates the evolution of societies. which is translated into public life and even into private relations. through word or act. in the eyes of the vulgar. in an attitude of uncontested superiority. M. Bergeret in “L’Orme du Mail. of recognized infallibility and impeccability. appears to compromise the honor of the corps. Each corps has its caste pride and its special point of honor vis-à-vis the others. Anatole France depicts this rivalry humorously in the short story entitled “Un Substitut. It is in this great general law of social insincerity that one must enter the special tactic by which a corps hides its defects.corporate lies. its weaknesses or its faults and strives to remain. We can observe a muted rivalry among the various constituted corps. it also dominates the life of constituted corps.” which he attributes to M.

When it’s possible. Essentially. it is an invader. the scapegoat is sacrificed in an official execution. Verniolle. It doesn’t limit itself to controlling the professional existence of its members. In this the corps obeys the vital instinct of all societies. the evil extras of the social comedy constitute for the corps a dead weight that slows it down and which it seeks to rid itself of: and so the corps vilifies and humiliates them. It strives to create around them what Guyau calls an atmosphere of intolerability. M. it must be said. Maurice Barrès said: “In the same way that a barnyard falls upon a sick chicken to kill or expel it. The corps pursues this policy of elimination against its weak members with a disdain of the individual and a lack of scruples that often. In the contrary case he is silently eliminated by more or less hypocritical proceedings that denote a Machiavellianism in the corps that is more conscious than is commonly believed. He is condemned without appeal. justifies Daudet’s line that “constituted corps are cowards. has wittily described this characteristic of the esprit de corps . M. but it often interferes in the domain of their private life. A contemporary novelist.” The weak.” In order to better ensure its policy of domination esprit de corps tends as much as possible to expand its sphere of influence. those incapable of pushing themselves ahead in the world.should expect neither pity not justice from his peers. each group tends to reject its weakest members.

intervene in a domestic situation with a clumsiness only equalled by its incompetence. We should recall the hostility of the young and dashing Professor Brissart – the true type of what Thackeray called the university snob – against an old and not very decorative colleague who. stands out from a corps of which the young snob considers himself the most beautiful ornament. In this regard . Let us recall the narrow moral discipline to which the corporations of the Middle Ages submitted the private lives of their members. This disposition brings to the entire corps a narrow and petty curiosity applied to all that individuals do. in the form of the headmaster and his colleagues.” In this story the author shows us a high school teacher (the true type of a personality invaded by the corps) who appeals to the administrative hierarchy and corporate influences to resolve his domestic difficulties. In a general way. Verniolle has also cleverly noted in another story titled “Pasteurs d’Ames” this other trait of the esprit de corps: the hostility against the members of the corps who in one way or another seem not to fit in with the corporation.in a very suggestive story called “Par la Voie Hierarchique. And in fact we see the esprit de corps. the corporation tends to take the life of the individual under its control. Look at our administration and its functionaries. M. A corporation resembles in this a gossipy small town. because of his careless way of dressing.

in its judgments of things and men.they are like so many small towns spread across space and disseminated across the entire extent of the French territory. its defined prejudices. Look at the crowd: led astray. its accepted and imposed morality. Like all organized societies a corps is the human will to life condensed and taken to a degree of intensity that individual egoism can never reach. from Nancy to Bayonne and from Dunkirk to Nice. A corps considers itself and wants to be seen as infallible. Thus the corps. These remarks on the actions of esprit de corps permit us to see in it a particularly energetic manifestation of what Schopenhauer calls the will to life. If one of its even slightly well-known members commits some clumsy act or if something of interest occurs then immediately. its point of honor. which is an essentially unstable and transitory group. has a stubbornness which the crowd. unstable and varying. momentarily criminal. Let us add that this collective will to life is very different from that which acts on a crowd. it can change its mind a minute later and change its decision. is not susceptible to to the same degree. The corps has all those things that are lacking in a crowd: its hierarchy. in the exact same way that the gossip of the day goes from salon to salon among the good women of a small town. news is spread around the entire corps. Another difference between a crowd and a corps: in general a crowd is more impartial than a corps in its appreciation of .

By this latter word a corps does not at all mean initiative in decision making or daring in execution. renouncing all personal judgment. We can say about all constituted bodies what Renan says of the Seminary of Issy: “The first rule of the company is to abdicate all that can be called talent and originality in .the merit of individuals. A corps doesn’t ask its members for eminent individual qualities.” From the fact that a corps is essentially a collective will to life we can judge the qualities a corps demands of its members: it is those that are useful to the corps.’ a certain perseverance in their docility towards the moral code of the corps. strength and suppleness of the imagination. A corps has no particular esteem for what is called merit or talent. and these alone. nor any of the qualities of spontaneity and energy that make up a strong personality.’” says Simmel. “In a corps of functionaries. As we have said. delicacy and tenderness of the soul. what it demands of its members is a certain conduct. It is this perseverance in docility which – through I don’t know what misunderstanding – is sometimes decorated with the title of character. Esprit de corps is a friend of that mediocrity favorable to perfect conformism. “jealously often takes from talent the influence it should have. rather it is suspicious of them. but solely and exclusively a certain constancy in obedience to the rule. while a crowd. It could care less about those rare and precious qualities that are subtlety of intelligence. easily follows a leader of genius.

A corps wants its members to be characters. but that they be characters.” Nowhere better than in a corps does the celebrated antithesis between talent and character appear which Heinrich Heine mocked with such exquisite irony in the foreword to “Atta Troll. that good Swabian school of poetry – which possessed the esprit de corps to a high degree -which asked of its members not that they have talent. but mediocrity backed by family ties and camaraderie. And so in the corps the great lever for “arriving” is not merit. and not without a smile. wan and mediocre actors who play their social role in this social theatre which Schopenhauer speaks of. that is. perfectly disciplined beings. But those individuals in those bodies that dispense advancement and sought after places don’t always practice nepotism for interested reasons: they are acting in good faith. imbued as they are with esprit de corps. where the police severely prohibit the actors to improvise. In rewarding merit alone they believe they are sacrificing to a dangerous individualism. It is the same in our constituted corps. that nepotism and camaraderie are ties both respectable and useful to the cohesion of the corps.” We recall.order to bend before the discipline of a mediocre community. This disdain on the part of esprit de corps for personal qualities (intellectual or moral of the individual) are admirably explained in the final pages of a novel by . They are sincerely persuaded.

The preceding remarks also permit us to present a few considerations on the ethical value of the esprit de corps. Thus defined. according to the doctrine of Schopenhauer. M. We cite among the moralists who have recently insisted upon the value of esprit de corps MM. who have taken the political point of view. According to us esprit de corps is a collective egoism.M. pure will to life. Dorner and Durkheim.” in which Cardinal Maffei explains to Abbe Ternisien the tactics of the Roman congregation. “L’Abbe Tigrane. esprit de corps presents an excellent illustration of what tends to be. each individual being obliged to vote for a representative chosen from among his peers or hierarchical chiefs from his corporation. who took the moral point of view. and Messieurs Benoist and Walras. It seems to us that these considerations sufficiently confirm the definition we gave above of esprit de corps. Certain contemporary sociologists and moralists have favorably judged the moral influence of esprit de corps. separated from the intellect. uniquely concerned with collective ends and disdainful of the individual and individual qualities. Dorner sees in corporations a remedy for moral . Some have even thought of investing it with a political mission by substituting for universal suffrage as it is practiced in our country a system of vote by corporations. Ferdinand Fabre.

” It is of the highest moral interest that the individual be able to attach himself to a professional group. . thanks to his application the individual learns the measure of his possible progress. The individual more easily acquires this conviction if he belongs to a corporation that determines in advance the general conditions of his economic and social life. On the other hand. “that he can only occupy a determined place in the whole and he can’t surpass the limits imposed by his salary and his own faculties. and he participates in the collective intelligence of his associates (Berufsgenossen). Dormer. there results from all this a general tendency that aspires to establishing on the basis of what we already possess those improvements that are profitable to the individual as well as the whole.” says M. obtain a wider viewpoint on things. The corporation holds before his eyes that alone which is possible. while allowing for progress within the limits of professional activity. and keeps from his imagination the castles in the air (Luftschlossern) that make him discontented with the present. and by its intermediary he can cultivate his intelligence. He finds in the subordination of the individual to the corporate group the pacifying of all internal and external troubles. for this tie permits him to properly judge his personal faculties. and can be encouraged by it to the great moral universal organism.and social discontent. Consequently. “Each person must understand.

will be to regulate social functions and especially economic functions. The individual will attach himself more easily to an ideal nearer at hand and more practical. Durkehim sees in a corps a useful intermediary between the individual and the state. is a social entity. “in the future as in the past.” For his part M.Corporations are nothing but organs of this organism. M. According to him this is the ideal that the professional group presents. The state. Corporations must then be inspired by the interests of the organism of which they are the organ. they must forgo their rivalries in the pursuit of privileges and advantages in keeping with the consciousness their of their collaboration in a common task. and so they must for once and for all have their respective rights specified so that each can independently accomplish its tasks in its respective domains. Durkheim sees in corporations the great remedy to what he calls social anomy: “The principal role of corporations. and consequently to extract them from the state of disorganization in which they are currently found. he says. it will have all the authority needed to demand from them those sacrifices and concessions that are . Whenever envy will be excited to such an extent that it knows no limits it will be up to the corporation to fix the portion which should equitably devolve to each of the cooperators. Superior to its members.” he says. too abstract and too distant from the individual.

if the kind of distributive justice which M. We will not discuss here the question of corporative politics. nor by what organ it could be applied. perhaps.” Another question that is posed is that of knowing whether or not affiliation with a corporate group would be a real remedy to “anomy” and if it would bring an end to social discontent. in fact. borrowing an expression from the socialist vocabulary: “the belly question.” we could say. The corporate group dominates the individual through interests too immediate and too material for this liberty not to be hindered. for their part. We don’t see in what other milieu this law of distributive justice. It can. We will content ourselves with presenting a few observations on corporative morality as they result from our analysis of esprit de corps. “Yes. Durkheim speaks or . Benoist and Walras. so urgent. suppress the means of existence for an individual refractory to its moral discipline. We can thus see that the system is complete: corporate politics is connected to a professional morality. According to us the individual cannot ask from the corporate group his law and his moral criteria. In our eyes the value of the individual’s moral activity is in direct relationship with the freedom of which he disposes.” MM. can be elaborated.indispensable and to impose a rule on them. develop the advantages of a political organization by corporations. It holds him by what we can call.

the corresponding differentiation of . and his activity an ever richer and more various nourishment. which increasingly multiplies social circles around the individual. and commercial circles to which individuals belong and raises their personality only through the increasing implication of these circles. This is not all. Stuart Mill said that from the top to the bottom of the social ladders remuneration is in inverse ratio to the labor furnished. But this is a utopian desideratum. but it is confirmed in those professional groups where the nature of the services rendered prevents material measurement and permits esprit de corps to deploy its oppressive influence on individual merit. To seek the individual’s moral criterion in the corporation would mean going against the march of evolution. “History multiplies the number of social religious. There is doubtless some exaggeration in this way of seeing things. their (the individual’s) obligation is no longer relatively simple. as was the case when the individual was one with society. The increasing differentiation of social elements. Consequently. his intelligence. clear. at least in those corporations where the labor furnished cannot be precisely measured. This consequently permits him to simultaneously take part in a greater number of diverse and independent societies that offer to his sensibility. intellectual.were exactly applied. as is the case with manual labor. and unilateral.

