Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Plutonian theorists (1854-63)

1. Maurice Barrès
2. Georg Simmel

Maurice Barrès (1862-1923)

French novelist, journalist, and anti-semite nationalist politician and agitator. Barrès was one of the major figures in the reorientation of French nationalism in the period 1890-1914.

In the 1880s he found literary success with his three Culte de moi novels, with their themes of intellectual self-discovery and cultural rebellion. Leaning towards the far-left in his youth as a Boulangist deputy, he progressively developed a theory close to Romantic nationalism and shifted to the right during the Dreyfus Affair, leading the Anti-Dreyfusards alongside Charles Maurras.

Barrès was, in short, an illiberal: His early activism united several of his literary themes: hostility to the rigid structures of bourgeois culture and education, and contempt for the parliamentary system and its leaders, whom he saw as responsible for France's decline as a culture and as a world power. (He was not, however, a monarchist.) His novels, essays, and unceasing journalistic activity were his principle contribution to the reorientation of French nationalism and to making anti-semitism and anti-parliamentarianism respectable among pre-World War I intellectual circles.

During World War I, Barrès was one of the proponents of the Union sacrée, which earned him the nickname "nightingale of bloodshed" ("rossignol des carnages"). The Canard enchaîné satirical newspaper called him the "chief of the brainwashers' tribe."

NB: In 1921, the Dadaists organized the Trial of Barrès, charged of "attentat à la sûreté de l'esprit," and sentenced him to 20 years of forced labour. This fictitious trial also marked the dissolving of Dada.

* The Dreyfus affair completed his transition to a mystical and authoritarian nationalism and linked his anti-parliamentarianism and anti-semitism with an environmental and biological determinism that was expressed in his novels Les Déracinés (1897), L'Appel au soldat, etc.

* He is considered, alongside Charles Maurras, as one of the main thinkers of ethnic nationalism at the turn of the century in France, associated with Revanchism — the desire to reconquer the Alsace-Lorraine, annexed by the newly created German Empire at the end of the 1871 Franco-Prussian War.

* Influenced by Edmund Burke and Hippolyte Taine, he developed an organicist conception of the Nation which contrasted with the universalism of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Often credited with being the first to give nationalism a new and more exclusionary meaning, his novels and newspaper articles molded a generation of young French intellectuals to accept an instinctual and cultural nationalism that emphasized the concept of a national community based on the mythic solidarity of "the earth and the dead." According to Barrès, the People is not founded by an act of autonomy, but find its origins in the earth, history (institutions, life and material conditions) and traditions and inheritance ("the dead").


Georg Simmel


Author of books:
On Social Differentiation (1890)
The Problems of the Philosophy of History (1892-93)
Introduction to the Science of Ethics (1892-93)
Philosophie des Geldes (1900)
Soziologie (1908)
Fundamental Questions of Sociology (1917)
Lebensanschauung (1918)

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