to permit him to deploy himself in a multi-faceted activity. but to remove him from the herd spirit.psychological elements in the consciousness. seem to augment rather than to diminish the number and importance of moral conflicts. whatever we say or do. It is in this free and progressive flourishing of individuality that the true moral ideal resides. can be regarded as the point of interference of a more or less considerable number of social circles whose moral influences reverberate within him. The individual. There is no other. it renders the subjects more appreciable. is a regressive . the very form of the herd spirit. For. while he is in a certain sense a tissue of general properties. The individual is a harmonious and living monad whose vital and harmonious law is to maintain himself in a state of equilibrium in the midst of a system of interfering social forces. We have arrived at the conclusion that corporative morality.” It results from this law of progressive differentiation that the freedom of the individual – and consequently his value and moral capacity – are in direct ratio with the number and extent of the social circles in which he participates. The moral ideal is not to subordinate the individual to the moral conformism of a group. all the laws of the parallel development of societies and individuals. At the same time that history increases the number of the objects of morality. the individual remains the living source of energy and the measure of the ideal.

form of morality. Coda. that we are rootless. We ask if this isn’t too narrow a terrain for plants that want free air. Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists. Vol 64 JulyDecember 1907. year 32. 2009. of the . The contemptible sentiment par excellence. Respect Source: Chroniques Complètes. Source: Revue Philosophique. Mosaic of crystallized fears. I mean the respect of collective beings. MM. and the form of their expression. are so clearly Palantian. light.org. mixture of herd stupidity and secular religiosity. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.Barrès. There is thus no guarantee that it is actually from the pen of Georges Palante. following in the footsteps of M. but the ideas expressed in it. which appeared in the December 1903 issue of the anarchist revue “L’Ennemi du people” was signed only GP. Edited by Stéphane Beau.org 2009. Tome II. that there is no real question as to its attribution. Palante specialist Stéphane Beau notes that this piece. and the broad horizons of a human morality to take root. Dorner and Durkheim invite us to take root in the soil of the professional corporation. Paris. Many complain.

it now inclines to civic genuflection. The beatific social optimism of the crowd is only a form of that respectful mania. They bank on the crowd’s capacity for respect.” Moral idols. they float. as does its stupidity. It is right for the very reason that it is a collectivity. It adores social fetishes just as the little dog Riquet in “Monsieur Bergeret à Paris” venerated doors. formidable. The label “collective” suffices. society idols.” An electoral animal.maleficent and deceptive metaphors that populate our social mythologies. whatever kind of collectivity we might be dealing with – public administration. Stendhal had already pointed out the respectful mania. he venerates that other . ghostly. Stirner gives collective entities the characteristic name of “respectful personalities. the table. guardian of all big shots and oligarchs. The citizen is a respectful and irremediably religious animal. Reproductive animal. the citizen venerates the fetish “marriage. the family – are always right against the individual. Oligarchs know this. and the kitchen chair. The dogma of infallibility is thus secularized and socialized. government body. which gives an idea of the infinite. the mother of all hypocrisies. For the crowd. vain. political idols. like the specter of religion in Lucretius’ heavens.

of Barrésian anarchism or individualism. Marxist anarchism. the Civic Ballot Box. of Nietzschean anarchism or individualism. We can speak of a Christian or Tolstoyan anarchism.fetish. In other cases. Alcan. sometimes as individualists. Paris. the modern holy ampoule. Anarchism and Individualism Source: La Sensibilité individualiste. Many thinkers vastly different from each other are carelessly qualified sometimes as anarchists. this identification of the two terms is not looked upon as possible. With respect to crowds we oppose irony. The words anarchism and individualism are frequently used as synonyms. But we could not say Proudhonian. It is thus that we speak indifferently of Stirnerite anarchism or individualism. At other times the two terms have been melted together in one name: anarchist individualism.org 2006. of a cold smile and a clear eye. anarchist syndicalism. or syndicalist individualism. pensive irony. Marxist. though. etc. Under this . CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org. Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists. 1909. but not of a Christian or Tolstoyan individualism. We commonly say Proudhonian anarchism.

If it is appropriate for designating the egotist. optimist and idealist philosophy of a Carlyle. it can with difficulty be applied to the Hegelian. Hasch designates a social philosophy that it differentiates from anarchism properly so-called. Stirner and Nietzsche. can be applied with difficulty to thinkers of the race of Goethe. There thus reigns a certain confusion concerning the use of the two terms anarchism and individualism. Renan.rubric M. Carlyle. whose philosophy seems on the contrary to be dominated by ideas of hierarchical organization and the harmonious placing of values in a series. the epithet of individualist can’t be applied with equal justice to all the thinkers we have just named. We would here like to attempt to clarify the notion of individualism and determine its psychological and sociological content by distinguishing it from . in the etymological sense. Kierkegaard. according to him. Ibsen. This philosophy can be summed up as the cult of great men and the apotheosis of genius. Byron. Carlyle. Emerson. Humboldt. It would seem to us to be arguable whether the expression individualist anarchism can be used to designate such a doctrine. The qualification of anarchist. who clearly subordinates the individual to the idea. and whose great representative. What is more. are Goethe. Schleiermacher. as well as the systems of ideas and sentiments that these terms designate. nihilist and antiidealist revolt of Stirner. and Nietzsche.

At the same time. by virtue of his temperament. Qui auget scientiam augel et dolorem. Whether through brutality. In the name of his own experience and his personal sensation of life the individualist feels he has the right to relegate to the rank of utopia any ideal of a future society where the hoped-for harmony between the individual and society will be established. The individualist is he who. humiliations and miseries. by intensifying within the individual the consciousness of the vital conditions made for him by society. is predisposed to feel in a particularly acute fashion the ineluctable disharmonies between his intimate being and his social milieu. more laborious and more difficult in the middle of the thousand gears of an increasingly tyrannical social mechanism.anarchism… Individualism is the sentiment of a profound. for him it has become clear that for the individual society is a perpetual creator of constraints. Far from the development of society diminishing evil. he is a man for whom life has reserved some decisive occasion to remark this disharmony. irreducible antinomy between the individual and society. it does nothing but intensify it by rendering the life of the individual more complicated. arrives only at darkening his intellectual and moral horizons. or the continuity of his experiences. We see that individualism is essentially a social . Science itself. a kind of continuous generation of human pain.

for the individualist is at the very least a restrictive and oppressive condition.” worshipping independence and dreams. at .” It’s a Challemel-Lacour with his pessimistic conception of society and progress. It’s Stirner with his intellectual and moral solipsism perpetually on his guard against the duperies of social idealism and the intellectual and moral crystallization with which every organized society threatens the individual. the extremist disciple of Emerson. It is Vigny saying: “The social order is always bad. The individualists who respond to this description form a small morose group whose rebellious. Under its most moderate form it admits that if life in society is not an absolute evil and completely destructive of individuality. It is perhaps.” It’s Schopenhauer seeing social life as the supreme flowering of human pain and evil.” deciding to stray from the ordinary paths of human activity and to become a “wanderer. A “wanderer whose every minute will be filled with more work than the entire lives of many men with occupations. at certain moments. Between bad and bearable the dispute isn’t worth a drop of blood. a necessary evil and a last resort.pessimism. It is. resigned or hopeless words contrast with the fanfares for the future of optimistic sociologists. an Amiel with his painful stoicism that perceives society as a limitation and a restriction of his free spiritual nature. From time to time it is bearable. that “student of nature. It’s a David Thoreau.

” says M. like M. but above all appropriate to reinforcing in each of us the distinctive traits of our inner individuality. with a moderate commercial circulation and a certain activity of industrial exchanges reduced to the strict necessary. both in detail and in depth. Barrès. and denies what he has in common with the mass of men…The dignity of the men of our race is exclusively attached to certain shivers that the world doesn’t know and cannot see and which we must multiply in ourselves. which he isn’t able to set free. ceaselessly wounds. to cultivate it in what it has of the most special. soils. individualism remains a sentiment of “the impossibility that exists of harmonizing the private and the general I. the need for sociability diminishes or rather alters and transforms itself into a kind of general misanthropy.” In all of them individualism is an attitude of sensibility that goes from hostility and distrust to . by the very effect of its excessive deployment. “is he who. by dilettantism and artistic posture. Maurice Barrès. through pride in his true I. incidentally. are averse to the accents of sharp revolt or discouraged pessimism. the most rummaged through. very compatible. “The individualist. a Tarde.certain moments.” It’s a determination to set free the first I. the most advanced.” Even among those who. with an individualism colored with misanthropy that he somewhere expresses: “It is possible that the flux of imitation has its banks and that.

But anarchism represents only the first moment of individualism. We can say that these souls belong to . the moment of faith and hope. for example. from optimism to pessimism is here.indifference and disdain vis-à-vis the organized society in which we are forced to live. vis-à-vis its uniformising rules. or thinking. and its enslaving constraints. an affair of psychological temperament. Tarde says.” of that which despite it all the I maintains of unrepressible and impenetrable to social influences. its monotonous repetitions. There are delicate souls that are easily wounded on contact with social realities and consequently quick to be disillusioned. as we have seen. of their manner of being. into social pessimism. the anti-social revolt of a minority that feels itself oppressed or disadvantaged by the current order of things. of actions courageous and confident of success. in fact. a Vigny or a Heine. which is only once and of an instant. Above all. it is the profound sentiment of the “uniqueness of the I. of feeling.” Is there any need to demonstrate how much this attitude differs from anarchism? There is no doubt that in one sense anarchism proceeds from individualism. As M. The passage from confidence to despair. It’s a desire to escape from it and to withdraw into oneself. It is. At its second moment individualism converts. it is the sentiment of the “profound and fleeting singularity of persons. in great part.

often simplistically and with naivety. Reasons for doubt and discouragement don’t strike them harshly enough to tarnish the abstract ideal they’ve forged and to lead them to the final and logical step of individualism: social pessimism. insofar as it is repressive of the individual. that they will one day be resolved and will give place to an era of harmony. Anarchism rests on two principles that seem to . That optimism is spread. is particularly tormenting and oppressive. Kropotkin. there can be no doubt concerning the optimism of anarchist philosophy. Anarchist optimism consists in believing that social disharmonies. but rather accidental and provisional. Reclus. are not essential. in those volumes with blood red covers that form the reading matter of propagandists by the deed. who disregard even experience’s toughest examples and remain unshakeable in their faith. The shadow of the optimistic Rousseau floats over all this literature. Perhaps their imperturbable confidence in their ideal depends on a lesser intellectual and emotional acuity. Such are the souls of the anarchist apostles: Bakunin.the psychological type that has been called “sensitive. These souls belong to the “active” type. that the antinomies that the current state of affairs present between the individual and society. But there are other souls who resist multiple failures.” They feel that social determinism. Whatever the case.

humanism aims at the assimilation of humanity.” In fact. its ideal is to make a reality of the expression “our like. Gide. but actually contradict each other. in favor of those traits that make them different. On the contrary. separates them and. Following the expression of M. formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt and chosen by Stuart Mill as the epigraph of his “Essay on Liberty”: “The great principle is the essential and absolute importance of human development in its richest diversity. Whatever the case and whatever difficulties might be met by he who wants to reconcile the individualist and humanist principles. these two rival and enemy principles meet at least at this one point: they are both clearly optimistic. That the individualist and humanist principles negate each other is proven by logic and fact. and that logical and necessary antagonism cannot fail to bring about the breakup of anarchism as a political and social doctrine. One is the principle that is properly individualist or libertarian. opposes them. if need be. or it is a demand in favor of that which differs and is unequal in individuals. at the current time we see the antagonism of the two principles assert itself among the most insightful theoreticians of anarchism. Humboldt’s principle is optimistic insofar as it implicitly affirms the original goodness of human nature .complement each other. Either the individualist principle means nothing.” The other is the humanist or altruist principle which is translated on the economic plane by communist anarchism.

and we can understand the reservations of M. Anarchism supposes that individual freedoms. And these latter make visible in the human being a bundle of instincts in struggle with each other and.and the legitimacy of its free blossoming. what is the attitude of individualism? Individualism. a grouping of individuals also necessarily in struggle with each other. Dupont-White. optimistic as concerns the individual. and consequently of human society. that no less a priori affirms the original and essential goodness of our nature. Individualism places itself before the facts. in fact. Humanism. all lived life and immediate sensation. is even more so as concerns society. the Christian and anarchist. left to themselves. It sets itself up in opposition to the Christian condemnation of our natural instincts. is nothing but rendering divine of man in what he has of the general. Christian metaphysics. a realist philosophy.” had from the spiritualist and Christian point of view (condemnation of the flesh) as concerns this principle. the translator of the “Essay on Liberty. will naturally harmonize and spontaneously realize the anarchist ideal of free society. the other the rationalist and Rosseauist metaphysic. As we see. anarchism. equally repudiates these two metaphysics: one. which a priori affirms original evil. in human society. The humanist principle is no less optimistic. By the very fact of his conditions of existence . In regard to these two opposing points of view. of humanity.

the condemnation of human nature.the human being is subject to the law of struggle: internal struggle among his own instincts. it considers the harmonious development of the individual and society as a utopia. Pessimistic as concerns the individual. with anarchism. if you will. What is more. through a painful paradox. represses our instincts at the same time as it exasperates them. an experimental pessimism. individualism is even more so as concerns society: man is by his very nature disharmonious because of the internal struggle of his instincts. But this disharmony is exacerbated by the state of society which. external struggle with his like. individualism separates itself every bit as much from anarchism. a pessimism of fact. it admits Humboldt’s principle as the expression of a normal tendency necessary to our nature for its full blossoming. then we must say that individualism is pessimistic. In fact. pessimism a posteriori. at the same time it recognizes that this tendency is condemned to never being satisfied because of the internal and external disharmonies of our nature. But we must immediately add that the pessimism of individualism. is totally different from the theological pessimism that a priori pronounces. If recognizing the permanent and universal character of egoism and struggle in human existence means being pessimistic. If. In other words. from the rapprochement of individual willsto-life is formed a collective will-to-life which becomes . in the name of dogma.

in the same way Stirner’s rebellion against society is an entirely spiritual internal rebellion. For Stirner. He too believes that it is chimerical to expect something new and great from tomorrow. by the very fact that it crystallizes. Like Schopenhauer. Every social form. crushes the individual. Stirner’s attitude before society is the same as that of Schopenhauer before nature and life. The state of society thus pushes to its ultimate degree the disharmonies of our nature. progress.” There is nothing but the egoist today. It . with whom he has more than one similarity. spiritual (we should remember that Schopenhauer condemns suicide which.immediately oppressive for the individual will-to-life and opposes its flourishing with all its force. Anarchism believes in progress. Stirner is a non-historical spirit. From this opposition between anarchism and individualism flow others. lack of fulfillment. Individualism is an attitude of thought that we can call non-historical. all intention and inner will. we might say. It exaggerates them and puts them in the poorest possible light. and suffering. It denies becoming. With Schopenhauer the negation of life remains metaphysical and. It sees the human will-to-life in an eternal present. Following the idea of Schopenhauer. there are no utopian tomorrows. no “paradise at the end of our days. society thus truly represents the human will-to-life at its highest degree: struggle. would be the material and tangible negation).

Regarding society. Nietzsche remains an impenitent. He idealizes superior humanity. imperious. individualism . an appeal to pandestruction. obeyed like a dog. it is a simple act of distrust and passive hostility. From this point of view Stirner is the most authentic representative of individualism. as a form of consolation. maintains an immense intellectual contempt. a mix of indifference and disdainful resignation. But Stirner. for society will always be the stronger. “An ideal is nothing but a pawn.” Anarchism is an exaggerated and mad idealism. It is not a question of the individual fighting against society. as is the case with Bakunin. “A tranquil despair. This is more or less the attitude of Vigny vis-a-vis nature and society. the most radical philosophy of disenchantment that has appeared since Ecclesiastes. Individualism is summed up in a trait common to Schopenhauer and Stirner: a pitiless realism. It must thus be obeyed. It arrives at what a German writer calls a complete “dis-idealization” (Entidealisierung) of life and society.” And again: “Silence would be the best criticism of life. violent idealist. this is wisdom itself. while obeying.is not. Pessimist without measure or reservations. of a Nietzsche. Stirner represents the most complete disidealization of nature and life. fiery and radiant. His icy word seizes souls with a shiver entirely different from that. without convulsions of anger and without reproaches for heaven.” Stirner said.

inevitable. with which this is only relatively the case (in relation to current society). irreducible antinomy between the individual and society. This is why between state constraint and that . more or less discreet espionage of the conduct of others. if not more so. while the state is an artificial and authoritarian organization. in part the seed of new social disciplines brought with them by the new leading caste in the process of formation. is nothing else but the mass of social ties of all kinds (opinions. harassing. This is because in its eyes society represents a spontaneous growth (Spencer). conventions. etc. Anarchism admits an antinomy between the individual and the state. an antinomy it resolves by the suppression of the state. mutual surveillance. mores. which penetrates into the details of individual life more profoundly and continuously than statist constraints can. unlike anarchism. exigent. but it does not see any inherent.knit fabric of petty and great tyrannies.is absolutely anti-social.) Society thus understood constitutes a closely. What is more. than the state. if we look closely at this. In the eyes of an individualist society is as tyrannical. incessant. Opinion and mores are in part the residue of ancient caste disciplines that are in the process of disappearing. and pitiless. statist tyranny and the tyranny of mores proceed from the same root: the collective interest of a caste or class that wishes to establish or to maintain its domination and prestige. Society. moral approval and disapproval. in fact. usages.

It is only tyrannical because society is tyrannical. Proudhon was right to say that the state is nothing but a mirror of society. which only maintain themselves thanks to and through it. Two men who agree to risk their lives in order to settle an affair (whatever it might be) cannot execute their agreement because the state . but not against that of society. is no less oppressive for the individual than the statist or priestly spirit. How strange! Stirner himself. is a gathering of men who exploit others and that favors the wicked and the cheaters If this is the practice of government. and the same procedures: the vexation and elimination of the independent and the recalcitrant. There is a conformity between the two terms: state and society. following a remark of Tolstoy’s. on the question of the relations between society and the state. or the spirit of society. For example. seems to share the error of Spencer and Bakunin. The gregarious spirit. The government. it makes laws concerning duels. He protests against the intervention of the state in the acts of the individual. The one is the same as the other. Deep down they have the same goal: the maintenance of a certain moral conformism useful to the group. “Before the individual the state girds itself with an aureole of sanctity.of opinion and mores there is only a difference in degree. this is also that of society. The only difference is that diffuse sanctions (opinions and mores) are more hypocritical than the others.

in the other (association). In what way am I freer if society boycotts me? Such reasoning would legitimize all the attacks of a public opinion infected by moral bigotry against the individual. Stirner himself feels the vice of his reasoning.” Strange reasoning. The state does exactly the contrary: it denies all legitimacy to the will of the individual and only recognizes as legitimate its own will. The law doesn’t attack me. and a little further along he arrives at his celebrated distinction between society and association. The legend of individual liberty in Anglo-Saxon countries is built on this reasoning. In the one (society) the individual is taken as a means. What becomes of the freedom of self-determination? Things are completely different in those places. where society decides to make the duelists suffer certain disagreeable consequences of their act and takes form them. he who is struck by it cannot complain of an attack on his liberty: society has done nothing but exercise its own. The refusing of credit is everyone’s affair. the will of the state. and leaves full and entire his freedom of will. They would expose themselves to judicial pursuit and punishment. the credit they had previously enjoyed.doesn’t want it. and if it pleases a society to deprive someone of it for one reason or another. for example. like North America. The society of which we spoke leaves the individual perfectly free to expose himself to the harmful or disagreeable consequences that result from his way of acting. he takes .

Society.. society is sacred and the association is your property. it sharpens and multiplies your natural strength. claims you as its good and can exist without you.e. In the first you live as an egoist. In short. you work in the Lord’s vineyard. religiously. society and individual liberty. The free society that it dreams of is a contradiction in terms. anarchism cannot reconcile the two antinomic terms. you are its debtor and you are tormented with social obligations. Speaking of anarchists Nietzsche wrote: “We can . your weapon. society uses you and you use the association. It’s a piece of steel made of wood. A vain distinction if ever there was one! Where should we fix the boundary between society and association? As Stirner himself admitted. You owe society everything you have. all your riches and make your presence felt In society you and your activity are utilized. on the contrary. You owe nothing to the association. i. The association is your tool.himself as an end and treats the association as a means of personal power and enjoyment: “You bring to the association all your might. She serves you and you leave it without scruples as soon as you no longer have any advantages to draw from it…” “If society is more than you then you will have it pass ahead of you and you will make yourself its servant. a stick without an end. in the second you live as a man. doesn’t an association tend to crystallize into a society? However we approach it. The association only exists for you and by you.

already read on all the walls and all the tables their word
for the future: Free society. Free society? To be sure. But I
think you know, my dear sirs, what we will build it with:
Wood made of iron…” Individualism is clearer and more
honest than anarchism. It places the state, society, and
association on the same plane. It rejects them both and as
far as this is possible tosses them overboard. “All
associations have the defects of convents,” Vigny said.
Antisocial, individualism is openly immoralist. This
is not true in an absolute fashion. In a Vigny pessimistic
individualism is reconciled with a morally haughty
stoicism, severe and pure. Even so, even in Vigny an
immoralist element remains: a tendency to dis-idealize
society, to separate and oppose the two terms society and
morality, and to regard society as a fatal generator of
cowardice, unintelligence, and hypocrisy. “Cinq mars,
Stello, and Servitude et Grandeur militaires are the songs
of a kind of epic poem on disillusionment. But it is only
social and false things that I will destroy and illusions I
will trample on. I will raise on these ruins, on this dust,
the sacred beauty of enthusiasm, of love, and of honor.” It
goes without saying that in a Stirner or a Stendhal
individualism is immoralist without scruples or
reservations. Anarchism is imbued with a crude moralism.
Anarchist morality, even without obligations or sanctions,
is no less a morality. At heart it is Christian morality,
except for the pessimist element contained in the latter.

The anarchist supposes that those virtues necessary to
harmony will flourish on their own. Enemy of coercion,
the doctrine accords the faculty to take from the general
stores even to the lazy. But the anarchist is persuaded that
in the future city the lazy will be rare, or will not exist at
Optimistic and idealistic, imbued with humanism and
moralism, anarchism is a social dogmatism. It is a “cause”
in the sense that Stirner gave this word. A “cause” is one
thing, “the simple attitude of an individual soul” is
another. A cause implies a common adherence to an idea,
a shared belief and a devotion to that belief. Such is not
individualism. Individualism is anti-dogmatic and little
inclined to proselytism. It would gladly take as its motto
Stirner’s phrase: “I have set my affair on nothing.” The
true individualist doesn’t seek to communicate to others
his own sensation of life and society. What would be the
good of this? Omne individuum inefabile. Convinced of
the diversity of temperaments and the uselessness of a
single rule, he would gladly say with David Thoreau: “I
would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any
account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I
may have found out another for myself, I desire that there
may be as many different persons in the world as possible;
but I would have each one be very careful to find out and
pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or
his neighbor’s instead.” The individualist knows that there

are temperaments that are refractory to individualism and
that it would be ridiculous to want to convince them. In the
eyes of a thinker in love with solitude and independence, a
contemplative, a pure adept of the inner life, like Vigny,
social life and its agitations seem to be something
artificial, rigged, excluding any true and strongly felt
sentiments. And conversely, those who by their
temperament feel an imperious need for life and social
action, those who throw themselves into the melee, those
who have political and social enthusiasm, those who
believe in the virtues of leagues and groups, those who
have forever on their lips the words “The Idea,” “The
Cause,” those who believe that tomorrow will bring
something new and great, these people necessarily
misunderstand and disdain the contemplative, who lowers
before the crowd the harrow of which Vigny spoke. Inner
life and social action are two things that are mutually
exclusive. The two kinds of souls are not made to
understand each other. As antitheses, we should read
alongside each other Schopenhauer’s “Aphorisms on the
Wisdom of Life,” that bible of a reserved, mistrustful, and
sad individualism, or the Journal Intime of Amiel. Or the
Journal d’un Poète by Vigny. On the other side, we
should read a Benoit Malon, an Elisée Reclus or a
Kropotkin, and we will see the abyss that separates the
two kinds of souls…
The Secular Priestly Spirit

Source: Mercure de France, September 1, 1909;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
This is what I call the remnants of the priestly spirit
within our modern spirit, which thinks itself a- or antireligious. But is “remnants” really the proper word? This
word implies the idea of a sentiment in retreat, when in
fact the priestly spirit is advancing. We would at least
think this if we were to consider the expansion of the
surface occupied by the priestly spirit. The priestly spirit
was once the privilege of a caste; today it has spread,
diffused, been diluted in our ruling classes, in those
intellectual, political, administrative elites that form our
democratic aristocracy.
Examples of this spirit are easy to find in our
language and mores. We can cite the rage to confer a
sacred character on one’s profession, to turn it into a
priesthood. Whenever you hear a gentleman apply this
word to his profession or that of others you have before
you a man more or less imbued with the priestly spirit. It
is especially in regard to careers in education or the
magistracy that priesthood is spoken of, but we can extend
this word to all of civil service, to all hierarchies, in
conformity with the etymology of this last word [1]. In this

if we admit freedom of thought. who loudly proclaims the right for all to change. Everyone is free at every instant to shake off yesterday’s belief. If need be he’ll quote you the well-known verse: “The absurd man is he who never changes. etc.” But if he were to learn of the about-face of one of his political friends. which doesn’t prevent anti-clericals from using it like everyone else. because we all tremble before anathema and excommunication. We also speak of the priesthood of the lawyer or the doctor. And yet. We all know a gentleman who calls himself a free-thinker. it wants to prevent defections and schisms. and is carried in a way to the second power. The epithet of renegade has a religious origin. then he gets indignant and calls his former fellow-believer the harsh and feared epithet of “renegade. But most people don’t see things in this way. A party is a church. we must admit it in its entirety.” Why feared? Because we are imbued with the priestly spirit. to evolve. There is no such thing as a renegade. . When it’s a question of a lawyer or doctor who is also a politician the priesthood is doubled. and terrifies the potential renegade with the gesture of anathema. and it claims to hold its people under its power. Another remnant of the priestly spirit is the qualification of renegade that is used to insult the man who changes his opinion.sense any functionary would be a priest or a semi-priest.

along with the appropriate program: reading of apposite verses by gentlemen in black suits. joy. One would have to be pontiff. Another religious and evangelical expression is that of “going to the people. Recently festivals of Love. in a same faith. Spring.” where clerics were opposed to the laity. or hope only have value on condition of being held in common. A spirit indifferent to theological controversies will not attach an intellectually meaningful significance to this expression.Another clerical expression is the very word of secular that is used on all occasions. etc.[2] . of being solemnized and consecrated by the group. to want to oppose one church to another. Secular morality! Secular consciousness! Secular beliefs! These expressions take us back to the times of the papal bull “Clericis Laicos. In a society where clerics no longer exist or count – at least intellectually – it can no longer be a question of secular ideas. workers carrying their tools and celebrating labor. This is a pure distillation of the Middle Ages. a clerical concern: that of having men commune with the same idea. Secular holidays are also spoken of. For anyone with a religious spirit a sentiment. Labor have been instituted. processions of young couples celebrating love. Youth.” so fashionable a few years ago among young Tolstoyans and adepts of PU’s. memory. At the heart of these secular ceremonies can easily be found a religious.

Of the same order is the expression social obligation. The secular priestly spirit is the heir and the pale imitator of . it has lost in depth what it has gained in extent.” as Stendhal called it. freshly graduated from the Ecole Polytechqnique speak with devotion of the Polytechnicians’ esprit de corps as if it were a religion of initiates. At the very most it’s capable of annoying those horrified by the “religious nuance. especially when it’s pronounced in a certain way and with a certain showy compunction. esprit de chapelle all easily take on a religious nuance. It no longer has the depth of psychology. the implacable perseverance in ressentiment that conferred a somber majesty on the sacerdotal soul of the past and that Nietzsche so potently describes in his “Genealogy of Morals. We heard a young engineer. what modest pontiffs compared to those great ascetic figures who dedicated themselves to what Nietzsche called the “sacerdotal medication of humanity. This same sentiment was often expressed by soldiers at the time of the Dreyfus Affair. If you will.” We are witnessing a bourgeoisification and a democratization of the priestly spirit: we see nothing but priests around us. unintelligible to the profane.” and who pursued a centuries old labor of total spiritual and temporal domination. But what humble. The priestly spirit is only skin deep. the shadowy will to power. none of this is either very serious or very profound. The group spirit in all its forms. esprit de corps.

clericalized. or at the very least pride and vanity of caste or corps. aspire to represent a moral idea. the priestly sprit is a caste spirit. a spirit of spiritual and temporal domination. It borrows from Catholicism its mise en scene. civil marriages decorated with secular and worldly pomp. which have been widely used for Pantheonizations and other religio-secular ceremonies. The priestly spirit is the religious spirit socialized. of an authority to be exercised. can exist in a more or less diffused and attenuated state in the diverse corporations and social categories which. or at the very least an esprit de corps with all the sentiments that are attached to it. These sentiments. to fulfill . of certain rites to be observed. This is so true that at all times there has been a flourishing of the religious spirit that has nothing in common with the priestly spirit.the other. a sentiment of moral and social superiority. its impressive décor and even its sacred music. It should first be noted that the priestly spirit must be distinguished from the religious spirit. such as the statufying of secular pontiffs. with whatever right. which is a kind of religious individualism. etc. which are at their height in a clergy. Consequently. It’s the religious spirit in the hands of a clergy charged with officially representing it. This is mysticism. Let us see what it has retained of its psychology. of a certain decorum to be maintained.

In its superior forms it is vivified by a religious. to be reduced to a simple external formalism.an apostolate or a social mission. to set the tone and the example. as it is encountered among our intellectuals – philosophers. it’s in any book able to find a public. after and before “The Critique of Pure Reason. to exercise a priesthood. This is the goal of the greatest number of philosophers. or at least philosophical or moral belief. like the other. a pure phariseeism. But it’s not only in universities that these teachings are dispensed. What men demand of philosophy is that it give them something . But at its lowest and poorest degree it tends to be emptied of all intellectual or ideal content. in this regard presents many degrees and nuances. At its highest degree. Believe and make people believe. to posit themselves as models (honest men). Jules de Gaultier. professors of the spiritual life and of moral action – the secular priestly spirit can be found tied to a certain concept of philosophy understood as the servant of an ethical finalism and a secular moral faith. says M. to imprint a moral direction on the rest of society: in short.” Bacon stated that in his time they were taught in universities to believe. sociologists. It should be added that the priestly spirit can be tied to the religious sentiment or be separate from it. The secular priestly spirit. and this is still true in our time. moralists.

an ideology of which it is the guardian. Jules de Gaultier the rationalist ideology is nothing but the prolongation of Christian ideology: it is a veritable secular religion. since the number of spirits for whom the joy of understanding on its own suffices can only ever be insignificant and negligible. Like the Catholic priestly spirit it presupposes a doctrinal credo. As was perfectly demonstrated by M. [3] In this the secular priestly spirit makes itself the servant of an idea. They form a kind of bureaucracy of the intellect where one is comfortably installed for the rest of one’s life. to give them a first principle to which they can affix their conduct. worries or effort. a goal which they can have the illusion of heading towards. they prefer a nice routine where you can live peacefully. “Most men do not feel this need for the new that is felt by the industrialist. Intellectualist systems are appropriate for the mass of the lazy that are man. . M. The difference is that in one case the credo is revealed by God. where you are comfortably seated so as to watch the immutable spectacle of things. without cares. and opposes to them the fever of labor and innovation that agitates industrial circles. But the resemblances between the two ideologies are many. while in the other it is revealed by reason. A Marxist writer.to believe in. The church is horrified by the thought of the new. Edouard Berth brings the two ideologies together under the same sign of intellectual laziness and authoritarian routine.

Many people remain foreign to the practices of industry: the world. I repeat. The secular church of Victor Cousin. and in the modern world there are many varieties of this. and property. bureaucracy. active. It is only fair to recognize that the secular priestly spirit has evolved a bit in France in the last fifty years. the university. and he opposes to the dogmatic and routine priestly spirit the living. and ever new industrial spirit.” They monopolize the individuals of respect. dominated by the Greco-Latin literary tradition and by the Roman Catholic religious tradition. This is the case as well. is very close to the Catholicism it wants to supplant. It is thus not without reason that M. The “countless varieties of intellectualism” more or less imbued with the secular priestly spirit hold the “factories where the ideal is produced. family. it is authoritarian and narrowly conservative concerning traditional institutions: religion. they produce ideological and phraseological values whose prices are established according to completely different laws than those of manufactured goods.and thus of freedom. the so-called liberal professions constitute the social circles that industrial thought has as little penetrated as the Church [4]. We can distinguish two forms corresponding to two periods of official philosophy on France. Like it. Berth compares the Catholic church and the modern secular churches. imbued like it with that ecclesiastical prudence that makes . for all forms of intellectualism.

a type of refutation that Taine ridiculed in so amusing a fashion in his “Philosophes Classiques en France. apostles of love. rejects the Catholic pragmatism of a Brunetière. Among its highest representatives it recalls the generous dreams that Renan symbolized in his “Pretre de Némi. that divides doctrines into harmful and healthy. eudemonistic. and humanitarian. ever more abstract. aspiring to universal happiness and secular paradise (humanity’s salvation through science. It is at its height of dogmatism in Renan in his “L’Avenir de la .social usefulness the criterion for all beliefs. a Guyau. dominated by the Kantian Protestant and rationalist tradition. and that refutes a philosophy based on its moral and social consequences. represent democratic and revolutionary mysticism. We should add that the rationalist. a Quinet. the rationalist and the mystical. of justice and of universal consciousness. and humanitarian faith can be more or less dogmatic.) The two currents we find in all religions. through reason. a Michelet. and finally universal and human. of science. can be found in this modern secular religion: a Renan represents scientistic intellectualism. and tends towards a religion ever more intellectual. a religion of reason. scientistic.” The new secular church. optimistic.” Another transformation: the ancient Catholic and ascetic ideal has evolved into a progressive ideal. extends its social ideal in the direction of socialism and humanitarianism.

Unbeknownst to him. The famous: “You are a goldsmith. Whatever the school or nuances in thought. All priests believe in the effectiveness of their preaching. this pastor. even the young woman who works as his typist.” finds here its application here. are in love with him. All of them. Monsieur Josse. inspires passion among many of his listeners. there is a second trait common to all the representatives of the modern secular religion: faith in the power of ideas. to a taught morality. a handsome and well-spoken man. Every religious spirit is disposed to accord an enormous influence to transmitted faith. dying like Faust.” and in Guyau in his “L’Irreligion de l’Avenir. is attenuated with question marks: will humanity succeed? Will it fail in its voyage towards the divine? Whatever the case. In “L’Eau de Jouvence” the old Prospero. A comic example of this naïve faith can be found in Shaw’s play “Candida” in the person of Pastor Morrell. it can be said that Renan has remained faithful to the end to his scientistic faith. Because he is innocence itself Pastor Morell attributes to the virtue of the holy word the number of young women at his sermons and is struck dumb when his wife reveals to him the ill . symbolizes the ideal of science and strength that remain the culminating point of Renanian thought. weighed down with years and labor.” In Renan’s latest books the rationalist and scientistic faith is diminished by uncertainties. despite all nuances in thought.Science.

like Bayle or the Comte de Gobineau. as several hardly priestly great spirits have done. sociologists. incidentally.that has his fervent listeners in its grip: CANDIDA: They’re all in love with you. And you think it’s all enthusiasm for the kingdom of Heaven on earth. moralists. what souldestroying cynicism! Our pseudo-priests. and so do they. You dear silly! MORELL: Candida. For them it is blasphemy to place in doubt the virtue of the idea. what dreadful. All are flagrantly Platonists. always obtaining so flattering a success. As is . And you are in love with preaching because you do it so beautifully.”[5] This cult of the word is easily explained. Their teacher Renan himself scandalized more than one when he put in the mouth of his Prospero these slightly skeptical words: “When I say these things I feel that none of my listeners will be so struck by my proofs that it will lead him to deprive himself of any sweet sensation. philosophers. Without this I would have scruples about having been the cause that brave men would have diminished the total of joys they could have tasted because they took my reasoning too seriously. believers in the idea and in love with their preaching. professors of the spiritual life. preachers of all kinds fall into the same illusion as Pastor Morel without.

“As for me. We can apply to him the ingenious comparison of Taine à propos of the Grand Pontiff of the eclectic school: “Like a colored powerful beacon which receives five or six lights and transmits its splendor. The representative types: Victor Cousin and today M. the priestly spirit is generally associated with the oratory spirit. Jaurès.proved by the example of Shaw’s pastor. casting him aside as unhealthy and debilitating. Michelet doesn’t like Montaigne. I mean the faculty to mouth philosophical commonplaces.” [6] The secular priestly spirit. a certain nauseating taste. The delicate. Jaurès is the Victor Cousin of the socialist church. skeptics.” he says. the disgusted. hates doubters. and dilettantes. as in a sick room. like Stendhal. Victor Cousin cast his sacerdotal thunder against skepticism. who aren’t fooled by the noble style and the eloquence of the pulpit. where the stale air is heavy with the sad perfumes of the pharmacy. like the Catholic priestly spirit. the tired (and all were) hold to Pindar’s phrase translated and commented on by Montaigne: “Totus mundus exercet histrionem:” the world is performing a play. M. at every moment. the world is an actor. It makes shine on the philosophical horizon their slightly deviated rays. Another trait common to the Catholic priestly spirit . “my profound literary admiration for that exquisite writer doesn’t prevent me from saying that I find in him.” [7] The secular priestly spirit also hates precise spirits.

He aspires to govern over consciences. What sociology offers is. at least he claims so. Modern secular faith is not a dead faith. to unite souls (religare) to compose a great spiritual whole. the priestly. Charles Péguy said: “The enrolling of young people is the oldest. like religion. it’s a faith in action. He works for the pure idea. a little presentable and a little interesting from the moment it becomes the servant of the moral. The individual is that which is the most contemptible. Nietzsche noted devotion to truth among our free-thinkers and atheists. and sometimes even believes it. for whom individualism is the enemy. to moral unity and works to realize this through the dual paths of pedagogy and politics. i. It only becomes a little clean. All are tiny Brunetières. the final incarnation of the ascetic ideal. The most insightful analyst of the sacerdotal soul.e. the dearest ambition.” [8] It’s that of the secular priest. noted this. means evil. For them as well religion and sociology are synonymous. It’s a well known law that all spiritual powers tend . All our official and moralizing sociologists are at this point.. The secular priest considers himself a laborer in a disinterested task. the most secret ecclesiastical envy. Stirner. Nothing selfish must be mixed in with his mission. idea. In the eyes of the priest the individual means egoism.and the secular priestly spirit is the hatred and contempt of the individual as such.

as was said by M. Clémenceau. Today. Its high priests of 1793. It is still incarnated (and in truth it’s all the same thing) in the modern religion of the state. [9] The idea of the state is a demanding. A few years ago the parliamentary debate on the monopoly over education set against each other professorial politicians.” and which he so vigorously and subtly described. the idea of the state maintains all its prestige in intellectual circles where the secular priestly spirit reigns. like MM. believed themselves to be the executors of a metaphysical and moral mandate in service to which they deployed a terrible zeal. Georges Sorel. many of whom. were former men of the law. notably among adepts of parliamentary socialism a la Jaurès. jealous. Jaurès and Lintilhac and the less sacerdotal politicians. who had remained fanatics for legality and the state.to be backed up by a temporal power. It is a legacy of the Ancien Régime transmitted by the men of 1789. This religion is not new. Robespierre and Saint Just. and that inversely all temporal powers fell the need to crown themselves with the halo of a moral idea. like M. to set themselves up as the rulers of reason and truth. pure adepts of the statist pedantocracy. more liberated from the pedantocratic ideology. and fearsome idol. This dual aspiration is incarnated in the pedantocratic party that Charles Péguy called “the modern intellectual party. Their example verifies Stirner’s .

These men work at maintaining ideas on the state that provoked all the bloody scenes of 1793. We should remember Moltke saluting the fall of Paris in 1793. We fear that on this point M. while the notion of class struggle tends to purify the notion of violence. “receptacle of all the vices of the universe. Georges Sorel believes that proletarian violence will not be as vindictive or cruel as Jacobin violence because it will be neither statist nor sacerdotal. philosophy professors.” [10] This is not so certain. theoretical. like all the others. Sorel is deluding himself. M. This means forgetting that was has also had its fanatics and mystics. When circumstances demand it it takes satisfaction in a cold. and historians of the revolution – the more social conflicts will take on a character of pure struggle resembling that of armies on campaign. We cannot execrate enough those men who teach the people that they must execute I don’t know what superlatively idealist mandate of a justice on the march towards the future. The statist priestly spirit is naturally inclined to cruelty. implacable violence. He takes examples from war stories to show that the morality of war exclude coldly cruel violence. “The more syndicalism develops by abandoning the old superstitions that come from the Ancien Regime and the church – through the channel of men of letters.phrase: Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith. its prophets and its .” The proletarian movement will obviously have.

those two religions sacrosanct in the eyes of certain people. We know a functionary. respectability. These two religions are tabooist. Here of course. We find here the tribe of honest men infatuated with the oral pose. functionaries crystallized in their vocation. It is reduced to a flat phariseeism. for example. in a civil service office marriage renders you taboo. These are those it wears among those people whose social situation or whose own stupidity give them the illusion of a superior dignity. certain persons. They render taboo certain things. the secular priestly spirit is emptied of all its intellectual or ideal content. an idiotic fetishism and a tabooism. the worst. certain rites. A married functionary. It remains for us to say a word about the most vulgar. if he is caught doing wrong. the crudest forms in which the secular priestly sprit garbs itself. certain ideas. But he visibly changes when he goes out to visit in company with his wife and his daughters. he won’t be transferred. and morality. which he wears like a holy sacrament. pontificating philistines. We feel as if he were going to officiate as a priest of the religion of the family and the religion of high society.fanatics. Thus. The observance of the rites of high society . He puts on a special look. is less severely penalized than another. Here too examples abound. a likable young man and not given to posing when we meet him in a café or at a club.

Don’t attack him. we see that the secular priestly spirit has . and never laughs.” The secular priestly spirit. Usually the secular priest has this “Geneva character” which Stendhal spoke of and which “calculates. of churchwardens of the puritan church. for through him you attack morality. in its different forms.also renders one taboo. Assassinate you with sacred steel.” In summary. is generally intolerant and vindictive. The most important grade for a functionary is a grade given by society.” Stendhal consoled himself with the thought that if he had arrived fifty years later he would have had to live in the company of secular priests. in their anger Because they take up against you the arms we revere And their passion. like that of the religion of the state. for which we are grateful. In all social categories we find these “pillars of society. society. and other respectable things. spreads across our era that seriousness and boredom predicted by Stendhal and pointed out by him as the characteristic of the future bourgeoisocracy. The follower of the religion of high society. A functionary whose dossier bears this note: “Excellent relations in town. these moral Tartuffes: “All the more dangerous. Don’t lay a finger on his idols.” as Ibsen said.” (which means he visits in the world of the civil servant) is taboo.

But this spirit has no hold on the credulous mass. cult of the hero (Carlyle). cult of the family. Quinet). cult of the woman. of progress. social faith. etc… – above all cult of the word. There were cults for all kinds of things: cult of the people (Michelet. What is more. and that it still has great influence at the beginning of ours. He was wrong. . over which the might of the respectful and pontifical spirit have maintained all their power. profound. the secular priest goes unnoticed. of irony and disrespect. moral faith. great principles. in the smiling irony of an Anatole France. What makes for the force of the secular priestly spirit is that it escapes from ridicule.” in the lucid and disdainful immoralism of a Stendhal. Lammenais deplored the indifference of his contemporaries on questions of religion. cult of science. humanity. having no special costume. It’s not that the spirit that it is antithesis of the priestly spirit – the spirit of disbelief. in the diatribes of a Nietzsche against the “traffickers of the ideal. it hasn’t penetrated the bourgeois soul or the popular soul.occupied a large place over the course of the nineteenth century. it isn’t very apparent. the sprit of skepticism and immoralism – has lacked for representatives. The nineteenth century was a century of faith: scientific faith. which remains the master of the world. It was incarnated in the anti-sacerdotal verve of a Stirner. and subtle works. It has given life to vigorous. It escapes ridicule because it is generalized.

Charles Péguy. so fearful to the priests of his time would be disarmed against those of ours. act III. Mouvement Socialiste. Georges Sorel. Notes Stirner remarks that the word hierarchy mans sacerdotal or sacred organization. 48. Hyppolite Taine. p. In any event. May Day 1905 L’Eau de Jouvence. . De La Situation faite au Parti intellectual dans le Monde moderne. De Kant à Nietzsche.The raillery of Voltaire. Perhaps the priestly spirit is tied to the most essential conditions of human society. Historie de France. Cahiers de la Quinzaine. p. Perhaps man is a religious animal. It doesn’t lack for believers to honor it. p. Les Philosophes Classiques en France au XIXéme siècle. nor pontiffs to cultivate it. See Clemenceau.178 Edouard berth. Michelet. just as he is a social animal. Perhaps this shouldn’t be regretted. the secular priestly spirit gives no appearance of disappearing. 81. Discours pour la Liberté. Popular Universities Jules de Gaultier. Anarchisme individualiste et Marxisme orthodoxe. The secular priest is legion: this is what renders him intangible. Réflexions sur la Violence.

accurately analyzed this contemporary tendency: “Intellectual cowardice is a universal trait. which until now has had at its disposal all the means of . the tendency to underestimate the individual has made itself felt in the intellectual field. This is an indication of universal democratization. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists. You must be one of many before daring to speak. a democratization that is still at its beginnings. No one dares makes a decisive statement concerning his milieu.org 2006. is a characteristic trait of Latin races. conformist and decent meditations. No one any longer allows himself an original thought. Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists. We love regimented thought. and is characterized by a reaction against international capital. A German writer. Original thought only dares present itself when it is supported by a group: it has to have gathered together several adherents in order to dare show itself. of intellectual and esthetic originality. As is the case elsewhere. The horror of the previously untried. 323. 1911. Solitary thought – invention – has been depreciated to the profit of collective thought – imitation – preached under the eternal word of solidarity. June 15.org.Individualism Source: L’Anarchie no. Laura Marholm.

It is especially from the moral point of view that the crushing of personal egoism by group egoism is intolerable. Sometimes the original organism disappears. We think according to hearsay and slogans. absolute monism. the solidarity in irresponsibility. more than anything. interests. We too well know the pettiness of the group spirit. Each man has his special conception of solidarity. justice. the gregarious coalitions engaged. “ if we thus set it nakedly in circulation in its trip across the world it joins all kinds of parasitic vegetation. These are abstract principles untranslatable in real terms.military and legislative defense. all these forms of diminished humanity. etc. It is the same with perfect solidarity as it is with absolute justice. entirely devoured by the egoistic colonies that develop . class. his way to interpret the fas and the nefas in keeping with his coterie. No one dares to rely on himself alone. among which the official censorship of he state has only a minor role. absolute altruism. An idea that contravenes received ideas almost never manages to make itself known. in fighting against superior individualities.” said Remy de Gourmont. The propagation of an antipathetic idea is circumscribed and hindered by a thousand anonymous censors.” The result of this tendency is that we no longer exist and think for ourselves. “As soon as an idea is set loose.

Paris. An amusing example of these deviations in thought was given by the corporation of house painters at the ceremony called ‘The Triumph of the Republic. The Future of Pessimism and Individualism Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme.” The ideal is soiled in contact with reality: Pearl before falling. We all have our own ripolin and we color according to our needs the abstract ideas that.there.org 2006. an increasingly marked tendency towards the encroachment of the collective on the individual. it’s the enemy. We can thus understand the sincerity of this wish and its ingenuity.org. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists. Everything equally indicates that on the part of most . Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists. the devil.” The workers carried around a banner where their demands for justice were summed up in this cry: ‘Down with ripolin!’ You must know that ripolin is a prepared paint that anyone can spread across woodwork. Everything in current social evolution indicates an increased reinforcement of society’s powers. would be of no personal use to us. 1914. Ripolin here represents injustice and oppression. Alcan. and mire after. without this.

its most vigorous and its most systematic interpreters.org 2006. The Relationship Between Pessimism and Individualism Source: Pessimisme et Invidualisme. and will provoke less and less resistance and rebellion. The small independent minority will become increasingly small. Paris. Social conformism and optimism will thus clearly have the last word. in this time of almost perfect conformism and generalized social contentment.org. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists. It will represent. the combat will come to an end. Lacking combatants. The century that just passed is without a doubt that in which pessimism found its most numerous. 1914. lacking people sufficiently in love with independence and sufficiently individualized to feel these chains and suffer from them. But however small it might be.individuals this encroachment will be less and less felt. There will come a moment when social chains will wound almost no one. its most varied. Alcan. it will suffer from the increased social pressure. individualism was expressed in that century with . pessimism and individualism. Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists. Society will emerge victorious over the individual. In addition.

of unity. jurists.exceptional intensity by representatives of high quality. They are idealists: they have faith in an ideal of social justice. There are many kinds of pessimism and many kinds of individualism. despite individual differences and inequalities. towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges. But the question thus posed is too general. in the profound . It could be interesting to bring together these two forms of thought. These individualists are rationalists. is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity. unitarian and egalitarian. and that is the doctrinaire individualism that issues from the French Revolution and to which so many moralists.” Individualists of this kind believe that all human individuals can harmonically develop in society. dominant in our era. that their very diversity is a guarantee of the richness and beauty of human civilization. and politicians of our century are attached. and to what degree pessimism engenders individualism and individualism engenders pessimism. Among the latter there is one that in no way implies pessimism. the principle of order. they believe. This individualism could take as its motto the phrase of Wilhelm von Humboldt that Stuart Mill chose as the epigraph of his “Essay on Liberty”: “The grand. and of harmony. They have faith in reason. to ask what is the logical or sentimental connection that exists between them. leading principle.

they always consider the individual as a social element that harmonizes with the all and that only exists in function of the all. We will not insist upon this individualism. all the degrees. . if we take this latter term in its largest sense. These individualists are “humanists” in the sense that Stirner gives to this word: solidarists. individualism is the sentiment of uniqueness. which obviously implies a more or less firm social optimism. of individuality in what it has of the differential. The individualism we have in mind here is completely different. the private. to individual inspiration in the face of social conventions and ready-made ideas.and real unity of human kind. juridical and moral doctrine. socialists. which they don’t place in opposition to each other. towards society. It affects a special tone in every soul in which it makes itself known. This individualism is not a political. Their individualism is turned outwards. On the contrary. and the un-revealable. but a psychological and moral attitude. Individualism is an appeal to the interiority of sentiment. a personal sensation of life and a personal will to life. It is impossible to fix in a definition all the traits. a form of sensibility. in the sense that it doesn’t separate the individual from society. We can say that as a personal sensation of life. It’s a social individualism. all the nuances of this psychological disposition.

Individualism implies a sentiment of personal infallibility. More or less happy. individual might. the idea of uniqueness. more or less ambitious. of inner artistocratism. a desire for independence and originality. the tendency of every society is to reduce the sentiment of individuality as much as possible: to reduce uniqueness through conformism. more or less demanding. his own builder of truth and illusion. be more or less energetic. according to the amplitude of the thought and according to the intensity of. individualism cannot help but provoke the sentiment of a silent struggle between the individual self and society. according to the quality and the value of the individuality in cause. Sentiment of the profound uniqueness of the ego. The individualist wants to be his own maker. individualism is or tends to be anti-social: if it is not so from the start. . incidentally. his own furnisher of truth and illusion.” according to the wish of a character from Ibsen (Peer Gynt). Of irreducible difference between an ego and an other. an idea of intellectual and sentimental superiority. As personal will to life individualism is a desire to “be oneself. too. In fact. Be it as personal sensation of life or as personal will to life. the will to. it later and inevitably becomes so. his own builder and demolisher of ideals. his own builder of dreams. Individualism is a return to the self and a gravitation to the self. desire for originality and independence. This wish for originality can.

a refusal to submit oneself to it. the contemplative attitude of the thinker in an Ivory Tower. instantaneousness of the self through caution. individualism holds in contempt and negates the social bond.spontaneity through discipline. sincerity of sentiment through the lack of sincerity inherent in any socially defined function. In its essence. This distancing from society.at least in sprit and intention. But there is always in this acquired indifference. theoretical and practical commitment to withdraw from society. this voluntary moral isolation that we can practice in the very heart of society can take on the form of indifference and resignation as well as that of revolt. a distrust of it. a sentimental and intellectual. We can define it as a will to isolation. if not in fact following the examples of the solitaries of the Thebeiad and the more modern one of Thoreau . confidence and pride in the self through the humiliation inseparable from any kind of social training. Sentiment of uniqueness and more or less energetic expression of the will to personal power. of silent or declared opposition to society. Individualism becomes here a principle of passive or active inner resistance. will to . a remnant of interior revolt. It can also assume the attitude of the spectator. This is why individualism necessarily has the sentiment of a conflict between its ego and the general ego. by a kind of interior and voluntary retreat. in this resignation or this spectatorial isolation.

Individualism. will to insubordination and revolt. inaccessibility of internal conviction. will to independence. individualism as sensation and will is no longer. but always with a return to the self. Sometimes also will to supremacy. to one’s impregnable and unassailable will: individualism is all this. to its constraints. understood as we just expressed it. It is turned inwards. turned outwards and subordinated to social life. that is. Pessimism supposes a basic individualism. To say that there is a close psychological relationship between the individualist and pessimist sensibilities means almost stating the obvious. even in the failure of hopes and ideals. like political and juridical individualism. Fidelity to one’s misunderstood ideas. even in defeat. Intransigence. fidelity to oneself up to the bitter end. either globally or in detail. like the individualism of which we spoke above. It supposes that interiority of sentiment.originality. this element or that. with a sentiment of personal infallibility. with an indestructible confidence in oneself. to the deployment of force on and against others. as an internal disposition of the soul. its demands and obligations. It places itself at the beginning or seeks refuge in the end in the unbreakable and intangible interior being. will to isolation and to withdrawal into the self. this nuance or that predominating according to the circumstances and the case. that return to the self (almost always painful) .

the great artists and theoreticians of suffering. from an individual psychology. It predominates among those of a solitary nature who live withdrawn into themselves and see social life as pain. but by virtue of an intimate psychological correlation that pessimism is accompanied by a tendency towards egotistic isolation. it comes from the inner. Inversely. But this is not certain. . Life doubtless perpetually triumphs over this antinomy. the echo of doctrinal hearsay. It proceeds from what is most intimate in us: the ability to suffer. lived solitary and as strangers in the midst of men. retrenched in their ego as if in a fortress from which they let fall an ironic and haughty gaze on the society of their kind. pessimism is a sensation of lived life. Thoroughbred pessimists. And so it is not by accident. and between the individual and society on the other. the individualist spirit is almost fatedly accompanied by pessimism. Does not experience as old as the world teach us that in nature the individual is sacrificed to the species? That in society it is sacrificed to the group? Individualism arrives at a resigned or hopeless noting of the antinomies that arise between the individual and the species on one hand. While optimism is nothing but an abstract metaphysical thesis. and the fact that despite it all humanity continues to live can appear to be an unarguable reply that refutes both pessimism and individualism.that is the essence of individualism.

For if humanity as a species and as a society pursues its destiny without worrying about individuals’ complaints or revolts. But he survives himself through the generations. indissolubly united and interconnected. We must penetrate in detail the different forms of pessimism and individualism and more closely analyze their relationship if we want to arrive at precise ideas. Paris. it is possible that this psychological tie that we believe we have discovered between pessimism and individualism is nothing but an a priori view. gaining in force and clarity as the human will to life intensifies. 1914. Always defeated. . diversifies and becomes refined in individual consciousness. Alcan. it is incarnated in souls of a special caliber. Individualism suffers a defeat in every individual who dies after having served ends and surrendered to forces that are beyond him. Misanthropic Pessimism Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. never tamed. imbued with the sentiment of their uniqueness and strong in their will to independence. individualism does not die for all that. Nevertheless. If instead of reasoning about psychological likelihoods we consult the history of ideas of the 19th century we will perhaps see that the relationship of ideas that we have just indicated is neither as simple nor as consistent as at first appears. It is thus that is affirmed the dual consistency of pessimism and individualism.

In Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt. of universal nanality and universal turpitude. a willed impassibility. He doesn’t take the human condition as tragic. As for the misanthropic pessimist. This pessimism doesn’t proceed from an exasperated and suffering sensibility.Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists. Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility. while in Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the world’s pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As the pitiless painting of a world peopled with cretins and swindlers. pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts and is amused by their presumption. of ninnies and fools. he doesn’t rise up against destiny. The mute despair of Vigny is more pathetic than a cry of pain. ever inclined to despair or revolt. he makes no complaints. The character of this pessimism appears as a universal coldness. their .org. The pessimism we want to study now is that which we have called misanthropic pessimism. an absence of sentimentalism that distinguishes it from romantic pessimism. their vanity.org 2006. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists. but from a lucid intelligence exercising its critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species. He observes his contemporaries with curiosity.

” The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness that we can call dogmatic foolishness. his relations. It is no longer human pain. which makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices.hypocrisy. misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the intellectual. One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism could be this well-known verse: “The most foolish animal is man. a Stendhal. A Swift symbolizing the vanity of human quarrels in the crusade of the Big-endians and the Little-endians. whose Journal and Vie de Henri Brulard contain so many misanthropic observations on his family. and disdainful observer. but rather human villainy and stupidity. ironic. that solemn and despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social dogmas and rites. or their unconscious villainy. He prefers the tone of persiflage to the minor and tragic tone. his . a Voltaire mocking the metaphysical foolishness of Pangloss and the silly naiveté of Candide. a Benjamin Constant consigning to the Red Notebook and the Journal Intime his epigrammatic remarks on humanity and society. across public opinion and mores. While romantic pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse. by their intellectual and moral weakness. it is no longer the sickness of living that forms the theme of this pessimism.

In truth.chiefs. a Taine in “Thomas Graindorge. a Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human foolishness. A Schopenhauer. smiling. presumption and credulity. for the different types of pessimism have points of contact and penetration. Among the thinkers we just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived. friend and emulator of Stendhal in the ironic observation of human nature. this pessimism isn’t foreign to a few of the thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism: in fact. from the concern for objectivity and impassivity that figure among the characteristic traits of the realist esthetic. It remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering. a Flaubert attacking the imbecility of his puppets Frederic Moureau and Bouvard and of Pécuchet. detailed and pitiless observation. a Merimée. But in them misanthropic pessimism can’t be found in its pure state.” a Challemel-Lacour in his Reflexions d’un pessimiste can all be taken as the representative types of this haughty. to the sentimental pathos that is the characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. his entourage. of despair or of revolt. in more than one of its representatives (Stendhal. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender individualism? This is not certain. . Flaubert) it proceeds from that spirit of exact. and contemptuous pessimistic wisdom.

the retreat of thought into itself as the sole possible attitude for a man having any kind of refinement of thought and nobility of soul in this world of mediocrity and banality Flaubert.” or rather a habit that you seem to be lacking. But there are several among the misanthropic pessimists we just cited.nor practiced. haunted by the specter of “stupidity with a thousand faces” finds it wherever he looks. nor recommended the attitude of voluntary isolation that is individualism. a harsh man of ambition had nothing of the solitary nature of Obermann and Vigny. He said: “I understood one great thing: it’s that for the men of our race happiness is in the idea and nowhere else. They didn’t hold them at a disdainful distance. Swift. in thought. particularly Flaubert and Taine. Though they had no illusions about men they did not flee their society. who practiced. establish that superb line of interior defense that keeps you an ocean’s width from your neighbor?” To a correspondent who complains of worry and disgust with all things: “There is a sentiment. to wit. the . “Is it because you know man? What difference does it make? Can’t you. They accepted to mix with them. to live their lives in their midst. Voltaire was sociability incarnate.” “Where does your weakness come form?” he wrote to a friend. and recommended intellectual isolation.” he writes. theorized. He seeks refuge against it in the pure joys of art and contemplation.

A singular analogy unites Taine to Flaubert. a kind of intellectual solipsism. the indifference of an aristocrat and a dilettante who “detaches himself from all in order to roam everywhere. the passions. One must have left the herd. a means of escape from the realities of the social milieu. Misanthropic pessimism supposes or engenders contemplative isolation. there is here a theoretical isolation. Take life. to looking on the intelligence as the supreme asylum in which to isolate himself.love of contemplation.” And again: “Skepticism will have nothing of the bitter.” (Taine) Let us add that the clear-sightedness of the misanthropic intellectual has. and universal banality.” Whether we wish it or not. Taine asks of scientific analysis what Flaubert asks of art and contemplation: an intellectual alibi. To take as the theme for one’s irony the . in and of itself. This deduction is logical. In order to intellectually despise men one must separate oneself from them.” Taine was led by his misanthropic vision of humanity to a stoic and ascetic conception of life. universal stupidity. see them from a distance. to defend himself from universal wickedness. and yourself as subjects for intellectual exercises. something antisocial about it. for it will seem that you are at humanity’s comedy and it will seem to you that history crosses the world for you alone. have arrived at Descartes’ attitude which “lives in the midst of men like amidst the trees in a forest.

1914.” Social conventions only survive thanks to a general stupidity that envelops. “Stupidity. or . ironic. and consecrates the stupidity of individuals. the conservative elements of society. CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists. It is the cement of the social edifice. Historical pessimism is inspired by a retrospective ideal.org. Alcan. and pessimistic intelligence is a social dissolvent. Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists. supports. Count de Gobineau judges current civilization in the light of an ethnic type that is distant. almost prehistoric. “is the first good of an ordered society. Two names can be put forward in this regard: de Gobineau and Nietzsche. guarantees. Paris. It attacks respect and credulity. Stupidity is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is possible.” said Dr.common and average human stupidity means treating without respect a social value of the first order. Historical Pessimism Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. It is irreverent towards that which is socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity.org 2006. This is why critical. protects. Anatole France’s Trublet. an historic or even prehistoric ideal whose nostalgia haunts the thinker disgusted with the present.

.” the “Discourse on the Inequality of Races. “ races among themselves. What are the moral and intellectual traits that constitute the Gobinien superman? These traits can be found in “The History of the Persians. but who don’t renounce the fight in this degraded milieu. succeeding in making their presence felt. by the example of the Aryan nation the most isolated from its relatives.at least so little historical that it would be disappointing to write its history: the Aryan type. “Ottar Jarl” tells of the ancestry of a Scandinavian hero of the ancient Nordic race from which Gobineau claimed to descend. how powerless differences in climate.” His “Discourse on the Inequality of Races” traces the long vicissitudes and the irremediable degeneration of this type of superior humanity as a result of the mixing of bloods that adulterated it. environment and circumstances are in changing or inhibiting the genius of a race. “I compared. The novel “The Pleiades” presents a few survivors of the noble Aryan race lost in the midst of unworthy contemporaries. What he values in intelligence is not imagination. I chose one from among them that I saw as the best and I wrote ‘The History of the Persians’ in order to show. but judgment. its transformations and its deviations.” he says. Count de Gobineau thinks he can follow it throughout its evolution. Nevertheless.” Gobineau places judgment in the first rank of the qualities that constitute the superior man.” in “Ottar Jarl” and “The Pleaides.

in most of his descendants. a leader of men. to build poems in the air. if not all of them.Judgment is the superior characteristic of the Aryan. the ‘Vestfolding. It should not be forgotten that de Gobineau is the descendant of a line of warriors. “In the personality of Ottar we find three clearly pronounced traits. for he wants to know just how far his country extends. He is also sensible. He is avid for knowledge. and it is essential to engrave them from the start. of politicians. The role of intelligence is to see clearly and dictate actions. The activity of intelligence. his traditions. his experience.’ carries it to all the points it can reach and that circumstances place within its sight. According to him the superior man is not the artist or the speculative writer: the superior man is he who is capable of commanding a people or an army. of diplomats and a diplomat himself. his trade all led him to esteem above all else the qualities that constitute a man of action. for we will recognize one or another. His heredity. for he doesn’t believe the speeches of the Bjarmes (priests) . The goal of intelligence is not to meditate. The qualities that constitute the Gobinien superman find themselves summed up in the portrait of the Viking. or the skillful diplomat. For de Gobineau the true role of intelligence can only be that of a guide to action. to withdraw into itself and to think for thinking’s sake. but he also doesn’t want occasions for gain and profit to be neglected. The Aryan is above all a man of judgment and action.

patient. It is this obedience. we find its essence in all sincerity.” “I am fantastic? Why? Am I less a . “His race was pure and so his individuality was very strong. In Ottar. In the third place he is stubborn in his views…Understanding. and exactly as the hero’s ancestors possessed it. issued from a pure race. among more southern populations the blood had been noticeably altered: in the Franc become half-Roman. but he appreciates even more not having to yield. in the Roman rotted by Semitic mixtures. vehicle of a contrary effect. agglomeration little or nothing. that in truth constitutes not human culture – always ennobling – but civilization.” It is the purity of blood that makes for strong individuality. receiving it from their blood. with the maximum of energy. and on the day he has to submit to Erik’s domination he says no and goes into exile.” Another portrait of the Gobinien superman is that of the Englishman Nore in “The Pleaides. and yields little. He appreciates the advantages of wealth. these are three qualities from which as much good as evil result and are susceptible of diverse applications. and while the Scandinavian. only accepted temporary associations. which then becomes a servility. Everyone counted on everyone else. On the contrary. those they vanquished found it good to hold a master or guide responsible for their will. independent. jealous of his liberty. In him individuality was everything.without reservation… Along with the activity of the intelligence he has the passion for independence.

man because I seem to you different from the model from which my contemporaries are carved? What do they and I have in common? Fantastic? Because I don’t care about their grandeur. But thank god nothing like this exists…It is possible that creation. I mixed in with them the things of common life. their elections. erred in my regard and having prepared me for another milieu inadvertently let me fall into this one. Good brains and strong wills are rare. not their fortunes or their problems! I would be a fantastic creature if. their means of making a fortune. and as incapable of renouncing what I once wanted. of abandoning the pursuit of what I desired. feeling in my way. which randomly casts about disparate seeds. for they are in proportion with the excellence of the race. A character in “The Pleaides” says that there are still . ever ready to abandon what are only dreams for banal reality from which I neither knew how to or wanted to detach myself. independence. conceiving my desires in accordance with puerile imitation. an intense sentiment of the personality: such are the traits of the Gobinien superman. as incapable of demonstrating to myself that I was wrong as I am to renounce breathing for an hour!” Energy. The humanity of today has badly degenerated from this superior type. But for whatever reason. their baseness. here I am! I am myself and no other. their humiliations. strong individualism. their distinctions. understanding things with my own intelligence.

bitter. lost in the mass. Such is Gobinen pessimism. When the mixing of blood has degraded a race to a certain degree there is nothing to be done.” superior men of Aryan race. despite the universal decomposition. these few strongly beating hearts. We find a strong expression of it in the pages . daring. but a suspicious.” What is horrible to think about is that these few superior brains. at the end of the Roman Empire. and hopeless ethnic and social pessimism. definitive. “The rest is a vile mass that makes up the triple tribe of imbeciles. happy barbarism. The few survivors of the ancient virtues of the race cannot today stop European decomposition. the current form of European barbarism. brave.” The presence of a few of the Just couldn’t save Sodom. ugly one that will kill all and create nothing. picturesque. It is the same today. “It can be argued of the work of these great men that. Who denies this? I am speaking of multitudes and not of individuals. All that is left is to dispassionately witness the death of the race. The most noble intelligences didn’t convert the crowd. didn’t give it heart. Not youthful. brutes and scoundrels. there were yet firm and honest hearts in the Empire. can do nothing to raise up the ruins and bring decadence to a halt.perhaps 3.000 “sons of kings. Could these noble intelligences stop for one minute the rotting of the social body? No. This was seen once before. three thousand well made brains and strongly beating hearts. A complete. glum.

and . impotent. paralyzed. Stoic individualism. And perhaps that shame reserved to our descendants would leave us indifferent if we didn’t feel. half-rotted. surrendered to stupidities. as well as in the final pages of the “Essay.” The same character says elsewhere: “It doesn’t please me to see a once great people now laid low. In the presence of a civilization he hates and holds in contempt he doesn’t resign himself. Gobinen pessimism turns into individualism. by a secret horror. miseries. what I admire. the weaknesses of a senile childhood. it’s the certitude of arriving there degraded. evil. “I don’t know future morals so that I can approve of them. in whom it is believed Gobineau incarnated himself. and I maintain that what I approve. The Aryan is always recognized by his indomitable individuality. decomposing.” a character of “The Pleaides” says. you don’t console me by announcing the triumph of parvenus who I don’t care to know.” By virtue of the law we seek to establish. what I love is gone! I have nothing to do with what will succeed them. “I don’t care what will result from your changes. He stiffens in the haughty attitude of a wounded aristocrat. isolatedly ferocious. that destiny’s rapacious hands are already posed upon us. cowardice. future institutions so that I can respect them.” “The prediction that makes us sad is not death. Consequently. haughty and despairing.where de Gobineau combats the thesis of humanity’s indefinite progress. ferocity. future costumes so I can admire them.

no love. laughing like imbeciles. Times like these have always produced this severe authority. a goal he will pursue. What do you conclude? I conclude that man is left. The wounded wolf who stays silent so as to die. This is the stoic individualism in which he takes refuge. he continues to work in the direction of grandiose dream. Absolutely nothing is left. no fatherland. Even though isolated. and his despair. a scale whose summit he will occupy in a sterile but splendid isolation.good for nothing except death. Nevertheless.” This is also Gobineau’s response.” Someone asks of this despairing character: “No religion. he has enough pride to create for himself an ideal he won’t betray. whose vague and magnificent perspective his imagination of the superman has allowed him to glimpse. A table of human values. The tables have been swept clean. And who twists the knife in his bleeding mouth Nietzsche at a certain time became enamored of an ethnic ideal no less ancient and no less uncertain than the . In a way he recalls the symbols of Leconte de Lisle in his energy. no skill. And if he has the strength to look his own will in the face and to find it solid we have the right to say that he possesses something. The void has been installed. his disdain. I ask you? Stoicism. Despite it all. de Gobineau fights up to the bitter end. which I sincerely hope for so that it escape from the dishonor in which it wallows. And what. even though his efforts are made sterile because of his isolation.

” i. as well as the beauty. There is much romanticism in the historical pessimism of Gobineau and Nietzsche. with its narrow-minded morality. the nobility of attitude. which weakens and makes ugly. like that of Gobineau. like that of Gobineau. Gobineau’s individualism is a . Nietzsche’s pessimism. joyous. overabundant. at one and the same time Dionysian and Apollonian. exalted and triumphant life is summarized. the radiant and prestigious Hellenism of “The Origins of Tragedy. by virtue of a law whose effects we are following. Whatever the case. doesn’t lack for a secret relationship with romantic pessimism. the majesty of the face and the serenity of the gaze. And he too sounds the alarm issued by de Gobineau: Decadence! Decadence! In truth.. The Greek soul in which the apotheosis of the ardent. the primitive Greek soul. turns into individualism. the purity of line. He was enamored of primitive Hellenism. It is with this magical image that Nietzsche confronts current civilization. with its tyrannical and servile democracy.Gobinist ideal. It is true that the nuance in Nietzschean individualism is more difficult to determine than in that of Gobinien individualism. with its depressing Christianity. with its regulated and domesticated societies. the pessimism of Nietzsche. it’s that they situate their grandiose dreams of impenitent romantics in a vanished utopia and uchronia.e. If these two thinkers take refuge in the past it is because the present brings only vulgarity and ugliness.

Certainly (and why not recognize this?) he must have had moments of antisocietism and have said to himself: ‘It is possible that life as I conceive it was simply savage life and it can only be fully and brilliantly realized in the state of nature or in that primitive state of little organized societies that we sometimes call the state of nature. But is that anti-societism absolute or relative. But persuaded. though he didn’t write it anywhere. and especially appearing. “are anti-Nietszchean in their nature. an isolation of the defeated man of action. anti-social.’ He could have told himself this. “Modern societies. beautiful and strong life. provisional or definitive? Does Nietzsche indict only modern society or all societies? Nietzsche’s ideas on this subject is somewhat unclear. of a haughty thinker taking refuge in an ivory tower. perhaps erroneously. Nietzsche’s individualism is clearly an anti-social individualism.despairing stoicism. from the heights of which he witnesses the slow agony of a world without either force or beauty. At heart. he who wrote everything that he thought with so much bravura and daring. he didn’t stop at anti-social .” says M. Faguet. He could have thought this on several occasions and for my part I know him to be too intelligent to doubt that he had this thought. and Nietzsche cannot prevent himself from being. it is social invention that is against me. that there was a race – that is the Greeks – that was organized in a society and that created the free.

Is Nietzsche’s anti-societism radical. What of which he carried out a penetrating. Seen in this way Nietzschean individualism is profoundly antisocial and Strinerite. horror of the rule. which wounds him like a poorly made shoe. when along with Stirner he celebrates that happy freedom of the instincts.thought. since man is not adapted to social life. subtle and uncompromising criticism of was modern society. leaving to a few of his disciples the task or the pleasure of deducing his premises. as radical as that of Stirner.” It is difficult to determine the exact place that anti-societism occupies in Nietzschean philosophy and the scope that Nietzsche attributed to it. the unforeseen? Nietzsche’s social philosophy seems here to be an absolute and definitive anti-societism. at others it seems to attack the very conditions of social life. it is a revolt not only against our . love of the fortuitous. when Nietzsche violently protests against the conduct and the virtues that every society imposes on its members: the spirit of consistency and a spirit of adaptation and obedience to the rules. it seems to summarize the common basis of social pessimism and individualism: the perception of a natural. when on the contrary he glorifies the faculties and energies stifled by life in society. the individual having instincts that do not yield before social life. At certain moments this anti-societism attacks modern society. profound and – in a way – psychological antinomy between the individual and society. the uncertain.

Nietzsche. . but which his physiology forbids him from ever surpassing.” De Gobineau closes humanity into a narrow circle of capacities and works. Opposed to this is the concept of the Superman. Nietzsche puts the lie to this rebellious attitude. But it is only fair to remark that in certain aspects of his philosophy. which are perhaps not the least important. or at least places it in a secondary position and subordinates it to an ideal of a human grandeur still possible and realizable in the future. He assigns him unsurpassable limits within which he can. He has not added a single sense to his senses. a faculty to his soul. An important difference separates Nietzsche from Gobineau in this regard. This law is formulated in the “Discourse on Inequality:” “Man. he has forgotten many others. it is true. From this flows the theory of irremediable decadence once human races are adulterated through mixing. It’s the concept of the Superman.” says de Gobineau. a member to his members. While de Gobineau looks on the superior human race as definitively fallen from its original purity and beauty. but against any society. “was able to learn certain things.society. and Gobineau’s hopeless pessimism. regress. performs a sudden about face. future or possible. He has done nothing but turn to another side of the circle that is his lot. which is in opposition to the Gobinien law of the necessary limitations on the resources of human aptitude. he too theoretician of decadence.

he is then. incomparable to itself. a prophet. from the past to the future. And decadence itself takes on a new meaning. nor is he an anti-social individualist . or wants to be. Through this unexpected change in front Nietzsche displaces his human ideal. a creator of values. he introduces into his philosophy the strange concept of the Superman. He transports it from the rear to the front. a society where masters will reign and where great things will yet be done. of a humanity called on to indefinitely surpass itself. He only rejects current society in the hope of finding a society hospitable to great souls. From historic and retrospective this ideal becomes futuristic. the founder of a society. to make itself indefinitely superior to itself. In this way Nietzsche superimposes or rather substitutes for his theory of decadence a theory of indefinite progress. And so Nietzsche’s attitude towards the problem of . it is the Superman of tomorrow. Nietzsche admits that the current decadence is a period of transition from which will come a society containing the possibility of nobility and beauty. At those moments Nietzsche is not a hopeless pessimist like the Count de Gobineau. On the contrary. a theoretician of revolt for revolt’s sake like Stirner.At a certain moment in the development of his thought. and in what is perhaps an example of inconsistency. a priest. incommensurable with itself. The human ideal is no longer the primitive Hellenism from which we are fallen. that is.

.” as one of the symptoms of our modern decadence. when he believes in the Superman. as absolute as that of Stirner. he is not an anti-social individualist. at those times when he says that the Greek miracle was unique and we have no chance of reviving it. he shows himself to be an uncompromising enemy of society and hater of social ties. On the other hand. He expresses an anti-societism as radical. But through its very lack of decisiveness it confirms the psychological law that we are attempting to establish: the correlation between individualism and pessimism. at those times when Nietzsche is pessimistic. At those moments when Nietzsche is optimistic. He repudiates Stirnerite individualism as a manifestation of the “slave revolt.the relations between the individual and society are not clear.